3 Modern Leadership Myths

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

mythbustingTen or twenty years ago, debunking leadership myths was easy. In every other corner office you could find an overconfident boss barking orders to masses of underperforming employees. However, over the last decade there has been a shift in the prevailing management winds.

Most of the changes have been good—though none revolutionary. People are getting more respect. Collaboration, engagement, and performance are all on the rise. More and more companies are doing well by doing good. None of it is “new,” successful leaders have been doing this stuff for years. It’s just becoming more acceptable.

However, there are some questionable tenants in this growing “new” leadership doctrine that haven’t been fully thought out. They sound good and leaders are assimilating them as founding principles, but after further inspection, you’ll see many of their premises are flawed.

I offer the following examples and ask for your feedback:

Myth #1: There’s no place for harsh or domineering leadership styles. In this new era of individual respect, the idea of a leader issuing unilateral orders without asking for opinions from others seems utterly barbaric. As a result, the autocratic leadership style is snubbed and reserved for dictators and half-wits. In fact there a number of situations where a strong autocratic leadership style is called for—so we should learn how to use it, not ignore it. What would you think of an EMT that arrived at the scene of an accident and promptly gathered everyone around to hear their opinions on what to do first—CPR, call for more help, or tend to other wounds?

Myth #2: Experience is the best teacher for a leader. It’s etched in every big company’s fast-mover career timeline—get the right jobs to get the right experience. You do that and you’ll be better qualified for leadership positions at the top. I have nothing against experience. In fact, it’s an absolutely essential part of learning—but it’s not always the best teacher. Yesterday’s experience may be totally irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. If you’re not careful it could pigeonhole your view of the world and lock you into an antiquated perspective. For experience to make you better, you must reflect on it.

Myth #3: You have to be an optimist to be a great leader. There’s no room for pessimism among great leaders—they’re always hopeful, always positive, and always believing that good will triumph in the end. Yeah, well, you could say the same about the couch potato who sits at home all day watching motivational speakers on YouTube. The fact is, you need some pessimism as a leader. You need to be able to envision the worst possible scenario—and really believe it could happen—if you’re ever going to successfully defend against it. And honestly, without pessimism, there would be no real change. All change starts with a discontentment.

What do you think are the big myths in leadership today? 

5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders

November 14, 2011 18 comments

VeteransI was stunned to learn that the unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is up to 12.1%. That’s more than 3% higher than the national average. The more I looked into it, the more misconceptions I discovered employers had about military experience.

A few weeks ago, Mark Norton, my friend and coworker at McKinney Rogers, asked me a great question. He was preparing a speech to a group of Japanese businessmen in Tokyo and asked me which aspects of military leadership I thought were most applicable to business leaders.

I came up with four things on the spot that I learned in the Army that I’ve seen lacking in the corporate and non-profit worlds. I’ve since added one more. Here they are:

1. Develop Junior Leaders. Junior officers and NCOs win today’s battles. Developing their judgment and empowering them to take initiative enables decentralized execution—which gives organizations the agility needed to operate in highly complex, rapidly changing environments (sound familiar?).

2. Leverage “Commanders Intent.” As Ike said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” Understanding the leader’s intent—her purpose, key outcomes, and defined endstate—empowers individuals and teams to adapt, improvise, and succeed.

3. Task Organize. Missions and teams are not all created equal. Form specific teams to achieve specific outcomes. Establish universal standards and train people to operate globally in different multifunctional teams.

4. Use your Operators as Trainers. In the military, training falls under operations—not HR. Operators understand what skills the field needs, and they’re the natural choice to teach those skills. Human Resources tracks and records individual progress, but never delivers or resources training.

5. Focus on “Mission first, People always.” The forced choice between making your numbers or caring for your direct reports is a false dichotomy. Taking care of your people is taking care of business. Likewise, taking care of business is taking care of people.

Don’t assume that a veteran’s experience is void of business relevance. There are exceptions of course, but the vast majority of veterans have learned to get results by working hard, thinking creatively, and taking care of people.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take someone like that on my team any day.

What other aspects of military leadership do you think would benefit business leaders?

Top Ten Posts for October 2011

November 4, 2011 Leave a comment

LeadershipOctober was the best month ever on the Leading on Purpose blog. Thanks for passing on the news and telling your friends! Here were the month’s top performers:

1. What Darth Vader Taught me about People

2. 7 Reasons Why No One is Following You

3. The Power of Authentic Questions

4. The 7 Elements of Surprise

5. Leading with your “Yes”

6. The Snare of “Good Enough”

7. 3 Things You Need to Burn

8. Leadership or Manipulation?

9. 3 Ways to Make Yourself Easy to Follow

10. How to Push through “Good Enough”

What was your favorite blog post from the past 30 days (from any blog)?

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Courageous Leadership

October 31, 2011 1 comment

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People don’t follow titles, they follow courage. – William Wells Brown

How does it make you feel when you see someone demonstrate personal courage?

As for me, I get this odd feeling of respect and usually a strange desire to join them. Ever wonder why that is? I think it comes back to one word:

Trust.

Let me explain. To have courage, you must first have fear (courage can’t exist without it). So here’s this person, in a fear-inducing situation, only they aren’t letting their fear run the show. Instead of abdicating to fear, they’re trusting their values and abilities to navigate whatever is going on. That intense trust in themselves is what draws us in.

We all have fears. Find someone who generates courage in the face of fear, and we’ll naturally gravitate toward him. Find someone who trusts she can get herself and everyone else through safely to the others side, and we’ll follow her.

Here are three things you can do in the face of fear to encourage yourself and those around you:

1. Stand Up. Take responsibility for your values and your people—not only will you sleep better at night, you’ll attract loyal followers as well.

2. Speak Up. You always have an opinion—whether you realize it or not. Know what yours is—and be ready to share it.

3. Step Up. Words and positioning are a good start, but in the end, action is what communicates your real commitment, and thus, your true courage.

I’m going to choose to be a courageous leader today. I challenge you to do the same.

Where do you need to stand up, speak up, or step up?

When is Good Enough Truly Good Enough?

October 21, 2011 4 comments

leadership

The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing. – Eugène Delacroix

I’ve been giving the label “Good Enough” a hard time for the past few days on this blog. And rightly so, for in any grand endeavor it’s the silent temptress, wooing us to abandon the greatness to which we aspire.

But the harsh words I have for “Good Enough” only apply to the things that truly matter. As I said in my original postPick the things that matter to you, and refuse to settle. As Danilo Vargas and Jeff Brandt brought up, there are plenty of circumstances where Good Enough is, indeed, good enough. If you never settled for anything—in any area of your life—you’d never accomplish anything.

The ability to discern the difference between what’s essential and what’s negotiable is a mark of a great leader.

So how do you know when Good Enough is truly good enough—and when it’s just a cop-out? Here are a few questions I ask myself to help discern the difference:

  • Is this my main effort or a secondary/supporting effort? Don’t compromise on your main effort. If it’s not your main effort, don’t major in the minors, wasting resources on things that won’t ultimately deliver results.
  • Am I in the initial rounds of an iterative process? If yes, then speed is of the essence. Striving for perfection too early in the process can hamstring creativity and collaboration.
  • Is this a functional, go/no-go task where improvement won’t add significant value? If yes, find something else to obsess over.
  • Have I passed the point of diminishing returns? If so, you’re definitely in “Good Enough” territory.
  • Am I pursuing perfection for myself or pursuing excellence? Gut check time. Is this about you and your needs or the goal you’re going after?

Settling for Good Enough and falling into paralyzing perfectionism may seem at opposite ends of a spectrum, but in reality, they result in the same effect. They keep you from accomplishing your purpose. So hold fast to what really matters and be flexible with everything else!

How do you decide what’s essential and what’s negotiable?

How to Push through “Good Enough”

October 20, 2011 5 comments

Leadership BreakthroughYesterday we discussed the snare of Good Enough—how it entices you to give up, give in, and settle for less than you originally aimed for. Today we’ll talk about how to break free from the comfort of Good Enough.

After moving across the country this summer, my family and I had to quickly set up our new house. I was working full-time on Walmart’s Leadership Academy and my pregnant wife was working full-time keeping up with our two toddlers and getting everyone settled.

Needless to say, once our home reached an acceptable level of functionality (i.e. “Good Enough”), we pressed on to more immediate tasks. And it was fine. For a while. But with Sarah’s due date approaching next month, we both knew that if we didn’t unpack those last boxes, finish the rooms and get the house under control now, it might never happen.

So that’s what we did last weekend. We hunkered down, laid siege to our own home, and came out the other side victorious. Looking back, here are 5 things we did to bust out of Good Enough:

1. First, Focus on what’s at stake. Sarah and I started the weekend with a date. We went out to dinner (sans children) and aside from the usual catching up and enjoying each other’s company, we discussed the consequences of failing to get our house ready. It kept us from inviting people over and engaging with our neighbors. The general disorder was affecting our kids’ behavior. The state of things dragged down our moods and sapped our energy.

2. Fully commit the required resources. I took Friday and Monday off from work. We had planned on cleaning for two days and camping for two days. It soon became apparent, however, that we needed more time for the house so we cancelled our camping trip. It was a sacrifice, but we just weren’t willing to live with the consequences of keeping our house at Good Enough.

3. Bring others along with you. I actually considered sending my wife and kids somewhere else for a few days so I could knock out all the work myself. I’m so glad I didn’t act on that fantasy. I’m certain I wouldn’t have gotten as much done as we all did working together. The combination of accountability, collaboration, and camaraderie not only made the journey enjoyable, it made it successful.

4. Create a realistic plan. Did I mention that we have two small kids? And that my wife is 8 months pregnant? We had to be careful not to let Sarah over do it and we had to account for the daily needs of a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. So we also set reasonable goals for each day that kept us motivated and on track. We got our kids fired up and solicited their help where we could, but for much of the four days one parent was always playing with the kids.

5. Celebrate Successes (then keep going). At each room’s completion we threw a mini-party with our kids. We made sure they knew where everything was and the freedom they had within each space. We also shared some new rules, like clearing your own dishes from the table (which they absolutely love) and cleaning up the playroom before going to bed (which they aren’t as crazy about). The trick here is not to celebrate too long—keep moving forward!

With these 5 steps we successfully gained the upper hand on our house. We’ve been maintaining the ground we gained—while continuing to isolate and eliminate remaining areas of resistance. I hope you can use some these steps to help you push past Good Enough and get into something truly Great!

What other tips do you have for pushing through Good Enough?

The Snare of “Good Enough”

October 19, 2011 12 comments

leadershipThe start of anything is exciting. Could be a new project, a new job or a new relationship. It doesn’t matter—everything is fresh, hopes are high, vision is crystal clear.

Likewise, accomplishing something great is exciting. Exceeding expectations, beating the odds, going somewhere no one else has gone. The pride, the satisfaction and the enjoyment of hard-won success.

Between the Starting and the Finishing, however, there’s a whole lot of Middle, and it is rarely—if ever—exciting. The Middle is littered with pitfalls such as Leaking Vision, Plan Fixation and Mismanaged Fear. One of the sneakiest snares is the ever so enticing, Good Enough.

Good Enough is hard to fight. After all, if it’s good enough, who’s going to require more of you? Sure, you had bigger aspirations and a larger vision, but, hey, this is good enough. Besides, other things in your life are bound to suffer if you continue, so why don’t you just stop at good enough?

The only problem with Good Enough is that it rarely is.

For that reason alone, pick the things that matter to you, and refuse to settle. Don’t compromise, blink or give any ground. Be alert to any comfort along the way that might delay or prevent you from achieving your vision.

Name any exceptional leader from any sector of society—George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela—none of them ever settled for Good Enough.

Neither should you.

Where are you settling today?