The Secret to Success In Leadership and Life; Persistence

Engaging in the right actions, completed the right way, consistently begins a cycle to achieve success.
-Photo from PxHere

Doing anything for 60 years is hard. At a 60 year wedding anniversary party, the husband was asked what the secret was to staying married for so long. His response, “Don’t get divorced!” Simple right? Simply work persistently on your marriage for 720 months and you too will stay married for 60 years. The principal of persistence is the secret for staying married for 60 years, succeeding in life, and leading others well.

While the principal of persistence implies success through repeated efforts, it is important to understand that persistence along does not guarantee success. In order for your persistent efforts to achieve success in some area of life, you have to execute correct behaviors, in the proper fashion, completed in the right order, on a consistent basis. Doing the right things at the wrong time, or without consistency, reduces the effectiveness of your behavior.

The Correct Behaviors

There are several acceptable ways to build a roof for one’s home. Many modern homes rely on trusses to hold the sheathing. Back in the day, builders used hand hewn beams to create the rafters. Prairie dwellers used thatching instead of traditional shingles. All work well to their purpose in their location, so long as you completed the right tasks.

Applying trusses requires different steps and skills than if a carpenter is applying a rafter structure. Trusses come preassembled, ready to lift to the tops of the walls to be secured appropriately. There are steps building crews take to secure the trusses to the walls and to the other trusses. Failing to complete any step of the installation correct means the roof is not completely sound. It may survive a normal rainstorm and carry the load of a winter’s worth of snow, but the first big wind that blows, the residents may find they are exposed to the elements.

Consistent behavior that is out of line with required behavior is not persistence. Persistence repeats appropriate behavior.
-Photo by Julia Volk on Pexels.com

Along the same lines, a thatched roof may work well to keep the rain off your head on a tropical island. If you build the same home in a cold climate that receives snow, however, you may need to learn to build an igloo! The grass that shed rain lacks the strength to hold solid precipitation.

You can persistently build homes in Canada with perfectly executed thatched roofs, but it is unlikely you will sell many. Correct behavior means not only executing what you know to the best of your ability, but also that the action is appropriate for the circumstances. It is a twofold test to determine correct behavior.

The Proper Fashion

The nation cringed every time the news played clips from the arrest of George Floyd. Two rookie and one veteran police officer struggled to arrest him because they did not understand the proper way to restrain and escort a resistant person. In the case of rookies, one expects them to learn from those with experience and according to one clip, one of the officers questioned the tactic but lacked another solution because of his lack of experience. There are effective techniques to control resistant people. Other police officers around the nation encounter resistant people and for the most part, those resisters are successfully placed in police cars, brought to police stations, and live to tell their side of the story. While most people will not find themselves in situations where the proper or improper actions result in the death of another, when someone fails to execute a behavior in the correct way, there eventually are negative consequences. You may persistently execute that behavior and experience some success, but failure is a more likely outcome.

An example is of the pilot who flew antique WWI airplanes. The particular plane he flew required someone to spin the propeller two times before attempting to start the engine. This procedure had something to do with moving oil or something like that, which prevented the pistons from seizing during operation. This pilot admitted he rarely completed this step and never had a problem except once. As he tells the tale, shortly after take off, the engine seized, causing the propellers to stop turning. He was able to turn around and land safely. He says he never skips the step now. The moral is that persistently following the wrong way to do things eventually results in failure. You may succeed in the short term, but the odds grow against you with time. Do the right things the right way long enough, and you are more likely to succeed.

The Correct Order

Sometimes the order one completes tasks is of little consequence. I was observing a class on preparing a radio for use in the field. The instructor told the students to insert the battery and then turn over the radio and attach the antenna. The point was that before you attach the antenna, the user has easier access to the battery. The instructor was teaching a class of people learning to become instructors. One student assembled the radio by first attaching the antenna and then placing the radio on its side and sliding in the battery. Following this method was typically slower and made it more difficult to align the pins in the battery compartment with the slots in the battery, which could damage the pins and render the radio inoperative.

The instructor trainer failed the student and explained he failed to complete the steps in the correct order. The student replied, “Doesn’t matter; it works!” The instructor trainer explained the reasons for assembling the radio as instructed and directed the student to complete the task again. Again, he did with the antenna first. Eventually the student was removed and spoken to by the headmaster of the training program. The student passed but received poor comments on his evaluation.

While the student’s point about the radio operating by assembling it his way was true, it was not the correct order. The order directed by the instructor reduced the risk of damaging the radio. Just because there are no consequences for failing to follow the order of directions in one iteration does not mean there are never consequences. If the student instructor taught all his people to assemble the radio the way he did it, the likelihood of damaged radios increases. The cost for repairing the radios increases, reducing funds available for other activities. Most importantly, the radio is not available for the operations conducted by the organization. Even if a replacement was immediately available, that may not always be the case.

Taking shortcuts may seem like it saves time in the short run. In the end however, the cost can be great. One may not break a radio pin, but what if an employee fails to follow a procedure and as a result people are injured or killed?

Consistent Action

Consistency is synonymous with persistence. However, they are not exactly the same. Consistency is the principal regular adherence to a course (derived from dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com). Persistence is consistency without stopping until you reach the objective. It is possible to be persistent without being consistent. Your results will take longer to achieve. Depending on how inconsistent your persistence is, you may find achievement not possible.

You do not run a marathon without some practice. However, you do not finish a marathon with making consistent, persistent steps for 26.2 miles!
-Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels.com

Consistent action goes a long way to improving attainment and speed of results. It is better to do a little bit on a regular basis than trying to complete a long list of tasks a single time (See Ten Minute Rule). Acting consistently allows you to determine how to adjust actions. You can beat your head against a brick wall for years hoping to break through it. If you bang your head against that wall five times every day, you will realize sooner that there is probably a better way to break down that wall and waiting until Saturday and banging your head for an hour without evaluating your results.

Persistence is an important principle of success. It implies you do not stop until you achieve your goal. However, repeating unsuccessful habits do little to move you forward. As you travel down the path toward your goal, it is important to do the things that work, effectively, in an order that builds on previous successes, consistently. That means you stop periodically to evaluate that you are doing the right things effectively in the right order on a regular basis. Persistence is more than never quitting. It means you evaluate to avoid making the same mistakes and hoping for a different outcome. Persistence requires periodically stopping to apply the lessons you learn so, you do the right things more effectively. If you are persistent and do not occasionally stop to evaluate your progress, you may find you ended up someplace you did not want to go. Take a breath, look around to see where you are, then adjust so, you stay on the path as you persistently move forward!

Small Adjustments, Like Compound Interest, Equal Big Change

Looking before leaping ensures you have a good understanding what lies under the surface. This understanding allows you to make small adjustments to meet conditions and improve success.
-Photo by Lucas Allmann on Pexels.com

As a young man, I was approached by an insurance salesman about the miracle of compound interest. The theory is sound. With a little discipline, a little luck, the right investment vehicle, and the right advisor, saving a little on a regular basis with the compound interest added over a period of time, one ends up with a good-sized bankroll. In an earlier post, I introduced the concept of the ten-minute rule; taking ten minutes each day to dedicate to an activity that will make tremendous improvements in your life. The discipline required to dedicate to ten minutes every day is the same as that for saving. Six Sigma and Total Quality Improvement both tout the importance of making small changes to make products and services better. Do you remember the old adage, “Look before you leap”? Small steps may be a better, safer way to descend from or climb up a mountain.

Change is coming. We all know it. Change is at the very heart of leadership. Without change, there would be no need for leaders. Too often organizations make broad, sweeping changes. We all know that a new broom sweeps clean but how many new brooms can an organization afford to buy, use, store, and maintain? Sometimes sweeping changes are necessary like when a wildfire burns down your whole town, your biggest customer goes bankrupt, or your CFO suddenly resigns to move to his new home in the Caribbean purchased without authorization from your company’s funds. Those kinds of changes are rapid and wide-spread. The stimulus for those kinds of changes are difficult to predict. Good leaders should look to the future in order to make predictions and decisions about the future. With a vision toward the future, leaders develop plans to implement changes preparing for the future. People adapt to smaller changes easier. Smaller changes allow leaders to observe responses before fully committing to bigger changes. Small changes are the little peeks before the big leap.

When implemented well, little changes result in big differences that are not often understood at the time of the change. Small, successive changes help leaders understand if their theory is valid. It is easier to take a few steps down a path to see what lies ahead than to blindly start off only to learn you are going the wrong way. Incremental changes allow us to do just that.

Small decisions frequently make the difference between success and failure. The decision by Stark to attack surprised the British defenders near Bennington, VT. Few recognized the importance of this small engagement at the time it occurred. It became the turning point in the American Revolution.
-Engraving of a painting by Alonzo Chappel – http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?808641, Public Domain,

An example of small decisions that lead to big results is the battle that occurred outside Bennington, VT in August 1777. The British were attempting to cut off the New England Colonies from the rest of the rebels. Armies were to march north from New York City and south from Canada. The General in NYC thought he had an opportunity to fix and destroy George Washington’s main army after the isolation plan started. He started moving his army to close with Washington without consulting the army from Canada. British and Colonial forces clashed at Saratoga, NY.

Facing dwindling supplies and seeking a way around the Continentals, the British commander sent a small party towards Bennington. The commander knew the rebels established a base of stores there. Additionally, this course presented a possible route around the opposing forces. Word reached the militia commanders John Stark and Ethan Allen. Both independently sent small detachments to Bennington. Stark found the British forces on a hill west of Bennington and defeated them. After a rapid march from New Hampshire, a soggy night, and a muddy, bloody battle, his men were spent. Instead of pursuing the beaten British, Stark reassembled his men to return to New Hampshire.

About that time, Col Seth Warner showed up with his regiment of Green Mountain Boys. After exchanging information with Stark, they decided to pursue the enemy. Instead of finding a bunch of stragglers, the Green Mountain Boys encountered fresh British troops sent to reinforce those sent to Bennington. Warner had the element of surprise and defeated those reinforcements. This small skirmish was later recognized as the turning point of the Revolutionary War. The war moved south, but the Brits never were able to pin down the Americans to obtain a decisive blow.

Understanding levels of complexity helps leaders make incremental changes that allow them to determine if those changes affect the problem in the desired fashion.
-Cynefin Model from Clear Impact Consulting Group.

If we relook at Cynefin Model of understanding problems, we find that simple problems are the only kind that call for the application of best practices. The others call for examination and exploration in order to determine what practices to apply. Complected, Complex, and Chaotic problems require leaders to analyze situations, probe for causes, or take novel action to gain a sense of the problem. In each case, taking small steps allow leaders to determine if they are moving in the right direction or if they have yet to establish a good understanding of the problem and require a different solution. Even when it seems everything is falling apart, small incremental changes allow leaders to test solutions, looking before they commit fully to a course of action. Yes, the time may be short and leaders may only be able to test one or two possible solutions, but they can determine if those actions will work, or if they need to continue to identify better answers.

The world can be a big, scary place, even with today’s advanced technology. Not all problems and change are easy to anticipate and respond. Leaders who understand the principal of compound interest know that series of small actions help determine if something will work or if they need to look for other solutions before committing to a particular course to deal with change. Small steps taken at the beginning of the problem-solving cycle gives leaders opportunities to look on the other side of the wall before jumping over the wall. As a result, s/he knows whether there is a little ledge or a huge drop off on the other side. Change is ever present. It is the key reason organizations need leaders. Most change is incremental, therefore, so should the leader’s response to change also be incremental. Learning these skills helps leaders make better decisions when rapid change occurs. Do not knuckle under the pressure to make a big decision up front. Find ways to make a series of little decisions when confronting a problem. Doing so puts the power of incremental change to work for you and your organization.

References

Clear Impact Consulting Group (2018). Complexity theory: The cynefin model. Clear Impact Consulting Group. Edmonton, AB.

Friends of the Bennington Battle Monument (N.D.) The battle of Bennington: the turning point of the American revolution. The Battle of Bennington Monument, https://benningtonbattlemonument.com/battle.html. Retrieved 25 August 2021

National Park Service (2018). Burgoyne’s campaign: June-October 1777. Fort Stanwix National Monument. https://www.nps.gov/fost/learn/historyculture/1777-campaign.htm. Retrieved 26 August 2021

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Three Ways to Mine Great Ideas

Good ideas are like gemstones. If you have one or two, things seem pretty good. Often leaders need to follow the miner’s lead and dig up good ideas from those they lead.
-Photo by Dids on Pexels.com

We recently finished the annual report for the nonprofit I operate. I say we because it is always a team effort. There were several changes I wanted to make in the annual report to communicate better who we are, what we do, and how well we perform. I wanted to show data in ways that communicated important fact quickly and show off the accomplishments of our team. There is no need for leaders if everyone does their own work, so I leaned on others to make this report the best we ever issued. When I sat down with my team, I pointed out the things I disliked in our older reports, most of which I created. I showed them some ideas from other annual reports I liked and challenged them to find ways to integrate those ideas to tell our FY 2021 story. George Washington said, “When a leader cannot generate important ideas himself, he must look elsewhere.” In order for us to develop a better annual report, I as a leader, had to rely on others for ideas to tell our story better. Here are three ways you can inspire your people to generate good ideas.

Tell them Why

Simon Sinek said it best, start with why. Tell others why the project is important. How does it support the work you do to relieve other people’s pain. Who benefits from the project, not just the intended audience, but your vendors, other teams in the organization, and even the team members. If the goal of the project is to change something, explain why changing is important. Taking time to explain why you are asking for the ideas of others creates a culture of learning. You demonstrate the value of ideas regardless of their origin. You show them you care and respect them enough to listen to their ideas, which reinforces your organization’s principals surrounding integrity, trust, loyalty, and respect.

Ask Great Questions

One great way to inspire people is asking questions. For example, in our annual report project, I showed earlier examples of how we presented data. Originally it was straight out facts: $50,000.00 spent, 29 clients served, 1,200 hours worked, etc. Our next step was better, pie charts, but it was still weak. I asked the team how we could present the data, so people could grasp the important points quickly and understand the importance of those facts. Of course, I also asked if the information we were presenting was really important to our stakeholders? What information could we present that might tell the story better than the key indicators we previously selected? Where would we find that information? If we could not present some of these things this year because the information was not easily obtainable, what changes in the coming year do we need to make to our data collection? How would we accomplish those changes?

Asking good questions to start conversations is important. Listening to answers and demonstrating your listening by asking appropriate follow up questions shows respect and encourages participants to offer more ideas. One of my favorite responses to other people’s ideas is, “Tell me more about that?”

Allow Time to Create

Unlike data entry or parts production, creative endeavors do not fit neatly into time constraints. This blog is a great example. I try to publish around the 15th and 30th of each month. Sometimes the way I try to explain a concept, or my understanding of a leadership theory, is not fully formed. Often the act of writing helps me understand better. It enables me to make connections necessary to implement those ideas in my actual leadership practice. As a result, you may notice I revisit certain ideas again with a different understanding compared to when I first published a post.

Sometimes one has to lie on one’s back to create great ideas or enduring works of beauty. Ensure those you lead have time to develop creative ideas. Doing so encourages hard work & inspires them to stay.
-Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36772

You may have a deadline when you ask others for ideas, but ensure you provide them enough time to think and create. There are times you see someone sitting in their cubical or office listening to music or staring at a screen and it is easy to assume they are doing nothing. Sometimes that is true. More often, the gears inside that person’s head are turning, processing information, making connections necessary to develop a complete idea, and a way to explain that idea to others.

A great example of the hidden creative process appears on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni spent the better part of his life between 1508 and 1512 on his back. It would have been easy for the Pope to pass through and notice those periods when he did not have a brush in hand applying paint to the ceiling. However, one cannot argue with the results. Michelangelo’s work still amazes visitors 510 years later. Compare that to how long the paint job lasts on your living room ceiling. Creativity takes time. Not all of us are Renaissance painters. Most of our organizations cannot dedicate four years to the development of a product or service. However, recognize that the creative process does take some time. Ensure you allow enough time for it to happen.

Leaders provide purpose though their vision. They provide motivation and direction by creating plans to make their vision reality. Good leaders recognize they must use the good ideas others have to ensure their vision becomes a reality. No matter how good a leader is, s/he does not have all the good ideas. Developing creativity in others ensures there is a pool of talented thinkers with a proven ability to execute when an organization needs good ideas. Looking back to my example of the Annual Report story, as is often the case when I challenge others, my team rose to the challenge and created a great Annual Report. The ideas they put together to communicate key data amazed me. Your people will amaze you if you allow them the time and flexibility to create new ideas for improving processes, creating new products and services, or telling the world your organization’s story. Not all of us have Michelangelo working for them. If you did, under your leadership would he be able to create another masterpiece or be relegated to living with the status quo? Allow your people to reflect, create, and execute. You will be amazed at what they can do!

References and Additional Reading

Gardner, H. (2000). Gardner’s art through the ages. Vol II. Wadsworth Publishing. Belmont, CA

Sinek, S. (2009). Start with why. Penguin Books. New York, NY

SOAR above the Problem, Don’t SWOT It

Like many other leaders and students of leadership, I learned and use the SWOT model to help analyze during change. For those who have never heard of SWOT, it stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. You can read more about it in my December 2018 post https://saintcyrtraining.com/2018/12/27/strategic-planning-for-2019/. The Model is great to help organizations identify things that are wrong. However, the SOAR model helps leaders and organizations identify what is right. Using SOAR allows leaders to understand things that do not need fixing and should be preserved.

SOAR model can be used instead of or as a complement to SWOT as you and your organization plan future changes.
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

SOAR is the model that helps leaders identify Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results (Moore, C. 2021). The model builds upon the idea of leading from strength discussed in the book Strengths Based Leadership by Rath and Conchie. As a result, leaders find themselves focusing on the important things to keep. It is equally important to know what works in order to keep it as it is to know what is broken in order to fix or replace it.

The SOAR model is based on a method called appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry revolves around a series of questions pertaining to a particular topic such as organizational governance, or product and service line.  Examples sound like, “What is something that excites you about this widget?”, or “How does our current structure encourage creativity?” The purpose is to identify those things to save and bring forward as change happens.

Aspects of appreciative inquiry are described as a series of Ds depending on the source. Positive Psychology describes them as discovery, dream, design, and delivery (Moore, 2021). Forbes uses five Ds; define, discover, dream, discover, and deploy(Spavell,2021). 

Like SWOT, SOAR begins by examining strengths. In this model however you ask a series of questions that reveal strengths. Two examples of strength finding questions appear above. This process provides different points of view on those things that are strong. Those strengths allow us to lead from those points.

Opportunities is also a common point between SOAR and SWOT. How and what questions help leaders identify opportunities such as, “What does the future look like given current trends?”, and “How can we use our strengths to meet our clients’ future needs?” Opportunities give those in the SOAR model to see the future and develop possibilities.

Aspirations allow inquiries about things we as individuals, leaders, and organizations hope to be at our best. This step requires imagination. The conversation may begin with a prompt like, “In three years, our group is operating like a well oiled machine. Employees are excited to come to work. Peace and harmony reign. How did we achieve these ideals?” Of course, the answers to these type of prompts offer possible solutions to move from the good work you now do to great work you could be doing!

Results are important. Ken Blanchard said in his book The Secret, he proposes that both relationships and results are important. You may not always need others to achieve things, but you do if you are a leader. Ask other things like when they felt their talents were best used or what ways help you work better.

The SOAR model based on the appreciative inquiry process is different. Use opened ended questions to encourage others to respond with narrative answers. Create space for people to answer the questions by remaining silent(Miller etal, 2004). I have a professional coach who warned me at our first meeting that after she asked a question, she would not speak again until after I answered her question. She said it took a long time to get used to silence but learned important insights are born in silence. Crafting quality appreciative inquiry questions may seem difficult. Fortunately, there is help in the form of books and websites that offer examples. 

Appreciative inquiry is frequently used in groups. I found it a helpful tool in one-on-one situations. When I am trying to collect feedback about my performance as a leader from my boss, peers, or employees, using appreciative questions prompts people to provide better information. Remember that if you are asking questions, you need to accept the answers. Record them so you can later reflect on them and make changes as necessary, and of course identify things to keep with you. When you ask questions of others in an appreciative way, it inspires confidence in them as change happens.

Problems and change are difficult. As a leader, you can SWOT them or SOAR over them. Both models have advantages. When used together, there is an even greater potential for break through successes. Identify your strengths, find your opportunities. Dream of your aspirations, achieve results. When you use the appreciative inquiry process in the SOAR model, you find the good stuff to keep with you as you make changes. Don’t SWOT your problems; SOAR above them!

References 

Miller, C, Aguilar C, Maslowski, L. McDaniel, D. and Mantel, M. ((2004) The nonprofits’ guide to the power of appreciative inquiry. Community Development Institute. Denver, CO.

Moore, C. (6/5/2021). What is appreciative inquiry? A brief history & real life examples. PositivePsycology.com. https://positivepsychology.com/appreciative-inquiry/ retrieved 6/16/21

Sparvell, M. (1/25/2021). Appreciative inquiry: Getting more of the good stuff. Forbes.com. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2021/01/25/appreciative-inquiry-getting-more-of-the-good-stuff/?sh=19f8d9856fd9 retrieved 7/16/21

The Art of Planning

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Note: June has been crazy. As I attempted to post my end of month blog, I experienced some technical issues. This is a repost from 2014 on planning. Even though the content is from 2014, planning remains an important leadership function. The content is just as relevant today as then. Enjoy.

“Plans are nothing; Planning is everything.” Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Planning is one of the fundamental functional areas of management. Leaders at all levels plan. Depending on the event and their level in the organization determines how they plan, but the planning process should remain the same. Whether you want to develop a new vision for your organization, or you are putting together a small meeting for your staff, planning is the process that identifies the needs for what is desired in the future, the resources necessary to accomplish the task, actions requiring completion, controls and guide posts to watch for along the way and a statement of success. One of the reasons planning is valued more than the finished plan is understanding that no battle plan ever survives past first enemy contact, but in the planning process, key leaders have opportunities to evaluate different courses of actions, allowing them to change course as the situation evolves. This topic deserves more than the few hundred words dedicated here, however my intent is to provide readers a general direction for their own planning processes.
The first step in any plan in to identify the objectives. Plans are only required if there is difference between the current situation and what you expect in the future. The purpose of the plan is to change the future. At the strategic level, leaders develop mission statements, share their vision and establish guiding principles. At the operational level, leaders develop work processes, gather resources, train workers and establish goals and task steps.
Once the object is identified, develop alternative actions. Often this is done during brainstorming sessions, although other idea generating activities also work. Ideas do not have to appear practical or traditional. The important action at this stage is developing ideas. You may find that some of what originally appear to be flaky ideas in the beginning, when paired with other ideas, may work the best.
Now that you have several alternatives, take time to evaluate them, whether alone or in a group. Identify their efficiency, alignment with organizational guiding principles, likelihood of success and other factors selected by the group’s leaders. During this stage, you should start to develop the measure for success. As alternatives are eliminated, the better ideas become evident. The completion of this step should involve a completed written plan. The plan does not have to answer all questions, but should provide enough information for those charged with implementing to understand the intent. Remember the old saying, “An imperfect plan delivered on time trumps the perfect plan delivered a day late.”
Action is the next step in the planning process. A complete plan is not required to begin action. The great thing about mission and vision statements are they provide everyone an idea about which direction they should be traveling, even if they lose the directions to the final destination. Once the decision has been made to move towards a certain goal, action can begin. Starting movement is the hardest part of any change. Starting movement is the only way the plan will succeed.
Once things begin to move, it is important to monitor progress. The plan should include specific check points where staff gather to report progress. Like any journey, if you don’t take the time to check your compass and read the road signs, you may find you took a left when you should have turned right in Albuquerque. These controls may include checks on spending, use of resources, percent of quality improvement, number of units sold or any other metric that measures progress.
A final and critical step in the planning process is obtaining commitment from stakeholders. Too many projects fail for lack of this important support. Ensure the key leaders understand the resources requiring commitment for success. Obtain contracts from customers if necessary. Lock in resources from suppliers early.
A finished plan may not be fancy. It may not be complete. What matters is the process used to arrive at the plan. Follow these steps and you increase your plan’s success. Start by determining the objective. Identify alternatives to reach the objective. Evaluate the alternatives, selecting the one most in line with organizational values and vision. Begin action as soon as there is commitment. Obtain commitment from key stakeholders. Check your progress regularly and plan those check-ups. As your project rolls along, you may find success lies off the road you selected to reach your destination, but through your planning process you identified detours and side trips. In the end, you will find your planning helped you make small adjustments along the way and reach your destination.

Photo by author

Caring Leaders

Funny thing about leaders…even when they lack a title, they still influence others to become better people and improve their organizations. These leader care about their people so they will achieve the organizations mission. As a result, their followers remain their followers months and years after their formal relationship ends. The best leaders often find themselves providing purpose, direction and motivation to former followers. Many of those followers exceed the leader’s success. Plenty of people smarter than me have filled books discussing how these bonds form and stay strong over many years. This blog will hardly scratch the surface. Instead, I simply seek to encourage readers to evaluate their own leader-follower relationships to find ways to become better leaders.

Take time to read books about leadership. Studying other leaders help you become a better leader.
-Photo by Author

Strong leaders know making an organization successful requires them to hire, develop, and retain high quality people who are dedicated, knowledgeable, skilled, and motivated. They communicate the organizational goals. They provide an inspiring vision for the future that turns employees into fans. In turn, those they lead independently use their skills and abilities to accomplish great things that move the organization in the direction of success.

Once one goal or a set of goals are accomplished, the leader points to the next hilltop. The journey begins again. The workers are ready to proceed because their leader publicly acknowledged their great work and sacrifices to achieve their current successes.

The leader creates opportunities to become familiar with employees, their families, dreams, hopes, and needs. S/he teaches and mentors others to align their personal values with the guiding principles of the organization. As a result, employees feel an increasing sense of success and fulfillment as the organization achieves success. These feeling create a deeper dedication to the leader, the organization, and the mission.

Washington is an example of a leader others followed long after he surrendered his official titles to lead others.
-Painting by John Trumbull – Public Domain

As a leader, you have to develops your own personal style to learn about those who follow you. Learn to communicate how their desires and abilities intertwine with those of the organization. Some leaders throw parties for their employees on their birthdays. Others use group training activities. Some dedicate a few moments each day to speak to their people and ask about important personal and professional issues. In every case, the interaction between the leader and follower is personalized in some way. The follower believes the leader personally cares for them and their situation. If faked the facade quickly tumbles causing major problems for the organization. However, even the most socially awkward leader appears caring just  by going through the motions.

History is filled with examples of leaders who remain engaged with those they led long after their business relationship ended. George Washington certainly sets that example. After the War for Independence, he returned to his simple life only to find those he led in battle and their families still needed him to lead the new nation. Omar Bradley was well liked and selected to run the Veteran’s Administration in part because so many veterans trusted him. Both of these men achieved the difficult tasks assigned them. However, each showed concern for Soldiers individually and collectively. They gained the reputation doing what was necessary to accomplish the mission by being sensitive to the needs of those who would be tasked to actually do the work. They gained life long followers.

Take time to meet with your people so you understand what motivates them, what skills they have, and issues in their lives that may interfere with their work. It shows you care, which makes them care about the job.
– by unknown from pxhere.com CC0

Great leaders have two important concerns. Success of their people and success of their organization. They understand that unless the aspirations of employees are tied to the vision of the organization, neither will be truly successful. Leaders inspire their employees to succeed by learning their dreams, concerns, and desires. Strong leaders find ways to create a culture that cares for people, so those people care enough to make the organization successful. Quality leaders do this by creating a vision of a future that does not exist but appears to those s/he leads.  S/he creates a culture learning, persistence, and innovation by sharing inspiring stories about the successes of teams and individuals.  They align people’s values with those of the organization. Great leaders extend their influence long after formal relationships end because they genuinely care for the people they lead. As a result, those people are more successful and work hard to make their organization successful. Care about your people, and they will care enough to accomplish your mission.


© 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Memorial Day 2021

Twenty-one paces north. Halt for 21 seconds. Right face and freeze for 21 seconds. Right face. Change shoulder arms wait 21 seconds. March south 21 paces and repeat. This is the life of a Tomb Guard, one of the most elite small units in the United States Army. Every day, around the clock, in any weather they stand guard over the bodies of three unknown Soldiers honoring their sacrifice.

SGT Younger selected the remains placed at the Tomb.
Photo from Explore: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Arlington National Cemetery.

Most Americans are familiar with the 20th century Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. There are videos on YouTube of Sentries confronting visitors for acting disrespectfully. There are tales of their dedication to the point of not abandoning their post in the greatest extremes of weather. The view of Washington, DC is one of the best in the area. Few however know there is a second Tomb of Unknown Soldiers.

Less less than half a mile north is the less famous Tomb of the Civil War Unknown Soldiers. This monument was placed over the remains of 2,111 Soldiers found and gathered from the Civil War battles around the Washington, DC area. About 100 yards from the front step of Arlington House, and in Mrs. Lee’s rose garden, this large grave was clearly intended to shame Robert E Lee and his family. The government of the Unite States, at the direction of President Lincoln, acquired the title to the estate after Mrs Lee failed to pay taxes assessed on the property during the Civil War (Hanna, 2001).

By 1864, both sides lost many sons to the fighting. The War Department was tasked with gathering the fallen and ensuring they received proper burials. Even before the United States received the deed to the property, they began burying Soldiers from both sides of the conflict on these grounds. The War Department attempted to return remains of the dead to their families when possible. Before long existing cemeteries were full. Those who could not be identified were gathered in a single location. It is estimated that about one half of those who died fighting in the Civil War could not be identified (Hanna, 2001).

The tomb was described as a pit 25 feet deep and round, it was divided into chambers as it was filled (Hanna, 2001). It is is the first memorial to unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. Even though burials in the tomb ended sooner, the monument was not dedicated until September 1866. It was topped with cannon and inscribed,

Tomb of the Civil War Unknown Soldiers.
Photo by Elizabeth Fraser (2017) from the same source above.

Beneath this stone

Repose the bones of two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown soldiers

Gathered after the War

From the fields of Bull Run, and the route to the Rappahanock, their remains could not be identified. But their names and deaths are recorded in the archives of their country, and its grateful citizens

Honor them as of their noble army of martyrs. May they rest in peace.

SEPTEMBER. A. D. 1866 (US Army, ND).

James A. Garfield, then an Ohio Congressman – later President, officiated the first national Memorial Day service at this site in 1868. He denied he had the words to adequately convey the meaning of the deaths of those laid in the Tomb. He noted that in the days before the war, “Peace, liberty, and personal security were blessings as common and universal as sunshine and showers and fruitful seasons.” Of those laid to rest he said,

And now consider this silent assembly of the dead.

What other spot so fitting for their last resting place as this under the shadow of the Capitol saved by their valor? Here, where the grim edge of battle joined; here, where all the hope and fear and agony of their country centered; here let them rest, asleep on the Nation’s heart, entombed in the Nation’s love! (Garfield, 1868)

Arlington National Cemetery also became home to Unknowns from the War of 1812 and the Spanish American War. Those Unknowns from 1812 were originally buried at the Washington Navy Yard. More casualties were identified during the Spanish American War, but not all. They were also buried at ANC (Arlington National Cemetery (2020).

The Unknown is brought to the Tomb.
Photo: Library of Congress

People discuss things for which they are willing to die. For many, it is just talk. For those who serve and guard our Nation’s liberty, it is more than talk. On Memorial Day, we remember those who defended liberty with their very lives. For them, defending freedom, justice, and liberty were more than words. They willing risk their lives on every mission, in training or in combat. For those buried in the Tombs of the Unknowns, not only did they give their lives, they surrendered everything, even their identity. That is why the Sentry walks those 21 steps north and south everyday around the clock. Those Soldiers do it to honor those with nothing left to give. When you gather this Memorial Day with family and friends over burgers and beer, remember the Soldier guarding those known but to God. Remember those Unknown who died so you may enjoy the blessings of “Peace, liberty, and personal security”.

References

Arlington National Cemetery (2020). Explore the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Arlington National Cemetery History Education Series, Arlington, VA.

Garfield, J. (1886). Decoration day address. What so Proudly We Hail. 2013. Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum/the-american-calendar/decoration-day-address-1868 5/25/21.

Hanna, J (2001) Arlington house: The Robert E. Lee memorial. U.S. Department of the Interior, National Parks Service, Washington, DC.

Mougel, N (2011) translated by Gratz, J, World War I casualties Reperes

Public Affairs Office (2021), Resource guide/Tomb of the Unknown Soldier centennial commemoration, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA

U.S. Army (ND). Arlington National Cemetery. Office of Army Cemeteries, Department of the Army, Washington, DC. https://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/ Retrieved 5/24/2021

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

The Discipline of Leadership

Setting a disciplined example establishes your leadership credentials. People who follow you know you share the burden and rewards.
Photo by Fabian Wiktor on Pexels.com

Leaders talk about the importance of maintaining discipline. As we have seen during the coronavirus pandemic, not all leaders discipline themselves. Reporters had field days with several well known political leaders who failed to follow the safety rules. They lost respect from many when they violated travel restrictions while the rest of us were barricaded in our homes. People watch their leaders. When they say they are going to do something, they better do it. When they tell others they need to do something, the leader better set the example. Setting an example by doing what you tell others to do is the fastest, most effective way one develops character and builds trust.

Setting the example creates humility.

Setting the sample means you understand other’s limitations.

Setting the example means sometimes making a mistake and learning from it.

Setting the example means celebrating another’s success the way you want others to celebrate your successes.

Setting the example means you know you are still learning and so is everyone else.

When you do the things you ask of others as a leader, you bring yourself down to their level. As a result, you can better see the world the way they do. I am not stating that I expect leaders to dig ditches, answer the switchboard, wash cars, or execute data entry all day everyday. I am saying that sometimes it is a good idea to grab a broom and sweep up the floor at the entry to your office suite, answer you own phone when you are able, and let one of your people show you how to process an order for a customer. Doing these things reminds you that those who follow you are special people with unique skills and talent. There may be parts of the organization no one knows better than you. Never forget there are people who know more about important parts of the organization than you will every be capable of knowing. They contribute as much to your success as your own actions. When you remember those who follow you are impressive people, it is easier to be humble.

When you begin doing and understanding the work of others in your organization, you learn both the strengths and limitations of the people, processes, and equipment. Knowing the edge of those limits helps you as a leader create realistic expectations. Turning back to the pandemic, government at all levels ramped up slowly to establish testing sites. As vaccinations became available, many found the challenges for putting shots in arms were not the same as sticking swabs in noses. Sites were scheduled to operate at maximum capacity then ran into problems about a month later as people needed second shots while others were trying to schedule their first. Some places adapted quickly by adding people, locations, and clinic hours. Others dragged their feet. Leaders must understand the limitations of their people, processes, and equipment in order to avoid similar mistakes.

IMG_2010
People make mistakes. Letting those who follow you know you are not perfect and learn from your mistakes means they do not need to hide their mistakes. Open mistakes allow everyone to learn.
Photo by author

Speaking of mistakes, as you wonder around setting an example you will make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Those who are less well-trained, new in positions, or inattentive will make more mistakes. Those with more training and experience make fewer mistakes. Making mistakes is one of the best ways to learn. However, in order to learn a lesson, you first must acknowledge a mistake was made. We all worked for that leader with the zero defect mentality. Were mistakes made under those leaders? Absolutely! Sadly, it is likely the same mistakes were probably made frequently and covered up. Understand there is a difference between a mistake and deliberate misbehavior. We all recognize the difference between someone knocking the table inadvertently resulting in hot coffee spilling into your lap compared to the person who turns over the hot coffee directly onto your lap. Learning to deal with mistakes so others learn and become better performers is a true test of a leader. When others know honest mistakes result in retraining and forgiveness, people will be forth coming with mistakes so they can become better. You can share those mistakes across the organization after anonymizing the details so others learn too.

Celebrating success is an important leadership ritual. When you share the spotlight, others work harder because they know they will be recognized. Those in leadership positions who never shine the spotlight on others soon find they are working alone, or are often training new people because their good workers keep leaving. Patton once made a comment like, “Soldiers will do incredible things for a little piece of colored ribbon to affix to their uniform.” When celebrating success, make it about the contributions of the team, not you. Make sure the rewards for excellent behavior match the level of contribution. I am sure many readers remember (or not) receiving “Participation Trophies” during their early years of team sports. The problem with recognizing everyone is that you recognize no one. Some people think that doing the bare minimum means they should receive awesome amounts of recognition while others that go above and beyond blush at being recognized. Both people contributed differently. Both should be recognized according to their contribution.

When you continue to learn, others value continuous learning too. If your followers say things about you like, “She forgot more about that than both of us will ever know.”, and yet they still see you learning more, you send the message that learning is important in your organization. I met a person at a training one time that had a really bad attitude about being there. We had lunch together and I asked him why so blue. He told me that obviously he was going to get fired soon because his boss did not trust him regarding the topic of the training. I learned that in his organization, they only sent incompetent people to training to justify firing them. I suspect the organization had lots of leadership problems. People should know when you send them to learn new things it is not punishment but rather a reward for using what they already knew.

Your actions serve as a beacon for others to follow. Your example is the light others use to illuminate their path.
Photo by Casia Charlie on Pexels.com

Disciplined leadership means setting a good example. As you walk the talk, you demonstrate and state your expectations of those you lead. When you do fail to live the expectations you set, you lose respect in the same way political leaders do when they travel during a pandemic. When you live your values, you become known as someone who walks the talk, understands and respects reasonable limitations, expects mistakes and the learning that goes with mistakes ,and establish your exception people are continuous learners. You stay humble because you understand as a leader your success results from the work others do on your behalf. You make better decisions and when you make a mistake, people follow your lead and forgive you too. Do not be like too many of our political leaders. If you establish a rule, follow it too. If it is good enough for those who follow you, it is good enough for you. Your disciplined example is a beacon of character in a world of dark, sneaky secrets. Use your beacon as a guiding light for others to follow.


  • Brooks, D. (2015). The road to character. Random House, New York, NY
  • Covey, S. (1989). 7 Habits of highly effective people, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY

(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Sharpening the Saw; Building Leadership Resilience

Building resilience helps leaders lead effectively regardless of the challenges they face and builds a network they can rely on when they need to bend and ear.
Photo by the author.

The field exercise was drawing to a close. I had lost lots of sleep keeping up with the demands of my new position. I was dragging and making mistakes. Mid-morning my boss pulls me aside and asks, “What is going on with you today?” In a gruff voice, he began listing all the mistakes I made so far.

“I am beat and having a bad morning,” I replied. He stared at me, arms crossed, brow furrowed. He was not happy.

“You’re a senior leader now! You can’t have bad days. Even in training, when you have a bad day; people could die!” He was right. We launched bullets a dozen or more miles down range. A small error made the difference between hitting the target or the projectile landing outside the impact area potentially killing or injuring others.

The boss directed me to go back to my area, clean up, eat, catch a nap and then meet him at the command post in an hour. We met at the command post and he spend the next hour telling all the little tricks that allowed him to succeed as a senior leader. He showed the systems he used to keep track of people and property. He told me about the importance of catching cat naps. He shared that when he had my job, checking the perimeter was about more than checking on security; it provided him daily exercise. He opened a green notebook revealing daily entries he said were his reflections on his past performance and adherence to values so he could identify and learn from his mistakes. I learned a lot that morning. Leaders cannot have bad days.

As we wrapped up the hour, he shared a story his father told him. His father was a logger back in the days before skidders and chainsaws. His father started every morning sharpening his saw. That meant to start cutting on time, he had to wake up a bit earlier. There were some men in the crew who would not sharpen their saws daily. They ended up worker later into the day to cut their quota of wood. Because his father sharpened his saw everyday, he was able to cut trees faster than the men who would not. He would finish before them and have time to attend to other matters which allowed him to crawl into the sack a little earlier. He received plenty of sleep each night even though he woke early. He was able to slow down a little bit just because he sharpened his saw.

There is an old maxim that it is lonely at the top. Leaders often shield their followers from certain unpleasantries in order to maintain high morale. It is not that they hide bad things from them. It is more that the Good Idea Fairy stopped by corporate headquarters, sprinkled some Good Idea Dust on the CEO, then left the building. The CEO had a GREAT idea that really was not so great. Other senior leaders stopped the Good Idea before any damage was done. Yet they cannot share their hard-earned victory news with their followers because it will cause more problems by doing so. There are plenty of other battles leaders fight to protect their followers that only they know about. As with any warrior, failing to recognize the stress that accumulates in these battles creates problems. Leaders need to learn how to create and develop resilience by maximizing their whole person fitness.

Let us start with the concept of whole person fitness. We all know about the importance of physical fitness. People measure their physical fitness by watching what they eat and monitoring and engaging in physical activities. Whole person fitness however can be defined in four dimensions, physical, emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual. Leaders need to be healthy in all four areas to sustain the resilience required to lead others.

Physical Fitness

I am NOT an exercise or nutrition expert. If you are having health issues, consult your primary care provider. You should also consult with an appropriate professional before engaging in any major changes in your diet or exercise. The examples discussed here are only intended to propose possible answers to apply the basic principles introduced here.

Diet and exercise are the two foundational actions regarding physical fitness. It is important to eat well and exercise often for a given amount of time. There are untold numbers of books regarding both topics. Many require extreme actions. I suggest that diets and exercise programs that encourage extreme changes in behavior such as eating 52 pounds of raw beef daily or running a marathon every morning and evening probably will cause more harm than good and simply will not work for most people. There are some general rules that have demonstrated success for many people. In the nutrition realm, eating more fresh vegetables and lean meats instead of fats, starches, and processed foods.

Learning to deal with adversity helps leaders lead more effectively. Facing danger, adversity, and discomfort help create the emotional fitness required for leaders to remain positive and optimistic.
Photo by mohamed hassan form PxHere cco

Likewise in exercise, walk more; sit less. Many studies show most people require 150 to 200 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Consider a variety of activities that strengthen your muscles, increase your endurance and aerobic fitness, and flexibility. An example of an easy yet effect exercise regimen might look like 15-20 minutes of walking at a fast pace (fast for you), 5-10 minutes of stretching, and about 10 minutes of some sort of strength exercises each day. That works out to about 30 minutes. Do that six times each week and you have 150 minutes.

Emotional Fitness

Emotional Fitness is demonstrated by the ability to deal with problems in a positive, optimistic fashion. You demonstrate self-control in the face of adversity. Your stamina allows you to think well and make good decisions which creates quality character.

Emotional fitness relies on having a steady mind and spirit. Both factors are other facets of fitness. Sleeping, exercising, and reflecting on the greater good all help achieve a level of emotional fitness. Both facets allow you to effectively evaluate your performance. You identify successes and failures which allow you to devise methods to improve. With greater emotional fitness comes the calmness envied by others seen in good leaders during a crisis.

Interpersonal Fitness

Interpersonal fitness is sometimes called emotional intelligence or emotional quotient, EQ. EQ is the measure of how well a person can gauge and respond to the feelings and needs of others. In order to be influential as a leader, you need to understand other people and their emotions. This provides you power to select the right tools of influence to provide appropriate motivation, direction, and purpose.

People follow leaders they like and respect. I know many leaders, including myself, that have said silly things like, “I don’t care if they like me so long as the do what I tell them.” That kind of supervision is not leadership. You can supervise that way for a time but even in the military, people abandon those types. Military members eventually reach the end of their contract and just like in the rest of the world, if they do not like their bosses, they leave the job. Building relationships with others helps you become a better leader and reduces the loneliness at the top.

Spiritual Fitness

One can be a regular church goer and still have poor spiritual fitness. Spiritual fitness involves much more than attending regular religious services. There are plenty of people who never attend services yet experience a rich spiritual life.

Spiritual fitness is all about understanding the things you value. Take time to examine the roots of those values. Learn why those values are important to you. Figure out what areas you claim to value yet act against that value. An important part of spirituality is understanding there is more to the world, more to life than just you. Those who are spiritually fit know with every action they take and every word they speak makes a difference in the worlds of others. They choose to make a positive difference.

Sharpen your saw every day. Exercise. Eat healthy, Reflect and learn. Build strong relationships with others. Do good in the world.
– Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay /cco

A few years after that bad day in the field, I was leading Soldiers in combat. We did have bad days. By then, I started using some of the ways to control those days better. My bad days were those that despite my best efforts to accomplish any number of missions we were given without injuring my Soldiers or the civilians we encountered, people did get hurt and did die. We were expected by both our military and our enemy to perform at high levels everyday and we did. There were days I had time enough to only sharpen a few teeth on the saw. However I pulled out the file any time there was an opportunity to sharpen even one tooth on days like that. As a result, we succeed, not because of any one thing I did. No we succeeded because those who followed me accepted our unified purpose, accepted my directions, and remained motivated.

Keeping your saw sharp as a leader can mean the difference between success and failure. With a sharp saw you have the ability to work faster and accomplish more with less effort. There may be days that taking time to exercise, eat well, consider your values and actions, or build your relationships seems like a waste of time. Those are the days that those activities are the most important. Develop strategies to accomplish each of these important tasks regularly and your will find you are a more effective leader.


References

Covey, S. (2004) 7 habits of highly effective people.Simon & Schuster. New York, NY.

Love, S. (July 14, 2009) Comprehensive soldier fitness. U.S. Army. Washington DC. Retrieved from https://www.usar.army.mil/CSF/

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(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr

Three Parts of Your Leadership Point of View

As you move up in your organization, your point of view changes. The higher you go, the further you can see. Use your point of view to inspire others to be better and improve your organization.
– Photo by author

As a leader, it is important to create an inspiring vision for the future. Doing so encourages others to follow you; join your organization; and become the people you see that they can become. In order to develop an effective and inspiring vision for the future, you must start with a personal leadership point of view. Your personal leadership point of view establishes the key events in your life that shaped you, those things you value and why, and expectations you have for your personal growth and the professional growth of the organization.

Simon Sinek believes all leaders should understand the why of their organization before determining what and how. “Happiness comes from what we do. Fulfillment comes from why we do it.” (Sinek et al, 2017). One has to understand why one does what one does before they determine what comes next and how to achieve that goal.

A person’s why comes from a combination of his or her values, desires in life, skills, and experiences. Many high school graduates struggle with what they want to do in life because they do not understand these things. Their values are not fully formed. They really do not know what they want from life. They are still developing their skills. They have few experiences to shape them as people. As a result, many choose to take time away from education to gain experience, understand what things interest them, what skills they possess or wish to gain, and how different values affect their choices.

Effective leaders have experienced life. They have been challenged in ways that test their mettle. They stand out from the crowd based on their experiences and the character developed in the forge of life. As you begin to examine your leadership point of view, take time to reflect on those experiences in your life that brought you great meaning. Those stories are not necessary your greatest achievements or defeats. The stories of everyday life are probably more important than those from the extremes. Those are the stories that establish your character and demonstrate things of interest and problems solved through your unique skills. Use these stories to learn what you really value. Remember, your values are the foundation of your leadership (St. Cyr, 2018).

If you exercise regularly, people know you value fitness. Your character is determined by those things you do regularly.
– Photo by Andres Ayrton on Pexels.com

How you live your values establishes your character. You might say you value family, but if you always put work first, do you really value your family life? A long time friend often challenged me when I stated how important I felt exercise was. He would invite me to workout with him. I frequently had an excuse to not workout. “You can always tell what is important to someone based on the way they use their time.” he would say, or something like that. He would follow up with something like, “If working out was really important, you would find a way.” He would also pull the same lines when he invited me to go fishing and I had other plans! People know your values from the way you live, whether you profess them publicly. However, professing your values, and your organization’s values are important communication points for all leaders.

Each of us has meaningful experiences in life. Ask me anytime how I am, and you will likely receive a positive response, even on a day I spill my morning coffee, the car will not start, and my computer crashes. I will likely tell you it is a great, or at least a good day. Based on the life experience of being shot at and being blown up, I decided any day you can get vertical and someone is not trying to kill you is a good day. That does not mean I ignore problems that come along in life. I just put them in perspective; it sucks, but no one is shooting at me, so it is not THAT bad!

When I joined the Army, my Godmother told me not to let the Army change me. I promised I would not. At the time, I lacked the experience necessary to know that my Army experiences would change me but that it was my choice about whether I allowed those experiences to make be a better or worse person. No matter what, life experiences change all of us. In my case, I like to think my Army experiences made me a better person and a good leader. Our life experiences mold us. They cause us to reexamine our values. They help us decide what we really want from life. That is why those experiences are so important to our leadership point of view.

Face it, we all had bad bosses and good bosses. Some of us have even had the opportunity to work for great bosses. Each affected how we view leadership. As my children grew, I told them it was important for them to learn how to be good parents by not doing the bad things they experienced from their mother and I as parents. Many a protege has received similar advise from me as they moved on to new leadership opportunities, “Don’t do the things you hated me doing as your boss and leader.” Those who paid attention went on to accomplish some pretty good things. Those who did not, did not last long in their new leadership roles. Every experience is important in shaping us, but only if we take time to reflect on the meaning of each experience.

Our expectations are based on what we learn as being truly possible. The United States first landed men on the moon because we believed it was possible. President Kennedy stated in his inspirational speech that it would be a hard task and that was exactly why he challenged the country to do it before the end of the 1960s. Norman Vincent Peale challenge all of us to, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss you still land among the stars.” (I think I remember reading this quote in his book The Power of Positive Thinking which I no longer possess to verify.) We only grow as people by accepting challenges that push us to be better than we are now. We only grow as leaders by inspiring our followers to achieve more than they believe they can accomplish. People more often than not will live up to the expectations we set for them. They will accomplish amazing things if we tell them convincingly they can.

Everyone needs inspiration to help them achieve great things. Leaders provide that inspiration by helping their followers see what the leader sees is possible. That new point of view helps them do more than they thought they could do.
– Photo by author.

Developing a personal leadership point of view helps leaders create inspirational visions for the future. A leader’s vision inspires others to follow them. As more people adopt your vision and work to achieve more than they thought possible, they grow as people and the organization becomes better. To create a leadership point of view, one needs to identify important events in their lives that shaped them, understand what they value, and know what their expectations are of their followers and the future of their organization. Only when all three of these legs are in place can a leader create a truly inspirational vision for others. Take time to reflect on those experiences that shaped you. Understand how they influenced your values. Know how your values create your expectations.

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References

Peale, N.V. (1952). The power of positive thinking. Prentice Hall. Hoboken, NJ

St. Cyr, C. (2018, October 29). Character — The foundation of character [Web log post]. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://saintcyrtraining.com/2018/10/29/character-the-foundation-of-leadership

Sinek, S., Mead, D., and Docker, P. (2017). Find your why. Portfolio/Penguin. New York, NY

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(c) 2021 by Christopher St. Cyr

Leading with Gratitude

First, thanks to all of you who have visited and subscribed to my blog. You keep coming back so I keep writing. I reached 100 posts on February 18th because of your encouragement. I had other posts already so I waited until now to mention and celebrate that accomplishment. I also want to thank you for your patience with this post as it may ramble a bit. Gratitude is an important leader quality. Here are two ways you can show gratitude and humility.

Photo by Marcus Wu00f6ckel on Pexels.com

My mother taught me about the importance of being humble and grateful. Throughout life, I learned there are many things I do not know and cannot do well. I make mistakes just like everyone else. Frequently people apologize seeking forgiveness without really think about what they are asking.

For example, if you promise to arrive someplace by a certain time and encounter an accident. It causes you to be late. You could apologize for being tardy, or you could express gratitude to those you were going to meet for their patience and understanding. When you express gratitude in such situations, you acknowledge your error and you also acknowledge the other person was inconvenienced by your express of gratitude. By thanking the others, you apologize from a position of strength. There is something different about thanking someone for their understanding rather than seeking their forgiveness. It shows you are repentant and grateful.

I used this tactic in my opening paragraph. My life has been very busy the last two weeks. I lacked time to reflect on leadership lessons and write about what I learned. As a result, I have a much shorter post than normal and fail to delve deeply into a topic or lesson. I could apologize for failing to create a quality post, or I can take my best swing and write a shorter, quality post about an important leadership trait and use the post as an example of how to execute the practice. In doing so, I have less reason to seek forgiveness and more reason to express gratitude.

A further example happened recently. I had engaged in a conversation with a person about an issue I found upsetting. I reflected on the problem before the conversation to avoid saying stupid things. I succeeded in that respect but the conversation clearly communicated I was upset. I learned that things were not what I was led to believe. At the end of the conversation, I thanked the person for taking time to explain the situation and remaining a trusted teammate. Had I ended the conversation with an apology, it would have appeared I made the mistake. I lacked all the information required to understand the situation. I only received the missing information by talking to this person. I was grateful for their time. I was grateful for their honesty. I was grateful to learn what I was led to believe was not true. That means I should say, “Thanks,” not “Sorry”.

Gratitude is also important to recognize the good work and efforts of others. Continuing my example of business in the last two weeks, others had to fill in some gaps created because my attention was required else where. That required staff to do some extra work. Like many places of employment, our job descriptions include the phase, “and such other work as may be required.” That catch all phrase is not a bye for leaders to fail to acknowledge the extra work others perform when they are absent. As a leader, my attention was required outside my regular circle. It allowed me to move the organization forward in ways I could not had I not stepped outside my daily activities. Failing to recognize the efforts of those who filled the gaps in my absence is just bad leadership.

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Upon my return, I expressed appreciation to the staff that filled the voids created by my absence. They ensured the lights stayed on and the bills were paid as I prepared for the future. Challenging your people to step up in times of need allows them to develop while also allowing you as a leader to grow. You could not move forward personally, professionally, or with the organization if you did not have those people you count on to run the organization when you are gone. You should be grateful they are willing to do those extra things in your absence. I think it was Napoleon who said something like, “Men accomplish amazing feats of courage for a little patch of cloth.” By that he was referring to the little pieces of ribbon Soldiers wear on their uniforms instead of the medals hung by those ribbons. Medals and ribbons cost the organization little. It is not like giving someone a raise requiring a continued cost. Those little tokens of appreciation, the pats on the back, the recognition at staff meetings for a job well done encourage people to continue to put forth extra effort.

Gratitude is an important leadership trait. Reflect on all the things your people do everyday, often without your supervision. Think of the times others suffered, even just a little, because of a mistake you made. Be thankful they put up with you. Instead of apologizing, thank people for their patience and understanding. Take time to notice the amazing things people in your organization do everyday without prompting. What does it really cost to say, “Thank you” in front of their peers, or to recognize their good work with your peers? Nothing. While the investment is small, the dividends of showing gratitude are large. Remember to thank those who make your life as a leader easier.

Leadership Reflection: 3 Ways to Increase your Influence

Another Friday arrives and ends. As you clear your desk, you think back to the week. You wonder, “Where did the time go?”. Even great time managers find themselves at the end of a busy week thinking about missed opportunities to help someone grow, provide a word of encouragement, or recognize someone’s good work. Developing a daily habit of leadership reflection helps leaders identify and learn from mistakes, make course adjustments, and anticipate threats and opportunities. Learn three simple ways to develop the habit of leadership reflection.

Taking time to reflect is a habit used by many successful leaders.
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I first learned about the importance of reflecting as a leader during an executive development class provided by my employer. We were introduced to Aristotle’s idea that an unexamined life was not worth living. The instructor provided an exercise for each of us to create and use a daily leadership journal at the end of the work day. Several years later at the US Army Sergeants Major Academy (USASMA), I was introduced to the book, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease. USASMA use the results of this program to demonstrate how hard it is for people to change habits. I read the book over a vacation and learned about meditation as a way to reduce stress and as a reflective habit for leaders. A third habit I learned was to take time daily and just sit in a quiet space doing nothing. Just think. You can seed these sessions with a short prompt like a poem or a short reading from a book like Patton’s One-Minute Lessons. As you begin practicing one or more of these reflective habits, you will find you are more mindful of sharing words of encouragement, using some time to recognize good work, and develop others into good leaders.

An important facet of reflective leadership is setting aside time each day to reflect. Try to make it the same time every day. Many successful people have a morning habit of reflecting shortly after waking but before the frenzy of the day begins (no single citation for this factual statement. After listening to many Tim Ferriss podcasts in which he interviews successful people with a standing question about their morning routines, reflecting, meditating, and journaling were cited by many as a ‘must-do’ activities). Others schedule it at the beginning of the work day or just before bed. The one constant is that successful leaders set aside and protect time to reflect.

Journaling

There are many ways leaders can use a journal to reflect. Typically my time is used to memorialize some event that seemed important in my life, reflect on a topic, and express gratitude. This practice is my version of what I learned from others. Reflection takes time so set a realistic amount of time to be effective in your reflection. We write much slower than we think. That requires us to slow our thinking so we can write. The quiet mind is like a quiet information network, it works faster and better.

When you start to journal, you may find your mind is blank. There are a number of questions you may ask yourself to use as writing prompts. Examples include:

  • What did I learn that makes me a better leader?
  • What must I do achieve my goals or the goals of my organization?
  • Who did I develop to become a better performer or future?
  • What strengths did I use to make my relationships better?
  • What am I feeling and why?
  • What is going well and why?

These prompts are just examples. With practice, you will develop your own questions to answer as you write. You may find that some days you just want to open your journal and write what ever comes to mind without using prompts. Do what works so that you reflect on your leadership effects on others. The point of the activity is to help you develop as a leader. No one will be grading or critiquing your writing.

Meditation

There are a variety of ways to learn to meditate. I am by no means an expert although I have practiced meditation for several years. Dr. Ornish introduces mediation in Chapter 9 of his book. Dan Harris has two good books and a smart phone app to learn to meditate. Two apps I regularly turn to are MyLife and Oak (I receive nothing except a feeling of satisfaction of helping others if you try either app).

Meditation helps leaders reflect by teaching them how to settle their mind currents, learning the practice of mindfulness, identifying emotions and how to detach from them, and by becoming mindful of the present moment. Leaders frequently deal with many problems. Only one of them can be a priority. Meditation helps leaders sort out thoughts like currents that run through rapids in a river. Your boat can only follow one path. Meditation helps leaders focus on one thing at a time making it easier to establish what is important now so they can communicate that to others. When others understand what the leader considers important, they can go forth and make decentralized decisions to support the leader’s intended direction.

Writing in a journal, meditating, and thinking quietly are all reflective practices leaders use to better understand themselves, others, and problems they face.
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A simple practice involves setting a timer and focusing on your breathing. Even 60 seconds is beneficial. Close your eyes and breath. Notice the position of your body; where the weight rests. Identify where you feel your breath the most. While breathing, relax each part of your body from head to toe. When a thought, sound, or sensation arises, acknowledge it, let it go, and return your attention to your breathing. It is okay if you realize during the exercise you have followed a thought rather than letting it go. Simply begin again. Two additions to this practice to help you focus are counting your breaths to 10 then starting over, or saying to yourself, “In” as your breath in and, “Out” as you breath out. You may do this with your eyes open. Practice before a meeting to develop focus.

Quiet Thinking

Similar to meditation is quiet thinking. Instead of letting thoughts come and go, you focus on a thought and analyze it. You may sit quietly and wait for a thought to enter conscientiousness or start with an issue of concern. The issue may be something you have done and wish to evaluate your performance, or something about to happen and war-game options. As you reflect on the issue, you may find your mind wanders. Like meditation, simply let the extraneous thoughts go and simply return to your issue and begin again.

There is no right or wrong way to think about an issue. A formula you may use might be to start by identifying the problem. Look at the situation from the perspectives of others. This is not as easy as it sounds because we often project how we think others would view the problem, not how they actually do view the problem. Figure out if others have used possible solutions for similar problems. Remember, you are not your thoughts. Not all thoughts are good thoughts.

Remember that even as you try to view situations from the points of view of others, your point of view still influences what you thing other people see.
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A little story on perspective. James Comey, former Director of the FBI, tells a story about how he once addressed a community group about crime. He said he wanted to help the community cultivate their neighborhood by weeding out the bad actors and planting seeds for growth. Word reached the President about his statements from angry community members. The President asked Comey if he realized that the bad actors he referenced in his chat were family members and neighbors of the group he addressed. The President asked Comey how he would feel if someone from the government came into his community and said he wanted to weed out his family members and friends. Weeding and seeding seems like a good idea but it does depend on who is weeding and who is being weeded. Comey said he carefully reflected on the words he wanted to use when addressing this group. He admits he failed to connect with his audience despite his best effort because he failed to truly see the other person’s perspective. Reflective leadership doesn’t guarantee 100% success (Comey, 2018).

Good leaders set time aside to reflect daily. Reflection allows them to process the lessons they learned, consider courses of actions for problems, how they are feeling, and identify important issues requiring their attention. There are a number of ways leaders can practice reflection. Three common and effective methods of reflection include journaling, mediating, and quiet thinking. Each allows leaders important alone time to learn and process. Block out time on your calendar to reflect and become a better leader.

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References

Brown, J. (2008) A leader’s guide to reflective practice. Trafford Publishing. Bloomington, ID.

Comey, J. (2018) A higher loyalty. Flatiron Books, New York, NY.

Horton-Deutsch, S. (2013). Thinking it through: The path to reflective leadership. https://www.myamericannurse.com/thinking-it-through-the-path-to-reflective-leadership/. Retrieved 3/12/21

Inam, H (2017). To be an effective leader keep a leadership journal. https://www.forbes.com/sites/hennainam/2017/04/02/to-be-an-effective-leader-keep-a-leadership-journal/?sh=7dc64dfc3b4d. Retrieved 3/14/21

Swaffield, S. & Warwick, P. (2004) Re-conceptualising reflective teaching in the 21st. Century: How do ‘Fast Track’ trainee teachers begin to link ideas about reflection and ideas about leadership?. British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, University of Manchester.

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(c) 2021 Christopher St. Cyr