Leadership Advance

Leadership Thoughts for Life Long Learners

Be Aware

If I were honest with myself I would conclude that I miss more than I get. One of the fundamental practices of ensuring we get the most out of everything is to be more fully aware in the moment. Rarely is piling more action items on the calendar the solution to seeing better results. If we could eliminate action items, or even keep the same items, yet be more aware and in tune with what is going on in the moment we could capitalize on the opportunity which is right in front of us. I have met far too many individuals that are so concerned about missing the “next big thing” that their lack of awareness concerning opportunity right in front of them never materializes. Being more aware does not happen accidentally; it must be intentional. Awareness requires you to listen more than you speak. It requires you to observe your surroundings rather than ignore them. It just might be that the key to a better future has been right in front of you all along, you just missed it.

Do Not Try Harder

Curiosity is a value that opens new worlds to us.  New experiences, challenges and opportunities await you when you develop the art of curiosity.  I enjoy the familiar and comfortable as much as anyone else, but I have worked to incorporate into my life intentional curiosity.  It was this curiosity which led me to decide to try to run a Marathon last year.  If I were to ask what my motivation for signing up for this Marathon was, I would have to say it was the simple answer of curiosity.  What if I tried and succeeded?  What if I was a natural talent?  What if I fell in love with running?  I would never know unless I tried.

While I have always been in pretty good shape and had even maintained a disciplined exercise routine the year or two prior to signing up for the Marathon, I really did not recognize what I was about to dive into.  It became glaringly obvious that you do not just decide to try to run a Marathon one day.  You can’t just wake up one morning and decide you are going to try to run 26.2 miles in hopes that you will discover you are a natural at it and will fall in love with it. In my experience, people that wake up and try such feats usually end up never accomplishing what they set out to do, or worse, they injure themselves, sometimes permanently.  This is why I say that trying is not good enough!  Even saying you will try harder next time is not going to advance you.  The answer comes in the form of Training, not Trying.

The transition from Trying to Training separates the novice from the elite.  While it is true, there are some things in life that we pick up one day and try, only to discover we have natural talent. Nobody ever became great at something just because they tried it one day and found they had natural talent.  Natural Talent must embrace the philosophy of Training for it to ever produce sustainable and unnatural results.

I wonder how your life would change if you embraced the mindset of training rather than trying?  What if every new experience was not viewed as just something you are trying, but a real life laboratory from which you could learn lessons to prepare you in life for the future?  I wonder how your business or organization would transform if you did not just approach each day by trying harder, but rather focused on lessons presented to you each day so you could progressively become better?

The beauty of viewing each day as a day to Train as opposed to a day to Try is that trying harder will eventually cause you to lose your energy and you will burnout. Training takes each day in stride and you recognize the value of bad days and good days, because each day is a day to learn something which can be applied to your tomorrow to create a better world.  I challenge you as a leader to not try harder, but Train Better!  Oh, and just in case you were wondering….. I completed my first full Marathon in 4 hours and 38 minutes and have already signed up for another one this fall with a goal of doing better based on my training, not trying.

 

4 Steps to Produce More

I desire to produce more!  This statement is one that I hear continually.  The very nature of leadership itself moves you to desire to operate at a higher level; to see more results; to produce at a greater rate.  Several observations must be considered if greater production is what we desire.

First, greater output will require greater input.  You can only give what you have.  While this may seem basic, this very concept is where many leaders hit a ceiling in their effectiveness.  When we desire to produce at a greater level, we must begin by looking at the input of our lives first.  What personal plan do you have in place to increase the level of input you receive?  What blogs/books do you read?  What people do you spend time with?  Whose voice do you listen to the most? When was the last time you intentionally listened to something new? The answer to these questions will help you to determine whether the current level of input is sufficient for the output you desire.

Secondly, greater output will require a greater capacity!  Your ability to increase your learning capacity will determine your ability to be more.  Two vehicles may get the same miles per gallon, but the vehicle with the larger gas tank will go further!  Your capacity is therefore directly linked to your ability.  The good news is that all of us have the ability to expand our capacity as leaders, which leads me to my third point.

Third, expanding our capacity as a leader will require us to grow.  The only way you can expand your capacity is if you are willing to stretch yourself and grow.  Play it safe leaders rarely operate at the capacity they are capable of because they are always concerned about the question, What if?  What if it falls apart?  What if I fail?  What if I don’t like the new reality?  Too many leaders have allowed their growth to be stunted out of the fear of what if?

Last, a new expanded capacity presents a new reality.  The leader that expands his capacity will have to learn to grow into his new reality, thereby producing more.  The longer the leader fails to internalize growth into his DNA after being stretched, the greater the risk the leader will never grow.

 

Values, Morals & Ethics

A common phrase that is repeated often is, “actions speak louder than words.”  When contemplating the issue of personal values, morals, and ethics, we must focus primarily on the actions and choices we take rather than just on stated values.  Just as the clearest identifier of a seed is the fruit it ultimately bares, our actions become the fruit of our lives that flow from our roots or our values and morals.  Having clearly defined values and morals are what ultimately guide our decision- making process both personally, as well as organizationally.  In this paper, I will briefly discuss how values and morals guide my decision-making process.

The very nature of being a leader immediately positions us in a place of influence.  In many cases, the leader of an organization is the one that does not run from a tough decision or problem, but rather is the one that embraces the difficulty standing ahead.  While some decisions the leader must make are simple, many predicaments the leader is given to handle are not clear-cut.  It is in these moments the leader must find something deeper within them than just what can be found on the surface.  Clearly defined values and a moral code that drives ethical behavior must come into play.

When faced with an ethical decision that will ultimately affect myself, as well as those I lead I must begin by digging beneath the surface to the core of who I am by exploring my values and morals in light of the choice.  For me personally, these values and morals come from a solid foundational belief in the Word of God as the authority in my life.  Therefore, it is my personal desire for others to discover the fruit of my life in perfect alignment and sustained by the root of the Word of God.

When faced with an ethical or moral dilemma it is not wise to rely upon feelings as the guide of our choice.  While a gut feeling can lead you in some instances it is not a reliable standard to use when facing issues of this magnitude.  Having made the decision to build my life on the Word of God and viewing the Word of God as the foundation of all moral choices and the seedbed for my personal values I always go back to it when seeking clarity on specific issues.  In many instances, the Word of God will speak clearly for or against an issue that society views as a personal preference. On the occasions when it doesn’t, I must begin to process my decision-making through the lens of my values and principles, which are rooted in the Word of God.

If I do not have clear direction on a difficult decision I am facing, I then ask how the decision I am about to make will affect the values and principles I have chosen to live by.  If a decision for something is legally and morally ok, yet it would violate my personal values and principles, I am obligated to not pursue the decision any further.  If the decision is legally and morally ok and it does not violate my personal values and ethics, I would then place the decision in perspective of short- term and long- term benefits and drawbacks of the choice.  Information is necessary to make wise choices; therefore, if I am lacking information I know I could get if I pursued it, I will try to get that information before I make the decision.  In this case, ignorance is not bliss.

Just as the fruit of a tree determines its DNA, the actions and choices I make determine what my moral code and personal values are.  It is vitally important in the life of a leader to determine early what they personally value. The process of determining ones personal values in life will liberate you to make choices based upon those values later on.  In a sense, our personal values and moral code become the track for which we choose to live our life upon.  The role of a leader is established by the permission of those who choose to follow.  When a leader clearly defines their values and morals and then makes decisions based upon them, trust is built between the leader and follower, which in turn establish a greater permission to lead.

 

How To Create The Culture You Desire

Can you define what a good organizational culture looks and feels like?  While it may be a little difficult to define the many intangible aspects of a positive organizational culture, just about anyone could tell you immediately what destroys organizational culture.  The culture is the life blood of an organization.  I would even take it as far as saying that vision, mission and even codes of conduct matter little if the culture of your organization is not healthy.  So, as a leader, how do I create the culture I desire for my organization?  Simply put, there are two elements the leader must consider if culture building is their desire.  First, your conduct is the most powerful tool you have to create culture.  Secondly, your communication can reinforce your conduct.  When these two elements are in place, you will begin to create the culture you desire.  One of the largest mistakes leaders make while trying to build culture is by communicating first and expecting the culture to be created.  While there is no doubt that communicating a vision has power to create the future, it does little to create culture if your actions are not in alignment.  As a leader focus on acting in the way you want others to act, then reinforce your actions by verbally communicating and rewarding others as they emulate what you have shown them.  While this process may not create the culture you desire overnight.  Consistent actions, backed up by communication will create a culture that is healthy and vibrant.

 

Four Considerations About Delegating

Leaders learn to delegate.  The truth is, while all leaders delegate, I have come to realize not many do it well, and even fewer feel as though they are good at it.  The flip side of the coin is that there are many leaders that think they are great at delegating, but when you dig a little deeper you recognize they are not delegating effectively.  If delegation is done properly it can produce incredible results.  Delegation can maximize the leaders time, it can broaden their influence, and it can aid in producing incredible opportunity for those the leader surrounds himself with.  A few quick thoughts to consider as it relates to delegation

First, many confuse delegating a project with dumping a project on someone else.  Some leaders pride themselves in being incredible at delegating, but when you dig deeper you will discover those they are “delegating” the project to feel as though the leader is dumping unwanted projects on them.  Nothing will build distrust between a team member and leader faster than when the leader dumps what they do not want to do on someone else.  Shifting something you are responsible for onto someone else is not delegation.

Secondly, delegating without releasing your team member to actually do the work necessary is not delegation at all, but it is a sign of a control issue.  If a project is something you delegate, you must be willing to release the team member to do the hard work, but also you must be the first to praise them for the work when it is done.  A true sign of delegating without releasing is if you try to hold your team member responsible for what goes wrong with the project, but you are the first one that desires all the praise if things go well.

Third, delegation without authority is a recipe for failure.  If you delegate a project you must empower your team member and give them the authority to actually accomplish what you have asked.  You can not delegate a project yet not give the authority required to actually accomplish the project.

Last, delegating without clear expectations and timelines is not true leadership.  Delegation requires the leader to set the tone, expectations and timelines for those he is delegating a project too.  It is unfair to hold a team member responsible to timelines and expectations which have not clearly been communicated by the leader.

10 Actions to Cultivate Trust

Leadership is dependent on trust.  If trust is not established, leadership will not happen.  Regardless of your skill, knowledge, pedigree or ability you will not lead others if they do not trust you.  Trust therefore becomes the permission slip to lead.  Recently I read an article that was published in Leadership Excellence in April 2008.  The author of the article was Noreen Kelly.  Kelly gave a list of 10 actions the leader must do to cultivate trust within their organization.  I found these very helpful and thought I would share them for others to read.

1.  Live the Values-  match your actions with your words.

2.  Tell the Truth – be simple, straightforward and consistent.

3. Communicate, Communicate, Communiate-  Listen to others, engage and involve people at the grassroots level of projects.  Remind people early and often of the values and expectations of the organization.

4.  Have Integrity-  Be realistic and make sure you under promise and over deliver.

5. Be Authentic –  Engage in honest conversations and be credible.  Make sure you words and actions are in alignment.

6. Be Accountable-  Admit mistakes and show that you are accountable for your words and actions.

7. Be Transparent – Be visible to others.  Give information if it is needed, do not try to lead people who are in the dark.

8.  Respect the Individual – Be inclusive and show empathy.  Honor people’s feelings and concerns.

9. Share Information –Keep people informed and address issues when they arise.  Give FEEDBACK!

10. Do the Right Thing- ensure that the right thing is done, regardless of the cost associated.

I hope this list helps you as much as it did me.  Trust is everything, so identify which of these areas are lacking in your leadership and begin work on them today.

Reference:

Richardson, J. E. (Ed.) (2011). Annual editions: Business ethics 11/12. NY, NY: McGraw-Hill. ISBN: 978-0073528656

Progression of Accomplishment

Accomplishment is so tricky because it largely depends on what the definition of accomplishment is.  I think this is one reason why so many times leaders gravitate towards setting goals and sticking to them with- laser like focus.  When we set goals which are very clear there is little question as to whether or not we have actually accomplished what we have set out to do.  The very nature of leadership is one of movement and progress, whether it be personally, organizationally or in most instances all of the above.  While this is not supposed to be an exhaustive list, I wanted to share a few things to consider to aid you in accomplishing whatever it is you set out to do .  The simple words which come to my mind are WHAT, WHY, HOW and WHO.  If the leader can answer these questions they will progress towards their desired accomplishment.

  • What? – If the leader can not identify what needs to be accomplished, it will never happen.  The old saying goes like this, “The most accurate individual in the world is the one that never aims at anything.”  Clearly define what needs to happen either personally or organizationally and articulate it.  The simple act of articulating what needs to happen releases incredible momentum towards accomplishing the task.  If using the analogy of a road trip, asking what is like making the decision of where you would like to go.
  • Why?  When the leader knows what needs to happen, they must then answer the question of why it needs to happen.  Asking why will not only create buy-in towards the needed change, but it will also create urgency for the task.  Why is a question of purpose and purpose brings clarity to you and those you lead.  Clearly communicate the purpose for the task and it will instill motivation towards accomplishing the goal. Going back to the analogy of a road trip, asking why is the equivalent of determining the incredible things about the destination you have chosen to visit which you are not part of your current reality.
  • How? How is a question of strategy.  The leader may know what must be done and even have an incredible urgency surrounding why it must be done as it ties back to purpose yet, if the leader lacks a strategy or plan to achieve the task it will fail. Developing a strategic plan separates the dreamers from the doers.  How forces us to move from theory to implementation.  If what is the destination and why is the reason for the road trip, how is choosing the highway or road that you will take to get where you are going all while keeping your resources in mind.  If you choose the wrong road you could run out of resources before ever getting to your destination.
  • Who?  Who forces us determine what kind of leader we need to be to realize the task before us.  Strategy, Purpose and Goals mean nothing if the leader is not mentally, emotionally and physically equipped for the road ahead.  While many leaders can begin noble causes,  only those who have asked the tough question of who will come out the other side mentally, emotionally and physically intact.  Imagine for a moment that you spent hours determining where you wanted to go and why you wanted to go there.  Then, once you have invested yourself into where and why, you spend valuable time finding out how your going to get there.  It would only make sense that for this type of road trip to be successful would require a captain, or a driver that has experience on long road trips.  Answering the question of who you need to be before you take the trip could save you a lot of pain in the middle of your journey.

As a leader, WHAT needs to happen?  WHY does it need to happen?  HOW is it going to happen? Lastly, WHO do you need to become to see it happen?  Now, go and accomplish it.

 

Systems Are Like Domino’s

One of the things I used to enjoy as a kid was to take a pack of domino’s and stand them up one by one next to each other.  It would take painstaking time to organize everything just right, but if done correctly you could make some incredible shapes and intricate designs.  The creation of the domino trail was part of the fun, but the most exhilarating moment of all was when you would give one tiny push on the end domino piece and watch as one by one the rest of the domino’s would fall to the ground.  Each domino’s fall would impact the domino next to it and so on until the end result was every domino was on the ground.

While I still have a child- like fascination with domino’s, I have come to recognize the concept which intrigued me is the same we see in organization’s we lead and are apart of every day.  The leader has incredible potential to give a little push here or tweak something just slightly and before you recognize it, the domino effect takes place and it impacts the entire organization and system.  In the leadership world this is called systems thinking.  What you do today, regardless of how small or large it may appear, will affect every part of the organization you lead or are apart of.  The incredible aspect of the domino effect is understanding that touching one domino will affect every other domino that you have never touched before.  As a leader, one must recognize that their actions and decisions will impact the entire system, even the parts they do not have direct access to.

As the old saying goes, “you are only as strong as your weakest part”, is so true.  The impact of the weakest part of your organization can cause it to hemorrhage to the point of no repair.  The weakest aspect of the organization is like a constant force on a domino that is pushing against every other aspect of the system.  Before long the system breaks down and can not function properly.

The challenge for the leader is to take a step back and view their organization as a set of domino’s.  What domino in the system is throwing every other domino off?  Do you need to push a little harder, or maybe pull back a little?  What small thing are you doing or not doing that is causing an impact that is unhealthy to the culture of the organization you serve?  And just for the fun of it, maybe you should go purchase a pack of domino’s and teach some of the leaders within your organization the impact each one of them makes on all the surrounding people in the organization.

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.

 

Post Navigation