Posts Tagged ‘learning’

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?

The Power of Authentic Questions

March 2, 2011 14 comments


“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?

Failing Forward

January 18, 2011 7 comments

Failing LeadershipSomehow, somewhere, I will fail today as a leader.

You need to hear that. I need to hear that. We all fall short of perfection as leaders. One of the things that sets exceptional leaders apart from all the rest is how they manage their failures.

The important question isn’t “will I fail?” The important question is:

How will I respond when I fail?

Will I deny it?
Will I gloss over it or downplay it’s significance?
Will I make excuses, blaming someone or something else?
Will I make hollow promises about “the next time”?
Will I let it crush my self-confidence?
Will I give up or give in?


Will I admit my mistake and accept responsibility?
Will I allow myself to feel sick to my stomach?
Will I apologize to those who deserve it?
Will I correct it and work to prevent a repeat failure?
Will I choose to trust myself and others?
Will I keep leading, keep serving?

The answer to that question – How will I respond when I fail? – truly reveals the kind of leader I am. The place where I’m failing is the place I’m learning, growing, and improving as a leader.

How are you at failing forward as a leader?

How to Lead Others Into Their Potential

January 5, 2011 5 comments

leading people

What will it take for your organization to reach its full potential? More money? Better technology? Faster processes?

These would all be wonderful, but an organization only reaches its full potential when the individuals in that organization reach their full potential. Your job as a leader is to help people do just that. If the people under your care are continually growing and consistently generating their best work then everyone is winning – you, them, and the organization.

Here are 7 things you can do to lead others into their own potential:

1. Believe in them. You can’t expect someone to believe in themselves if you aren’t willing to believe in them yourself. See the possibilities of who they could become. Share with them where you see them going. Treat them accordingly. Expect them to grow into that potential. People have a funny way of living up to – or down to – the expectations of their leaders.

2. Give them room to grow. My three-year-old got some new shirts for Christmas this year. They were all size 4. Why? Because we believe he’ll grow into them. Make sure you’re stretching people accordingly with the assignments, the delegated tasks, the levels of responsibility, the amount of authority, and the extent of autonomy that you give them.

3. Play to their strengths. Find out what people are good at and let them know. Then lean on those strengths – put some real weight on them. Confidence is mandatory for reaching your full potential. Only when people know what they’re good at are they ready to get even better.

4. Educate & train them. No matter how many strengths someone has, there’s always room for improvement. Weaknesses need to be shored up and gifts need to be cultivated. You must give your people the opportunity to grow intellectually, technically, professionally and personally.

5. Broaden their experience. Encourage them to explore different options. This could be within your organization, within their given field, or a wholly different pursuit. You may find a hidden talent or passion. Diversification facilitates learning, builds connections, and stimulates creativity.

6. Eliminate distractions. Don’t let broadening their experience get out of hand. Ultimately, to help others reach their full potential, you’ll need to help them focus. As a leader, one of the best ways you can help someone focus is to protect them from things that dilute their focus.

7. Ignite their passion. Find out what floats their boat, what rings their bell, what lights their fire. Fuel it. Channel it. Harness it. For someone to reach their potential, they must be self-motivated. Help them find their passion – not one borrowed from parents, or friends or social norms. Only their own passion will help them stay the course.

Notice that you can’t make someone else reach their potential. All you can do is set the proper conditions. Its been my experience that human potential is held under positive pressure, meaning all you have to do is find and remove the barriers, then BOOM! potential flows freely.

What’s missing from this list? How do you lead others into their potential?

How to Deal with Uncertainty as a Leader

June 8, 2010 3 comments

Leading through the unknownI had a Brigade Commander who used to say in the middle of our planning process, “Remember: We don’t know what we don’t know.” As a green second lieutenant my first response was something akin to, “Well, duh. How does that help?”

Ah, the brash naiveté of youth. Luckily, his words stuck with me and as they sank deeper into my mind I began to grasp what a profound statement it truly was. No matter how much information you have, you never have it all – and thinking like you do is dangerous. All that stuff beyond your knowledge horizon will affect you. Count on it.

Lack of information does not, however, excuse you from leading. If it did we wouldn’t get anything done. Life is full of uncertainty. As a leader you need to get comfortable operating with uncertainty. Don’t let it paralyze you. Gather all the information you can in the time you have, make necessary assumptions, choose a path, and take action. Here are a few tips to guide you:

1. Know the facts. As part of your planning process separate speculation, rumor and opinion from facts. Know what you know. Facts are the things you can count on. Once you lay out the facts, you can conduct research to fill in the obvious holes that appear.

2. Know your assumptions. Assumptions are allowed – encouraged even. Just keep an eye on them. Assumptions are not facts – they’re placeholders in the foundation of your thinking, but they are not facts.  Know what your assumptions are and as you learn more keep trying to validate or invalidate them.

3. Expect the unexpected. Never believe in the perfection of your plan, that it has taken every possibility into account. You can’t plan for the unexpected; but that doesn’t mean you have to be surprised when it shows up. Look for it. Welcome it. Trust in your ability to adapt and improvise. That’s when the fun really starts!

As you wholeheartedly execute your plan, stay nimble and remember: you don’t know what you don’t know.

How do you deal with uncertainty as a leader?

3 Tips for Empowering Yourself and Others

April 28, 2010 4 comments

Leader Empowering othersDo you have something big inside you, but just can’t seem to get it out? Is there someone in your life, either at home or at work, who you know has great potential, but can’t seem to realize it? A big part of a leader’s job is to draw the best out of the people around them–including themselves. Here are a few tips for enabling yourself and others to translate potential into to results.

1. Discipline. Most people consider discipline in a negative light–all they see is what they can’t do. The real power of discipline is in its positive side–all that it allows you to do. Discipline exists to let good things run free and wild. True freedom come from discipline. Disciplining yourself and others–by setting boundaries, scheduling time, devoting resources–allows you to focus your attention, talents, and efforts. Then you are free to do what you truly want to do.

2. Education. Learning is one of the most important disciplines. In order to fully realize potential, you’ll have to add knowledge, skills, and experience. Don’t expect your people to do their best if you don’t equip them with the training they need to perform. And don’t expect your potential to spring forth in a final draft; it takes time to hone your skills and build your confidence. This could come from formal schooling, from the school of hard knocks, or from both. Either way, your education is the house your realized potential will live in.

3. Trust. Underneath all the discipline and behind all the education, you’ve got to believe. As leaders we need to approach the potential we sense in others–and in ourselves–with as much certainty as we can muster. What you really believe is always revealed in how you act. If you truly believe in someone, you’ll trust them with greater responsibility. If you truly believe in yourself, you’ll step out and go for it. Look for the opportunity to put your trust to the test.

What have I missed? How do you empower yourself or others?

10 Tips for Becoming an Authentic Leader

March 9, 2010 13 comments
desert leader

Photo by Hamed Saber

Yesterday, Michael Hyatt published The Five Marks of Authentic Leadership on his blog. In a blog full of powerful content, this is one of his most incisive posts. Please, go read it. Then check out these ten tips for kneading the five qualities into your leadership.


1. Listen First. Develop the discipline of listening. Listen to people, listen to situations, listen “between the lines.” Listen before you act, speak, or decide. Listen for opportunities. Listen for reasons to be thankful. Listen to serve others.

2. Live & Learn. Live life; don’t be afraid to fail – no matter how old you are. The moment you stop learning you stop growing, and when you stop growing you start dying. Stay humble enough to learn and grow and give.


3. Ask Questions. What needs to be done right now? How can we do this better? Where is the opportunity today? How can I (or we) help? Have the courage to ask the tough questions – then take the answers personally. If you ask the question, take responsibility for the answer.

4. Act Now. If your insight shows you what must be done, you have a responsibility to do it or see that it gets done. Don’t wait to understand – choose action and understanding will follow (see #2). As Ronald Reagan said, “If not us, who? If not now, when?”


5. Focus on Others. Your natural instinct is to focus on and take care of yourself. Resist that urge. Put others first and they will respond to you. Genuinely care for them.  All your insight and initiative is lost if you aren’t pouring it generously into other people.

6. Stoke your Passion. The best way to inspire someone to action, is to be inspired yourself. So find your personal positive passion and surrender to it. The more you give in to your passion, the more others will catch it.


7. Develop People. To achieve positive, long-lasting change, it’s not enough to change systems or brands or directions – you’ve got to change people. Focus on changing hearts and minds, moving them upward and onward – both professionally and personally.

8. Measure Results. Insight, initiative and influence are all good, but they’re all for naught unless you’re making a real difference. Create objective metrics that will give you an honest view of how successful you are as a leader.


9. Ground Yourself. Make sure your impact is worthwhile by putting first things first. When you do this, everything else falls into right perspective. Build your life – and therefore your leadership – on indestructible values.

10. Be Honest. I’m not just talking about telling the truth. Be honest about who you are. When your life is fully integrated you are free to be the same person no matter where you are, who you’re with or what you’re doing. That’s true freedom.

Which of these tips was the most useful for you? What’s missing from this list?