Posts Tagged ‘helping’

5 Temptations Every Leader Faces

August 18, 2011 3 comments

leader selfLeading is treacherous work.

Like Odysseus sailing past the sirens we are constantly lured toward rocks and ruin by charming melodies that seem as harmless as they are desirable. They start small and innocent, but if not resisted, can destroy a leader.

Odds are you won’t face all of these temptations at once. Depending on your personality and preferences, you may easily avoid some, while others will continually harass you.

There are at least five temptations every leader faces:

1. Respect from others. Being respected isn’t a bad thing, but a desire to be respected that ferments into a need to be respected can have devastating results. That need for others to see you and regard you in a certain way, may cause you to attempt to become something or someone you aren’t. Combat this temptation with authenticity. Be yourself—nothing more, certainly nothing less.

2. Praise from others. Again, nothing wrong with being recognized for your accomplishments. It’s only when the desire for recognition starts driving your actions that trouble seeps in. It may start with not correcting an exaggerated report of your contribution, but it soon morphs into hoarding and taking credit from others. Fight this temptation with generosity—give away as much credit as you can whenever you get the chance.

3. Success at any cost. The ability to deliver results is a common expectation among leaders. However, it’s not the only measure of excellence. How you achieve those results is important. When the accomplishment of our mission supersedes the principles and values we stand for, then we lose our identity and purpose. Resist this temptation by clinging to honesty. When you fail, don’t just move the goal posts; assess reality and adjust as necessary.

4. Power over others. Every leader has—and uses—power over others. And that’s fine. Alarms should go off only when you start to see yourself actively trying to lord power over others just for the sake of having it. At that point your motives have become selfish and you’ve lost sight of why leaders exist. Battle against this temptation by cultivating a service attitude.

5. Target fixation. Focus is your best friend when it comes to successful execution. However when your focus is so narrow that you lose sight of the big picture, things starts to fall apart. Whether you’re neglecting one market for another, ignoring individual needs to accomplish a mission, or letting your family down while you concentrate on your career, it’s never sustainable. Avoid this temptation by maintaining perspective on your life and work. Schedule times to step back and take a holistic view.

Awareness of temptation is half the battle. If you sense one of these temptations is sucking you in, fight back—cling to who you are, be generous, tell the truth, seek to serve, and keep an eye on the big picture. These disciplines will help you navigate the potential pitfalls that every leader will face.

What other temptations are common to all leaders? What’s the best way to fight them?

The Power of Listening

July 27, 2011 9 comments

listen leadershipHave you ever had someone really listen to you? I mean stop what they’re doing, drop everything, and listen…to you? Remember how that made you feel?

I’ve asked that question to hundreds of people and I’m amazed at the responses I get. Here are just a few:

valued important trusted free
strong alive cared for empowered
confident brave smart meaningful

Wow. Imagine if you could create those effects in the people you’re trying to lead. Impossible? Beyond your capability? Hardly.

Every human being has the power to engender these emotions in others. Every human being can listen. It’s not always easy—there are thousands of things vying for your attention—but the ability is there. Here are a couple fundamental things you can do to become a better listener:

1. See. Before you can listen to someone you have to know they’re there. Not just their physical form as you walk by them, but the full weight of who they are and what they’re going through and what they have to offer. The first step to listening is truly seeing the people around you.

Try This: Instead of thinking of your day as a series of tasks you need to complete (as you probably already have), reframe your day by planning it out by the people you will encounter—family members, friends, bus drivers, waiters, bosses, clients, etc. Then spend the rest of your day looking for them.

2. Focus. At any given moment, your default focus is zeroed in on one person: Yourself. Nothing wrong with that, it just is. But if you’re going to lead others effectively, you must transfer your focus to others. Unless you feel safe with someone or find them fascinating, you must consciously choose to shift your focus to the other person.

Try This: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes as they speak, imagine the world from their perspective, hang on each word like they were the most important person in the world. Banish any hint of self while you listen—don’t worry about your point of view, your opinion or what you’re going to say next. Focus on experiencing what they’re sharing.

Listening is one of the easiest and most difficult things we can do. However, I can’t think of anything that has a more profound effect on people.

Have you ever had someone truly listen to you? How did it make you feel?

How to Drive Clarity as a Leader

June 22, 2011 4 comments

leadership clearClarity is a leader’s best friend.

Think about how fun and rewarding it is to serve a leader who’s providing clarity. Think about how miserable and frustrating it is on a team that lacks it.

All the marks of an exceptional leader—authenticity, initiative, trust, courage, insight—stem from clarity.

Being clear with yourself about your purpose and core values enables you to answer tough questions, make quick decisions and act with confidence. Being clear with others engenders trust and guards against misunderstanding, thus reducing friction and frustration.

As a leader, I strive for clarity in three main areas:

• Clear Thinking. When I get bogged down by unnecessary distractions, my team suffers. I need to keep focused on what’s important in the moment—our purpose, our people, the problem at hand. Exercising, eating right and getting enough rest all help me think clearly.

• Clear Communication. Poor communication can negate great leadership. It’s that simple. I could have the best vision, best solution, best intent, best plan—but if I can’t communicate it clearly, none of it matters. Understand your receiver and deliver a message on their terms, not yours. Aways get a back brief.

• Clear Conscience. Transparency and authenticity go hand in hand. The more clear and open you are with other people about your thoughts, feelings and ideas, the more believable and trustworthy you become in their eyes. And the easier it is to sleep at night. We waste so much energy maintaining our personas and facades.

As leaders we deal with ambiguity every day, but where you can, strive for as much clarity as you can with the resources you have. It’ll make life easier for you and those you lead will love you for it.

Where else do you think clarity is important?

The Gift of Receiving

June 8, 2011 5 comments

leadership skills giving receivingI’m a guy. I like to help. But sometimes I don’t get to.

I was waiting outside my apartment the other day, watching my kids play, when a neighbor drove up, opened the back of her SUV, and started to unload boxes of tile. Naturally, I offered to help.

To my amazement she replied—with a strained voice between gasps for air—”No…I’ve…got it.” I pleaded with her on her second trip, but was again denied as she struggled to get the heavy load through her door.

People not accepting help is one of my pet peeves. What’s going on here? From what I’ve seen, it usually due to one of four reasons:

1. Pride. We all have a tendency to believe that we don’t need help. Most of the time we actually do. But, even if we don’t need help, that’s still not a good reason to refuse it.

2. Fear. We live largely in a transactional world. If you accept help from someone else, there’s the implication that you now owe them. Most people can’t bear to live with that imaginary debt.

3. Culture. Some cultures are more individualistic or simply more private than others.

4. Lack of Trust. If you don’t know me how can you believe that I have your best interests in mind?

Each of these reasons—at its core—is selfish. They focus on the potential receiver, their ego, their fears, their comfort, their way of doing things.

Meanwhile, I think there are some great reasons for accepting help:

1. It Shows Humility. It takes real confidence to receive help. It demonstrates that you don’t think you can do it all yourself (even if you can).

2. It Helps the Helper. Serving makes people feel good about themselves. When you deny someone the opportunity to serve, you deny them a chance to feel good about themselves.

3. It Creates Better Products & Experiences. Working together usually produces better results with less effort in a shorter amount of time.

4. It Builds Relationships. Serving each other interweaves our lives. It allows us to use our strengths to meet the needs of others and vice versa.

How can you practice receiving today? Here are few ideas:

  • Don’t fight over who’s going to pay for a meal. When someone offers to pay, say thank you and mean it. Don’t promise to return the favor—just be genuinely thankful.
  • When someone opens a door for you, walk through it, say “thank you,” and don’t touch it (trust they’re strong enough to keep it open and fully accept the gift).
  • Try not to deflect compliments that come your way, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel. Honor the other person by listening to and believing what they say.

How good are you at receiving? Where do you need practice?

The Power of Perspective

June 6, 2011 6 comments

leading perspectiveAt 6:35am on June 6, 1944 the first Allied soldiers stepped ashore at Omaha Beach. They were instantly showered with enemy fire raining down on them from fortified positions carved into the bluffs above. The hail of machine gun and artillery fire would continue unabated for hours as wave after wave of ships bottled up by underwater obstacles poured soldiers into the kill zone.

Among those first soldiers were elements of the 16th Infantry Regiment, commanded by Colonel George Taylor. When Taylor arrived on the beach around 8:00am, he found remnants of his battle-hardened regiment in total confusion. With most of their leaders killed or incapacitated, those who had survived the first two hours were pinned down by the relentless enemy fire.

The invasion of Europe had stalled just seven yards in.

Seeing thousands of leaderless soldiers hunkering down behind the seawall or whatever cover they could find, Taylor realized this was a tipping point. Exposing himself to the deadly fire, he moved up and down the line finding officers, gathering teams together, and assigning new objectives. But what do you say to a man to make him face that kind of mortal danger?

Colonel Taylor simply put things in perspective:

There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here!

Under Taylor’s leadership, the 16th Infantry advanced over 200 yards inland, neutralized the German strongpoints, repelled counter-attacks and were instrumental in consolidating the Allied beachhead on Omaha.

The Missing Ingredient

March 29, 2011 13 comments

Leadership Development

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.

– Confucius

What’s the most important aspect of a successful leadership development program?

Education? Training? Reading? Case Studies? Role Models? Experience? Experimentation? Exercises? Games? Challenges? Mentorship? Feedback?

These are all important components of leader development, but I’d like to highlight an aspect I feel is often overlooked and undervalued: Reflection. I think it’s left out because course designers either fail to understand its power or don’t know how to encourage it—or both.

1. First, its power. Reflection is the catalyst that jump starts self-directed, personalized (i.e. meaningful) leadership development. High-potential leaders could get a lot out of each component I mentioned above—but it’s not guaranteed they will. Adding reflection into the mix increases your chances of participants experiencing the “aha” moment you’re hoping for.

Helping high potentials reflect on what they’re going through can mean the difference between life-changing realizations and just “going through the motions”.

2. Sounds good, but how do you induce reflection? It’s not as easy as creating a reading list, teaching a class, or facilitating an exercise. You can’t force someone to reflect in a meaningful way. You can, however, set the conditions for meaningful reflection to occur. Here are a few ideas:

  • Journal. Encourage this by 1. giving them a journal, 2. setting aside time for them to journal, & 3. giving them a venue to share what they’re learning
  • Model. Ask authentic questions and expect the same from participants
  • Discuss. Build in group discussion time after leadership development events
  • Serve. Incorporate volunteer work into your program; it helps you contemplate purpose beyond personal profit
  • Present. Have participants brief the group (or their team) on what they’re learning
  • Share. Urge participants to blog or use twitter to share what they’re learning
  • Commit. Schedule time for reflection—then guard it with your life!

Whether you’re in charge of developing other leaders or just in charge of developing yourself, this truth still stands: Education and experience are important, but if you aren’t injecting your program with adequate doses of reflection it will never become self-sustaining, let alone create explosive results.

Is reflection really that important? How do you incorporate it into your development?

Delivering the Necessary “No”

March 22, 2011 3 comments


It comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much.

– Steve Jobs

Yesterday I wrote about being prepared to say yes as a leader. However, just because you’re prepared to say yes, doesn’t mean you always should. There are certainly times—many times—when the right answer will be: No.

But how do you know the difference between saying no for a “good reason” and saying no because you’re too scared, tired or lazy to say yes?

Years ago I heard Josh McDowell say something interesting about the 10 Commandments. He said that behind every negative statement (thou shalt not…) there were always two positive intents—one of protection the other of provision.

That made a lot of sense to me and I’ve carried that forward into my leadership decisions. Every time I say “no” I test my motives by checking for those two intents:

1. Protection. My job as a leader is to protect my people and my organization so they can accomplish their mission. Any course of action that distracts them from their goal, dilutes their purpose, or puts them in unnecessary danger is unacceptable.

2. Provision. My job is also to provide for my people and my organization. Therefore I’ll veto any suggestion that fails to push them to be extraordinary, set them up for success, or help them realize their full potential. I won’t let them settle.

If my “no” isn’t motivated by providing and protecting my people and my organization, then I need to take a serious look at whether I should be saying no in the first place.

How do you know when to say no?