Posts Tagged ‘will’

The Snare of “Good Enough”

October 19, 2011 12 comments

leadershipThe start of anything is exciting. Could be a new project, a new job or a new relationship. It doesn’t matter—everything is fresh, hopes are high, vision is crystal clear.

Likewise, accomplishing something great is exciting. Exceeding expectations, beating the odds, going somewhere no one else has gone. The pride, the satisfaction and the enjoyment of hard-won success.

Between the Starting and the Finishing, however, there’s a whole lot of Middle, and it is rarely—if ever—exciting. The Middle is littered with pitfalls such as Leaking Vision, Plan Fixation and Mismanaged Fear. One of the sneakiest snares is the ever so enticing, Good Enough.

Good Enough is hard to fight. After all, if it’s good enough, who’s going to require more of you? Sure, you had bigger aspirations and a larger vision, but, hey, this is good enough. Besides, other things in your life are bound to suffer if you continue, so why don’t you just stop at good enough?

The only problem with Good Enough is that it rarely is.

For that reason alone, pick the things that matter to you, and refuse to settle. Don’t compromise, blink or give any ground. Be alert to any comfort along the way that might delay or prevent you from achieving your vision.

Name any exceptional leader from any sector of society—George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela—none of them ever settled for Good Enough.

Neither should you.

Where are you settling today?

How to Position Yourself for Success

August 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Leader strategyAre you deliberately placing yourself as a leader throughout your day—or is your schedule at the whim of circumstance? All too often I find my schedule filling up with urgent appointments to the detriment of truly important things I’m trying to accomplish.

There are any number of good places you could be at any moment: At your desk responding to emails, visiting with people at their workstations, cheering your child on at a soccer game, having dinner with a client, reading a book, going on a date.

One of the most important (and least discussed) decisions leaders make is choosing where and when they should position themselves. While every situation is different, here are a few factors to consider, so you can make an informed decision about where and when you place yourself:

  • Where is your Main Effort? You can talk all you want about what your priorities are, but nothing speaks louder than your presence. Where you position yourself communicates what you think is important. Your main effort should be aligned with your key decision points, so co-locating with the main effort should provide you the information to make better choices.
  • Where can you get the best view? Good information is the fuel of sound decision-making. Where do you need to be to see what’s going on? General John Buford spent most of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg up in a seminary cupola because that gave him the best view of the battlefield. From there he maneuvered his units to thwart multiple Confederate attacks while keeping an eye out for his reinforcements.
  • Where can others see you the best? Sometimes what’s most important isn’t what you can see, but who can see you. I remember as a company commander spending time with the mechanics on the night shift every once in a while. Honestly, I enjoyed the chance to get my hands dirty, turn some wrenches, and learn from them. Only as I was leaving did they share with me how important those visits were to them.
  • Where do you not want to be? Other times the opposite is true—there are times and places where your absence can make a positive statement as well. Deciding not to visit an event can be seen as a vote of confidence in a subordinate leader. Don’t assume that’s the case, however. Make sure that leader knows that you trust them, that you’re available for them, but that you believe they can handle it just fine on their own.

What other factors influence where you place yourself? Where will you position yourself today?

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?

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:


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?

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?

Leveraging your Intent as a Leader

April 28, 2011 3 comments

Commander's IntentFollowing yesterday’s post about Planning on Purpose, I thought it appropriate to expand on a concept used in the military to ensure soldiers remain focused on their goal while executing the plan: The Commander’s Intent.

I touched on this concept last fall in an article on “3 Myths of Military Leadership,” where I explained that the Commander’s Intent was a “concise description of what the commander wants to achieve.” This concise statement allows subordinate leaders to adjust to a rapidly changing environment, make quick decisions, and seize the initiative without losing momentum.

One could argue that the idea of commander’s intent has been around as long as there have been commanders. Certainly Napoleon modernized it, and the Germans codified it, but as a doctrine it continues to evolve today. Bottom line, it’s the one part of a plan that your people can cling to when everything else becomes obsolete.

So how do you communicate your intent as a leader? Ensure it has the following components:

1. Purpose. Why are you asking them to go after this goal? What’s at stake? Clarity and depth of purpose are crucial to motivating people. Likewise, the lack of a clear or compelling purpose saps the drive out of people.

2. Key Effects. In the Army we called these key tasks, but that always confused me. Commander’s intent should steer clear of telling people how to do something, and focus on what you need accomplished. What effects do you want to have on your organization, your environment, your competition?

3. Endstate. What do you as the leader want the world to look like when the smoke clears? In simple terms, this lets your people know when to stop and celebrate. It defines the success criteria for your team. The clearer you make this statement, the easier it will be for you to know whether you were successful or not.

How do you communicate your intent?

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?