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.
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.
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 is an art requiring practitioners to gain experience by applying known principals to a variety of problems as they arise. People can study about leadership their whole lives. Until they step into a leadership role, they will not know how to lead. Younger people often struggle to gain leadership experience inhibiting workplace promotions. Learning to lead is not a Millennial problem. Youth struggled gaining experience in every generation. So what is a kid, or anyone else who wants to lead others, to do in order to gain experience leading? Join a club! Yes, really join a club.
Leadership is leadership. It doesn’t matter if you are leading a bunch of pre-schoolers to lunch, a Fortune 500 company, or a grass-roots campaign against the latest injustice. Once you learn how to lead, you can lead almost anyone or any type of organization. What matters is understanding what level of leadership you are at and applying the principals required for that level of leadership.
Several years ago I was asked to take a position as a senior leader in the logistics division of my organization. I started my career in the organization as a logistician but found I disliked it and moved into operations. I was counseled by other senior leaders to accept the position because the job required leading other leaders, not directly supervising logistical support.
I accepted the position with a bit of apprehension. I found there was some resistance to my leadership by a few individuals due to my lack of logistics background. Most were receptive to my influence. Those who were resistant left the organization as I began to institute changes to making our division more responsive to the needs of the rest of the organization.
Understand that I am not advocating that the warehouse foreman be assigned to directly supervise bookkeepers in accounting. At lower levels of leadership, front-line supervisors require knowledge of the work being done. What I am saying is that when it comes to supervising other leaders, application of broad leadership principals is required rather than specialized job knowledge or particular tactics for a given situation. That broad leadership knowledge is directly transferable from job to job. You can gain that kind of experience outside the workplace and set yourself up to succeed within your workplace. This win-win tactic not only helps you improve as a leader, but also improves your community, whether geographic, professional, or any other description of community. Run or volunteer for a leadership position in a civic or professional group. After leading a civic group or professional organization you only need explain how you will apply the principals you learned to the specific leadership job you want at your workplace.
Many of the civic or professional groups set up their officer positions to teach new officers about the whole organization. The lowest level officer learns the very basics such as how to set up for meetings. In other leadership positions you learn group’s rules, tracking property, running organizational ceremonies, finances, and controls. Each position eventually runs up to the vice presidency and presidency or the equivalent name for that group. The basics of each position happen to coincide with requirements for leadership in the professional world.
Every business, governmental organization, or nonprofit requires someone to track property, They need people to develop, implement, and enforce policies. They also need to comply with reporting requirements. You do not have to be a certified public accountant as a senior leader in any organization, but you must understand restrictions on spending funds, sources of funding, and reporting. Even nonprofits have filings to complete for the IRS.
Ben Franklin believed everyone should belong to at least three clubs. His reasons included having a network of friends, working to improve the community, and developing skills required to become happier in life. Participating in various leadership positions in a club of your choice allows you to develop skills to achieve happiness and success regardless of your measurement of effectiveness. As you build your network through club participation, you encounter people who are senior leaders in the professional world. Those people are always watching for talent. You may be asked to apply for a position before others become aware it exists. As you work within the community served by your club, you also develop connections within that community outside of your workplace. The people helped also know about opportunities and your good work.
Many civic and professional organizations offer leadership training at no cost. They do so to ensure local and higher level chapters and such have leaders who have some understanding of leadership. The application of principals, tactics, provided in these leadership trainings apply specifically to your group. The principals are universal. The tactic of having two people in a civic group sign checks is based on the principal of establishing and enforcing financial controls. The principal of establishing and enforcing financial controls is universal to leadership. Every business, government agency, and nonprofit needs financial controls. The same idea applies to all leadership principals. The application in the club you belong to will be different than the application at your workplace, but the principals are the same in the club and the workplace. You only need to learn how your workplace applies those principals.
As you can see, there are many reasons to join a civic or professional organization and accept leadership challenges. You have the opportunity to learn and execute leadership. You learn how to influence volunteers; you just cannot be bossy as they will leave the club or your committee (that happens in the workplace too). You learn the foundations of financial controls and limitations of spending and sources of income. You learn how other parts of the organization can help provide resources for training and problem solving. You expand your professional network in ways you could not by staying in your bubble at work. You earn the right to add leadership experience to your resume. If you want to gain critical leadership skills and experience, join a club and led it!
“Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.” (Bullock, 1716), everything else is subject to change.
I wrote this article on the weekend of the 50th anniversary of man landing on the moon. It caused me to think about how that happened. There are lots of examples of leaders creating great things in government, business, and in social services after creating a vision of what could be dating back to the beginning of recorded history. As I study and apply leadership lessons, I found there are five principals of leaders who effectively lead change within their organizations. Those leaders set examples by living and enforcing organizational guiding principals, communicating a clear vision for the future, establishing goals and benchmarks, taking disciplined action to accomplish required tasks, and possessing humility.
guiding principals through their behavior. The old maxim, “Actions
speak louder than words,” says it all; leaders who say respect is
important and treat others respectfully are more convincing that
those who treat others disrespectfully. Whether you are new to the
organization, in a new position, or a veteran in a leadership role,
you choose your values. Ensure they are aligned with the
organizational principals, or advocate to changing them. It takes
time to establish character, but even if you have been an angry,
disrespectful, fly-off-the handle kind of a leader, you can change.
Others will notice and your character will change.
In addition to behaving in accordance with your professed and the organization’s values, leaders ensure others also develop character. You cannot ignore a direct report’s violation of an organizational principal and fire a more junior person for the same behavior. If your organization values people’s time, then the person who is consistently two minutes late for work, meetings, and leaves five minutes early needs to be held to account. Not every offense requires firing. Not every offense requires a written reprimand or other disciplinary action. Often pulling a person aside and pointing out their faux-pas is enough to gain compliance. When misbehavior is displayed by otherwise compliant people it may signal trouble. Pulling that person aside presents an opportunity to address the trouble and become aware of their problem.
A few years ago I gave in and went to the eye doctor because I noticed road signs were not as clear as I remembered them. I needed glasses. Over time my vision dulled and I needed someone to help me see clearly again. An organization’s vision is the same. In the beginning everyone knows why they belong, where they are headed, what they are doing, and how to do it. As the organization grows older, the vision fades, just like people’s eyesight.
Leaders often think
they only need to cast their vision before their followers once and
they are good for life. They are wrong. There is a reason all major
religions have services on a weekly basis. That reason is to refresh
the soul. Face it, after ten years of church going, you probably have
heard all there is to hear. Services keep your faith fresh.
Likewise leaders need to continually project their vision for the organization. Those who work in the organization need to see it so they can properly care for clients and customers. Clients and customers need to see it so they understand why you do what you do; it builds brand loyalty. Vendors and contractors need to see it so they are on the same page. Leaders, from each member of the Board of Directors, to the shop foreman, need to see it so they can magnify and amplify the vision for their followers.
are not one and done. Leaders constantly need to proclaim their
vision to inspire everyone they encounter. Leaders develop
credibility when they not only talk about their vision, but take
action to make it a reality.
Based on the
leader’s vision, the leader and junior leaders establish goals to
accomplish the mission and vision. Goals should be specific,
measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound, and task oriented. Many
of you will recognize the SMARTT goal setting model. I added and
extra tee for the task steps.
Task steps are
important. They provide the directions to achieve the goal. The goal
is your What. The task steps are the How.
Leaders should establish a plan for goal setting. Good goal setting happens in cycles. The first step is to assess. Your assessment establishes your starting point and destination. As you walk your selected path, you will encounter life and may find you stray from your planned path. Periodically check your progress and adjust course as necessary. As you move along, you learn; apply those lessons along your journey. As you near the end of your journey, it is time to assess again and establish new goals. Click here http://bit.ly/2YfQH0Y for a short lesson on the goal setting cycle.
ensures accomplishment of critical tasks for mission success.
Discipline has several meanings. In this case I intend it to mean
controlled behavior resulting from training (adapted from
Action means activities required to complete the mission. Disciplined
actions are planned and controlled activities that are scheduled,
measured, supervised, and coordinated across all teams in an
To be effective,
organizations must plan. Planning includes scheduling, measuring,
supervising and coordinating actions. Planning requires discipline.
Planning also identifies key performance indicators. Controls are
necessary to establish measures of performance and effectiveness
(insert link to that blog). Supervision is only effective if
supervisors know what they are looking for in performance and
effectiveness. Coordination ensures things are going according to the
plan across all teams. Coordination communicates the plan and status
of activities to everyone.
An example of disciplined action are the steps required to make a widget and ship it to a customer. In the planning stage, leaders determine what needs to be done, what resources are required, what will be measured, how often, by whom, and how to coordinate across all the teams. The organization identifies the material, machines, and people required to make the widget. They order material and hire people. They schedule activities such as when raw material should arrive, when workers need to be at their machines, when product will be shipped, and the means for delivery to customers. Coordination is required so there is material on hand to manufacture widgets when workers are available; trucks are available when enough widget are ready to ship, and adequate capacity exists to meet deadlines. Coordination is an on going process. For example, if machine operators are sick, it causes reduction in production. The shipping team needs to know so they can adjust shipping schedules.
Much of this step is as much management as leadership. Management is an important leadership skill. People are involved in each part of disciplined action and that is where the leadership comes into play. Fail to lead disciplined action, and your organization may achieve a task, but it will not remain successful.
I remember reading
in Seven Habits that Stephen Covey claimed to have studied great
people for years before boiling down their secret of success to seven
habits. I thought, “Why would anyone dedicate themselves to such
work?” I found myself reviewing Good to Great a short while ago and
read Jim Collins’ assertion that Level 5 Leaders are humble. That
was not the first or last place I encountered that idea, but it
struck me then how many times I learned that point from so many other
sources including people I chose to follow. I now wonder if Covey
stumbled across those seven habits the same way I found the five
principals of leading change.
Humility is an
important trait for being a good or great leader. Great leaders do
all the things I present in this article, but they also recognize
they lack certain skills, lack knowledge, lack connections, and other
important resources to make things happen. Great leaders recognize
they need to rely on others to help them accomplish the
organization’s mission. If they are the smartest, fastest, most
skilled person in the organization, they are leading the wrong group
of people, and they know that. They seek out people who are smarter
they them. They hire others with greater skills. They know these
others are their superiors and they are blessed to lead them, or put
another way, they know they are blessed those high speed individuals
choose to follow them.
You can develop
humility. It is a skill that can be learned. I saw it in action
during my first General Staff meeting. In a General’s staff meeting
there are standard scripts everyone follows to ensure the General
receives the information he needs to lead the force and make
important decisions. According the script, other staff sections
presented their canned information to the General. Then it was my
Colonel’s turn to present.
At the time, Colonel Shawn was the Director of Logistics. On schedule, the slides with the logistics information were projected on the screen. COL Shawn hardly noticed. Instead he looked at the General and said, “Sir, I know you’ve seen my slides and our information is pretty good this month. If you don’t mind, I want to tell you about the great work that Kris Skinner has done this month with our surface maintenance program.” The Colonel went on about LTC Skinner’s accomplishments that month. At the end of the story COL Shawn asked the General if he had any questions about his directorate’s data. When the General said he did not, Shawn introduced the next staff chief.
I was impressed. I thought it was a one time thing to bring some attention to the boss about good work done by his followers. The following month however, COL Shawn had another story about the good work another member of the section. Again at the end, instead of getting into the data on the slide he moved onto the next speaker. COL Shawn had someone every month he highlighted at the staff meeting. Now of course none of those workers acted independently. Col Shawn knew what each was doing and used all his leadership ability to encourage them to do the greatest job they could do. Each individual responded by regularly exceeding the standards and expectations.
COL Shawn was promoted to Brigadier General. He is a confident and competent leader. He accomplished plenty of big things in his own right. Yet when ever he talks with someone, he learns about them. He shares what he learned in a recent book he read. He asks what he can do to make things better for lower-level leaders. He practices humility.
Change is inevitable. Leaders must navigate future changes. Even choosing to maintain a certain level or quality of business without growth or shrinkage requires organizational change. Laws change. Customers change. Demand for products changes. Organizational staff change. Leaders who do not lead change will find there is no one left to lead. Leaders effect change by creating a desired vision of the future. They set and help followers set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time bound goals with task steps. They plan and manage disciplined action to accomplish the mission and change. They are humble people who understand they still have much to learn. Change is coming. Are you leading to adapt to that change?
/ —- Photo Credits —-/
Coins by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay using pixabay license.
Organizations promote good leaders front line leaders into senior leaders. As leaders move through the levels of leadership, they need to adapt to their leadership style to meet the level they reach. Front line leaders address the challenges facing the organization here and now. Mid level leaders prepare the organization to face expected challenges in the next few days to several weeks. Senior level leaders anticipate problems for the organization months and years from now. One thing all levels of leaders deal with are those problems that occur today. At every level, all leaders need front line leader skills. Whether you are on your first day as a new shop foreman supervising ten machine operators, or the CEO of a major corporation with ten vice presidents reporting to you, you directly supervise and lead people every day. There are three basic attributes front line leaders at every level must understand, possess, and use; character, leading skills, and action.
Character is the foundation of leadership. Character is the collection of habits and actions taken by a person commonly defined by their hidden and stated beliefs. A habit is simply something a person does repeatedly.
A mid-level leader in a leadership workshop confessed his surprise hearing the expressions from his employees about how much he cared. He received a promotion and was moving to a new assignment. During his last days in that assignment, almost all of his workers approached him at some point and told him how much they appreciated the personal attention he provided regarding some sort of personal issue. They each said it showed he cared about everyone of them. He told the crowd of other mid-level leaders he did not remember most of the issues for which each thanked him.
He told his classmates he devised a simple system using spreadsheet software to track employee issues. Every morning he made a list of people to contact to follow up on those issues ensuring they were addressed. His actions allowed employees to focus on their work, not their problems. His habit of tracking people’s problems and checking with them periodically, resulted in a reputation of being a compassionate leader. He only spoke with others who had a reason to know about the problem in order to provide support to the employee or help resolve the problem. He did not gossip. His habit of keeping his mouth shut gained him the reputation of being trustworthy. His habits and actions told others the story of how he felt about resolving people’s problems, not a speech delivered from a soapbox about being there to help his people. His character was defined by what he did, not what he said.
Front-line leaders need to find ways to organize information and their schedule or people think they are unreliable. Discipline is critical to repeat effective actions until they become habits and create your character. Learning how to relate with others enables leaders to motivate and influence people them by finding how individual needs, interests, and abilities align with organizational requirements and mission accomplishment.
In order to influence others, a leader needs power. Power is commonly obtained in one of a few ways. The first is positional power, that which an organization give an individual in supervisory positions. Another is expert power. If you are an expert by means of knowledge on a topic, or possess a critical skill that you use and share. You sway others by your expertise. A third source of power is attraction. That ability some people have to draw the positive attention from others and to make others want to be liked by them. Often called charisma, it enables those endowed with it to influence people by bestowing attention on those seeking their approval. A final source of power is reward and punishment. This sounds like something a boss can do, such as providing a wage increase, or dismissing an employee. In this example it is not someone in a position of authority. People who use rewards and punishment for power include people like playground bullies, or a grass roots community activist. Each finds ways to reward and punish people they influence outside traditional organizational structures. Some example include using force in the case of the bully, or endorsing a political candidate in the case of the activist. These rewards and punishments lack official sanction. The power comes from the personal traits of the individual such as strength or speaking ability. Learning to develop power across several sources is a skill necessary to influence others. Each has benefits and limitations depending on the skill of the wielder, the situation, and the audience. Each is a tool. One cannot build a house only using a saw; likewise, one cannot lead well with only one source of power.
A final critical skill for all leaders is communication. Leaders need to write well, speak well, understand how others use words to indicate problems and answer, use body language, customs and courtesies that make others feel welcome or insulted, and adapt their communication style to their audience. Use different words and sentence structure recruiting in a college classroom full of young and presenting a financial report to your board of directors comprised of older, experienced professionals. New line workers need different instructions than veteran equipment operators. Respect shown to all you deal with speaks louder than all your words.
An instructor at an officer candidate school charged the class to develop the best order to direct a platoon to erect a flagpole. Each candidate was given 30 minutes. After 30 minutes each student made their presentation. Each had multiple slides in a deck explaining the process of digging the hole; others had lengthy material specifications and work plans; and others had maps, charts, and diagrams showing how they would move the pole, position equipment, and stand the pole. When the students were finished the instructor congratulated them on their hard work. He asked them who the audience was for their order. All agreed it was for the members of their platoon. The instructor pointed out their slide decks and other media were great if they were briefing a general about how they planned to install a pole. The assignment directions were to issue an order to erect a flag pole. The instructor shouted, “Platoon Sergeant, POST.” The platoon sergeant ran to the front of the class and reported to the instructor. After exchanging salutes, the instructor said, “Sergeant install that flag pole,” and pointed to the flagpole, “over there where the grade stake is located.” The sergeant saluted, said, “Yes Sir.” and left to start installing the flagpole.
This story illustrates the importance of knowing your audience and the message they need to hear. As the instructor pointed out, if the message is what the candidates needed to request to install a flagpole, the communication is different than directing a Soldier to emplace the flagpole. Of course if the Soldiers were less experienced than the Platoon Sergeant, the instructor needed to provide more direction. The senior person in the story understood he was directing another experienced person to complete a task. Detailed instructions were not required.
Action, the process of making things happen. Anyone can sit in their cubical all day and plan for the future. Only those who step outside their cubical and take action accomplish things. Reflection is important. It allows us to see what is, and what could be. Without action, what could be remains a dream. One only gains character by doing something. Character is the sum of our habits, the things we do. Without those actions, one has no character. Developing character requires action.
Planning is action, but planning without execution is planning resulting in nothing. Executing results in success. There are plenty of things individuals execute alone and help develop character, but one is only a leader when others are motivated to help execute. Leaders provide motivation through communication. Communication is action. Leaders share their vision of the future, a vision that inspires others to follow the leader on the path to success. Leaders execute communication by coaching and counseling their direct reports. Coaching and counseling are actions. Leaders set up their direct reports for success by taking action to ensure resources are available to accomplish tasks. Resourcing is action. Leaders act and set the example by confronting unacceptable behaviors and addressing uncomfortable truths, such as failures to reach revenue expectations. Setting standards is action. Leaders execute by jumping in, getting their hands dirty and shoes messy. Doing something dirty is action. Leaders develop power and influence by doing things; acting, not just talking and planning. If you are not doing, you are not leading. Leading is a verb. Verbs are action. Actions, executed properly at the right time by the right right people result in success. You can plan. You can talk. You can be virtuous. You accomplish nothing until you act.
No matter how high one climbs the organizational ladder, one is always a front-line leader. CEOs have VP s and staffs reporting to them. Middle managers have front-line supervisors to lead. Every leader has someone who reports to them about something, or they would not be leading. In order to lead, you must have followers. The direct leadership required of a VP probably is not the same as a new hire on the cook line, but both need proper supervision and leadership from their boss. Provide regular front-line leadership to your direct reports as you prepare your organization, or your part of an organization, for the days, weeks, months and years ahead. Build your character so you are worthy of respect. Communicate so they understand. Act by counseling, coaching, and executing. Use your front-line leader skill at all levels and be a leader who succeeds.
Birds in line by Tassieeye from Flickr.com CC License
Holding hands from pxhere.com 0CC License
Powerlines by @wewon31 from Flickr.com CC License
Tool Box by author CC License
Network by Community Bible Church from Flickr.com CC License
Old Telephone Box by Pete Birkinshaw from Flickr.com CC License
“I quit!” said Bill out loud. “I haven’t made a sale all day.”
Jill, Bill’s big boss, happened to be passing his cubical as he announced his intent to terminate his employment, or at least sales calls for the day. “Bill,” said Jill, “We don’t quit. If you are having problems, I expect you to find a way to over come them. Getting to YES is an important principal of our division. I want you to spend the rest of the afternoon examining what what you have been doing and work with your team leader to figure out what you can improve. Both of you will report to my office in the morning with your findings.” Jill did not wait for a response. She turned and left. When she returned to her office, she called Bill’s team leader and told her about Bill’s problem and her expectations for corrective action.”
Jill said, “Getting to yes is an important principal.” She did not scold Bill for breaking a rule, but rather for failing to comply with a guiding principal. Guiding principals liberate leaders and employees from restrictive rules that require and prohibit behaviors by establishing clear boundaries, not rules. Employees operate within their boundaries established by guiding principals without fear of breaking some arcane rule. Employees use the principals to break the molds of past successes improving the organization. Sometimes people make mistakes, but in principle based organizations, leaders allow people to learn from errors, reorient themselves, and continue on the path to success. Guiding principles establish boundaries, not specific routes, for people to travel to achieve successful outcomes.
In the example at the beginning of this post, Bill probably violated several rules in his organization. Jill elected to call out Bill for violating a principle instead. According to Robert McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, “A rules-based organization is a safe place to work…because as long as you follow the rules, you’re never going to be criticized. You go to the General Counsel for each opinion, so you never have to take any personal risk.”1 Rules tell each employee what to do and what not to do in a given situation. The problem with rules is no organization can write a rule for every situation, and organizations like the VA have tried. Often rules conflict in a given situation. When faced with a situation not covered by a rule, or one where the rules provide conflicting guidance, people have to make decisions. That is why guiding principles are necessary.
Guiding principals, sometimes called values, are a short list of ideas that establish behaviors for employees to accomplish the organizational mission regardless of the situation. In some organizations, they establish their guiding principals a single words like, duty, honor, country. Others may use short phrases like, get to yes, respect all stake holders, continually improve. Organizational leaders boil down ideas until only those most important remain. An area cannot be established with less than three points. More than seven and people will not remember the principals; the area is too large.
The following morning Bill and his team leader Jane were waiting outside Jill’s office when she arrived. After being invited into her office, Bill explained to Jill that he and Jane spent the afternoon reviewing his sales pitches. They discussed some small improvements he could make to be more effective. Jane told Jill that she would check in with Bill a couple times in the next week to review his progress and make additional refinements to help him get to yes. Bill said, “I’ve learned the importance of seeking help when I need it to deal with frustrations.” Jill smiled. Bill’s outburst helped her develop Jane’s leadership skills and Bill’s sales skills. Had she just reprimanded Bill for disturbing other sales representatives, neither Bill nor Jane would have grown.
Leaders who use guiding principals establish markers to follow allowing freedom of choice instead of rules that fence in options. Guiding Principals develop effective organizations. They create a climate for employees and junior leaders to safely take risks within established areas. Leaders use mistakes as learning opportunities for the employee and others. Employees respond to increased trust by finding improved ways to accomplish the organization’s mission. All stakeholders receive the results they expected. By using guiding principals, people find their own route to success within establish boundaries. Now is a great time to review your organization’s principals and determine how you can improve them for increased success in the coming year.
Everyone recognized Sally and Bill were great leaders. Sally led of her group for six years. Bill ran his group for two years under Sally’s leadership. Sally groomed Bill in the preceding year to replace her. After she moved on, Bill easily assumed the leadership position and started looking for his replacement. Developing employees into leaders prepares organizations for both attrition and unexpected opportunities. Both Bill and Sally understood the importance of developing their next leaders for continued organizational growth and sustainment of excellence.
Many supervisors are managers rather than leaders. They are not entirely to blame. Often they were never taught how to be leaders. Why should anyone expect them to be able to teach others how to lead. Managers manage resources; leaders lead people. If an organization only views their employees as resources, they manage rather than lead them. The result is poor performance, crisis after crisis, failure to complete projects, customer dissatisfaction, and lack of growth. Failing to groom today’s managers to become leaders begins a downward spiral in leadership. Supervisors who are not exposed to leadership principals cannot pass them down to their rising stars and the bench becomes weaker.
Organizations choosing to develop leaders sometimes loose rising stars to other organizations because of the lessons they learned. Often those leaders stay even when offered more money or other incentives. They recognize organizations that value leadership through training have more to offer than money. When one star moves on, the boss turns to the bench to replace the loss. Organizations that teach leadership never have a shortage of qualified leaders. They are always looking two or three levels down selecting and training their future leaders. They have depth on the bench so the loss of one quality person does not cripple the rest of the organization. These organizations recognize developing future leaders is the most important thing they do.
One up and coming leader recognized the importance of developing young leaders. He examined everything the new guys and gals needed to know. He recognized it would take hundreds of hours to teach them everything. He faced a choice to move forward teaching a little at a time, or to become overwhelmed by the size of the task and quit. He decided to start small, directing three of his proteges to read an article on leadership. The following week he brought them to lunch to discuss what they learned and what ways they could apply those lessons to their own activities.
At the end of the meeting, the manager handed out three copies of the latest book on leadership theory. He challenged them all to read it in a month and gave them a date for their next lunch together. He assigned one of the younger rising stars to facilitate the next discussion. Over the course of the month, the manager met with the young woman to check her reading progress. He taught her how to facilitate the discussion at the next meeting. She did a great job resulting in the other two employees begging for a chance to run the next session. Before long, the manager’s leader development program was recognized across the organization as a model for success. Soon the leader and his followers each were selected for other leadership assignments. The big boss looked at the bench and picked someone to replace each of them and continue the cycle one little step at a time.
Leadership development can be as simple or complected as one wants to make it. Starting slowly allows the organization and its current leaders to find what works. Whether you train your people or not, some stay and some accept other opportunities. Training your future leaders today ensures your bench has depth for the future. When one person leaves, you can bet there will be someone waiting to step up to the challenge knowing they will have the training and support necessary to succeed. In order to experience continued organizational growth and sustainment of excellence, organizations must develop their next level leaders’ skills to develop depth on their bench.
Leaders in learning organizations demonstrate two critical qualities: respect and forgiveness. Most people learning new skills make mistakes. People stop creating in organizations lacking tolerance for honest mistakes. Respect instills confidence for people to try new things. They their first attempts result in failure, yet respect acts as a safety net encouraging more attempts. As workers gain courage and skill, eventually succeed. Respect allows forgiveness; forgiveness spins the safety net of success.
Forgiveness is often seen as a weak, outward display directed at those who offend us. Unlike respect, viewed as strong, outward behaviors directed towards others, forgiveness is a strong, inward action directed towards ourselves. Holding grudges does little to change someone’s behavior. Instead, grudges harm the holder, preventing him from developing better relationships.
Years ago two people worked together in difficult circumstances. The leader treated him well and thought he earned the other’s respect. One day the leader became aware his previous employee blamed him for many things that occurred on the job. The employee held that hatred for years. The employee’s hatred of the leaders offenses did nothing to harm the leader who was unaware of his offenses. The hate attacked the employee everyday, preventing him from achieving greater successes in life. The leader moved on in life, building new and better relationships and increasing his successes. The leader was was hurt after learning of the grudge because he believed he did the best I could do at that time with his skills, knowledge, and abilities. He reached out seeking forgiveness from his former employee bur received no response. I suspect the employee still blames his former boss for many of the bad things that occurred during the time they worked together. The boss offended and was offended by others during that time. He carried grudges against some people for a while. He forgave some people and some people forgave him. One day the boss met one of those who offended him and realized they were clueless he was angry with them. He noticed the person moved on and felt no pain from his lack of forgiveness. In a period of reflection the leader realized forgiveness was not about the other person, but rather about him. Once he learned to forgive, life improved.
No matter how hard we try, offending others is inevitable. Often we do not realize our faux-pas and therefore see no reason to say, “I’m sorry.” For those who do not understand forgiveness carry their hate while the offender remains blissfully ignorant of their mistake. Forgiveness is a vital part of respect because acting respectfully to those we hate is hard. Forgiving requires releasing hatred.
Without respect, others lose confidence, fail to grown, or learn new skills. It is equally difficult to hold a grudge against someone we respect. Leadership is about influence. There are plenty of examples of leaders applying influence motivated by hate. History views those leaders as failures. People who learn to lead from a positive influence motivated by respect gain more power permitting even greater influence and success.
Many of the problems facing our nation and the world revolve around forgiveness and respect. Examples of extreme grudges include mass police murders in Baton Rouge, people protesting police violence coming under fire in Dallas as officers protect the crowd, terrorism in France, a military coup-d’etat in Turkey, Islamic extremism in the Middle East, Muslim against Muslim, Christian verses Christian, Jew fighting Jew, and each against the other because of hate and disrespect.
Violence is not an answer for past slights, insults, past violence, or perceived disrespects. Jim Collins talks about the fly-wheel effect in his book Good to Great. Acts of violence begin a downward spin of of the violence fly-wheel; every additional act increasing the fly-wheel’s momentum. Forgiveness acts as a break on the violence fly-wheel.
Treating followers respectfully creates a positive position for the leader to gain increased influence. Good leaders recognizes everyone makes mistakes. Instead of being offended by a follower’s error, a good leader forgives, respectfully corrects, and allows the person to try again. This cycle allows growth and improves the organization. Grudges hold back offended parties. Offended parties may seek to retaliate through acts of violence. Recognizing most people do not intend to offend us with their actions allow us to forgive. Forgiveness stops grudges and restores peace. Respect is the greatest gift we offer others; forgiveness is the greatest give we give ourselves.
“Every Soldier needs a Sergeant.” is an old Army adage based on the traditional role of Noncommissioned Officer taking care of their men. More senior sergeants use the phrase to encourage new platoon sergeants to look out for their young lieutenants with the understanding that the lieutenant is in charge, but the sergeants know what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and the correct way to do it. Smart lieutenants understand the wisdom of their sergeant’s advise and follow his lead.
Career progression outside the military is less clear. What works in one company or organization does not work in the next. Even if you are the boss, like that young lieutenant, you need a trusted, wise guide to show you the path to success no matter how you define success. Like the old Army saying above, everyone needs a mentor.
It can be difficult to find a good mentor. Mentors are trusted guides. Typically mentoring relationship occur voluntarily between a person with less experience and another who has accomplished similar goals as the protege. The relationship is characterized by mutual trust and respect. Frequently these relationship occur outside supervisory channels.
Good mentors are interested in the success of others. They help their protege gain confidence and encourage growth. Mentors serve as role models. Mentors help their protege develop achievable goals, identify steps required to accomplish those goals, and as a result increase the likelihood of success.
Next time you take on a new task, think about finding a mentor to guide you along the way. You may find their experience leads you down paths you never would have found and methods to overcome obstacles. Every journey is an adventure, but with a mentor to guide you along the way, you improve your chances of reaching the end of the road and achieving the success you envisioned at the beginning of the trip.
I recently listed to a short piece on my local public radio station from the TED Hour (http://www.npr.org/2015/02/06/379184277/what-s-the-antidote-to-political-apathy). The speaker talked about getting people to the polls and ways to overcome apathetic voters. As I listened, a light bulb appeared over my head about a way to improve training. If you want to changed behaviors based on what you train, you need to issue a call to action to the participants. When students leave, they need to know what to do, the excitement to change, and ways to find help when they run into road blocks.
In this TED talk, the speaker noted in an unscientific study he conducted that in local publications, the editors would include information about how to contact a local charity, the hours of a new eatery, or the the phone number to the box office of a show they reviewed. The reader know how they could learn more.
When the local periodicals ran political pieces they often present information in a fair and balance way. They explained the issues about the topic. They did not include information about websites, phone numbers for involved organizations, or other information to make the reader take action on that subject.
Often trainers and leaders behave the same way. They call for changes. They show people one way to do something that works in the classroom. They may even provide some sort of high energy event that fires up the students and employees so they feel motivated. When they return to their cubical, they hit road blocks and because the trainer or leader provided no information about where seek help, the change they and their proteges hope for starves on the vine.
The fix is easy. After providing students their call to action, provide resources to use for follow up. When students return to their offices and run into a roadblock, they know where to find more information to help overcome the road block and successfully implement the desired change.
Provision of follow up resources requires more than a short bibliography at the end of your note-taking guide or a sheet tucked into the back of a participant folder. The trainer should call attention to the resources. He should provide screen shoots of the websites. He should point out email addresses and phone numbers of people who are willing to help. He should also provide a short sales pitch for each of the follow up resources provided so the student understands help really is there.
At they end of your next training, issue a call to action for change. Motivate students to implement what they have learned. Sell them on the resources available to help them over hurdles after the training ends. When you do, change will happen.
Many definitions of leadership include a phrase about process or action. Many leadership trainers authors and leadership gurus talk about the qualities of leaders. They discuss the importance of integrity, decisiveness, knowledge of people, processes, candor and character. What all of these boil down to however is action. The U.S. Army uses three words in its leadership doctrine, “Be, Know, Do”. Of these, doing is the most important is Do.
Steven Covey talks about emotional bank accounts in his books and blogs. He teaches that behavior results in either a deposit or a withdrawal into the account of another. The more deposits, the greater the credit and influence. An old friend, Gerry Berry, often noted that people always make time to do what they really believe is important. What we do, repeated over time becomes who we are.
Descriptions of good leaders include words like honest, decisive, loyal, serving, respectful and smart. Some say these traits describe the leader must be. To become those things you must do those things. To be considered honest, one must act truthful in word and deed. A loyal person stands behind, beside or in front of the one they are loyal to depending on the need. As one repeats these behaviors, one eventually becomes known as an honest person or respectful or loyal, but only through repeated behavior, action, doing.
In a recent leader seminar I attended, we discussed the trait of caring. One leader stood and shared a story of how he regularly learned about and addressed the needs of those who worked for him. He commented that he really did not care about most of the problems, but took notes and set reminders in his calendar to check back with each one on the progress of the problem. He made referrals and ensured junior leaders helped employees navigate available services. He commented he felt like he was faking it. When he was promoted out of his job, he was surprised the employees characterized him as a caring leader.
The reality is this leader may not have felt an emotional bond with his followers problems, but he did things to ensure their needs were met. Yes he used tools like calendars and notebooks to remind him of employee issues. These actions showed he cared. He could easily have told everyone he would help, that he cared, then forget. He showed them he cared by doing what he did, taking action.
Leaders know lots of things. One only gains knowledge by learning. Learning again is an action one does. There are generally three ways to learn. One is through a formal education system. Another is through self-development. The third is through experience. Learning requires action, doing.
So you want to be a leader. If you accept that leadership is a process then you understand that leadership is action. When you repeat certain behaviors, those behaviors become your character, a character of action. When you attend classes, read books and accept stretch assignments you learn, knowledge of action. If we study the leadership doctrine of, “Be, Know, Do,” understand the greatest of these is Do. What are you going to do today to do leadership?
Image credit: “Emanuel Leutze (American, Schwäbisch Gmünd 1816–1868 Washington, D.C.) – Washington Crossing the Delaware – Google Art Project” by Emanuel Leutze (German-American, Schwäbisch Gmünd 1816–1868 Washington, D.C.) (1816 – 1868) (Artist, Details of artist on Google Art Project) – KAHKUjVORM5STw at Google Cultural Institute, zoom level maximum. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emanuel_Leutze_(American,_Schw%C3%A4bisch_Gm%C3%BCnd_1816%E2%80%931868_Washington,_D.C.)_-_Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Emanuel_Leutze_(American,_Schw%C3%A4bisch_Gm%C3%BCnd_1816%E2%80%931868_Washington,_D.C.)_-_Washington_Crossing_the_Delaware_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg
In the last year I have had the honor of attending several retirement ceremonies for people I consider to be friends and great leaders. As I listened to my friends’ remarks during their retirement speeches, I realized how important peer leaders are to those who strive for continuous improvement and change. With the proper spirit of competition, support and cooperation, quality peers encourage you to become better than you are. It is easy to point to a current or former boss who provided a few words of wisdom, spent some time mentoring you or introducing you to some powerful people as sources of inspiration. Often we overlook the inspiration provided by those we work with and against every day. John Maxwell has long endorsed the 360 degree leader. Many have written about competition improving results. In many ways peer leaders may be more important in our personal growth as leaders than our bosses.
One common area peers are recognized as improving other organizational leaders is through competition. The peer may be your equal in another organization in the same industry courting the same customers, or within your organization leading a similar group. Their accomplishments provide inspiration to improve your own performance. Keeping up with or staying ahead of the competition, especially a friendly competition, encourages people to evaluate what the competition does well, which practices we can adapt and adopt, and identify improvements for performance ahead of them. Such continuous improvements start the momentum Gary Collins talks about in his book, Good to Great.
Another area peers help fellow leaders improve is by providing support. Support may come in a variety of ways and reasons. You may find a former competitor now works for your organization and understands the importance of your success because it translates into success for everyone. Your peer may have moved on to another organization working in a completely different field; however provides support because of your past relationship. Other members of your network maybe able to point you to an expert or service that meets your needs. Sometime their support results in a mutual benefit, many times there is no directly benefit.
Your peers may find they need your cooperation to accomplish their mission or you need theirs. Cooperation requires trust and confidence in the skills of the other. Completing a project together improves relationships and greases the wheels for future ventures. When two or more people or groups of people work to develop something new, and all the players do their part, the completed product often exceeds the quality for the same product produced by an individual. You have a good idea to make something work. Your peer adds to the idea and makes it better. Through cooperation both win and the organization completes its mission.
Developing a network of peer leaders helps you improve in many ways. Associating with other successful leaders improves your attitude, expands your sphere of influence, increases available resources and inspires you to accomplish more than you could on your own. Developing positive relationships with others allows each to provide support and cooperation today, yet compete against each other tomorrow. Developing positive relationships with peer leaders is its own reward. Acrimonious relationships make for a lonely retirement. Positive relationships fill your life with good friends and good times. The next time the guy running the shop across the hall knocks on the door looking for help, or stops to brag about his latest accomplishment, take the opportunity to improve yourself and become a better leader.
Thanks to those of you who have helped make me a better leader and a better person.
Watch photo: Christian Guthier from flickr.com Creative Commons License
At the beginning of the year I pitched a way to achieve your New Year’s Resolutions. (https://christopherstcyr.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/time-to-reflect-plan-act/) One of the steps I suggested was to periodically check your list to measure your progress and adjust your course. That time is upon us. I know because the reminder I set in my calender alerted me to check my progress on my goals.
I use a goal setting check list to help me focus on task steps and measures for success. I used to keep them on paper, but as time and digitization have progressed, I have found using a word processor or even better, the task list on my email client work great. Your worksheet does not have to be fancy. I combined the format I learned in the Army to evaluate training with some of the great ideas Ken Blanchard pitched in his book, The One Minute Manager with a couple of theories I have learned about SMART goals. If you did not put your New Year’s Resolution in writing in January, you still have time to do so. The benefit of having your goal in writing is being able to sit down periodically (like now) to review your progress.
For those of you who did make some notes, dig them out and lets check your progress. I have learned several things throughout the years I have used this process. Your work sheet is like a map. As you travel you find roads exist not appearing on your map, and some roads on your map are more like mountain foot paths. For goal setters that means you may have found some of the steps you planned to take were not required, however things you did not know when you began the journey require you to complete tasks you did not anticipate, and that is okay. Just like our journey on an previously unknown but shorter or better road, as one works towards a goal and finds a shorter or better way to complete the task, you do. Note the changes on your map during your review. Enter comments about the progress of each task and check off completed steps. Open your calender and schedule time to complete the next series of activities on your journey to completing your goal.
An important question to ask as you check your progress is, “How will I recognize success?” The answer to this question becomes the measures of the success for your journey. If you goal is to improve your health (a common New Year’s Resolution) how will you know you are healthier? Some metrics may include a target weight, the ability to lift an amount of weight, the ability to be able to run a certain distance in a given amount of time, the measurement of your waist so you can once again fit into your High School jeans, your blood pressure number or the levels of cholesterol. What ever standard you select, make it specific and measurable by some recognizable value.
Checking the progress of your goals on a regular basis is important to your success. By having a map in the form of a goal checklist you improve the chances of your arriving at your intended destination, your goal. Your check list should include the route of travel and measures of attainment so you stay on track, or recognize when you have to adjust course. If you don’t know where you are going, it is impossible to know when you have arrived. Take a few minutes today to review and update your goals. For those of you who have yet to do so, set ONE goal today and develop your route and metrics. I have posted a sample goal setting worksheet on SlideShare. Check it out and use, change and adapt it to your needs. Move forward by taking that next, charted step to your personal success.