Tag Archives: Character-based Leadership

The Language of Leadership in the 21st Century

I’ve always loved language. Admittedly, my facility in it is sadly limited to English, a few French words and phrases, body language (on a good day) and oh yes, a little pig Latin. But, what I love about language is its power to shape ideas, create images, evoke emotion and give birth to new habits and traditions.

In organizations, language also has the power to determine what matters. For instance, the language of the 20th Century stressed, among other things, the importance of control, competition, individual targets, winning, losing and results. And while many of these words allude to activities that continue to be important, there is other language creeping into the 21st Century landscape that will affect our behaviour and change the way we go about things.

To some, this language is associated with the softer side of life. In the past, It has often been derided and dismissed as being too ethereal or without merit in the workplace. But, as this new century unfolds, language like this will re-shape what matters and reveal its harder edge as we put it into practice.

So, what specifically am I talking about? Well, no doubt you will have heard and used the words. But because I often think it’s easy to use words without really understanding what they mean or how they might be used in any sort of practical way, I thought I’d have a go at bringing them into the light if only for the sake of provoking your own thoughts about their applicability in these highly challenging times. Words, after all, have a way of being open to interpretation and I’m sure you will have yours. But, for what it’s worth here are mine:

The first word is Empathy. To me, empathy in action looks like this. You and I are sharing our viewpoints over a particular issue. It is a difficult conversation. What I’m hearing from you sounds foreign and unlikely and yet I want to make sense of what you are saying. So I stop. I let my ego and my belief that I am right go, and I step into your shoes. I do that by asking questions and exploring the issue from your perspective. I seek to see what you see. In so doing I search for what you might be feeling and when I find it, I begin to understand what it’s like to be there. In short, empathy is about understanding. But just to be clear, it is not necessarily about agreeing.

Here are some other key words that come to mind:

Inclusion is about creating an environment where people feel they belong; are valued and respected. Including people means asking their opinions frequently; trusting them to take the lead in situations where their strengths will better serve the purpose; acknowledging their contributions sincerely and often.

Self-awareness is about knowing our own strengths, weaknesses, behaviours and attitudes well enough to understand our impact on those around us and how effective, or perhaps ineffective, it is in certain situations.

Cultural awareness is about the values, beliefs and perceptions that are part of the organization and the people who work in it. Organizations with an enduring culture will be ones that align their activities and practices with their values and beliefs. These values and beliefs are brought alive through action and thought; in their approach to the customer; in their hiring practices and in the kind of business they choose to conduct.

Diversity is about achieving a real appreciation for the heterogeneous nature of the world and it’s people. To me, embracing diversity means appreciating, understanding, valuing and using our differences to enhance the work and create something greater than we might otherwise do by behaving divisively and out of ignorance or fear.

Openness is about being truthful and giving people the information and resources they need to do their jobs. It also reminds me of the critical need to be receptive to new ideas from a variety of sources and people. In the last century, information was often used as a power tool by a few against the many. Today, I think that power is at its most effective when it is collectively held and willingly shared.

Adaptability in this century will be key to not only successful organizations but ones that simply seek survival as well. This is about learning to accept change as an every day occurrence as opposed to an event that must be planned and carefully managed. It speaks to the necessity to be continually reading, questioning and challenging the current environment. Today becomes yesterday in the blink of an eye. I think that those who learn fast and change faster will do better in these times than those who don’t.

Collaboration speaks to the need to work together for a common purpose. The 20th Century organization was rife with silos and walls that provoked, or perhaps encouraged, internal competition and rivalries. Now it’s time to build bridges between people and lines of business; to eschew hoarding behaviour and learn to share ideas and resources for a purpose that will be of service to everyone involved

These are just eight words that I think, when put into action, will define leadership, and organizational life, in the years to come. There are, of course, others. But, my point is that the more we use this language, and seek to understand its meaning and application, the better equipped we will be to meet the challenges that this century presents.

What do you think? What words come to mind for you when you think about leadership today? What do they mean to you? How will they affect the way we work?

Note: This post was originally published in October 2010

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Filed under Building Relationships, Change Management, communication, Leadership, Leadership Development, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness

Successful Leadership ~ The Story of a Man

I wrote this post in 2010.  Being part of this retirement celebration reminded me that when it comes right down to it, it is our humanity and what we do with it that makes the difference between success and failure.  Nothing else really seems to matter that much.

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The other evening I attended a retirement celebration for a former colleague.  It was a wonderful gathering, a room packed full of people who were there because they genuinely liked and respected the man who was about to embark on the next phase of his life.

In his business career, the man did not rise to the top of the executive ladder.  Nor, I would hazard to say, did he make lots of money or enjoy an opulent lifestyle.  He may not even be widely known to people much beyond his immediate sphere of influence.  But his impact has been felt. He is successful.  He is a leader.

Throughout the course of the evening, many people got up to speak.

His bosses praised his leadership in community activities; his ability to galvanize his local workforce; and his good humour and cheerful disposition.  Those bosses, who were younger than he, thanked him for his guidance and mentorship.

His colleagues spoke about lifelong friendship; told stories of the fun they had together and how they all managed to work hard in spite of their youthful exuberance.

His staff thanked him for his support and guidance.  While they were happy for him as he moved on to other things, they were sad too, as they told their own stories of meeting challenges together; overcoming obstacles; achieving goals; and yes, having fun all along the way.

His sons told stories of their life as they grew up.  The stories were witty and poignant and full of pride.  They were two young men who had grown up to be fine, funny and thoughtful, two young men who thanked their parents for giving them a good start in life.

When it was his turn, the man did not talk about his accomplishments at all.  Instead, he spoke with pride about the accomplishments of others, especially his children. He talked about the constant love and support he received from his wife. He talked about what he had learned over the course of his career and from whom.  He made many self-deprecating remarks.  And he said thank you…a lot.

Much has been written about the characteristics of successful leadership and while I certainly think there are core elements associated with it, there are other lessons in there somewhere. Like:

Successful Leadership is not formulaic.  It is open to interpretation and it requires the involvement of the whole self.

For instance, while we know that good communication is key to good leadership, how we communicate to get the desired result will vary depending on the leader. The man was successful because he did not pretend to be anyone else.  His communication style included fun, laughter and humility.  It worked for him simply because it is who he is.

And:

Successful Leadership is more about love than we would like to admit.

Okay, I can feel people cringing as they read this because injecting the word love into a business environment starts to feel a bit, um, ethereal.  But, there are all kinds of love…love of challenge; love of ideas; love of people; love of good honest work.  And, it is this love that carries successful leaders through thick and thin.

At this retirement party there was indeed love, and respect, for the man who for thirty-five years, took all of himself with him wherever he went.

So, imagine your own retirement party. What do you want people to say about you?  What kind of memories do you want to have? What do you want to give? What will it take for you to get what you want?

Think about it.  And, if you feel so inclined, I’d love to hear what you come up with.

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Style

* Personality Versus Character in Leadership

A recent, and much discussed event in the news has started me thinking about the difference between personality and character.   There are perhaps some who have spent little time considering if there even is a difference between them.  Even the Thesaurus on my laptop suggests the word ‘character’ as an acceptable substitute for the word ‘personality’.  But to me, they are quite different.  And, especially if you are a leader, understanding the distinction between them is critically important.

With my strictly layperson’s eye, I see that distinction as this:

Personality refers to our basic nature.  For instance, some of us are extraverted and some introverted.  Some of us are even-tempered, some hotheaded, and so on.  In short, personality mainly consists of those things we inherit genetically.  It dictates our personal preferences and choices. And, it drives our social interaction with others.

Character refers to how we choose to use our inheritance to make our way in the world.  Character is built over time. It comes from living, learning and making mistakes.  It shows up in the decisions we make and the risks we take.  Character measures and tests the strength of our will, our beliefs and our sense of justice.  And it is often a hard taskmaster.

It was W. Somerset Maugham who once said, “ When you choose your friends, don’t be short-changed by choosing personality over character”

I think the same could be said of leaders.  Sometimes, of course we don’t get to choose our leaders. And sometimes we don’t get the leaders we choose. However, we do get to choose the kind of leaders we are going to be. Will we ride on the coat tails of personality, going where the wind blows us?   Or, will we rely on the deep-seated beliefs that form our character to guide us, even if that road is harder… and even if it makes us unpopular?

To many people, the answer will seem obvious.  But, character can be difficult to discern.  It can go for a long time without being publically tested or uncovered and can often be eclipsed by the strength and easy attraction of a winning personality.

So how do we know?  How do we recognize when we are leading from the depths of our character and when we are not?  Under what circumstances would we be able to recognize strength of character in others?

Well, I can think of a few circumstances anyway that would provide some pretty good clues. Like:

In a crisis ~ the measure of any leader becomes most obvious when things go wrong.  It is then when wheat and chaff part company.

In Private ~ If, what leaders say in public differs from what they say in private, on the same subject, that is very telling. Those who change stories to fit the situation cast doubt on the veracity of any of them.

In the Face of Temptation ~ The power that leadership brings can be quite an aphrodisiac.  How leaders choose to use that power will say a lot about them.  The draw of self-interest is ever-present.   The test of character comes when we are faced with the temptation to indulge it.

There are, of course, many situations where character, or lack thereof, is revealed.  Suffice it to say that if we are looking for it, character, can generally be found in close proximity to courage and truthfulness.

So here’s the bottom line for me.  As a leader, while personality will get you in the door, character will ensure you stay there…or not.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

*Originally published in September 2012

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Values, organizational culture, Self Knowledge

5 Actions That Help Create Stability in the Midst of Uncertainty

 According to a Mayan prophecy, on December 21, 2012, the World was to come to an end…again.  Obviously, it didn’t.  But these prophesied World-ending events  show up from time-to-time on the global radar.  The good news is that apparently one quarter of our planet is now online so, the next time it comes up,  we’ll  have some time to say our goodbyes before we all fade to black.  However, while my tongue remains firmly in cheek regarding prophesied catastrophes such as these, they serve as a reminder that there is always something afoot, something changing, interfering with, or otherwise upsetting our equilibrium.  It’s the way of the World.  And, through technology, we are choosing to make that World more intricate and more accessible which renders our day-to-day dance both exciting and sometimes  horribly stressful.

To me, all this suggests that a leader’s role, (at least one of them), is to create a platform for stability, often where none exists, because in a world of constant change and increased complexity, people need to feel anchored to something they can count on.

For some, it is as simple as knowing that in the face of the unknown, they can still be all right.  For example, during the Second World War, The British Government gave the people of Britain reassurance that they can still be all right through a poster campaign that said, among other things, “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Of course it wasn’t the only thing they did to help sustain the people but it served as a vote of confidence in the spirit and capability of the British people to stay the course and overcome the hardship, terror and uncertainty that war had foisted upon them.  They, in turn, rose to the occasion finding ways to support each other; share what little resources they had and keep their upper lips proudly stiff.

Today too, we are bursting with uncertainty. We have come to know that just at the moment we begin to feel steady, things are going to change. So finding ways to create stability amid inconstancy is, in my view anyway, a primary goal for the 21st Century leader.

The question is, how? The answer is…well I’m not sure.  But I have some ideas and here they are:

1.    Be Purposeful

Knowing our organizational purpose is a great beginning to creating stability. After all, while change affects the way we go about fulfilling the purpose, the purpose itself, more often than not remains the same.

2.    Extend the purpose beyond the confines of organizational boundaries.

Most organizations support charities or causes of some kind.  Just as the causes can vary, so can the motivation for supporting them. To me though, doing good works that align with the organizational purpose helps the company grow roots and contribute to the creation of stable communities, both inside and outside corporate boundaries.

3.    Keep Learning

Broadening our knowledge base creates a more stable environment.  In other words, the more we know and understand the less there is to fear.  So giving true value and support to learning, not just training, will build a company of people who are confident, resilient and eager to see and experience what comes next around the corner

4.    Be Guided by a set of strongly held values

World events, economic instability and a constant feed of both useful and useless information contribute to a dizzying existence for most people.  Sometimes we just need to stop and remember what’s important and what we stand for.   It’s kind of like being out in rough seas.  When we can’t see the shore and the boat is tossing us around mercilessly, our values serve as the lighthouse beacon that gives us the promise of solid ground.

5.    Take Blame out of the Equation

When things go wrong, and they do, it’s easy to panic.  When we panic we look to place blame.  Blame is the enemy of stability.  It rattles people and often for the wrong reasons.  Blame is not about accountability it is about passing a hot potato and making sure it lands in someone else’s lap.  By taking blame out of the organizational culture and replacing it with a more solution-oriented demeanour, more people will have the confidence to participate in solving problems rather than defending themselves or looking for places to hide.

That’s what I think anyway.  What do you think?

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Filed under Change Management, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Change, Management, Organizational Effectiveness

Why Do You Choose Leadership?

 This post, from 2012, poses a question about leadership.  It asks us to examine our motivation for choosing to undertake an organizational leadership role.  And, it highlights a couple of obstacles that can get in the way of our making the right choice, both for us and for those who will be affected by it.

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In many organizations, there is this implicit assumption that everyone aspires to be a leader.  As a result, leadership roles in these places are ever in danger of being populated by people who privately lack the interest or desire to develop the skill required to lead others effectively. We’ve probably all seen, and felt, the consequences of  this at some time or another.

So, where is the source of the problem?  To be honest, I’ve been struggling a bit with this question but I have a few thoughts so here they are.

First, I think we have to look to organizational culture and practices.  And second, we have to explore the possible reasons people apply for leadership roles in the first place.

From an organizational perspective, these two questions come to mind:

What does the culture of the organization support?

Culture has a lot to do with the caliber of leadership existing in any company.  In many places, those who say they aren’t interested in leadership roles are viewed as having no ambition…or worse.  If the work environment does not support or value those who prefer individual contribution, some people will feel pressure to step into roles for which they are unsuited perhaps because they feel it is expected of them or they don’t see anywhere else to go to improve their lot.

What false assumptions might the organization be making?

In some companies, those who excel in one area of the work are often promoted and placed in charge of a group of others doing similar work.   The assumption is that s/he who excels is willing and able to bring the others up to his or her level of excellence.  In my experience, those who are good at doing are not necessarily good at teaching.  And so, often, the results of this tactic are disappointing for the company and frustrating for the individual.

There are of course other questions to ponder but the point is that if you find too many unhappy people in roles that don’t suit them, the first place to look is at how the organization may be unwittingly supporting it.

Okay, so aside from organizational concerns, why do people choose leadership roles?   Well, I think that’s a question that every person should be asked when making application because to make it simple, there are good reasons and there are bad reasons for choosing leadership.

For instance, I think you may be on the right track if:

You want to change something for the better

You have a genuine interest in influencing others

You see the reward and benefit of working with and through others.

You believe strongly in the power of collective effort

Coaching, teaching, and guiding are words to which you strongly relate

Building relationships and communicating with others is important to you

You accept that people will watch you, do what you do and say what you say… for better or worse.

You accept that not everyone is going to like you.

You are willing take the blame for group mistakes even if you didn’t make them.

Conversely, you may be barking up the wrong tree if:

Your primary interest is more money and a promotion

You like the idea of telling people what to do

Position or status is your principal motivator

You view this as an opportunity to delegate the work you don’t like to do.

You want a leadership role solely for the purpose of your own development

The Bottom Line:  Creating workplaces where leadership roles are filled only with people who are good at leading and want to be there, relies on the willingness of organizations to give greater value to, and make room for, those whose skills and talents lie elsewhere.  It also relies on the willingness of individuals to examine their real motivations before throwing their hat in the leadership ring.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?  Why would you choose leadership?  What else has to change?

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Filed under Leadership, Leadership Development, Management, organizational Development, Organizational Effectiveness

The Practical Gift of Humility

It’s that time of year again when we turn our thoughts to gift-giving.   This post, from 2010, reflects on the more intangible, but often priceless gifts,  we can give to each other.  In particular it focuses on what I think humility looks like when it is in action. And, by the way, this post was inspired by one written by Mary Jo Asmus. Be sure to visit her blog before you finish here. It’s a gift in itself to anyone who aspires to lead well.

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Some time ago, Mary Jo Asmus published a blog post entitled Giving Away Your Gifts.  It served as a reminder, to me at least, that non-tangible assets, when shared, are indeed gifts to those who receive them.

Mary Jo outlined a number of important gifts that leaders can give and then she asked us to think about other qualities that leaders might bring and apply at work.

I offered the gift of humility.

Mary Jo said it was a great gift but asked, “How would you give humility to others?”

Well, that started me thinking.  How indeed?  After all, humility is one of those things that is constantly in competition with the ego.  And, it’s not a quality that comes naturally or easily to human beings either.  In fact, we can’t actually give humility to another person.  Even the idea sounds a bit, well, arrogant doesn’t it?

I suppose I could go off on some esoteric journey about the righteousness of humility (a journey on which I would no doubt find myself alone), but right now, I’m more interested in looking at some of its more practical aspects.

Here are some that come to mind.  Leaders give the gift of humility every time they:

  • Praise others and give credit for work well done, without expectation of sharing in the tangible recognition that may come from it.
  • Give the challenge of new and exciting assignments to those who they feel will get the best result and grow from the experience, even if doing the work themselves would have earned them major bragging rights.
  • Step behind the rest of their team when accolades are being given for great results.
  • Look in the mirror first, when things go wrong.
  • Make the work and the collective effort of the team more important than their own status or image.
  • Express more pride in their teams, the work and their values than in themselves.

Okay, all this sounds tough.  And it is.  It may appear Paradoxical, but I think that to be able to carry off true leadership with humility, we need a healthy sense of self-esteem, because then we can more easily find contentment and pride in allowing others to shine brighter, or more often, than we do.   It is that, that makes it a gift.

Many of you will have heard of Jim Collins. He advocates the combination of humility and will as being present in the most accomplished and effective leaders.

He refers to it as “The Five”, meaning level five leadership and explains it here:

Do we have to be captains of industry to give the gift of humility?  The simple answer is no.  Does it mean that we have to turn into someone like Charles Dickens’ Uriah Heep to be humble? Certainly not.

But, it does take practice and sincerity. I’m still working on it. You?

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Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leading Teams

Collaboration & Six Ways to Make It Work

Collaboration is described in the Oxford dictionary as;”working in combination with another”.  It sounds so simple doesn’t it?  But of course we all know that ‘simple’ does not always equate to ‘easy’.  This post, from 2011, takes a look at how we might create a working environment that helps to make collaboration possible…and also productive.

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One day, I went with my granddaughter to the playground and watched her as she dove happily into play with the other children.  I envied her ability to simply become part of the group.  It was lovely to see the easy cooperation that danced among them as they shared the various pieces of playground equipment and discussed the merits of this climbing apparatus over that.  It was then I began to think about collaboration and what it means.

Some people think that collaboration is just like that… playing and working together cooperatively for a common purpose.  In the case of the children in the playground that purpose is simply to have fun.  But, I think collaboration, while having elements of that, is more. It is a labor of love ~ deeper and more focused . It holds more tension and requires us to listen to each other and communicate on a variety of levels through diverse means.

Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University made reference to this in a keynote speech he made about collaboration.  He describes it as “co-operation on steroids”, an apt description, I think.

My definition goes like this:

Collaboration is the act of coming together and working with another, or others, to create something that goes beyond the ability of any one person to produce.

Here’s what I think it looks like when it’s in action:

Those who successfully collaborate:

Engage in, and value, conversation

They take an interest in others. In fact, they use conversation as a simple yet very effective way to learn about others and the potential they may have for working well together in collaborative efforts.

Find ways to draw out creativity in themselves and others

At Pixar, they use improvisation as a tool for opening doors to new ideas and perspectives.  Others use a variety of brainstorming techniques.  No idea is discounted or censored, just played with until it either becomes something bigger, or fizzles out.

Actively seek self-knowledge and Learning

Those who know what they’re good at and enjoy, also know how they can make their best contribution to the collaborative effort.  They use their curiosity as a tool to explore and discover new possibilities.

Invite Contribution and accept what is offered without judgment

Often it is the case that someone will offer an opinion or a piece of work and our first instinct is to look for flaws.  Those who collaborate productively resist the temptation to do this, choosing to build on what is offered instead through questions and discussion.

Make Others Look Good

In his keynote, Randy makes reference to making your partner look good. To me, this means focusing on the work and the contributions others make before seeking personal recognition

Manage disagreement well

While we might like to think that effective collaboration does not include disagreement, it does.  Those who are skilled collaborators see the value in the tension that disagreement can produce and use it as a bridge to get to something different, or something better.

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The bottom line for me is that collaboration is hard. Its success depends on making the work more important than any one individual.  It asks us to subordinate our desire to compete with others and instead find personal satisfaction in the joint effort.  But, done well, collaborative efforts produce some pretty amazing, and very successful things.  Just ask Pixar

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That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

(The Pixar film is respectfully used only for illustration purposes with no intent to infringe on copyright or gain financially in any way)

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Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, organizational culture, Organizational Effectiveness

A Case for Being a “Nice” Boss

‘Nice’ is not a word that is often used to describe successful leaders. But, it’s really all about how you look at it.  This post, from 2012 attempts to shift the perspective about ‘nice’ from one of weakness to one of strength.

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My uncle, now deceased, used to have a little wooden plaque hanging on the wall of his den.  It read, “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice”

I was reminded of this the one day when I caught myself being not nice to a young man who was conducting telephone surveys for an insurance company.  Specifically, I allowed my disdain for unsolicited telephone surveys to affect the way I spoke to him.  That wasn’t fair.  And it definitely wasn’t nice.  So I apologized and then did my best to separate my dislike for the survey from my empathy for someone doing an honest and thankless job.

It occurred to me then that nice, at least in corporate settings, is often the victim of our contempt and in fact frequently equated with weakness.  The perspective is that people who are nice are pushovers. They lack character. They are spineless, maybe even incompetent.  When we ask people to describe a leader, they invariably say things like, strongdecisive, visionary, and courageous.  Rarely are they characterized as ‘nice’.  Indeed in some organizations we even expect our leaders to bring with them a measure of unpleasantness.  It goes with the territory.  After all, they are busy people. ‘Nice’ doesn’t get the job done.

But to me, ‘Nice’ gets a bad rap.  In fact, it has an important role to play in organizational success.  It could also use some repositioning in terms of the way we think about it.

So let’s try it.

What if we decided to equate ‘nice’ with strength instead of weakness?  What would it look like?  Well, here’s what I’m thinking about that:

When “nice” = “strength”…

It would look like Kindness  ~ We’ve all heard it.  “You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar” It’s an old American proverb with an enduring ring of truth.  And really, it takes just as much time to be mean as it does to be kind.

It would look like Truthfulness ~ Here’s where ‘nice’ grows teeth. Sometimes engaging in difficult conversations and telling people what they need to hear to make better choices is much nicer than avoiding or misleading them.  Often, taking the easy way out is very far from being nice.

It would look like Respect  ~ To me, respect asks us to behave like adults and treat others like adults too.  There is no room for condescension or patronizing behaviour in my definition.  It’s simply not nice.

It would look like Generosity ~ Generosity is often about letting go of something we’d rather keep for ourselves.  It is a demonstration of regard and a vote of confidence.  It takes strength.  And, it’s a nice habit to adopt because generosity can be catching.

It would look like Clarity ~ Being clear about what we need and what we expect is part of the package, especially if we intend to use those expectations as a benchmark for performance appraisal at some point.  Otherwise, it’s not fair and especially not nice.

It would look like Empathy ~ Seeking to understand how things are for others is a primary role of the leader.  It’s the way s/he “tunes in” to the work environment and engages people, not only in conversation but also in playing a willing part in fulfilling the organizational purpose.

It would look like Civility ~ Good manners are certainly part of being nice.  We may think we don’t have time for this. We are too busy.  I assert, however, that for workplaces to be ‘livable’ they must include courteousness.  People work better together when they treat each other well.  It’s as simple as that.

The truth about being “nice” is, it really doesn’t matter what you call it.  It’s not about the word.  It’s about the behaviour that the word suggests.  If we choose to look at being nice as a weakness, we will continue to discount its value in the workplace.  We will cling to the notion that “nice ‘guys’ finish last” and  keep on accepting objectionable behaviour from leaders who believe it.

So let’s remember those words from the American Playwright, Wilson Mizner, ~ “Be nice to the people on your way up because you’ll meet them on your way down”

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, Leadership Values, Uncategorized

Choosing to Lead and Two Simple Truths

Leadership can be a complicated thing.  But there are some simple truths about it that can help us  cut through all of the, ahem, BS that so often clings to it. This post, from November 2011, raises just two of them.  What would you add?

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Leadership, while studied widely and deeply, remains misunderstood by a surprisingly large number of people.  In this world, there are some who would have us believe that leadership is only for a select few.  There are some too, who believe it is the job of leaders to rescue the rest of us from our various predicaments. And, when they fail, these same people feel somehow justified complaining about it.

think leadership is available to all of us.  It is a choice we make.  It doesn’t always come with a title or a big office but it is there and it asks us to do something with it.  Of course, the more we learn about it, the more likely we are to make it a conscious part of our lives.

Those among us who  remain unconscious and unaware of our own potential to lead would do well to rouse ourselves.  The world needs us all to wake up, not simply to point fingers of blame or criticism in someone else’s direction but to stand up for something, take responsibility for something or set a positive example for someone else.

If this sounds daunting, it could be.  But, it doesn’t have to be.  There will always be greater and lesser leaders among us.  But leadership does not always have to be larger than life. Nor does it have to be complicated.  There are two simple truths that guide me and here they are:

The First one is this.  Leadership is not about you

Real leadership happens when our role as leader becomes about something other than ourselves. At these times, our individual importance is overshadowed by the purpose we are there to serve.

Evidence of it is shown in the quality of our relationships with those around us. Leadership asks that we give others what they need to be at their best.  It asks us to guide them, coach them, talk to them, listen to them, encourage them, and expect the best from them.  Whatever we do, it must  be about that and about a shared purpose.  Real leadership is never about any one person.

The Second Truth is this.  You don’t have to be a hero

Peter Drucker once said, “No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it.  It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”

Most of us are just that…average human beings.  We do not have to have special powers to lead. Sometimes all it takes is to believe in something enough to be willing to go first. Leadership is about caring.  It is about doing and participating.  If we expect perfection from it, we will be disappointed.  If we spend our time looking to the few for answers, we miss the opportunity to find our own answers and to explore possibilities that can only be found in the brainpower of the many.

The bottom line is, leadership is neither heroic nor about any one person.  It lives in us all.  We show it when we exercise our right to vote.  We show it as parents.  We show it in our communities when we volunteer.  We show it in our workplaces by being there and doing our best, regardless of our title.  So when we doubt our ability to make a difference because we don’t see ourselves as leaders, we would be doing ourselves a service by remembering that acts of leadership are choices we make. Be they big or small, all are important.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?

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Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style

…And I’ll Follow You Anywhere

What would it take for you to follow someone anywhere?  This is a question I put to myself one day when in idle contemplation.  This post, from 2011, is what I came up with.

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I’ll follow you anywhere if you…

Paint a picture of the future that includes me

If I can see where I fit and what I might contribute to bringing the picture out of the frame and into reality, I’m in.

Give me direction when I need it and freedom when I’ve earned it

Sometimes I need you to tell me what to do.  But, when I know what I’m doing and have all I need to do the work, let me get on with it and I will make you proud.

Help me learn new things and be better than I was before

I want to learn and grow.  I have dreams too. Give me what I need to build skill and have experiences that will help me learn.  That way, I can be at my best now, when you need me, and in the future, when you won’t.

Ask for my opinion and then really listen when I give it

When I know you are truly interested in what I have to say, I will spend more time thinking about things that are important to both of us.  You don’t always have to agree with me.  Just listen; show me that you hear me; and understand where I’m coming from.

Expect more from me that I expect from myself

Hey, I’m human.  I don’t always see what you see when you talk to me or watch me work.  And, I’m not always that sure about my own capabilities.  If you encourage and challenge me to stretch beyond what I think I can do and support me as I give it my best shot, my loyalty is yours.

Trust me first…

I know it’s tough. I’m going to make mistakes and that’s always worrying. But, if I know you are willing to trust me to do my best, I will work toward making you glad you did.

Laugh at yourself and with me

Simply put, if we can make each other laugh from time to time and take ourselves less seriously than the work, I will always enjoy working with you.  Really.

Give me the straight goods about how I’m doing…

There are going to be times when I need you to tell something I might not want to hear.  Please tell me anyway. If you do, I might be upset at first but will know where I stand. If you don’t, it won’t go away and more than likely will come back to bite me at a most inconvenient time. Put it to me honestly and with good intention and I will receive it with grace.

Live by the rules you set for me…

For the most part, I’m okay with rules.  Ask me to follow them and I will, if you follow them too.  Allow me to challenge them when they are getting in the way of my doing my job.  Be open to changing them when necessary.  If they can’t be changed, help me to understand why. Do that and I will respect and trust you.

Help me to celebrate my successes…

Acknowledgement of my accomplishments will always be appreciated.  Enough said.

Help me to learn from my failures…

When I fail, believe me, I will punish myself enough for both of us.  If, instead of punishment or blame, you offer me a chance to examine what went wrong and what I can do better the next time, my failure will have value.  I will appreciate that.

Show me your courage and your confidence…

There is a certain feeling of reassurance when I see you stand up for your beliefs, values and the people who follow you, (especially when you stand up for me).  When you do that, it makes me proud to be associated with you.

Show me your humanity…

I know you’re human too.  I don’t expect you to be a super hero.  If, from time to time, you show me that you too have doubts and moments of anxiety or fear, I will respect that and do my best to give you my support.

What have I left out?  What does your boss have to do to gain, or keep, your loyalty?  If you are a boss, what do you do to earn loyalty?

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Filed under Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style