Leadership Advance

Leadership Thoughts for Life Long Learners

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Are You Being Understood?

Are you being understood?  Consider for a moment, when you speak are others hearing you but not listening to you?   When you give directions, are they clear and actionable or do they need to be interpreted by those responsible for carrying them out?  Do you make unfair assumptions when communicating or do you identify all the necessary information and articulate it?

Communication holds power to either be a great catalyst or destroyer of an organization. While I would not consider myself an expert communicator, I do find a large part of my job responsibility as a leader is to communicate effectively.  While this is not an exhaustive list, I thought I would give you a few things to consider when you are needing to communicate, but you desire to be understood as well.

  • Understand your audience before you communicate
  • Your Non Verbal cues speak louder than your Verbal cues
  • Are you relating the information you are communicating to your listener effectively?
  • If you were given one sentence to communicate your message, what would it be?
  • Individual emotions from the giver or receiver have the ability to translate your message before they are ever internalized. (are you being sensitive?)
  • Effective communication is more about clarity of speech than flowery speech.

Hopefully these few thoughts will help guide you as a leader the next time you need to communicate to an individual or even an entire organization.  It is unfair to hold others responsible for something you have not clearly communicated.  So speak to be understood.



Prep Today Will Be Exposed Tomorrow

Leadership lessons can be found all around us in our ordinary lives.  One of the greatest ways to develop as a leader is learning to be aware of the lessons that present themselves in your daily routines.  One of the great lessons I have discovered through my running routines is very simple, yet profound.  If I live by this mantra every day it has the power and potential to revolutionize my life.  Your Preparation Today Will Be Exposed Tomorrow!

There is nothing more miserable than signing up for a race, just to get to the start line with the knowledge that you did not train properly for the race and you are hoping for a miracle.  From the start line you typically can not tell you has properly prepared and who hasn’t, but I have discovered that your training and preparation is not as critical at the start line as it will be when you reach the half way point of your race.  Those who have not prepared properly will have to slow down to a crawl and many times bow out of the race altogether.  In addition, they will have to nurse potential injuries which could set them back for months before they can race again. It is at the half way point through the finish line that your level of preparation is exposed.

While it is a miserable experience to enter a race with the knowledge of improper training, it is equally exhilarating to enter a race knowing that all of your preparation and training is about to be exposed and you are mentally and physically in a place to not only run and complete the race, but own it.  The hard work, the long runs, the proper nutrition and hydration will all be exposed in due time.  The hard work that no one else sees is what prepares you for the glory every one else desires.  If you prepared yesterday for the challenge you will face today, you can walk confidently into the challenge.

One of the things which separates the effective leader from the ineffective is not what they do when the spotlight turns on them, but rather what they did the day before the spotlight focused on them.  In that moment, when all eyes are on you as the leader, you will be exposed.  So, what will be revealed about you?  Will people find that you have done the homework, you have put in the long hours when nobody was watching, you have trained when everyone else was looking?  Or will people recognize that you were hoping for a miracle to occur without ever lifting a finger?  What do you need to do today that will make tomorrow’s challenge something you can own as opposed to something that will ultimately own you?


X or Y

The understanding of human relations as it relates to organizational effectiveness has been around for nearly 100 years.  Douglas McGregor (1906-1964) was a huge contributor in this specific field.  One of McGregor’s greatest contributions in regards to organizational effectiveness as it relates to human relations is a theory he developed called Theory X and Theory Y.  These theories are based on a set of assumptions about people within an organization.  Assumptions are powerful indicators which build the framework of how a leader approaches those they lead.  A quick breakdown of each theory and the assumptions made are as follows: (taken from, The Human Side of Enterprise by McGregor and Bennis)

Theory X Assumptions:

1.  People do not like work and try to avoid it.

2. People do not like work, so managers have to control, direct, coerce, and threaten employees to get them to work toward organizational goals.

3. People prefer to be directed, to avoid responsibility, and to want security, they have little ambition.

Theory Y Assumptions:

1.  People do not naturally dislike work; work is a natural part of their lives.

2. People are internally motivated to reach objectives to which they are committed.

3. People are committed to goals to the degree that they receive personal rewards when they reach their objectives.

4. People will both seek and accept responsibility under favorable conditions.

5. People have the capacity to be innovative in solving organizational problems.

6. People are bright, but under most organizational conditions their potential is underutilized.

While reading through these assumptions the leader can immediately begin to identify the power they play in our approach to leadership.  The most healthy organizational environment in my opinion is when the leader can operate from the Theory Y Assumption.  If assumptions are powerful forces in how we approach those we lead the effective leader must constantly be evaluating the assumptions from which they operate.

Backwards Living

Have you ever starting viewing a football game in the third quarter?  While I love watching football, regardless of the quarter, I understand that at the end of the day all that matters is whether the final score shows that your team scored more or fewer points than the other team.  If you pick up a game in the third quarter the first question you ask is, what is the score.  The reason you want to know what the score is in the third quarter is because it gives you a glimpse as to what happened in the first two quarters and helps bring you up to speed on the game.

When a leader considers their life, or the life of their organization, it is critical for them to learn the skill of backwards living.  What I mean by this is simply the results you desire do not automatically transpire, but the results at the end are a culmination of the choices you made and the things you did in the ensuing years prior.  The final score of a football game is not determined in the last minute of the game, but it is a culmination of everything that happened throughout all four quarters. As a leader the trajectory of your life today will determine the destination you arrive at tomorrow.

Stephen Covey made this principle famous in his book entitled, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People.  The habit Covey identified is called, Beginning With the End in Mind, or as I am calling it, backwards living.  If the leader desires to put this principle into practice they must begin by clearly identifying what they desire the results to be before they ever begin their journey.  When we have knowledge of where we are going, we must then be able to clearly identify our present reality.   Just as a GPS in your car needs an ending point (results) as well as a starting point (reality) to give clear directions, the leader must determine both if they desire to make forward progress.

In my experience, forward progress is stunted when either the present reality or the desired results are not clearly articulated.  It is only when we know who and where we are and who we want to become and where we want to go are clearly defined that we begin to make forward progress.  When we can identify where we need to be, it helps us measure any incremental progress we make towards meeting our goal and it gives us the opportunity to celebrate the progress along the way.

So, where are you?  Or maybe a better question would be, Who are you?  Once you determine this you can begin to ask yourself who you want to become as well as where you want to go?  I am a big proponent of living backwards simply because I have learned that living backwards is proactive, whereas trying to live forward is reactive in nature.  When I live backwards I live with intention, when I live forward I just take what comes to me.

Pave the Way

Do you get a thrill out of doing something which has never been done before?  If I were given the choice to either a) do something routine and ordinary, or b) do something that has never been done before, I would have to go with the latter.  While the routine and ordinary is necessary, that is for another blog.  I was given the opportunity to take my kids out into the winter wonderland that is Northeast Ohio today to go sledding.  There is an incredible hill near our house that begs for you to get a sled and just have a blast, so that is exactly what we did.

When we arrived there were numerous families out sledding on the hill.  We went to the side of the hill that was not nearly as steep to begin the adventure.  After we felt we had mastered the bunny hill I looked over to the boys and asked them a simple question, “Do you want to head over to the really steep part?”  My oldest son said yes although you could sense a nervous gulp gathering in his throat.  The next comment he said was priceless, “but dad, nobody else is sledding up there.” We went and conquered the hill and we were unsatisfied with any other hill after we had been exposed to the new one.

The connections to leadership and sledding are plentiful.  One of the correlations I noticed immediately was the simple recognition that there are some hills that need to be conquered that nobody else is willing to conquer.  The main difference between a leader and follower is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to conquer the fear and do it anyways.  Another lesson you learn is that the first time down the hill is always the most difficult and it will always be the slowest.  The reason for this is that you have to pack the snow in and pave the way the first time. There are lessons that must be learned. The goal in your initial run is that you just make it to the bottom.  Every subsequent trip down the hill is much more efficient because you stay in the path that has already been packed down for you.  The leader must view their role as having the courage to step out and pave the way, not because it is easy, but because it is difficult.  If it were easy to pave the way, everyone would do it.  Just as it was while sledding today, once the new hill is conquered and the way has been paved, you just can’t find satisfaction going back to the bunny hill ever again.

Is there a hill in your life, career, organization, or your market  that you have been too afraid to step out and conquer?  Is the difficult nature of paving the way what is keeping you back?  I encourage you to step out and pave the way.  Be the leader that paves the way and prepares a trail that can be traveled more efficiently by those behind you.  I believe you will discover that when you conquer your hill and have a new “normal” you will never be satisfied with the bunny hill again.

The Most Difficult Person to Lead

I think every leader has had to deal with an individual that just refused to be led.  We quickly categorize these people as difficult or problem people.  As I have contemplated trying to lead difficult people, one thought occurred to me that I am rather ashamed to admit, but one that I have found to be true.  The most difficult person I have ever had to lead is myself!  It could be because I know how distracted I can become as a leader, it could be because I realize how easy it is to lose my focus.   I could qualify as the most difficult person to lead because I am incredibly skilled at making excuses for lack of progress in my personal development when I know the excuses I have given myself would never hold up with anyone else.  Yes, it is true, I can be a difficult person, and I think if we were all honest with ourselves we would admit that we have all been difficult to work with at some point.

The very nature of leadership is based on the simple truth that I can only lead and influence people which give me permission to lead and influence them.  The way I handle my own affairs, the way I discipline myself, the way I exhibit character, the way I handle difficult situations, the way I listen before I speak….. all of these personal issues become the substance of leadership.  It is difficult to lead oneself because when we do not meet a deadline, or we do not achieve the vision, or we do not meet the goal, we must look at ourselves first and ask the tough questions honestly before we can ever look to anyone else to connect the blame to.  If you are human, this can be one of the most difficult tasks you will ever do, yet if you can learn to self- evaluate while not looking through rose -colored glasses, you will be much further down the road and you will embody true leadership.  So, go ahead, lead yourself first…….and you just mind find after a while that others will begin to follow.



Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud

Leader’s love to learn new things.  While it is a common phrase that I am sure you have heard before, I believe it is worth repeating, I know what kind of person you will be in 5 years based upon the books you are reading and the people you surround yourself with.  Since this is a reality, we must understand that we don’t know what we don’t know.  Therefore, to know something, we have to ingest it.  There is no better way to ingest leadership materials than having a constant diet of reading good materials.  For this reason, I would like to share with my readers from time to time books that I am reading or have read that have impacted me greatly in the arena of leadership.  My hope is that you would pick the book up and read it and allow the content to impact you as significantly as it did me.

One such book that has recently impacted me is Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud.  Dr. Cloud makes the assertion that “who a person is will ultimately determine if their brains, talents, competencies, energy, effort, deal-making abilities, and opportunities will succeed (Integrity, p. 8).”  Who we are will ultimately determine what we do.  Skill and competency can never replace character.  We have all known individuals from time to time that have an incredible ability to generate excitement and cast vision, but at the end of the day we do not desire to work with them because we understand a simple truth – If vision is the target we aim for, character is the fuel that will get us there. Quite honestly, a grand vision without the integrity to achieve it causes more harm than good. Dr. Cloud identifies 6 dimensions of Character that are essential for leaders of integrity.  These 6 characteristics are as follows 1) Establish Trust 2) Oriented Toward Truth 3) Get Results 4)Embrace the Negative 5) Oriented Toward Increase 6)Oriented Toward Transcendence.  Each one of these characteristics are not only explained in detail, but they are also communicated in an effective way that leaves the reader feeling as though they have the knowledge and practical tools as to how to incorporate and start living these characteristics out in their lives immediately.  I personally recommend this book for every leader!  In my opinion it should be a book that is revisited frequently and readily accessible on the leaders bookshelf.



The 5 Why’s

Leaders often discover a truth rather quickly when leading any group of people or organization.  This enlightenment is that the problem is rarely the problem.  What I mean by this is that the problems that present themselves are rarely the cause of the issue.  A leader can spend a large portion of their energy and effort dealing with the symptoms of problems rather than digging deep into the issue and finding the root cause of the problem.  One of the great differences between a good leader and a poor leader is that the poor leader focuses on and manages symptoms whereas the good leader focuses on and manages the root of the problem.  So, the question must be, how do I dig beneath the surface of a problem to discover the root cause?  While it may not be the most scientific method to discovering root causes of problems, I have personally found a simple and effective methodology to unearthing root causes.  The only thing required is asking one question….. WHY?  Asking why something is happening gets you underneath the surface, but I have found that the greatest way to unearth the root of the problem typically requires asking why up to five separate times.  For example……

  1. Why are sales lagging?  Because fewer people are shopping at our store.
  2. Why are fewer people shopping at our store? Because our marketing campaign is not connecting.
  3. Why is our marketing campaign not connecting? Because we have not clearly identified our target market.
  4. Why have we not identified our target market?  Because we will not admit who our product appeals to.
  5. Why will we not admit who our product appeals to? Because we are unclear as to the vision of our organization.

While this scenario is hypothetical, it shows how a leader can move from wondering why sales are lagging (a symptom) to recognizing that the vision of the organization is actually unclear and therefore not focused (root cause).  As a leader, what problems have you been facing that seem to come up over and over again?  It could be time to build some curiosity and dig deeper to deal with the root cause of the problem so that your organization can deal with the problem and move forward.


The Gift of Value

In a difficult economic season of our nation we have seen a trend occurring across the different sectors of business.  One sector in particular that has latched onto an important concept which I call the gift of value is the restaurant industry.  While their are many things which drive business to a restaurant such as environment or style, I find the greatest driver for restaurants that brings sustainability over the long haul is their value to the guest.  If an individual feels they are receiving a good value for the price they pay, they will return to the place of business over and over again.  As a leader one of the greatest questions we must ask ourselves is simply this, ” Do I add value to the people I am leading?”  If the answer to this question is no, you most likely will not be leading for long, or if you do, you will find the culture of your organization affected in an adverse way.  If the answer is yes, you will discover those who follow your leadership will build loyalty around the vision you are leading them to.  It is very easy for leaders to become so caught up in the day to day tasks that we forget a fundamental truth, the greatest asset to any leader are the people we work with, not the things we do or accomplish.  So, make a deposit in someone today by giving the gift of value.  Ask yourself a simple question, “Do I add value to those who are connected to me?”

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