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Courageous Leadership

October 31, 2011 1 comment

leadership

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?

3 Keys to Leading Yourself Well

July 7, 2011 2 comments

leadership emotional intelligenceThe past ten days have been tough.

In addition to trying to work and take care of my family, I’ve coordinated a cross-country move, closed on a new house, transported a canoe 345 miles, said goodbye to old friends, cleaned out our apartment, visited family, and driven half-way across the country.

Of course I didn’t do any of this alone, but I’ve felt the weight of responsibility for all of it. Any one of those events is a story bursting with obstacles, frustrations and detours.

Needless to say, I haven’t been the best husband or father this week. Thankfully, I have a patient family. I recall snapping at Luke for dumping out a set of toys we had just picked up. Even as I raised my voice I was analyzing my own motives. Turns out I wasn’t disciplining Luke for any good reason. I was being selfish. It really didn’t matter if he got those toys out again. Amid all the chaos, I just wanted some order. And through the haze of fatigue, I took it out on my son.

I stopped and took a breath. Then I apologized to Luke and tried to cling to some perspective. I’ll be honest, it was hard. I was tired, stressed, and overwhelmed. But just because it was tough doesn’t make this a failure. In fact, this story is a victory. This is what self-awareness and intrapersonal skills are all about.

Intrapersonal skills involve the ability to know what you’re thinking and feeling—while you’re thinking and feeling it—and to respond appropriately. There are three key parts to this definition:

1. “…know what you’re thinking and feeling” Before you can begin to lead yourself, you must understand what you’re actually thinking and what you’re really feeling. Only then can you take a stab at assessing the validity of your thoughts and emotions. With Luke, I had expectations that I hadn’t communicated and was feeling anger and frustration.

2. “…while you’re thinking and feeling it” This is the kicker. You may be great at analyzing what you were thinking and feeling during some past event, but the real power comes when you start to process thoughts and emotions in real-time. The more you practice and reflect, the easier it gets. With Luke, the whole process took maybe 5-10 seconds.

3. “…respond appropriately” This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s not enough to understand what you’re thinking and feeling in real-time. To lead effectively, you must build the ability to respond well to your thoughts and feelings. The appropriate response might be to continue, to adjust as necessary, or (as with Luke) to change course entirely.

I’m a firm believer that I can only lead others to the extent that I can lead myself. To that end, I’m constantly challenged to wrangle my thoughts and emotions and drive them to produce purposeful results.

Which of these three aspects of intrapersonal skills do you wrestle with the most?

3 Tips for Displacing False Beliefs

June 13, 2011 10 comments

Leadership Leading

There is only one cause of unhappiness: the false beliefs you have in your head, beliefs so widespread, so commonly held, that it never occurs to you to question them. – Anthony de Mello

We talked a lot last month about the power of belief and how to build belief. But what happens when you believe something that isn’t true?

It’s devastating.

In fact, the thing that holds us back the most isn’t external resistance, scarcity of resources, or even lack of capability. What holds us back most are our own false beliefs about ourselves, each other, and the world around us.

Behind every bit of reluctance, every hint of futility, every bad habit, is a lie that we’ve let creep in and grow into a belief—something we cling to as if it were true. False beliefs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are small (I’m no good at talking to strangers), some are huge (No one could ever love me), others are personal (I don’t have what it takes to lead others), many are professional (People at work don’t care how I’m feeling).

The first step in dislodging these subtle self-saboteurs is to call them what they are: Lies. At some point someone told you, “you’ll never be any good at math” or “don’t use your hands when you speak” or “that’s how we always do it around here” and you believed them. It probably wasn’t a conscious choice, but it happened. Now you’re living out those beliefs and dealing with the consequences.

The next thing to realize is that you can’t just stop believing something. You can’t delete false beliefs, they must be replaced. Here’s a process I’ve used to do just that:

1. Reflect on your own experiences. Look at the decisions you make—what factors are driving them? Dig into your fears—where do they come from? Identify the assumptions you’re living by—and challenge their validity. Write down the lies you think you believe. This is a difficult, but liberating, action. It’s humiliating to confess on paper some of the stuff we’ve bought into, but the moment we do, those false beliefs lose half their power.

2. Feed yourself truth. Experiment. Read. Listen. Learn. Question. Debate. Wrestle. Journal. Write the truths down that will counter the false beliefs you recorded earlier. The idea is that you’ll have them at the ready should you be tempted to go back to those familiar lies again. What I’ve found, however, is that writing down the counter-truths diminishes the power of false beliefs all the more.

3. Surround yourself with good friends. I define a good friend as someone who both cares about you and will tell you the truth. You can find plenty of people who fulfill one of those requirements, but finding someone that’s committed to you and to telling you the truth is a rare and beautiful gift. Listen to them. Trust them.

How else have you seen false beliefs displaced?

Leveraging your Fear as a Leader

March 7, 2011 23 comments

LeadershipFear definitely gets a bad rap.

Andrew Jackson told us never to take counsel of our fears. FDR told us that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself. Heck, there’s an entire line of clothing called: No Fear. Certainly Fear wreaks havoc in our lives, but that’s not Fear’s fault. It’s only when we mismanage Fear that everything starts to unravel.

Fear is a great adviser. All my life it has done a terrific job of alerting me, warning me, and keeping me safe. The problems only begin when I abdicate to Fear and let it start calling the shots. Turns out, Fear isn’t a very good monarch—despite its impassioned pleas to the contrary. Like a child, it always thinks it knows best. It’s constantly trying to seize control. But giving in to Fear makes as much sense as letting an ill-trained, near-sighted (and often paranoid) child drive my car while I watch from the backseat.

Put Fear in its Place. Instead of giving in to Fear—or wasting time and energy trying to deny or eradicate a perfectly healthy emotion, I’ve found it helpful to deal with Fear directly. Here are four ways to use Fear to your benefit:

1. Protect What you Love. This is the most instinctual function of Fear. When you feel fear, you’re facing a threat to your safety or the well-being of someone or something you care about. Listen to the fear without giving in to it. Try to identify what’s causing it, then assess the threat: Is it real or perceived? Is it rational or irrational? Is it imminent? How severe is it? How probable is it? After assessing the threat, develop a plan and respond appropriately.

2. Humble Yourself. Beyond the fight or flight response to protecting what you love, fear also illuminates people and things that deserve our respect. Whether it’s a raging river, a hot stove, or an untested new market, fear shows us our limits and tempers our vain imaginations. When you sense fear, odds are you’re in the presence of something bigger than yourself. Take a sober look at yourself and your situation before proceeding.

3. Find your Calling. Fear helps you protect yourself and humble yourself, but it can also lead you into worthwhile adventures. We all have different fears. Some are reasonable (e.g. sleeping on railroad tracks); some aren’t (e.g. speaking in public). Intentionally steering your life toward your unreasonable fears is a sure-fire way to discover who you truly are and what you’re really capable of. This is true of organizations and individuals alike.

4. Cultivate Courage. The greatest gift that fear gives us is the opportunity to be brave. Without fear there can be no courage. My son was an early walker, running and climbing by his first birthday. He was fearless on the playground—until the day he fell off a three-foot-high cement whale. He learned fear that day. It took weeks for him to regain his confidence, but now that he knows the risk, his confidence is different. He is no longer fearless; he is courageous.

How you deal with fear is one of the most important things you do as a leader. Don’t fumble around with it, use it as a lever to become a better leader.

How has fear made you a better leader?

The Power of Authentic Questions

March 2, 2011 14 comments

leadership

“Why do you weep when you pray?” he asked me, as though he had known me a long time.

“I don’t know why,” I answered, greatly disturbed. The question had never entered my head.  I wept because—because of something inside me that felt the need for tears.  That was all I knew.

“Why do you pray?” he asked me, after a moment.

Why did I pray?  A strange question.  Why did I live?  Why did I breathe?

“I don’t know why,” I said, even more disturbed and ill at ease.  “I don’t know why.”

After that day I saw him often.  He explained to me with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.

– from Elie Wiesel‘s Night

Questions are among the most powerful levers a leader has. However, all questions are not created equal. Some disguise their true intent. Others are rhetorical. Still others are manipulative. And mixed throughout you’ll find the most dangerous and powerful questions of all: the authentic ones.

What kind of questions do you ask? Are they…

  • Counterfeit Questions? These questions aren’t really seeking the information they ask for. For example: “Honey, do you want to change Sally’s diaper?” Everyone involved knows the real answer to that question. The real question is: “Honey, would you please change Sally’s diaper?”
  • Leading Questions? These questions try to drive another person toward a predetermined solution. At their best, these questions are effective in teaching; they help others discover facts for themselves. At their worst, they turn manipulative and shut down creativity.
  • Authentic Questions? The most powerful of all questions, these are questions where the inquirer genuinely has no idea what the answer is. In fact, the question may have multiple right answers, no right answers, or no answers at all. Most leaders avoid authentic questions because they either believe they must have all the answers or they’re afraid of losing control.

Counterfeit questions breed frustration and encourage passive–aggressive behavior. Leading questions can seed doubt and erode trust. Authentic questions, however, generate authentic leadership.

Asking authentic questions is tough. It takes vulnerability, trust, and confidence. It takes the courage to say, “I don’t know.” But, once you see the world of opportunities, relationships and ideas they open up, you’ll never turn back.

Who in your life asks you authentic questions? How have you seen leaders leverage questions?

3 Myths of Military Leadership

October 22, 2010 10 comments

Military Leadership MythsIn November, Harvard Business Review‘s spotlight is on “Leadership Lessons from the Military.” It’s up already and is a great little resource if you’re looking for how military leadership can apply to other sectors. Some of the comments, however, are fascinating. From their responses, you’d think people actually believe movies like “Full Metal Jacket” and “Platoon” are accurate documentaries on life and leadership in the US Armed Forces today.

I actually run into this quite often. Year after year the military rates far above every other sector in the National Leadership Index (an annual study on confidence in leadership conducted by the Center for Public Leadership), but many people don’t understand how these leaders are developed. Here are the three most common myths I encounter:

Myth #1: Soldiers are trained to be mindless automatons. Actually, just the opposite is true. Initiative is driven into junior leaders from day one. Lieutenants and Sergeants are trained to think on their feet and react to reality – without direct orders. The most important part of any military plan is the “Commander’s Intent.” It’s a concise description of what the commander wants to achieve and how he or she would like to achieve it. Five minutes after the bullets start flying, everything in a plan can (and often is) rendered obsolete – everything except the Commander’s Intent. That’s the one thing you can cling to while you improvise a practical solution.

Myth #2: The military uses fear to motivate people. True, you’ll find plenty of fear in military training, but it’s primarily injected into situations to help soldiers learn how to deal with it. Fear is a reality of battle – and life. The ability to overcome your fears and perform under pressure is essential to succeeding in combat (and anything else in life). It’s also the foundation of a little thing called courage. And a bit of courage goes a long way as a leader.

Myth #3: The military cares more about their mission than their people. “Mission first; people always.” That’s the mantra that’s lived in the military. Without the mission the organization wouldn’t exist, but without the people the organization can’t accomplish it’s mission. As a Company Commander if one of my soldiers missed morning formation, we’d go looking for them – not to punish them, but to make sure they were alright. As leaders we made it our business to know our soldiers, their families, and their dreams – what made them tick. We made ourselves responsible for them.

How do you think military leadership does or doesn’t apply to other endeavors?

Thank God Seth Godin Isn’t Publishing Another Book

August 25, 2010 9 comments

leadership formatsOn Monday this week, Seth Godin shocked the world (again) by announcing that after authoring 12 best-sellers, he won’t publish another book in the traditional way.

I, for one, was thrilled.

For those of you who don’t know Seth Godin (yes, there are still people who don’t know him – I was one of them not so long ago), he’s an entrepreneur, speaker and author. The majority of his books deal with marketing, but his focus has shifted toward leadership in the past few years. About 438,000 people follow his blog, which AdAge ranks #1 out of the 976 marketing blogs they track.

So why am I thrilled he’s not publishing another book? Let’s start with what my reasons aren’t:

1: I do not think Seth Godin is an idiot. I actually think he’s a class act and has incredible insights that people need to hear.

2. I do not believe that traditional book publishing is dead. Michael Hyatt (one of the “mavericks” Seth mentioned on Monday) defended the industry nicely today on his blog.

Now, here’s why I’m thrilled:

1. I can’t stand reading his books. As much as I like his ideas and perspective and calls to action, I have a tough time with his books. I’ve only read his last two – Tribes and Linchpin (affiliate links) – but connecting them sets a future trajectory that I wasn’t looking forward to. It’s not the content, it’s the format. These books just seemed like a collection of blog posts – perfect for attention-handicapped readers, but purgatory for those of us who expect the author to weave a story or construct a larger argument. Bottom line, I think these last two books – as wonderful as they are –  were already written for a format other than traditional publishing. Which leads to my second reason.

2. He stopped writing traditional books years ago. Seth’s short pithy writing style is tailor fit for blogging. I don’t wholeheartedly agree with everything he says, but I believe Seth’s vision is keen and his heart is in the right place. I believe in what he’s trying to do. I also believe that writing books is not the best format for him. Thankfully, he has the platform and connections that will allow him to jump ship and find a format that fits his vision, his writing and his audience. He’s taking his own advice, he’s blazing a trail, he’s leading. And I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

What do you think about Seth Godin’s unorthodox decision?

What bold moves are you considering right now?

photo by Pieter Baert