Tag Archives: Leadership

Let’s Start at the Beginning–What is Leadership?

What is Leadership?

This is the most important question in any discussion on  how to build your personal leadership skills.  It is also the most difficult to answer.  Leadership is a behavior.  Leadership is a perception.  Leadership is a process.  Leadership is a set of skills.  Leadership is a position.  All of these are true.  And all of these are inadequate to define leadership.  Most importantly, leadership is in the eye of the beholder.  What you believe about leadership shapes your belief about how leaders should behave.  What the people who behold you as a leader believe about leadership shapes what they require of you as a leader.  What is happening at the time–the circumstances–shape what is required of you as a leader.  So . . . what you believe about leadership is only one small element of what should be shaping you as a leader if you want to be an effective leader.

So How Do You Figure This Out?

You start any investigation of leadership by examining your own experience.  When you think of the best leaders you have ever known, what characteristics did they have?  What behaviors?  What knowledge? How did they make you feel?  How did they communicate with you and others.  Was there a difference?  How did they delegate?  How did they handle the big picture?  How did they handle the detail?  Were they outgoing or were they introverted?  Were they smart?  Did the people who worked for them like them?  Did they get along with their peers? Whatever your answers to these questions, chances are that is what creates your concept of a “good” leader.

Your “good” leader had some negative characteristics too, though.  What did s/he do wrong?  Or, just not right?  What were the flaws, character, career or leadership, that your ‘best’ leader had.

Now, make a similar list of characteristics, behaviors, skills, knowledge of your “worst” leaders.  Why were they such bad leaders?  What did they do wrong?  What was it that set you on edge about them?

Now—put your “honest” hat on.  For the “bad” leader to actually have a leader role, s/he must have done something right.  What were the good qualities of your “worst” leader?  If you still have your “honest” hat on, the good and bad characteristics/skills/behaviors of both the “best” leader and the “worst” leader are likely to have some overlap.  If not, go back and adjust your “honest” hat and look again.

How People Become Leaders

Combinations of skills, traits, experiences, behaviors, and circumstances come together to put people in leadership roles.  One of my favorite stories–possibly apocryphal, but it makes the point nonetheless–is that Winston Churchill was a failure as a leader until World War II came along and the English people needed Churchill’s specific combination of skills.  True?  I’m sure there is another version or two of this story.  However, there are specific circumstances that call out for specific skill sets from leaders.  A leader who is great in a steady state, leading a large stable organization is not necessarily the right leader for a small entrepreneurial organization, or vice versa.

Baking a Cake

Becoming a leader is like baking a cake from scratch–a little of this, some of that, stir it up and bake it at the right temperature for the right length of time.  Becoming a leader is a lot more complicated than that too.  Becoming a leader requires you to be a learning machine.  It requires you to evaluate yourself in a richly open and objective way.  It requires you to push yourself to have experiences and to reflect about those experiences.  It requires you to try things that don’t work and learn from them.  It requires you to learn to listen and trust and experiment.  It requires you to remain flexible throughout.  There is not a leader anointing body that picks you and says “thou art a leader.”

If you want to be a leader, then I invite you to stay tuned through this series of posts on leadership.  I invite you to challenge yourself to answer the questions and reflect on your own knowledge of leadership.  I challenge you to talk to others about leadership.  It’s up to you.

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Leaders Are Not Followers

I know.  I know.  There is a school of thought that leaders can/should be good followers.  I’m not saying that leaders can’t follow directions, or act appropriately within their hierarchy.  I don’t think leaders are followers.  I think leaders think for themselves.  Think. For. Themselves.

  • They challenge the status quo.
  • They think about what they would do if “it were my problem.”
  • They do not sit at the level in the organization and not speak up when something needs to be said.Leaders Aren't Followers
  • They step up.
  • They take responsibility.
  • They take risks.
  • They fail.
  • They pick themselves up and do it again.
  • And they teach their followers to do the same.

Leadership is about how you handle yourself. It is about how you think.  It is about how you act.  If you do these things, people will follow you–even if they are leaders too.

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Filed under Career Goals, Leadership, Success

Who Are You And How Did You Get That Way?

In the mirror

Understand Yourself

One of the most important tasks of becoming a great leader and a successful Executive (and those things are not necessarily the same thing) is to REALLY understand yourself.  You need to understand what makes you tick–what motivates you, what slows you down, what scares you and what gets in your way.  You need to understand how others see you.  You also need to understand that what goes on in your head is absolutely invisible to those around you.  They don’t know why you do what you do and they certainly don’t know what you are thinking.  You need to understand your strengths and your weaknesses, your learning style and your interpersonal style.  And then you need to show enough of your internal workings and motivations to help others understand you.

We all think we know ourselves.  We are mostly wrong.  That is why it is really good to get feedback from others.  I highly recommend getting 360 assessments done–pretty regularly.  These are assessments that get feedback from you, your boss and your subordinates.  When you look at your opinion of yourself against that of your boss and your subordinates, you frequently get a surprise.   If your boss doesn’t agree with your opinion of yourself, then it’s important to note the differences.  If your subordinates don’t agree with you and your boss about your strengths–another important factor.  These instruments just measure behaviors, though–what can actually be seen.  When you get feedback that indicates behaviors that can derail your career, it is important that you CHANGE that behavior.  It is possible for you to change your behavior without understanding how and why you do what you do.  You just change.  Right?  Most of us can’t do that.

The Why of Your Behavior

When I identify that I need to change a behavior–interpersonal interactions, eating, exercising, time management–it really helps me to understand WHY I do (or don’t do) what I do.  For example, I used to get feedback that I was “unreadable.”  As I tried to figure out why people thought that, I also tried to figure out WHY I was unreadable.  What did they mean that I was unreadable?  I started asking people (not the one’s who had given the feedback, but others):  “What does it mean when people say I’m unreadable?  Why do they care? What could I do differently?”  The answers surprised me.  It turns out that I used few happy facial expressions.  I wasn’t aware of this.  Whether I was happy, pissed or someplace in between, I was using the same facial expressions. I had very neutral (or so I thought) facial expressions.   I really wasn’t aware of this.  When I thought long and hard about it,  I realized that some things had happened in my childhood that made me very guarded about my thoughts and feelings.  OK.  That was legitimate.  Then.  Those things no longer existed.  And not only that, it was interfering with my effectiveness as a leader because when left to their own imagination, people frequently assume the worse (that I’m pissed AT THEM).  I was able to (deliberately) change this because I was made aware of it, I asked about it to understand it, and then I could persuade myself that the coping behavior from my childhood was no longer necessary.  I was able to change more easily with this realization.

Some of the things that can impact the way your are and can shape your behaviors as a leader are:

  • Your birth order and your relationships with your siblings
  • Your relationships with your parents
  • Your beliefs about how things work (your mental models)
  • Your beliefs about the “rules” of organizations
  • What you believe about hierarchy and how that fits with your organization, your boss and your subordinates
  • Your beliefs about what makes people tick (Theory X, Theory Y)
  • What you believe about people’s responsibility to the organization and the organization’s responsibility to people

Start With Feedback

It all starts with feedback, though.  You can’t know what behaviors are really working and not working unless people tell you.  They probably won’t tell you unless you ask them.  Once you know the behaviors that you should address, think long and hard about where those behaviors come from.  Then do something about it.

Then Change

Sooner rather than later.

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Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Derailment, Executive Development, Feedback, Personal Change

Does Aggressive Leadership Work?

BadBossThe Rutgers Coach

I had breakfast with a group of friends this morning, evenly divided male/female.  The topic of the Rutgers coach who got fired came up.  I don’t think anyone in the discussion had seen more than a brief clip of the video that detailed the coach’s aggressive behavior toward his athletes.  “Like Bobby Knight” was a quick comparison that came up in the discussion.  Then someone said, “That aggressive style works.”  Participants (all male) in the discussion cited their own experiences with aggressive coaches or bosses and defended that style as effective.  (Since none of these folks had seen the video, they were not defending this coach’s behavior specifically, but an aggressive coaching/leadership style generally).

My position was that aggressive leadership styles work as long as the leader is physically present or likely to be in the vicinity, but that “when the cat is away” the style stops working.  In fact, it is my experience that aggressive (or worse, abusive) styles are more destructive than constructive because they create negative reactive behaviors, damage employee/leader  (or coach/athlete) relationships, and are short term effective, long term destructive.  They rely on bullying rather than inspiring.

So, I throw this out to you.  What do you think.  Does the aggressive style used by some coaches and lots of managers work?  Is it ok?  Is it productive or destructive?  Is it more acceptable for those who have experienced it in their lives than for those who have not, but have only watched it from afar?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

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Filed under Executive Development, Leadership

Lessons from Business For Life

Time To Learn

There are a lot of things that businesses do as a matter of course that if we did them in our personal lives, things might run more smoothly:

Have a Mission

  • What is the purpose of your life?  A business probably couldn’t get a way with having a “just go with the flow” approach to mission.
  • Why do you exist?  Check out mission statements from Fortune 500 companies.  Some are better than others, but they all are a statement of why that organization exists.
  • Do you have a mission statement? Is your purpose in life to make the world better?  To impact your family?  Your community? To grow yourself in some way?  If you think it through and write it down, then it is more likely to happen.

Have a Strategy

  • How are you going to accomplish your mission?
  • What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT).
  • What is your timeline.
  • Who are your competitors?
  • Challenges?
  • What actions will you take.
  • What help do you need?
  • Where will you find it?

Set Quarterly Goals

I think corporations take this focus on quarterly goals too far, but I do think that having an annually goal and quarterly milestones do help keep things focused and on track.

  • Do you even have annual goals?
  • Do you break down the milestones necessary to meet these goals?  It will help you get there.

Remove ‘C’ Players

Ok, Ok, maybe some of those ‘C’ players are family.  I’m not advocating getting rid of family.  If, however, you have people in your life who are naysayers, bullies, constantly critical or who sabotage you, then it’s time to think about ‘firing’ them.  They aren’t supporting your goals or mission, and they are dead weight that you’re carrying.  Get them out.  (And if they’re family, maybe figure out how to get them into therapy or at least spend less time with them!)

Manage the Money

  • Have revenue goals.
  • Have spending constraints.
  • Manage cash flow.
  • Establish and keep good credit.
  • Use the tools–budget, review, track, adjust–that businesses use.

Have a Recognizable Brand

  • Who are you?
  • What do you stand for?
  • What value do you add?
  • When people think of you, what do they think of?  (Aunt Alice is always late . . . Dad is always grumpy . . .Brother always resists . . .Sally is always knowledgeable and cheerful).
  • Figure out what you want to be known for.  Figure out how to establish a brand that does that.

Market

  • Market yourself.
  • Market the things that you believe in.
  • People don’t know things about you unless you tell them.

Communicate Effectively

  • Focus on being clear about your message–so many problems in family and friend relationships are the result o communication problems. If you were having the same kinds of issues with your boss or your subordinates, chances are you would seek help or spend a lot of energy trying to find a solution.
  • LISTEN.  Most failures of communication are actually failures of listening.  Let the person you are communicating with KNOW that you hear what they are saying (even if you don’t agree) BEFORE you respond.
  • Choose the right media for communicating–be careful what you put into text or email.  Try to be face to face or at least voice to voice during important communications.

Be a Leader . . . and a Manager

  • Set the vision
  • Inspire
  • Don’t give up
  • Focus on the systems and structures of your life.  Set up systems that run themselves and are supported by your life’s structure.
  • Balance long-term and short-term views.

What Lessons From Business Would You Add To Your Life?

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Leaders Don’t Give Up

Don't give up

Leaders Come In All Flavors

I have recently had the opportunity to watch some really good leaders in action.  They were all different kinds of people.  They were different genders, ages, backgrounds and experience.  The thing that I noticed that they had in common was that they didn’t give up.  They were persistent.

They Don’t Give Up

One leader said, in the face of overwhelming frustration among his followers, “Let’s just muscle through this.”  His followers were definitely ready to throw in the towel–they just couldn’t figure any other way.  The task in front of them felt insurmountable.  I watched as the group collectively shrugged–without much hope–but with a willingness to follow.  The leader asked questions, got answers.  Others asked questions, got answers.  The energy of the group started to go up.  Suggestions started to fly.   These were countered by other suggestions.  Solutions were identified.  Action plans developed.  Schedules.  Commitments.  The group left with a plan and energy and hope.  And it started with a mere statement.  “Let’s just muscle through it.”

Another leader coached members of a group on how to start again when their jobs had gone away.  Her job had also gone away, but she was completely focused on helping the others to see the possibilities.  As I watched, the leader and her coachees devised a plan to start a business.  It was a brilliant idea and it bubbled out of the blended despair of the followers and the persistent support and hope of the leader.

Leaders provide hope. 

They provide clarity.  They provide direction, and pull more direction out of their followers.  They don’t accept the status quo.  Even when they can’t specifically see the way forward, they keep looking.  They don’t let others give up either.  They see that the solution might be just around the corner.  They keep looking and keep pushing.  If one direction is wrong, they turn and try another.

What about you?

Do you give up?

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Should Your Subordinates Like You?

Should you be liked OR respected?

iStock_000019473325XSmallThis post is a follow on to my last post, Underground Relationships.  One of my readers said that he had a boss tell him that people working for you shouldn’t like you, just respect you.  He asked what I thought about that.  I have heard people say this, and in fact I myself have said a variation of that.  I have said that you don’t have to be liked, but you should be respected.  Different, but maybe someone who heard me say that could interpret it the same way.  I think it’s a great question:  How important is it that your subordinates like you?  Should you work to be liked? Is it ok if they like you?

There is a reasonably good argument that if your people respect you, if you do the right things, if you are kind and thoughtful and a clear communicator, then your people will like you.  There are a lot of reasons, though, that this may not be true.  Some people just don’t like managers–no matter who they are or how they act.  Some people react badly to peers being promoted to be their manager.  (See Promoted to Manage Your Peers?  Awkward.)  Whatever the reason, there is no guarantee that subordinates will like their bosses.

So how hard should you work to get your subordinates to like you?

Let’s start with my reader’s boss’ statement: “the people working for you shouldn’t like you, just respect you.”  I have to say that I don’t agree with this statement.  In an ideal world, your subordinates should both respect you and like you.  The quality of work life is significantly better if there is both respect and a level of affection in both directions.  The important thing is to be very clear on where your responsibility as a manager lies.  You are an employee with a fiduciary duty to the organization to deliver strategic results.  As an employee of the organization, managers must do what the organization needs.  Sometimes those things don’t make subordinates happy.  Sometimes those things don’t make managers happy.  On the other hand, managers also have a responsibility to adhere to their own ethical standards.  Those standards include what they are willing to do for the organization and how they must treat employees and co-workers.

Now let’s look at the statement that I’ve made in the past: “you don’t have to be liked, but you should be respected.”  What I meant by this was that you should do the “right” things, things that make you respected, but you shouldn’t do things with a goal of being liked.  The question my reader posed has made me rethink this.  It is my experience that there are some people in management positions who have a really hard time doing things that will impact their likeability.  I believe that this is the wrong thing to use as a guideline when you are a manager.  Your responsibility is first–what is right for the organization, second–what is right for your people, and I don’t see a time when your likeability should be a factor.

Unfortunately, though, it isn’t as easy as that.  It’s really hard to find the lines that divide these things.  What is right for the organization may be bad for the people; what is right for some people may be wrong for others; what is right for your subordinates may be wrong for other parts of the organization.  Finding your way through these  mazes is easier if you have strong relationships with people at work.  If they trust you, and if you communicate clearly as to your reasons and the context, it is easier to find a balance between hard decisions that create unhappiness and sustaining organization performance and relationships.

So what do you do?

  • Get clear on what your personal ethical belief is about how people should be treated and how those decisions should get made
  • Get clear on what you believe is your responsibility to the organization as a boss
  • Find your personal balance between these (understand that whatever you decide here could cause you problems–with your boss, your organization or your subordinates–but you’ve got to live with your decisions/behavior)
  • Listen to HEAR what your people are thinking and going through
  • Communicate clearly with your subordinates about the context and reasons for why decisions have been made, acknowledging the costs to people who are affected–this is absolutely the most important action in being respected/liked
  • As long as you are comfortable with your personal decisions about how you navigate, live with the consequences

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Filed under Career Development, Communication, Executive Development, Leadership