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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in Courage

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Recall the Scenario

In my last article I introduced you to a scenario where two people, Ben and Chris, are very different types of leaders. At the end of the article I asked for feedback about some leadership elements at play. Thank you for all who responded. Much of the feedback was empathetic (“Are you writing about [fill in the name]? Because ‘Ben’ sounds exactly like them?”)

Other feedback was critical (“I would say that neither of them are leaders, they are just control freaks.”) It’s not easy when you are forced to choose between two imperfect options. But, that often is reality, isn’t it? What you can do to keep your sanity and make the best of things is to understand the natural laws of leadership that are at play in the situation that you are facing and adjust accordingly.

As a leader, you will likely find yourself in a situation where you are in charge of someone who is challenging or difficult to lead, as was Chris in the outlined scenario. You will also likely find yourself working for someone who isn’t the strongest leader, as is Ben. In either situation, the question to you as a leader is this: Are you going to allow the inadequacies of another to determine your own success as a leader?

As a leader, you have the responsibility to demonstrate your versatility and adjust to the situation, both up and down the organization, to ensure you are as effective as possible.

This is why it is helpful to understand what I call the Natural Laws of Leadership.


Natural Laws of Leadership: Empowerment Though Inaction

Just as there are laws of nature (objects will fill fall to earth at the same speed, water will follow the path of least resistance to the sea, smoke rises, etc.), there are also natural laws of leadership. Despite our best intentions and desires, we can’t change these laws. They simply exist.

Leadership is an inherently interpersonal endeavor. Because of this, the natural laws of leadership intrinsically deal with people’s behavior. One of the key natural laws of leadership at work in the scenario described above is the Law of Empowerment Through Inaction.

Let me describe it this way. A person looking to get something will find the easiest way possible to get it. They will follow the path of least resistance to reach their goal. It’s human nature. Ask any parent of a child who wants some candy how it works. The child will go to the parent who they feel is most likely to agree to the request. They will even work one against the other to get the answer they want. The same thing is true of people in a professional setting. Look at the way the staff has learned to adjust to Ben’s micro-meddling in the previously described scenario.

The converse of this behavior is also true.

Any behavior, however inappropriate or unacceptable, will be continued until enough pressure is applied to force the behavior to change.

Therefore, as a leader, one of your jobs is to recognize and respond to behavior that shouldn’t be continued. Part of a leader’s job is to put up the appropriate level of resistance (organizationally, interpersonally, within a team, etc.) at the right place to drive the right behavior and outcomes. If a leader fails to do this, the net effect is no different than if they were to officially endorse the undesired behavior.

What is tolerated and accepted is perpetuated and becomes the norm.

This likely explains why Chris, in this scenario, continues to demonstrate unprofessional and dysfunctional behaviors. This also clearly illustrates, in very real terms, the Law of Empowerment Through Inaction.

Stay Tuned for More

I’ll introduce more of the Natural Laws of Leadership in the coming weeks.

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This post, as well as others from Dave, can also be found at http://linked2leadership.com/author/dhasenbalg/

Dave Hasenbalg is President of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership, Team Effectiveness and Operational Excellence.
He can be reached at dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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From the Mouths of Leaders

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Spend enough time in leadership roles or around leaders in organizations and you will hear people say things that will make you turn your head. Sometimes it's because you have heard a strong leader give exactly the right message to the right person at the right time. Those moments can be transformational.

Then there are times when you hear leaders say things so ridiculous that you have to turn your head to see if they were joking. Not long ago, I heard a senior executive make a comment that fell in the category of the latter. One of her staff members was leading an initiative that was transforming how a business unit would function. She said, "You're the leader. You stick to the strategic level. You don't worry about how it gets done."

I couldn't believe my ears. Then it occurred to me, this is the kind of leadership that many organizations practice (and has led to their destruction). In fact, some very popular leadership books clearly state that the main job of a leader is to "inspire a vision" or that "the domain of leaders is the future," thus implying that real leaders don't function in the here and now. This is absolute HOGWASH.

Understanding Real Leadership

Real leadership doesn't happen in the future. Real leadership happens here and now. In reality, probably 80% of real leadership happens in the interaction between two or more people. It happens face-to-face and shoulder-to-shoulder with those people you hope to lead. Don't get me wrong, vision is good and is an important factor to leadership. But it is not the end by itself, and alone it is not enough

Leadership is about effectively influence others to a common goal. It's about getting the right people to do the right things at the right time for the right reasons. Dwight Eisenhower said it best,

"Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it".

If you can master influencing through effective relationships, you can learn to be a good leader. And, make no mistake, leadership can be learned. And the first thing that leaders learn is that trying to go it alone leads to failure. There is a futility in trying to be leader without considering those you are trying to lead.

You Can't Lead If You Aren't With Those You Are Leading

One of the most disappointing things I've seen that perpetuates this image is the successory quote about leadership. You know the one. It has the bald eagle sitting alone in a tree and ends with, "...In the end, leaders are much like eagles...they don't flock, you find them one at a time."

This is one of the most ridiculous images for leadership I can imagine. Whenever I'm coaching a leader and I see this in their office, I immediately know that I have my work cut out for me. It's stupid because it gives the impression that a leader is one person doing things by themselves, at their own will. It's like the idea that a leader just sets the strategy and vision and then disappears. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Successful leaders are found in the middle of those they are leading. They don't swoop in, do their business, and fly off to their lone perch. Perhaps a more appropriate image for a leader might be a wolf as it is leading its pack.

Leading The Pack

Leading the pack requires:

  1. Courage to know where to go. Sure this requires vision.
  2. Leading by example (walk the walk). You can't do this unless the team can see you. You have to be among those you are leading.
  3. The ability to influence the individuals in the way most effective to them. Build effective teams.
  4. Recognition that it isn't about you, it's about the pack.

Leadership, at its core, is about influencing people where they are and getting them to go where they need to go.

So, if you are a leader how are you influencing those around you?

Are you building effective teams? Are you making sure that your followers are also building effective teams?

What are you doing to build your own influencing skills? Do something today to make yourself a better leader. Read a leadership article (good start right here). Enroll in a workshop that will build those skills.

Find a coach or mentor to talk you through your areas of your own that need improvement.

The key is, never stop working on yourself. Your team deserves it.

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Posted by on in Tension

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The Utopian World?

It seems that we operate in a world where most people expect to go about their business in an ultra-professional, rational, controlled environment. In this utopian environment, people expect their leaders to give them nothing but calm, “let me work at my own pace”, conflict-free interactions in a workplace where nobody is offended or challenged?

Contrary to that perspective, that is not what leadership is about and it is not how leaders should operate.

2 Leadership Imperatives

In any organization, leaders need to do 2 things:

Bring a vision to inspire others and give them a direction to go.

Introduce the right amount of tension to get results.

Vision Alone Isn’t Enough

There have been volumes written about the importance of leaders setting a vision and inspiring others to adopt that vision as their own (Good to Great, The Leadership Challenge, etc.). Vision alone is not enough. As an old Samurai saying goes,

Vision without action is dreaming. And action without vision is wasting time.

And, as my father used to say,

If you don’t know where you are going, any old road will take you there.

It takes more than a vision and a strategy to get results. How do leaders get results? In a word: tension.

The Value of Tension

There isn’t much written about the need for leaders to bring tension to the workplace, but if it is results you want, tension is exactly what you will need. To get things done a certain amount of tension is required. A reasonable amount of tension leads people to act. Too little tension or too much tension leads people to inaction or inappropriate action.

Let’s get something clear. Tension is not by itself a bad thing. Tension is simply a condition that exists and that can be managed. This fact may surprise those of you who have always seen tension as something that happens to you rather than something that you can manage.

There are 2 kinds of tension: task tension and relationship tension.

Task tension is a focus on a particular assignment or something that needs to be done. This is generally accompanied with a deadline.

Relationship tension shifts the focus from the task or the assignment to the people doing or supporting the task. When tension shifts to the people who are involved, rather than the work that needs to be done, that tends to make things less productive.

3 Possible Outcomes based on tension

The right kind of tension brings a team of people together, focusing on a common outcome. The wrong kind of tension can destroy a team. Understanding and managing tension is a component of the Social Style workshops that I teach. In those workshops, we emphasize that there are three possible productivity outcomes from the level of tension in any interpersonal interaction. Here they are:

1. Low Tension/Low Productivity:

I call this the vacation mode. You don’t have anyone telling you where you need to be or what needs to be done. And there certainly aren’t any deadlines. Without something specific to do or a time to do it, not much progress is made. Ever have a project to work on like this?

2. Moderate Tension/High Productivity:

This is the optimum environment. Stress levels are manageable, tasks are clear and defined, objectives and priorities are agreed upon, and deadlines are realistic.

3. High Tension/Low Productivity

In this environment, people are working under high stress. Timelines are unrealistic, objectives are not clear, priorities compete with each other, and relationships are strained. This is the most unhealthy environment in which to work.

As a leader, one of your jobs is to create the environment in which your team can operate at the optimum level.

 

As a leader, you have to understand how to read the amount of tension among team members in any given situation. Then you need to adjust their behavior to influence their team members to increase the right kind of tension and decrease the wrong kind of tension.

 

Once you have managed the tension, then you will be more successful achieving your vision.

How about it, leader? Are you looking for better results? Bring the right kind of tension to your world and you’ll be surprised by the results you get.

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Words matter.

Mark Twain once said,

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

This truth is as important to leaders as it is to writers.

Leaders must appreciate the fact that the words they use will influence the words that their team uses.

And the words that are used by anyone will influence behaviors and actions.

Inclusive words

can form a bond and bring people together. These are words like: we, team, together, support, empower. At the same time, divisive words can separate, segregate, and build barriers between individuals and teams.

 

Leaders set the example for what is expected and tolerated, in both words and behaviors.

Sam Walton, founder of the Wal-Mart department store chain, said,

It takes employees about two weeks to start treating customers the way they are being treated.

The same can be said about the kind of words that leaders use. But it probably takes less than 2 weeks to impact behaviors.

Anyone who has been in any kind of leadership role can probably testify to the barriers that often form between people and teams. These barriers get in the way of effectively completing the team’s objective. And it is these barriers that often take up much of the leader’s time and effort.

The Nasty Four-Letter Word

Thinking of these barriers brings to light a nasty, four-letter word that can describe, and is often the source of, most problems with any team barrier: T-H-E-Y.

How often have you heard team members say “THEY don’t understand our needs?”

How often have professionals in your organization say, “THEY don’t know how to communicate?”

THEY is one of the most divisive words that can be used by any member of a team, particularly by a leader. It creates a mysterious, nameless, faceless enemy that is somehow controlling your world. More divisively, it creates an antagonistic environment in which you and your teams have to work. Once anyone starts to use the term THEY, of course there must be someone THEY are competing against. And that someone is, of course, US. There can’t be one without the other, whether it is implied or explicitly stated. And as soon as the competition between US and THEM is introduced, you will be spending more of your leadership time addressing relationship tension than you will be actually delivering results.

The message to all Leaders out there is, yes, words matter.

You can do something about it!

Fortunately, you can do something about the mysterious “THEY” and prevent this issue from thwarting your valiant efforts as a change agent. The first step is to understand that YOU are part of “they.” You have more control over what is happening around you than anyone else. You can break down the barriers, starting with those which are right next to you. To do this you need to do four things:

Alignment: Make sure everyone who works for you and around you is focused on working towards the same goal. There can be no tolerance for hidden agendas. That simply wastes resources and energy. Did you know the only difference between a laser and an incandescent light is FOCUS? And with the right amount of focus, that laser can cut through almost anything.

Know yourself: Be honest with yourself and understand your strengths and limitations and your preferred method of operating. Just as important, understand those things you aren’t particularly good at or don’t like to do. It takes real self awareness but this is essential.

Know your partners: Just as with knowing yourself, understand the strengths, preferences, and limitations of those with whom you are working.

Take the first step: Do something bold. Do something for others. “THEY” starts with you. If you don’t like them then start by looking in the mirror. If “THEY” don’t understand something, make sure you do (See #2). Then make sure that you are explaining it to your team in ways that they will get it (See #3). If “THEY” aren’t partnering well, then make sure you rise above the conflict and become the best partner imaginable.

Do yourself and those you lead a favor and ban that four-letter word. You’ll be amazed what a difference that will make.

Do these four things and you will be prepared for greater success.

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Nobody likes to give bad news. But sometimes, that is exactly what is needed, as long as it is honest feedback.

A true leader has the courage to say what is needed, even when that may be the last thing you want to do.

Who are you serving?

While leaders may think that they are being a “nice guy” by not giving someone who isn’t performing well the bad news, in reality they are only making things worse.

Unless you address the problem with the individuals in question, you are doing a disservice to the individual, to yourself, and to the overall organization.


The Pink Elephant Syndrome

A real world scenario

The cascading impact of Leaders who don’t address performance issues is something that I call the Pink Elephant syndrome. While this may sound like an unbelievable story, it is a very real set of circumstances that took place several years ago.

Steve (not his real name) was a Vice President of Marketing at a mid-sized company. Steve was a nice guy who enjoyed his VP title, which he had specifically negotiated to get. Steve was someone who thought more of his abilities than perhaps his track record would merit. His marketing campaigns frequently didn’t generate the kind of increased returns that they were expected to produce. Most of them managed to just keep the current customer base while the competition was making inroads into the market space.

In addition, his staff couldn’t stand working for him. They worked long hours and repeatedly had to make last-minute changes to marketing campaigns. Rarely did those last minute changes result in additional customer orders. Of course, Steve didn’t work late when his staff did. He would give the direction and either go home, or go back to his office, where it was common to see him sleeping at his desk.

Steve reported to the owner of the company, who never addressed Steve’s job performance, his poor team morale, or his tendency to sleep at his desk. The owner didn’t want to “be the bad guy.” So, these things just kept going along, year after year, in exactly the same way. Meanwhile, Steve kept getting annual raises and was told “keep up the good work.”

Changes are sometimes harsh

Then the company was sold. New owners came in and immediately gave Steve feedback that he wasn’t cutting it. While he had marketing experience, he wasn’t performing at the level expected of a Vice President of Marketing. They held him accountable for the results of his marketing campaigns. They told him that it would no longer be acceptable to find him asleep at his desk. Before long, he was on a performance plan that demanded results: or else.

I think you can see where this is going. Within a year, Steve was let go. But, the story doesn’t stop there. Unfortunately, during his time as a Marketing VP, he had also become quite accustomed to the salary of a Marketing VP. Steve had an extremely difficult time finding another job. When he applied for other Marketing VP jobs, it became clear that he really didn’t have the skills necessary for a job at that level and certainly at that salary. He stayed unemployed for over a year.

As a Leader, It’s not about you. It’s about them.

Admittedly, Steve had a role to play in it because he had very little self awareness and did little to improve himself professionally, which is one of the hallmarks of a good leader. But, I would submit to you that the company owner, who never gave Steve the feedback, is just as responsible.

As a leader, if you see someone isn’t performing well, and you don’t address it with them, then who is really at fault?

You see the problem. You know what needs to change. As a leader, it is your responsibility to fix the problem. Will the feedback make you unpopular? Perhaps. Will the feedback seem harsh? Maybe, depending on how you deliver it. But which is worse, giving someone honest feedback that makes them a better performer for you and your organization, or not giving them any feedback and leave them unemployed and wondering, “How things could have gotten so bad?”

As a leader, it’s not about you

. It’s about people you are leading. You are there to get results from your people and to make them stronger contributors. If, at times that makes you unpopular or seem like the heavy, so be it.

 

If you want to lead the orchestra, you are going to have to turn your back on the crowd.

Promise yourself and your people, that you won’t let the Pink Elephant Syndrome happen to anyone you work with. There is one way to deal with the Pink Elephant Syndrome: that is to deal with it.

Are you facing the Pink Elephant Syndrome? Is there some difficult feedback that you should be giving? What could happen if this person never hears the feedback you are avoiding? Better yet, how much better could things be if the person you have in mind improves the things you haven’t told them?

 

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Dave Hasenbalg is Chief Operating Officer of Customized Solutions, LLC and does coaching and public speaking on Leadership and Operational Excellence.
He can be reached at
dhasenbalg@customized-solutions.com

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