Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Leadership: What Is It Good For?

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Actually, my real question is, “Leadership: What is it?” But every time I tried to type that question, the Edwin Starr song, War: What Is It Good For? came to mind.

So, what is leadership? That’s a big question. No, it’s a huge question. How about management – how does it differ? These are not questions I expect to fully answer here. What I am expecting to do is stir up some thinking.

And to start that thinking, here’s a couple of quotes:

Dwight Eisenhower once said, “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

John Holt, the renowned educational reformer in his excellent book, Teach Your Own, said, “Leaders are not, as we are often led to think, people who go along with huge crowds following them. Leaders are people who go their own way without caring, or even looking to see, whether anyone is following them. ‘Leadership qualities’ are not the qualities that enable people to attract followers, but those that enable them to do without them. They include, at the very least, courage, endurance, patience, humor, flexibility, resourcefulness, stubbornness, a keen sense of reality, and the ability to keep a cool and clear head, even when things are going badly. True leaders, in short, do not make people into followers, but into other leaders.”

What is the difference between a leader and a manager? I have my own thoughts in this, but I really want yours. So I’m pleading for everyone reading this blog to post a comment below, answering the question of what the difference is between a leader and a manager. I know for a fact that the comments will mean a lot more than my opinion or any definition found in a business book or course.

Take a few minutes to click on the comment button below and write whatever you want about my question.

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Changing The Organization

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

Awhile back, I wrote a post about change, specifically about how individuals can change their mental programming with the use of mental imagery. But I posed the question, “How does an entire organization change – how can an entire company do mental programming?”

So, do you have the answer?

I’m waiting…

Okay, maybe I’ll take a stab at it – although I’d still like to hear your answer. You can always post a comment below.

Mental models… That’s really what we’re talking about. And that’s one of the many things that great leaders do: they paint a picture of the future, helping everyone in the organization to develop a mental model of what the changed future looks like.

Developing a mental model is really mental imagery, otherwise known as visualization. When a leader designs a picture of what the future looks like, change and all, others develop a clear mental model of that future. And, for whatever reason, our minds tend to follow the image we put in it. In other words, if you help create a mental image of what the future will look like, and I get a very strong, clear picture of it, my mind will do everything it can to ensure it happens as you’ve represented it.

“Change comes from within.” Sounds very Zen-like, doesn’t it? But it fits organizational change. Until the people within the organization change their model of the business, nothing you do to the organization will change. Think of this change as being an inside-out approach, instead of an outside-in one. You can change procedures, you can change processes, you can even change the people in the organization, but until a majority of people have a clear mental model of what the change looks like, feels like, and sounds like, nothing will transform.

But that’s just my mental model of change. What’s yours? How do you think organizations can create change?

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Story Time: The Courage to be an Exceptional Leader

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

It was a dark and stormy night… Okay, not exactly. But it is story time about an executive coaching client, one of the most courageous leaders I’ve ever met.

This is the story about a CEO who had never had a boss before, and so he didn’t have a model to base his leadership style on. Most leaders have had years of working for others, managing at lower levels, learning through trial and error, and having numerous role models to learn from. Not Sam (and also not his real name).

Sam came from a different world, one unlike corporate America. He developed his expertise in areas other than management, leadership, strategic planning, finance, and all those other things it takes to build a company. But that’s just what he did – built a company from the ground up. While he did not have experience in starting a business, he did have a unique knowledge that provided the perfect jumping off point to found and launch a company, plus provide a much-needed product to the public.

A few years after starting the company, he made the decision that he needed to be an exceptional leader. Not just a good leader, not just a great leader, but an exceptional leader. That’s just the way Sam is. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity of coaching him on his journey towards exceptionality.

What made Sam different than many leaders was his willingness to hear what others said about him, to take feedback in stride, and to not feel threatened by criticism. He was incredibly open and accepting, and this lead to improvements. It took courage to listen to what others said about him, to hear the criticism aimed his way. Where many in his position would have stamped his feet and said, “That’s the way I am, so get used to it,” Sam listened.

Sam did not take every criticism to heart and bend to every one, although it did seem that way to some. In fact, he was accused of following the “management trick of the week.” But this was part of the process, part of him finding his style, part of his journey. Much like painters copy the works of the masters for a period of time until they develop their own style, Sam did try a few different approaches. Some were uncomfortable at times for him.

At one time we talked about the charismatic, strong (some would say dictatorial) leadership styles of Jack Welch, Steve Balmer, Steve Jobs, and others. Sam wondered if he needed to be more that way. We also talked about the many leaders reported on by Jim Collins in his Good To Great book, and how they were often near-opposite of those just mentioned. He wondered if he needed to be more like them.

Eventually, Sam found that he needed to be authentic. He needed to be himself, and have the courage to trust that he could be the exceptional leader he wanted to be without having to act like someone he wasn’t. Eventually, Sam discovered his leadership style.

With little to no experience in various situations, Sam had to trust someone or something. In time, he learned to trust the only thing he could: himself and his gut. At the same time, many people were pulling him in differing directions to make decisions that suited them. Time and time again, when Sam listened to his intuition, he made the best decision. But it wasn’t easy to do that when he had so little to base these tough decisions on; it would have been easier to follow the advice of others.

Sam is an exceptional leader. Does that mean he’s reached his goal? He would be the first to reply, “Absolutely not!” Why? Because Sam knows that being an exceptional leader means never settling for where you are today. He knows that to be an exceptional leader, he must constantly look to be even better tomorrow than he was today; to listen and learn from others; to trust his instinct, and drive himself and his team to levels unseen in the past; to be open to criticism; to look inward and question his own abilities; and to be courageous.

Had Sam not been courageous enough to listen to what others said about him, he would not be the exceptional leader he is today. He’s not perfect, but he is exceptional.

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Egotistical Leaders & Managers

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Raise your hand if you have an ego. Come on, do it. Hey, we all have egos – every single person in this world has an ego. And some keep that ego in check. In fact, some put it to good use. But others…

One sure sign of an unchecked ego is this: Do you do more telling than you do asking?

If you find that you spend far more time telling people what to do than you do asking questions, that might be a sign of an unchecked ego.

For fear of coming across as someone who does not know all the answers, Ego Eddy likes to tell everyone around him what to do. He likes to comment on practically every subject, proving that he is “all-knowing.”

Questioning Quincy, on the other hand, is not afraid to ask questions – even when he knows the answers. In fact, especially when he knows the answers. And a funny thing happens when Quincy asks questions: people respect him more than they do Eddy. In fact, they not only respect him more, but they tend to go to him for answers. What? Why would they go to someone who asks questions for the answers to questions? You tell me.

Okay, perhaps Ego Eddy is at the far end of the ego spectrum, and you know you’re nowhere near there. Do you? How do you know that? Where are you on that spectrum?

A little challenge for you this week: Find three situations where you know the answer to a question, or exactly how to solve a problem, but hold back – do not answer the question or solve the problem directly. Instead, ask others how they would answer the question or solve the problem. Hold your ego in check and allow others to strut their stuff. Do this three times over the next week. See how it feels. Observe what happens to you and the others around you.

I’m not saying that answering all questions, or solving any problem is a sign of an out-of-control ego. Far from it. In fact, there are times when that is exactly what people are looking for – answers to questions, and solving of problems. What I am saying is that sometimes, just sometimes, this is the case. It’s your ego talking when you want to be the one answering a question or solving a problem. Of course, answering a question or solving a problem is not a bad thing. Again, far from it. But over time, if you’re the one that does that all the time… just when you think you’re making yourself invaluable – the one everyone must count on – you may find yourself being the one people resent. You may find yourself being the one people want to avoid.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” When you keep your ego in check, when you give others credit for what you did, when you allow others to answer the question or solve the problem, when you allow others to strut their stuff, you make them feel good. And they will “never forget how you made them feel.”

How are you making others in your workplace feel? Could you ask more questions, and answer less often?

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I Said Invisible, Not Non-Existent

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Last week I talked about how leaders, managers and coaches can be so subtle that they’re almost invisible to the people they’re leading, managing and coaching (The Invisible Coach). That’s not an excuse to do nothing! Not an excuse to abdicate, rather than delegate. Not an excuse to simply wish or hope that your people do a good job and produce the results you’re after. Not an excuse to be non-existent.

In my last post I asked whether you’re a controlling type of leader/manager, or a subtle one. Based on what I’ve seen, there are many managers who think they’re the subtle type, when really they’re the ineffective type! They’re non-existent.

If you answered my question last week by saying you’re the subtle type, my next question is just how effective you are? You may think of yourself as the subtle type, when really you’re just fooling yourself. Perhaps I’m a bit harsh, but sometimes one has to look at the brutal facts.

Some differences between an ineffective leader/manager (non-existent) and a subtle, almost invisible one are:

  • People that work for ineffective leaders/manager don’t know what’s expected of them. The leader/manager thinks he or she is giving them room to discover things on their own, when really the person is struggling with direction, whether they’re doing things right or not, or knowing what to do next. And the leader/manager is afraid to ask.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers feel isolated, or unsupported. They often feel they’re working in a void. There is little connection between them. People working for subtle/invisible leaders/managers know they can always go to that person for help or support.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers feel that projects or tasks are simply dumped on them because the leader/manager is not willing to do them.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers often feel criticized and judged by the words of the leader/manager, rather than having received effective and productive feedback.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers rarely see how their work impacts the bigger picture. They’re own goals and visions are not in alignment with the organization’s that they work for.
  • People that work for ineffective leaders/managers are often afraid to do something for fear of being blamed for anything that goes wrong. They’re constantly checking over their shoulder to see what they will be blamed for, or have to deal with next.

And that’s just the start. The obvious question is how do you know whether any of these are symptoms of your people. Awareness is a valuable tool. Ask yourself if any of these symptoms fit your employees. Or, you could ask them. In fact, sitting down and asking your employees if they have any of these symptoms will go a long way towards building or enhancing a productive working relationship. It will go a long way toward you being an invisible but effective leader/manager.

Of course, it’s easy to simply assume that you’re the subtle, invisible and effective type. It’s easy to assume you’re doing a great job and any lack of results is the fault of others. It’s easy to assume that…

The Invisible Coach

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

In his book, Sacred Hoops (one of my favorites), Phil Jackson, perhaps that greatest basketball coach of all time, talks about control. He relates the story of Bobby Knight, the college basketball coach who commented about how he could never coach in the NBA “because the coaches don’t have any control over the players.” Jackson’s response to this is, “How much control do you need?”

Jackson talks about a period during the 1991-1992 season where the Chicago Bulls “were in such perfect harmony they rarely lost.” To him, this was exactly what he’d been striving for: to become an “invisible” leader.

In my own coaching, that’s been a goal of mine: To be so effective that the person I’m coaching loses sight that I’m actually doing anything; the person doesn’t realize that I’m contributing in any way and I become an Invisible Coach.

That’s happened a few times, and it’s extremely rewarding. It’s happened with race drivers, and it’s happened with business executives and managers I’ve coached. They only realize the full value of my coaching when faced with a challenging issue, and they come knocking.

While it’s rewarding, it can be a little unnerving from a job security point of view, and even from an ego perspective. Hey, let’s face it – some of the reward of coaching, or managing others is seeing them do what you’ve told or advised them to do, and seeing them be successful because of that. That does feel good. And yet, when you’re invisible, you aren’t able to get that immediate feedback. And you can begin to worry that if you’re not seen as providing great advice or direction, then maybe you won’t be needed.

Great leaders, as Phil Jackson suggests, can be invisible leaders. The challenge for so many is having the discipline not to stick their fingers in where they’re not needed. One of Jackson’s great attributes is his self-discipline, his ability to not do any more than needed.

Coaching, managing others, and leading people can be done in a subtle way, an invisible way. Have you ever experienced a situation where a manager, or leader, or coach helped you in a subtle way – a way that resulted in you figuring out what was needed, a way that resulted in a great result, a way that made you feel good about how it came about, and yet, in a way that the leader/manager/coach barely seemed to be involved? How did you feel? I suspect you felt empowered.

Dwight Eisenhower said, “Leadership: The art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”

Are you the Bobby Knight-type, or the Phil Jackson-type when it comes to leading, managing or coaching? Do you use control to get things done, or are you more invisible or subtle type?

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