Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’
Leadership skills and relationship development are two of the biggest themes I see in my coaching practice. This article is about two of the most common mistakes (and remedies) I see in these areas:
A common mistake I see with new leaders is that they too often try to jump in too quickly without establishing a solid framework for who they want to be as leaders and what they want to accomplish (and why they want to accomplish it). Too often the new leader will try to assert his or her authority too quickly; changing systems and delegating tasks without really thinking it through. This often sets up power-struggles and/or sets the leader’s reputation on shaky grounds.
On the contrary, I’ve noticed that exceptionally good leaders have a high degree of self-awareness. They also take the time to observe – to really understand the past and present workings of their environment, and to understand the explicit and implicit lines of influence and sub-cultures that have evolved over time.
So the first step to being a good leader is exploration. Take the time to engage in some solid self-reflection; and then slow down and observe – asking more questions and giving fewer answers.
A common mistake I see in relationships is when people hold all of their hopes on the other person changing. But blaming the other person (no matter how justly so), and holding out for them to change, just doesn’t help.
So the important first step is to really be clear on what relationships you want to build or improve upon, and why: develop compelling reasons for why you want this to work – and keep these in mind so that you can persevere with things get tough.
The next step is to really empathize and understand where the other person is coming from. You don’t have to agree with their logic, but you do need to understand their unique perspective if you want to move forward with them. Understand non-judgmentally how they came to they see things as they do, and then you can work together to start bridging the gaps. (Also develop the perspective together that people themselves are not the problem: it’s the relationship itself that needs your focus).
So in any type of relationship, as a leader or otherwise, always keep in mind that the most successful people are the ones who first do their own self-work. They question their own motives, understandings, skills, and abilities – and they take the time to discover what is and what could be before charging ahead!
I’ve been reading some marketing stuff from Dan Kennedy lately, and one of the sections in that material talks about managing others’ expectations of you. This post is about my own thoughts on the topic, although I did want to share something that Dan Kennedy had referenced in his material – it was just too good to pass up:
Kennedy referred to an experiment done years ago about people’s expectations: Esteemed art critics and gallery owners were invited to an art show featuring five up-and-coming artists. They were all given information about these artists ahead of time, while they rode in limos and were wined and dined at a fancy reception.
It seems that this whole “set-up” of the artists had shaped the critics’ and gallery owners’ impressions of them before they even saw their work. This was evident because they all gave the highest marks and praise to the five new artists, even among the other twenty or so well-known artists in attendance.
What the critics and gallery owners didn’t know was that out of the five artists, only three were legit. The other two were an 8-year-old child, and an elephant who splashed paint onto the canvas with his trunk.
The point of this story is that people are going to form an opinion about you and have certain expectations of you – and that you can control these beliefs and assumptions to a great degree by “setting the stage” for them.
People often use “rules of thumb” that allow them to make quick (but often erroneous) assumptions about what they see. We can take advantage of this tendency by making it easy for them to see what they want to see.
Simply stated, as shown in the story above, you can be anyone you want to be in the eyes of another – simply by playing the part. And this is not about being deceitful, but rather about “putting your best foot forward”. By talking the talk and dressing the part (literally or figuratively), people draw conclusions about your experience, intellect, skill, and ability.
And who are you to argue with their perceptions?
So decide who you want to be in this life, and step into that role. And that’s how others will view you. Then a self-fulfilling prophecy is born: the way people view you is how they’ll treat you – and so that’s who you become.
I’m going to stick with the theme of motivation for another article; simply because it’s been on my mind lately as I continue to spend the time developing new products and services. This isn’t easy for me to do; I struggle with motivation at times just like the rest of us.
To make things as easy on myself as possible I’ve been going back through the materials I’ve collected over the years; to refresh my memory about what motivation is, and how to grab onto it, if only for a short while. Here’s a piece of research I came across that serves as a good reminder about the importance of clarifying why we’re doing what we’re doing, and what we want to get out of life:
Years ago Edward Deci conducted an experiment in his search for discovering why people do what they do. He asked each of the participants in his study to complete a puzzle: half were given a dollar for working on the puzzle, and the other half were offered nothing. At the end of the time allotted, Deci left the room and instructed the participants that they could continue working on the puzzle if they wished (or read a magazine, or do nothing). The participants who received no reward continue do work, while the ones given money ceased to work on the puzzle.
The point of this outcome is that our interest in a task fades when we’re being governed by external forces; even if it’s something we’d enjoy doing otherwise.
I often talk about building in reward structures if you need that extra boost to finish a task (i.e., work for two hours then treat yourself to a latte). This is still a good strategy, but just make sure the latte isn’t the primary reward: the research results above show us that external rewards don’t maintain behavior.
Let the latte be the driver of your behavior if that’s what it takes; but when you’ve reached the goal always go back to the reasons you engaged in the task in the first place. Focus not the immediate reasons: “because I’ll miss the deadline if it doesn’t get done”, etc., but on the big reasons: “because this task leads to this, which leads to this, which leads to the realization of my ultimate goals and purpose”.
So enjoy the latte that helped drive you to the goal. But do so with the conscious acknowledgment that you wholly deserve it. Acknowledge your ability to set and achieve goals, and how hard you’re working to realize your dreams and become more of who you want to be!
Getting Motivated is a tricky thing. Sometimes we experience it, often times we don’t. And when we do get it, it doesn’t seem to stick around for very long.
I talk with my clients about ways to increase motivation, such as making the task worthwhile and keeping your eye on the prize, only committing to bite-sized chunks and building in rewards and consequences, and staying healthy and taking regular breaks. There are many more strategies; some more effective than others.
(There are also a couple of newer books out there on the topic of motivation; which are apparently quite good. I look forward to reading them to see if there’s anything missing in my understanding of the subject).
But more importantly, I think, is something that struck me recently: I think we often use the elusiveness of motivation as an excuse to not get things done.
The funny thing about motivation is that we tend to see it as this “thing” that we can get – and that as soon as we acquire it things will be smooth-sailing. And as long as we don’t “have it”, we’re not really pressured to accomplish: we can easily blame our inaction on the fact that we just haven’t tapped into it yet.
But the truth is that it’s not impossible to act if we’re not feeling motivated. We get caught up in the idea that we can’t move forward unless we’re “feeling it” – but this just simply isn’t true. It might not feel great to take action without possessing this magical thing called motivation – but we’re all capable of doing it anyway.
A saying I quite like is “action precedes motivation”. In other words, like so many other things in life, when you stop looking it will appear. We just need to get started. So put it to the test – or as Nike would say, “Just do it”. Just do it regardless of how you feel, and stop reaching for the magic formula – you’ll be glad you did!
I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy in my businesses, and I want to encourage you to not repeat my mistakes (and I believe that the same principles I’ll discuss in the context of business are equally relevant to your personal life and relationships):
I’ve recently come to the sobering realization that a lot of what I thought was productive work for many years was actually a lot of ‘busy work’ (not all of it, of course – or even most of it – but certainly more than I’d really like to admit). I’ve also come to believe that the old adage, “build it and they will come” should really be changed to “build it and bring ‘em to it – because they’re not gonna come on their own”.
For far too long I’d mistakenly thought that I could simply work hard and then rest on my laurels. I thought that I could learn everything there was to learn in my field(s), and that business would just come naturally as a result. But I was wrong: I’ve since learned in business that ‘building it’ is a critical piece of the equation – but that the equally-important second piece is ‘going after it and making it happen’.
What got me to the point I’m at now, is that in a couple of areas I do feel like I’ve examined pretty much all there is to be examined. This is not to say that I “know it all”, of course – but there is a concept known as ‘circular learning’ that has come into play in a couple areas of my life…
(Circular learning speaks to the idea that there’s ‘nothing new under the sun’: that if you follow a thread of knowledge completely enough, you’ll begin to see the same underlying principles repeating themselves. They’ll be assembled in different forms and colored with different language, of course – but it’s really all the same stuff after awhile).
Through this circular learning process I’ve come to realize that many of the principles that became clear after years of examination are pretty much the same principles I had learned soon after I had begun my journey. Granted, my skills are more refined now than in earlier years (and I don’t begrudge the expertise I’ve accumulated) – but I understand now that I could have been more successful, a lot more quickly, had I acted earlier and more aggressively on the principles I assumed were too incomplete and immature to be acted upon.
So my biggest mistake –and the lesson I want to share – is basically that I wasted too much time building, when I could have been getting better results by taking more action. The lesson is simply this: know what you know when you know it; take quick action based on what you know at any given time; and continue to learn and correct your course as you go!
Where can you use the 80/20 rule in your work and life?
In one part of my life I work as a consultant in the public sector. In another I work as a coach; with both life coaching and corporate clients. I also have other businesses in completely unrelated fields including pet supplies, parenting products, and nutritional supplements. The other parts of my life are spent in leisure activities with my family.
I don’t consider myself a jack of all trades/master of none, though: these endeavors were all chosen deliberately and executed carefully. Having lots of things on the go satisfies my need to stay diversified and busy (yes, I have been diagnosed with ADHD) – and I love (almost) everything I do.
Importantly, I also have time for everything I do with some to spare. This is because of the 80/20 rule.
Simply speaking, I try to focus on the 20 percent of my life and work that gives me the greatest results and enjoyment. And I try to say no to – or outsource – the other 80 percent whenever and wherever I can. Basically, I only work and spend time with the people I want to be with, and I only work on the things I want to work on.
I know that saying these things is controversial: you might be thinking that that this doesn’t apply to your life and your particular situation. That you don’t have the luxury to simply “outsource” the things you don’t want to do. That you have commitments and responsibilities…
I have commitments and responsibilities too, of course; and naturally there are things I can’t outsource or say no to either. But it’s all about where I choose direct my energy and focus: I know I can’t always live my life in the 20 percent – but I also know that if I try, I’ll consistently be a lot closer than if I don’t.
(You might also say that the ability to do only what one wants depends on circumstance and luck. This is true to a large degree – but I also believe that luck is to be found in the intersection of preparation and opportunity…)
So the purpose of this article is to encourage to you to prioritize the things you really want in your life, and what you really want to be doing – and then looking honestly at where you can unload some of the 80 percent that doesn’t fit with your vision.
To start, look for those “big-lever” changes that you can make in your life. They don’t need to be complicated or overwhelming: they include any adjustments, large or small, that have a big impact.
A big-lever change could certainly be a change of careers, for example, or it could be something much smaller that has a domino-effect in your life. A simple “big-lever” change could be something as easy as outsourcing the task of unloading the dishwasher: if it reduces stress at the end of a busy day, and gives you time for something more enjoyable, then it’s certainly worth the extra 5 dollars in allowance!
But that’s just one small example – and there are many. Where else can you use the 80/20 rule in your life? Where else can you focus on the 20 percent of your life and work that gives you the biggest results and greatest satisfaction? And where can you begin to unload the rest?
Some time ago I had written an article on claiming your leadership. I suppose this article could be a follow-up to that after some recent, disheartening, personal observations.
We talk about things like distributed leadership, a person-centered, authoritative approach, leading from the ground up, building solid teams and trusting your people – and many other best practice leadership buzzwords and concepts. In short, we know what works. We know which types of leadership strategies and habits are effective and which should have died a long time ago.
And the leadership paradigm certainly has changed on the whole – but examples of archaic leadership unfortunately persist: little to no communication from the top down, a heavy-handed approach with little recognition, expecting more out of people to compensate for low morale… you get the point. And although I continue to see this quite regularly in certain pockets, I’m always still a little surprised by it.
Being a “solo player” myself, I’m not in a formal leadership position: and I know it’s easy to cast stones until you walk in someone’s shoes (excuse the clichés). I’m not assuming by any stretch that I would do a better job in a formal leadership position; but as an objective observer I still find it very perplexing and frustrating.
As a coach I see that these types of leadership behaviours make things very difficult for the players behind the scenes.
But leadership takes many forms, and it has to come from all levels. If it’s important that you do so, express your own leadership wherever you can and wherever you are. Don’t let the obstacles in your environment – wherever they’re coming from – stop you from doing what you know needs to be done. You probably have more impact than you know; despite the fact that it often goes unrecognized.
Change happens because certain people see what needs to be done, and they persevere. If your environment is working against you, do your thing anyway if you know its right. It’s often the leaders behind the scene, interspersed throughout the system – formal title or not – who change paradigms and improve lives.
I had decided to reach out to more people by sharing my thoughts and writing some articles; and after doing it for some time now I’d certainly recommend it. Putting up a quick blog with WordPress is both free and easy, and we all have something to say. We all have our stories and ideas, and there certainly are people who want to hear them.
So I’m encouraging everybody reading this to do it as well! I for one would love to hear what’s on your mind!
Funny thing, though: I’m not very tech-savvy at all, and I just realized now that there have been many replies posted to my articles. The challenge for me now is to figure them out: I’m not sure what’s for real, and what’s spam! (I’ll admit that I’m rather naive with all this as well
So if you’ve posted an honest response and I haven’t seen it until now, I apologize! And if you’ve posted an honest response and it got directed to the spam folder, then I apologize for that as well! And if some of the remaining comments are simply spam, then oh well. Live and learn
I was following up on a warm business lead the other day, to which I experienced an unexpected emotional and physical reaction. The woman on the other end thanked me for contacting her, but then concluded with, “We already have what we need, so please remove us from your distribution list.”
When I heard this message I immediately got a bit of a knot in my stomach. For a brief moment I felt a little fearful, uncertain, and angry – both with her and with myself. Granted, all these thoughts and feelings were fleeting and not very intense; but they were there. In short, I felt discouraged.
Discouragement is the result of all those little thoughts, fears, and assumptions that add up to a real sense of emotional and physical discomfort. For some it’s debilitating: stopping them in their own tracks out of habit; while others keep moving on immediately as if it never happened. In both cases they fail to actively identify and challenge the maladaptive thoughts and fears that feed it.
As I analyzed the thoughts that fuelled my own reactions to that comment, I experienced many things that popped up in quick succession: I felt embarrassed for contacting her and I doubted my ability to be successful. I felt that she was being intentionally short-sited and spiteful. I assumed that I might never get the volume of work I want; which led to a worry of driving my family to the poor-house.
But once I identified all this I was able to see how inaccurate and exaggerated it was. I was then able to re-calibrate, let it go, and get on with my day.
We’re told all the time to not get discouraged. What that means, obviously, is to not give up when we feel defeated. And we shouldn’t give up – but we should also remember that feeling defeated, and scared, and insecure are all natural human reactions. If we deny the experience of discouragement, either by letting it stop us in our tracks or by ignoring its existence, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to self-reflect and self-correct. We either don’t move at all, or we risk moving forward in a maladaptive way.
All feelings serve a purpose. Our physical or emotional reactions are rich with data that we can use to adapt, adjust, and evolve. We can identify the thoughts and assumptions that feed the experience of discouragement, and hold them up to examination. We can then replace the faulty ones with more realistic and/or energizing ones; and then resolve to act more purposefully.
Picking ourselves up and moving forward after acknowledging our discouragement also teaches us just how far our resiliency can be stretched. So we shouldn’t discourage discouragement: we should embrace it and use it as the powerful tool it is.
There are many different styles of leadership with varying degrees of effectiveness. A people-centered approach is probably best in general; but only if partnered with sound knowledge and skill, and delivered in an authoritative style (a strong focus on relationship with the ability to appropriately set limits and apply corrective action).
I’m currently coaching someone I consider to be one of the best leaders with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work. I don’t know if she actually knows that she’s as good as she is: she’s relatively new to her position and has lots of questions and doubts about her style. But this type of questioning is common and expected for a new leader, and I fully expect her confidence to rise steadily with experience. I also sincerely hope, though, that she never loses the habit of self-reflection.
I’ve always had the impression that this woman is a strong leader, despite some of her doubts in specific areas. It was when I reviewed the 360 degree feedback from her team, though, that I realized how much of a star she really is. She has mastered that difficult balance between people skills and technical skill; between relationship development and task orientation. She is truly an authoritative leader who knows what she’s doing.
On the contrary, I’m also aware of leaders who appear oblivious to the fact that they’re not particularly great at the people side of things. They may be good at the technical aspects of their jobs, but they tend to rub others the wrong way. They are often closed to others’ ideas and they have difficulty sharing credit.
I think this happens for different reasons: they might be aware of their shortcomings but don’t particularly care; they may be aware of their shortcomings but don’t have the skills to change; or they might actually believe this style is effective. My guess, also, is that these types of leaders are often (but not always) masking a deeper sense of insecurity with an authoritarian style of interaction. Regardless of the reasons for the authoritarian style of leadership, it’s clear that these leaders don’t – at least actively and openly – question their leadership.
We might not all possess the leadership finesse of my client, but we can always continue to grow when we’re willing to engage in honest self-reflection. I believe that my client is a natural leader to a great degree – but I also believe that she’s as strong as she is because she questions herself.
It becomes increasingly difficult to question ourselves as our confidence and competence grows: self-reflection is often done in response to self-doubt and fear of failure. But to be effective leaders we need to reclaim and hold the assumption that we can always be better.