Thoughts on Leadership

“He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader” ~ Aristotle.

Great leaders possess empathy and emotional intelligence. Caring enough to ask, and then listening, is the beginning for all great leaders. Charting a course that depends upon the contributions of others requires courage, fortitude and judgement. Leaders understand they are nothing without followers. Great leaders know that their success depends on the relationships they have with those followers. Trust, respect, and caring are ingredients that strengthen the bond between a leader and his, or her followers.

People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know. Asking versus telling, guiding versus directing, teaching versus demanding, coaching versus demeaning…these are just some ways to demonstrate great leadership.

Leading others requires the leader to be vulnerable. It requires experience and judgement. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. There’s no shortcutting experience. You make the best decisions you can given the information at hand. Hindsight will always be 20/20, but we must live in the present which means the possibility of making a bad decision exists for each of us every day.

Embrace the learning. Be curious. Engage others and listen…truly listen. Open your mind to new perspectives. Create a list of leaders you admire and the attributes they possess that you strive to emulate. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the path to growth. Try many things. Fail fast. Don’t worry about being wrong. Nothing of greatness has ever been created on the first attempt. Diamonds take billions of years to create. The first mobile phone was a brick. The first car came in only black and had no windshield wipers. Progress takes time. The key is to keep moving, observing, doing, learning, adjusting. Trying to live life without failure is a wasted life. Life without failure is a blank canvas.

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” ~ C. S. Lewis

Kindness – The Greatest Difference Maker

What makes a friend, a friend? What makes a candidate worthy of extending an offer of employment? What makes a great boss? What makes a life-long partnership work – personally or professionally?

In pondering these questions they have led me to other questions such as who do I like spending my time with? If I was stranded on a desert island for a month, who would I want to be with? What type of person? Who do I turn to when I’m happiest? And who do I turn to when I need help?

There are many ingredients that go into making a great employee, boss, spouse, and friend. Yet when all those ingredients are boiled down, there is one that rises to the top…kindness.

Intellect without kindness is arrogance. Discipline without kindness is abrupt. Motivation without kindness is dominating. Persistence without kindness is simply annoying. Determination without kindness is Machiavellian.

Sure, we all need a level of intellect, discipline, motivation, persistence and determination to succeed. And yes, there are many who succeed with these attributes in the absence of being kind. Why is that? Kindness costs nothing. You don’t have to take a graduate course to learn kindness. Maybe that’s the problem? Have we lost the ability to see the simplicity of success when kindness is added as the final ingredient?

Kindness doesn’t mean losing. Being kind doesn’t mean taking the back seat. Kindness does not operate from a position of weakness, but rather a position of strength. Being kind is a conscious choice. Your buyers feel it, your employees feel it, your spouse feels it, and yes, strangers feel it. That random act of kindness from someone you don’t even know that puts a smile on your face and warms the heart. We can all learn from kindness, and kindness is ours free to give. It’s your choice.

12 Things Great Leaders Do Daily

McChrystal

By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group – at least that’s what Professor Google says.  My definition is a bit different.  Who wants to be commanded?  Sure there are times, situations, and circumstances when being in command is required.  Directing, ordering, and controlling are verbs that often come to mind when we think of leaders.

Just about anyone can be taught to do these things.  Just about anyone can dish orders, direct others, and attempt to control.  Many “leaders” regardless of training can do this for some period of time before being discovered as ineffective.  Great leaders however, take a different approach.  These leaders must do all the directing, ordering, and controlling as previously mentioned but it’s how they accomplish these things that set them apart.

Great leaders are great because they:

  1. Understand how to empathize
  2. Effectively communicate their vision
  3. Ask great questions, deep questions that provide insight
  4. Act in their own authentic way, not trying to be someone else
  5. Adopt a beginners attitude
  6. Surround themselves with people smarter than they are
  7. Spend time on self-reflection, how they operate and the result produced
  8. Network and connect with others to learn
  9. Ask for, and accept help when needed
  10. Lean on mentor(s) for coaching and perspective
  11. Roll up their sleeves, never asking others to do something they haven’t or wouldn’t do themselves
  12. Inspire others through their words, actions, and behaviors

So start today with some self-reflection.  What are you doing?  What do you spend most of your time on?  How do you interact with those around you?  What’s the reaction of others when you walk in a room, speak during a meeting, engage with others in a break-room?  Consider this list and strive to embrace each one in a genuine way and you’ll find your results improve in a timely manner.

Why Generosity?

generosity

Lately I’ve been paying more attention to the actions, words, and behaviors of the business world.  Observing acts of kindness and generosity. Watching folks give their time, talent, ideas and coaching to others.  Providing insights and perspectives that make a positive impact in someone’s life.

The world of business can be difficult at times.  It may even be difficult most times.  We live in a hyper competitive environment where the rule of thumb has always been to outshine those around you.  If I can just outperform, over deliver, sell the most, build the coolest this-or-that, I’ll be vaulted to the top. That was then…

Today, the there’s another way to shine, be seen, rise to the top, and excel.  It’s a paradigm shift, and perhaps a shift some either don’t believe in or feel is too soft.  That shift revolves around being generous.

Generosity isn’t a weakness.  It’s not about being soft.  Being generous demonstrates the ultimate control.  You’re in control of your choices, actions and decisions.  You choose where to spend your time and where not to spend it.  Generosity is about both quality and quantity…the two MUST be tied together to be a generous act.  Giving someone a mountain of feedback without any guidance or coaching as to how they might use that feedback isn’t being generous.  It’s also not showing great leadership either but that’s for a different day.  Generosity comes from being “genuinely” concerned for another.

Think of those who have helped you in life and your career.  Can you think of someone who helped you for no reason at all?  Perhaps someone who took an interest in you and at the time you couldn’t understand why?  It appeared then that they would have had nothing to gain by helping you but they did anyway…willingly giving their time and attention to you.

Can you think of a person like that?  I can.  Several.  And without exception, every one of them is super successful with reputations as strong leaders, mentors, confidants, and friends. They’ve filled their buckets by helping those around them and by doing so their successes multiplied.  We all know that one person at work who everyone loves.  They never have a bad word to say about anyone.  They are trusted by everyone and intimidated by no one. Without seeking power, they’ve acquired it through their generosity.  They use that power to help others, foster relationships, calm storms, and generate new ideas.

Think about how generous you are.  It’s not about money…it’s far more than that.  It’s about giving something much more valuable than money. It’s about giving some of yourself to others. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want the world to see.” Start small and see the difference it makes.

Preparing to Fail is the First Step to Winning

Failure

Some of the most important lessons we learn in life are from our failures.  They serve as proof that we are trying new things, pushing new boundaries, and welcoming the unknown.  John Maxwell, the famous inspirational author, says the quality that distinguishes someone successful from one who is unsuccessful is his “capacity to manage disappointment and loss.” He goes on to say that while we all want to succeed, we should instead train for losses.

From our earliest days as children we learn to accept failure.  We fall while trying to learn how to walk, or ride a bike.  We don’t make the team we try out for, or we do make the team but as second string.  We get accepted by 4 of the 5 colleges we apply to, but that one declination stings.  Failure is everywhere.

Imagine if the world’s greatest inventors refused to fail.  Everything from the light bulb, to air travel, from the television, to the computer would be at risk.  When Thomas Edison was asked about how many times he tried for the light bulb and failed he said, “I didn’t have 1,000 failures.  It simply took 1,000 steps to make the light bulb.” Talk about an optimists attitude.

Our challenge is to rid our mind of the negative stigma associated with failure.  Human beings by nature are curious creatures.  Asking “why” leads to testing new thoughts, ideas, ways of doing things.  In the absence of curiosity we would have never discovered new lands, new civilizations, new technologies, or new medicines to treat and cure disease.  So why is it that people run from failure?

I would submit that some people believe failure shows weakness.  If you knew…you wouldn’t have failed.  Talk about an absurd viewpoint.  The famous management expert, Peter Drucker, said, “I would never promote a person into a high-level job who was not making mistakes…Otherwise he is sure to be mediocre.” Many organizations reward status-quo.  Companies that find themselves on a winning streak become complacent.  Their leadership sits back to relax and enjoy victory.  The problem is, that while you’re sitting back complimenting yourself for being so brilliant, your competition is working feverishly to disrupt your success and pass you by.  It happens every day.

So shift your thinking from having to be an expert at everything to one of a beginner…a learner.  When you’re in a learning mode your mind is open to everything that’s possible.  When you’ve decided you are an expert your subconscious shuts down your critical thinking skills creating tunnel vision.  So open your eyes, let your mind wander, and begin to think of new ways to do things.  As John Maxwell said, “Mistakes are acceptable as long as the damage isn’t too great. It doesn’t matter how much milk you spill as long as you don’t lose your cow!”

Embrace your failures…with each one you’re learning, growing, and becoming better at whatever you’re doing.

 

 

Leader or Executive – Which Are You?

Washington

The dictionary defines an executive as someone who has administrative, or supervisory authority within an organization.  A leader is defined as simply one who leads.

I’ve been blessed throughout my career to have encountered some of the best leaders in the business world. Many of these leaders took a personal interest in me and my development. The coached me. Guided me. Taught me.  They invested in me. These same leaders who I once worked for have become mentors later in my career.  They are the same people I turn to for coaching and advice today who taught me years ago. They stood by my side then and they’re still with me today.

From them I learned the importance of kindness, and the power of paying it forward in the business world. And just how do you pay it forward in the business world?  By leading. Just as I had someone take an interest in developing me, I too have taken people under my wing to teach them.  Leadership is about giving not taking. Taking is easy.  Giving is tough.

Leaders inspire. They provide vision. They create excitement. Leaders instill trust. They stand firm in the face of adversity. They provide strength and confidence. Leaders create an environment where learning takes center stage.  They have a beginners attitude.  I’ve worked for plenty of executives who believe they know everything, yet I’ve never worked for a leader who behaved that way.  Leaders know that to continue leading they must continue to learn. When the learning stops, so does the leading.

The good news is that it’s a choice.  It’s a conscious choice to lead.  It takes time, courage, discipline, a sense of humor, and perhaps most importantly leadership takes commitment.  Commitment to keep learning, to keep teaching, to keep giving.  I’ll take a leader any day of the week over an executive.

Is it time to change?

The-Rol-of-Good-Communication-Skills-While-Introducing-Change

With nearly 200,000 books on “change” for sale at Amazon.com you can bet people are trying to understand change in their lives.  Whether it’s a new job, new boss, your first child, a different diet or a ruptured disc, chances are someone somewhere is trying to understand how it will affect their life.

Some companies spend years and countless resources to avoid change.  They operate under the “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” model.  This mindset stifles innovation and simultaneously sends a message to employees to not try new things.  Sure we can all agree that New Coke’s introduction in 1985 was a miss.  It resulted in a drop in market share and ultimately ended in 2002 as Coke brought back the “classic”.  New Coke however represented a change.  It represented innovation regardless of the outcome.  Think about it.  Steve Jobs introduced the first PDA, Newton, in 1993 and just 5 short years later it was discontinued.

So when should you change?  Is change mandated by a timeframe?  Does your competition drive when you change?  Does your boss require you to change, or a merger that results in a new management teams arrival force a change?  Is it a measure of market share?

There’s no one way to advise someone, or a company, when the right time is to change.  My belief is that it’s better to change before change is forced upon you.  However, if you have a change mindset chances are you view change as a learning experience.  A way to grow.  A chance to expand your horizons.

In the movie, The 100 Foot Journey, Helen Mirren’s character, the owner of a one-star French restaurant who is in relentless pursuit of her second star, asks Manish Dayal’s character, a chef, why he changed a 200 year old recipe.  His response? “Maybe 200 years was long enough.”

Don’t change for the sake of change.  That’s silly.  Change because the thing you are altering, modifying, or adjusting will become better as a result of the change.  Perhaps the true result indicates the change wasn’t worth it.  I’d suggest to reevaluate a few weeks, months, or even years later.  When Steve Jobs was asked why Newton flopped yet the iPod took off, Jobs said the world simply wasn’t ready for Newton.  The infrastructure, specifically referring to the iTunes store, wasn’t ready.  Sometimes a change made today doesn’t make sense today, tomorrow, or next month.  But with time, an open mind, and a beginners attitude we can learn from all of our changes.  They instruct us, inspire us, and lead us to better outcomes.  Without change we become stagnant, static, irrelevant.  And who wants that?