Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

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?

4 Ways to Set Your People Free

September 19, 2011 7 comments

Freedom Leadership

I was 21 years old the first time I handed my passport to an armed guard at a checkpoint and entered what the UN calls an Occupied Territory. It was the summer of ’95 and I was driving into the Gaza Strip.

Over the next few weeks, oppression and I became good friends.

Old Kahlid, after treating me to lunch in his house made from scrap and rubble, showed me the deed for his home in Tel Aviv—a document that meant nothing the day the soldiers came and forced him out. Yet he still clings to it.

8-year-old Mohammed, a bright, young soccer player, reminded me of myself at his age. Except, of course, I had just completed my engineering degree and was 6,000 miles from home while he was prohibited from studying engineering or traveling more than 30 miles from where he was born.

Last week I shared my 3 core values as a leader, the first of which is Freedom. I believe it’s my job to free people & organizations to be their best. My experiences in Gaza kindled my hatred of oppression as well as my passion for helping set others free.

What I’ve learned since then: You don’t have to go to Gaza to find oppressed people. They’re everywhere. Sometimes the oppression is on the surface, other times the shackles are deep inside.

Here are 4 types of freedom you can fight for in those you lead. As you go down the list, the oppression grows stronger, but the potential freedom grows more powerful as well.

1. Physical Freedom. Are your followers free to work where, when and how they want? Do they have a degree of autonomy that corresponds to their abilities and responsibility?

2. Intellectual Freedom. Do your constituents have permission to think outside the conventional way of doing things? Are you encouraging them to stretch themselves mentally?

3. Emotional Freedom. Are those you lead comfortable telling you how they really feel? Are they operating free of fear, listening to their intuition, and managing their emotions well?

4. Spiritual Freedom. Do they see and believe the truth about themselves, their leaders, and their organization—or are they bound up by lies? Do they have hope? Can they see a better future?

We were made to be free. And the more you free someone, the more alive they become. Which, by the way, is exactly what our organization needs!

Have you ever been set free by a leader? How do you set your people free?

My 3 Core Values as a Leader

September 14, 2011 25 comments

Leading Integrity

I have often thought the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it comes upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: ”This is the real me!”

– William James

What makes you feel alive?

The answer to that one simple question is a huge step toward discovering your core values and your authentic leadership.

This past weekend I shared my leadership core values with one of my closest friends, Doug Crandall. I’ve known Doug for half my life—we were roommates at West Point, peers in the Army, and currently work side by side on the team that delivers Walmart‘s groundbreaking Leadership Academy.

Yet in all those years—all the discussions, debates, experiences, successes and failures we’ve shared—that was the first time I ever shared my core values as a leader.

This surprised me, because I believe (along with Doug) that core values are critical to establishing and living out your identity as a leader. They form and inform the kind of leader you are. Failed leadership can often be traced back to a dissonance between what a leader values (or says he values) and what he actually does.

So, I’ve decided to share my core leadership values with you—the things that make me feel most alive. But first, a few disclaimers:

  • This isn’t a didactic exercise—these values aren’t offered as the “approved solution”
  • I don’t think you can have 50 core values, or even 10 for that matter. 3-5 seems right to me
  • Values are alive. These are mine today—the result of my choices & experiences to this point

My core values as a leader:

1. Freedom. My purpose is to free people & organizations to be their best.

2. Service. My leadership is an offering and a responsibility—not a right or a privilege.

3. Trust. I’m most effective when I trust myself and earn the trust of others.

That’s my list. As it stands right now, it’s just words. I find the only way values come alive for me is with stories. So I’ll spend my next few blog posts sharing stories that I hope will help you understand my take on these three words.

Consider this list my ante. Now it’s your turn…

What are your core values as a leader—what makes you feel alive?

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?

How to Share Credit without Losing Any

April 6, 2011 15 comments

LeadershipI made a mistake when I was twenty years old that has stuck with me my whole career.

It was the summer before my senior year at West Point and I was half-way across the world and half-way through a five-week stint playing the role of an Army aviation platoon leader. I had come a long way in the few weeks since I showed up as a clueless cadet. At the very least, I had figured out a few of the symbols on a status report, so I was no longer making a fool of myself at maintenance meetings.

The mistake came in a meeting I had with the company leadership. During the meeting, my commander asked me about the status of a few missions he had given me, one of which was transporting one of our tugs to another Army airfield. I had delegated the mission to my platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Fletcher, who had taken care of the whole thing and given me confirmation that it had arrived. When Captain Pippin asked if I had gotten the tug to Gieblestadt, I said, “Yes, sir. It arrived yesterday afternoon.”

After the meeting the XO pulled me aside. “You missed a big opportunity in there,” he said.

“Really?” I was genuinely surprised. I felt like I was finally getting the hang of this.

“Sure, you’re getting things done,” he admitted, “but, that’s the easy part. The hard part is the leading.”

“What do you mean?”

“When the CO asked if you got the tug to Gieb, you just said, ‘yes’. You should have said, ‘Yes, sir. Sergeant Fletcher made it happen. We heard from them yesterday that it had arrived.’ You see, if you had said that, you still would have gotten the credit—you’re the leader, you made it happen—but Sergeant Fletcher gets the credit as well. Never pass up a chance to let your soldiers shine.”

Reflecting on this later, I realized that I didn’t want to share the limelight with Sergeant Fletcher. I thought sharing the limelight meant I would get less of it. Not so. Sharing credit as a leader doesn’t diminish your share of the recognition, it enhances it. Which is more impressive: getting things done or equipping, encouraging, and empowering a team of others that gets things done?

How are you at sharing the credit as a leader?

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?