Where Chemistry and Leadership Intersect

Chemistry

Chemistry focuses on the relationship between atoms and other phenomenon. Cause and effect. How does an atom change when external factors are introduced. Had I only known then – 30 years ago when I took Chemistry in school – what I know today, I would have paid more attention.

Team building is all about chemistry. After all, the human body is made up of atoms and when two bodies are interacting it represents millions of atoms interacting with one another.  Interaction reactions are just as varied between atoms as they are humans.  Sometimes you just don’t know what will happen.

From our early childhood, to adult life, chemistry is at work in the choices we make and the outcomes they render. Remember those days on the school ground picking teams? Who did you pick, or at what point in the team-picking process were you picked? When you got your first management position how did you feel about your team? Were you able to make changes or new selections? If so, how did you go about doing that?  If not, how did you assimilate to your team?

I’d submit that chemistry is one of the single most important factors in establishing a successful team. The team’s ability to interact with one another given internal and external influences is a necessary requirement for a high performing teams. And like explosions that can occur when atoms are rammed together with great force, so too can human interaction experience similar explosions if not careful.

Here are 3 points to be aware of when navigating team chemistry:

  1. Have a clear vision.  Make sure that you’ve created the “destination postcard” for the team.  This represents where you are headed, why, how you’ll get there, and by when.
  2. Have clear rules of engagement.  Demanding honesty and input must be balanced with diplomacy and humility…even if it must be forced.  The team must understand what is expected, as well as, how they are expected to accomplish the “what”.
  3. Have clear values.  Stating your values and then demonstrating those values on a daily basis…walking the talk…is critical for your team to see.  You can’t state that you despise cussing and yet at every meeting use language to the contrary.  Your actions and values must be aligned at all times.

Be careful to not confuse good chemistry with the belief that you can only hire those that “think” like you.  That’s not the case.  Instead focus on attracting people to your team that “feel” as you do, hold similar values, work ethic, and attitudes.  Specific skills sets MUST be varied across a team but common values must be woven into the team’s fabric to succeed.  And that’s chemistry.

 

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10 Things a Leader is NOT

Badleader

Remember that bad boss you had a couple of years ago?  Every interaction caused stress, disappointment, and sometimes regret.  Here are some characteristics NOT found in great leaders.

  1. Selfish.  Great leaders make it all about their teams.  There’s no “I” in team and the leader knows that and embraces it.
  2. Mean-spirited.  Strong leaders lead with dignity.  They understand that even when corrective action is required every employee deserves to be treated with dignity.
  3. Know-it-all.  The best leaders are continuous learners.  They do not claim to have all the answers nor do they believe they themselves are the only ones capable of generating great ideas.
  4. Placating.  Successful leaders understand the need for honest and direct communication.  They do not shy away from conflict or pander in order to win popular opinion.
  5. Narcissistic. Effective leaders have an inner confidence that allows them to operate without ego.  Not so say they don’t have an ego but they are able to keep it in check.  They don’t have a need for others to know who they are, what they have, or how important they believe themselves to be.
  6. Micro-manager.  Accomplished leaders know that they must have the details but cannot micro manage.  They give trust to their teams and provide opportunities to people to take risks and practice their decision-making skills.
  7. Disingenuous.  Thoughtful leaders know the importance of service to others.  They have a strong moral compass knowing that others can see clearly who they are and likewise can feel their authenticity.
  8. Thankless.  Purpose-driven leaders understand the importance of gratitude.  Being gracious for a job well done separates a good leader from a bad leader.  There’s nothing wrong with expressing your gratitude or thanks to an employee who did a good job even though a good job is what’s expected.  It’s often the smallest acts of kindness that embolden a team to its leader.
  9. Ignorant.  Learning leaders recognize all things change including their products, their markets and their customers.  They can’t afford to be caught with the short end of the intellectual stick and are constantly working to educate themselves and their teams.
  10. Indecisive.  Enduring leaders know that making decisions are required for leadership longevity.  Those that shy away from making decisions, difficult or easy, don’t last long as leaders.  Indecisive leaders are some of the most difficult leaders to work for.

And one bonus characteristic that ALL leaders DO possess…ownership.  All great leaders embrace ownership.  Ownership of their teams, their decisions – good or bad – their plans, strategies, ideas, and opinions.  These great leaders never look to place blame, often times to a fault.  They are able to shoulder great weight and responsibilities with a sense of ease and grace.

Are you a good leader?

What it Means to be Authentic

Authentic

You’re nervous, scared.  You’re breathing is shallow and you’re beginning to sweat.  Your mind is racing but you can’t seem to find an answer to your problem that makes you feel good.  In fact all you see in front of you are choices that are not so good and plain bad.  You start weighing the outcomes of each choice in terms of personal perception.  How will I be viewed if I make this decision or that decision?  How popular or unpopular will I be for making such a decision?  Will my boss support me?  How about my wife/husband, my friends, my parents, my kids?  Your emotions reach a crescendo and you feel you’re about to collapse.  What now?

Try this interesting test.  It’s a simple and fast test that requires answering just one question no matter how difficult the decision is you are facing.  It can serve as your decision starter.

What would I do if I didn’t have to worry about any one persons reaction or perception of me based upon the decision I make?  Sure this sounds unfair but if you begin every decision thinking first about what others will think of you then you’re likely to arrive at the wrong place.  Like politicians that look at polls before deciding on their personal stance on an issue, people who worry more about what others think rather than doing the right thing will ultimately experience a short life cycle as a leader.

Authentic leaders don’t worry about what others think.  Not that they set out to offend, hurt, or alienate themselves from others but they instead focus on being true to themselves first.  After all, that’s what makes an authentic leader so appealing to follow.  You always know where they stand on an issue today and tomorrow.  They don’t waiver or pander.  They simply establish their position, communicate it effectively and stick to it.  If they do change their position it is backed up by facts and tangible learnings that justify their change.  Not at all based upon opinion polls, or pressure from stakeholders or markets.

They have a sense of intelligent fearlessness.  They are smart enough to understand where the pitfalls are but effective enough to lead through, around, or over them.  They are mindful of cause and effect and focus on communicating both the why and the implications of their decisions.  They are often times seen as bold, courageous, and confidence.  They use their intelligence to assess the situation and select the best approach.  Their intelligence coupled with their confidence in conviction allow them to lead others fearlessly toward the goal.  This does not mean carelessly.  The difference here is that an authentic leader through their personal intellect and confidence are able to make tough decisions without fear, while leaders whose only strength is to pander to public opinion live in constant fear of being judged.  As such the leader who lives in fear is always looking to make the decision that allows them to place or shift blame elsewhere.  To have cover when the sky begins to fall.  Authentic leaders understand the risks and have no problems being held accountable to their decisions.

Recently Kathleen Sebelius was replaced as the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  In the interviews that have followed since her removal from office she stated that they had got it (the website http://www.healthcare.gov) readiness wrong.  It should have never been promised to roll out in October 2013.  Yet video clip after clip shows Sebelius saying with conviction it will be ready.  It is ready.  It’s working.  It’s right.  So where was her authenticity as a leader?  Where was her courage?  Unfortunately like so many others in leadership positions she sacrificed her authenticity for popularity.  If only people would realize that popularity is fickle.  Eventually inauthentic decisions and the leaders who made them always show themselves but by that time both have been cast as failures.  If only we could stay true, stay firm, stay authentic from the start.

Taking The Lead Vs. Being a Leader

leader

I’ve built many sales and marketing teams over the years.  I’ve led many to success and some to failure.  Throughout my career I have learned a great deal about leadership and leading people to achieve a desired goal.  One of the important facts I’ve learned over the years is that there is a clear difference between taking the lead and being a leader.  Having a true understanding of this difference helps to effect the best possible outcomes.

The difference between taking the lead and being a leader is quite simple.  When you take the lead you exert control.  You see examples of people taking the lead everyday throughout the world.  Kids take the lead to be the captain of the kickball team at lunch.   Executives maneuver to take the top spot in a company that may be floundering.  Yet these examples and others like them do not demonstrate leadership.  They simply showcase situations that arise where there is a vacuum at the top and any opportunistic person has the chance to step in and take control.  But that’s not leading.

Taking the lead involves control.  It often times results in a new regime rising to the top that is less focused on the team and much more  focused on an individual or small group of individuals.  This is not to say that in times of need that someone with noble intentions can’t rise to the top and become a leader.  Those situations do happen but are less likely when there is a leadership vacuum at the top.

The most significant difference between taking the lead and being a leader boils down to one ability.  The ability to inspire.  Great leaders inspire.  They get people to dream big, to not accept the status quo, to challenge conventional thinking without fear of embarrassment or disappointment.   The best leaders inspire people to own their own destiny.  To not settle for mediocrity.  To live the change we want to become, as Gandhi said long ago.  Leaders who are able to inspire possess a quiet confidence.  A sense of conviction that is both strong but flexible.  Strong leaders are learners and adapters.  They are able to see things as they are while formulating a plan to shape the future they intend to create.  They are driven by the need to be of value, and of service, to others and they inspire the very best from each of us while doing so.

These highly favored leaders are those  individuals that we all like to follow, to watch, to cheer on.  These are the people who make us feel confident in the value of our personal contributions, and are able to rally a diverse group of folks to charge off in a common direction.  They inspire each of us to reach for, and obtain greatness.  They are the real leaders.