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Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

3 Modern Leadership Myths

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

mythbustingTen or twenty years ago, debunking leadership myths was easy. In every other corner office you could find an overconfident boss barking orders to masses of underperforming employees. However, over the last decade there has been a shift in the prevailing management winds.

Most of the changes have been good—though none revolutionary. People are getting more respect. Collaboration, engagement, and performance are all on the rise. More and more companies are doing well by doing good. None of it is “new,” successful leaders have been doing this stuff for years. It’s just becoming more acceptable.

However, there are some questionable tenants in this growing “new” leadership doctrine that haven’t been fully thought out. They sound good and leaders are assimilating them as founding principles, but after further inspection, you’ll see many of their premises are flawed.

I offer the following examples and ask for your feedback:

Myth #1: There’s no place for harsh or domineering leadership styles. In this new era of individual respect, the idea of a leader issuing unilateral orders without asking for opinions from others seems utterly barbaric. As a result, the autocratic leadership style is snubbed and reserved for dictators and half-wits. In fact there a number of situations where a strong autocratic leadership style is called for—so we should learn how to use it, not ignore it. What would you think of an EMT that arrived at the scene of an accident and promptly gathered everyone around to hear their opinions on what to do first—CPR, call for more help, or tend to other wounds?

Myth #2: Experience is the best teacher for a leader. It’s etched in every big company’s fast-mover career timeline—get the right jobs to get the right experience. You do that and you’ll be better qualified for leadership positions at the top. I have nothing against experience. In fact, it’s an absolutely essential part of learning—but it’s not always the best teacher. Yesterday’s experience may be totally irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. If you’re not careful it could pigeonhole your view of the world and lock you into an antiquated perspective. For experience to make you better, you must reflect on it.

Myth #3: You have to be an optimist to be a great leader. There’s no room for pessimism among great leaders—they’re always hopeful, always positive, and always believing that good will triumph in the end. Yeah, well, you could say the same about the couch potato who sits at home all day watching motivational speakers on YouTube. The fact is, you need some pessimism as a leader. You need to be able to envision the worst possible scenario—and really believe it could happen—if you’re ever going to successfully defend against it. And honestly, without pessimism, there would be no real change. All change starts with a discontentment.

What do you think are the big myths in leadership today? 

When is Good Enough Truly Good Enough?

October 21, 2011 4 comments

leadership

The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing. – Eugène Delacroix

I’ve been giving the label “Good Enough” a hard time for the past few days on this blog. And rightly so, for in any grand endeavor it’s the silent temptress, wooing us to abandon the greatness to which we aspire.

But the harsh words I have for “Good Enough” only apply to the things that truly matter. As I said in my original postPick the things that matter to you, and refuse to settle. As Danilo Vargas and Jeff Brandt brought up, there are plenty of circumstances where Good Enough is, indeed, good enough. If you never settled for anything—in any area of your life—you’d never accomplish anything.

The ability to discern the difference between what’s essential and what’s negotiable is a mark of a great leader.

So how do you know when Good Enough is truly good enough—and when it’s just a cop-out? Here are a few questions I ask myself to help discern the difference:

  • Is this my main effort or a secondary/supporting effort? Don’t compromise on your main effort. If it’s not your main effort, don’t major in the minors, wasting resources on things that won’t ultimately deliver results.
  • Am I in the initial rounds of an iterative process? If yes, then speed is of the essence. Striving for perfection too early in the process can hamstring creativity and collaboration.
  • Is this a functional, go/no-go task where improvement won’t add significant value? If yes, find something else to obsess over.
  • Have I passed the point of diminishing returns? If so, you’re definitely in “Good Enough” territory.
  • Am I pursuing perfection for myself or pursuing excellence? Gut check time. Is this about you and your needs or the goal you’re going after?

Settling for Good Enough and falling into paralyzing perfectionism may seem at opposite ends of a spectrum, but in reality, they result in the same effect. They keep you from accomplishing your purpose. So hold fast to what really matters and be flexible with everything else!

How do you decide what’s essential and what’s negotiable?

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?

3 Things You Need to Burn

October 11, 2011 5 comments

controlled burn

Only YOU can prevent forest fires!

– Smokey the Bear

Despite Smokey the Bear‘s fear campaign, not all forest fires are bad.

Fire is actually an essential part of forest ecology. In addition to clearing out combustible trees, brush and leaves, it stimulates the germination of new trees. In fact, cones from sequoia trees require the heat from fire to open and disperse seeds.

But we spent much of the 20th century trying to stop all forest fires. We damaged ecosystems and created tinder boxes for huge, hot, destructive fires. We ended up killing many of our forests with our kindness. 

We do the same thing in our organizations, in our relationships, and in our lives. We label the fires of change, conflict and constraints as bad—and we avoid them at all costs.

Just as forestry experts now use controlled fires to burn off dangerous undergrowth, here are 3 things you need to burn if you want a healthy life, authentic relationships or a streamlined organization:

• Bad Habits. I never fall off the wagon—if it was that abrupt, I’d realize it was happening. For me, unhealthy living begins with an innocent snack here or there, a missed workout that’s “not a big deal”, staying up just a little later to finish a blog post. Burn the bad habits. Feel the pain of discipline and let it set you free.

• Bad Behaviors. Over time we tend to let more and more slide with those we are closest to. The biting sarcasm that’s gone too far. The lack of follow-up on commitments. The erosion of standards we both once held. What behaviors are you overlooking in your spouse, friends, coworkers, or clients? Set those decaying behaviors ablaze and start over fresh.

• Bad Commitments. Every organization I’ve ever been a part of has suffered from mission creep. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of a Fortune 100 company or a local community board, the temptation—especially after success—to add initiatives that don’t align with your core mission is inescapable. Sear away the distractions and cling to your guiding purpose.

Bad habits, bad behaviors and bad commitments accumulate slowly and inconspicuously—like fallen tree limbs and dead leaves. Soon, not only is new growth stunted—in your organization, in your relationships, in yourself—but you’ve got a layer of dead things that are ready to erupt at any moment.

So don’t be afraid of fire. Use it wisely; use it often.

What else would you add to this list? What will you burn today?

Out-of-Control Leadership

September 7, 2011 5 comments

leadership adventureWe all want control.

We want to control our finances, our projects, our teams, our relationships, our future. We yearn for that sense of security that control promises. Just look around—nine out of ten advertisements are selling you some form of control.

Control, however, is an illusion and the security it offers is hollow.

Truth is, there are a million things just beyond your grasp at any given moment. The weather. The price of oil. The competition. The people around you. Your next breath.

You can respond to that truth in 3 ways:

  1. Do Nothing and be tossed around by the wind and waves of life.
  2. Try to control the uncontrollable and wear yourself out in the process.
  3. Learn to adapt to any situation life throws at you.

Exceptional leaders don’t waste time trying to change the wind—they learn how to sail. An experienced sailor can use wind from any direction to propel her boat in the direction she desires. Depending on how she trims the boat and sails, she can run with the wind, cut at right angles or even beat a course upwind. She can’t control the wind, but she can use it.

In the same way, exceptional leaders adapt to changing environments, harness the emotions in a situation, and adapt to the needs of those around them.

True power doesn’t come from control—that’s a small, limited substitute for power. True power belongs to those who can harness the uncontrollable, adapt to the inconceivable, and maneuver in the unknown to accomplish their goals.  This is true power, true security, and true freedom.

How are you at Out-of-Control Leadership?

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?

What Darth Vader Taught me about People

August 15, 2011 23 comments

leadership peopleI was four years old when I first saw Darth Vader.

I didn’t even know what evil was at the time—but the Dark Lord of the Sith soon remedied that. Darth Vader would define and, ultimately, personify evil for me as a child. And as my understanding of evil deepened, my appreciation for good grew.

I was six years old when I heard Darth Vader tell Luke Skywalker that he was his father. “Liar,” I thought—along with every other young boy in the world. But—in true Star Wars fashion—I had a bad feeling about it. “Vader isn’t tricky,” I thought. “He’s in your face. He doesn’t play mind games, he just strangles you from across the room.”

I remember watching the last movie as a nine-year-old. In the opening scene, Darth Vader walks out of a ship with The Imperial March pounding away in the background—I was literally squirming in my seat.

I remember feeling sorry for Luke because he spent most of the movie believing that Darth Vader could be saved. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, Dude, he’s Darth Vader for crying out loud. Give it a rest. He’s evil. He can’t turn.

In the end, Vader did turn. He changed. He came back. Darth Vader found his good.

At nine years old I watched the most evil person I knew—the one who personified the word for me—discover a hidden good buried deep within him. And that good was enough to change everything.

Looking back, the redemption of Darth Vader was a watershed moment in my life. I began to regard people differently. After all, if there was good hiding in Darth Vader, there might be good hiding in anyone. And if Darth Vader could change, then maybe anyone could change.

Needless to say, I’ve found these principles validated time and again over the last few decades.

What events in your life helped form the way you see people?