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Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

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?

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?

Exposing the Authenticity Excuse

July 11, 2011 3 comments

Leadership Authentic

Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself. It is precisely that simple, and it is also that difficult.Warren Bennis

According to the latest research, scholars agree that there is one—and only one—common characteristic among all exceptional leaders:

Authenticity.

That’s it. Great leaders have discovered who they are and they live their lives in accordance with their true identity. Sounds wonderful, right? It doesn’t matter if we’re tall or short, amateur or professional, a people-person or a data-cruncher, we all have what it takes to become exceptional leaders.

But what if I’m a Jerk?

Some people manipulate the idea of authenticity as an excuse for bad behavior. For example, Bill knows he has a sarcastic sense of humor that offends people, but whenever someone challenges him, he’s quick to pull out the five words that end any discussion: “That’s just who I am.” In effect, He’s saying, I’m being authentic—like you told me.

Bill’s not alone. Amy knows she’s an introvert, so she avoids speaking in public. Dan is left-brained so he doesn’t talk to the people in marketing. Becky knows she has a bad temper, but her outbursts get people moving.

Those who embrace the Authenticity Excuse are settling for a fake and easy “authenticity” that serves their own needs, not those of others.

They make one or both of the these false assumptions:

1. “Who I Am” is static and doesn’t change.

2. This trait is essential to who I am, so I can’t change.

These are both lies. It’s not easy, but people can control their anger and sarcasm, introverts make great public speakers, and Left-brainers have plenty of people skills.

They’re using authenticity as an excuse to not grow or improve. In the end they’ll stagnate, never discovering their true identity. It’s tragic not only for them, but for the people and organizations they attempt to lead along the way.

How have you seen someone use the Authenticity Excuse?

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?

Can You Teach Social Media Skills?

April 18, 2011 8 comments

Tweeting Leadership“Can it be taught?” 

She asked me point-blank. She’s swimming upstream, trying to get her leaders to properly engage in social media—to capitalize on the potential. I hear this a lot. Some leaders won’t even consider it. Others stumble in awkwardly trying to peddle their wares and services from day one. The question was honest.

“Can you teach someone social media skills?”

“Yes,” I said, “however…” The caveat:

There are two types of rookie social media fumblers: The ones who have trouble connecting with others in any context and those who just aren’t used to this new environment.

For those who generally can’t connect with others, they need to grow their social muscles. First, they must see the need—they must understand why connecting with others is beneficial—both for themselves and for the people around them. Then they need to review (or learn) the basics. You know, the kindergarten stuff:

1. Treat others as you want to be treated.

2. Listen before you speak.

3. Don’t try to be something you’re not.

4. Smile.

5. Tell the truth.

6. Share what you have.

7. Help others out.

The second group, those who are just uncomfortable in new media, need to use the social muscles they already have. I freely admit that social media isn’t for everyone. However, before one can honestly make that decision, I think one should understand what social media really is.

Social media is simply another context for humans to connect with one another. Fundamentally, it’s no different from having a pen pal, calling your mother, or meeting someone for lunch. All the basics—including those listed above—still apply. My advice to social media novices:

1. Go hang out. Listen. Listen some more. Learn the language, the culture, the customs.

2. Don’t even think of selling anything.

3. Help. Give away something valuable—not the whole farm, mind you—but something worthwhile.

4. Enjoy yourself. Enjoy others. Build real relationships with people.

5. Be smart. Don’t give away sensitive or secure information.

6. Find a mentor or twelve. Find someone to follow and emulate.

7. Learn the tools and develop a strategy.

Bottom line, social media skills are just social skills. Whether it’s tweeting or public speaking, anyone can learn to connect if they believe in the benefits and are willing to do the work.

What advice would you give to those just diving into social media?

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

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?