Right now, everyone’s looking for leadership somewhere. There are questions that leaders and aspiring leaders need to be asking themselves to determine if they’re either leading with authority and consistency, or if they’re lacking in some area that would make the difference between being the best or otherwise.
This has always been the case. Have you ever asked yourself why?
I really believe that anyone is capable of becoming a leader. I also believe that not everyone is cut out for the role. That doesn’t mean they’re less capable of making an important contribution; it just means they bring a different set of skills to the table. It also doesn’t mean that anyone aspiring to a leadership role can’t learn how to do so.
There’s nothing wrong with being a follower because regardless of the role, nothing happens without people, period. However, there’s a balance to everything. The trick is knowing which role someone is best qualified to fill.
If you’re a leader, you should be asking the following questions to determine where you need to improve. If you’re a follower and aspire to a leadership position, here are some questions you might ask of yourself to determine if this is a role you want to fill.
- Can I control my emotions? The best leaders have emotional intelligence; they may feel things deeply but they’re emotionally strong and stay in charge of their feelings. Followers are more reactive with their emotions, while leaders are more responsive.
- Am I comfortable with the middle of the road? Successful leaders have strong convictions and are bold in their beliefs, while followers are less committed to ideals. Followers get out of the storm while leaders stand strong against it. It took me a long time to embrace this one because of an unrealistic desire to have everyone hold hands and sing the coke song together. Doesn’t work that way.
- Do you have a high RC Factor (resistance to change)? Leaders may be headstrong and determined, but they also know when to be flexible and agile. Followers are more inclined to stay on a set course come what may. Personally, I like to be rigidly flexible, if that makes sense.
- Are you risk adverse? By nature, followers are more cautious than bold. They take a lot of notes and move more slowly. Leaders combine big ideas with action and move into situations where both the payoff and the risk are substantial.
- Are you self-confident? Leaders tend to be decisive and self-assured with their eyes on the prize. Followers are more likely to see limits in their abilities and put more faith in the judgment of others.
- Are you results-oriented? Leaders like to have a definitive plan and a blueprint for getting results. Followers like to have clear instructions that allow them to focus more on their individual corner of the big picture.
- Are you focused and detail-oriented? Successful leaders are all about discipline, focus and getting things done. Followers are more comfortable with starting things, stopping, and picking them up again later.
- Are you an effective and consistent communicator? Leaders are often good speakers and patient listeners who enjoy bringing people together and motivating them. Followers tend to be more introspective and less communicative.
- Do you think more in the short-term than the long-term? Leaders are almost always characterized by a clear vision for the future and sharing that vision with others. Followers either focus on the moment or sign on to a leader’s vision.
- Are you more about the nuts and bolts or about the mission and vision? An important quality of a leader is to motivate and inspire others. For followers, that kind of thinking doesn’t come naturally.
In my experience, both leaders and followers can be equally driven by their desire to make a difference. These are not clear distinctions because most all of us have elements of some or all of these characteristics. One or the other may even come to the forefront depending on the situation. I’ve seen the most unlikely individuals come out of nowhere to become the best of the best. I’ve also seen others have leadership thrust upon them and rise to the surface, as well.
In short, you don’t have to be in charge to be influential, but it sure does help, especially in times of crisis like right now!
Over the course of my life (both personally and professionally), I’ve worked with many leaders of differing personalities, characters and behaviors. I’ve learned as much (or more) about what not to do as I have about what to do, especially in times of crisis.
There are those, who’re reactive in times of crisis, and there are those, who’re proactive. If you research the definition of proactive, you’ll find the following:
An act that one consciously wills and that may be characterized by physical or mental activity: as in a crisis that demands action instead of debate; as in action motivated by habitual or usual acts; as in responsible action.
If you were to study the substance of a leader you consider as good or better in crisis than most, I’m confident you’d find someone with a backstory that would support the kind of leader they appear to be. The data actually supports such a perspective, meaning there’s a link between the behaviors of a leader in crisis that are much different than the norm.
Speaking for myself, I’ve been in a position of responsibility (it seems) for my entire life. The only and oldest boy in a family of 6; raised in a leadership position in the church from my early teens; being a multi-sport athlete gravitating towards a team leadership role; working for the largest company on the planet in a Senior Leadership position for just under 30 years; wears me out thinking and writing about it now.
In short, I think I can speak with some credibility on the 5 most common problems I’ve seen with those, who’ve struggled leading in crisis.
- A lack of self-awareness: There are many leaders on a daily basis, who do not see themselves as others see them. This is most evident in an organizational culture that doesn’t value consistent communication coupled with healthy disagreement or confrontation. When subordinates can’t speak what they think and feel, they’re usually working for an autocratic leader, who doesn’t require, value or acknowledge diversity of thought. This type of leadership never does well in a crisis.
- A lack of situational awareness: There are many leaders, who react to crisis by doing their best to avoid it. This kind of behavior motivates a less than desired and timely response. It also creates a culture of under-estimating not only the seriousness of a crisis, but an element of doubt among subordinates that makes their reaction to a crisis unpredictable- the very last thing that a leader in crisis doesn’t need.
- A lack of consistent communication: It’s amazing how many leaders I’ve seen over the years respond to a crisis by defaulting to protocols. This kind of response is characteristic of leaders, who have a difficult time communicating consistently via any medium and especially in crisis. If someone struggles to articulate themselves verbally, then it’s almost a certainty they can’t do so in written or any other form of communication. Defaulting to a protocol and just repeating it over and over doesn’t give anyone a necessary degree of confidence and stability.
- A lack of accurate data to inform decision-making: I’ve mentioned often that I’m a data freak. One of my top 5 strengths (as highlighted by Strengthsfinder 2.0), is Input, meaning that I have to have enough data to inform my decision-making. It’s surprising how many leaders will take the word of those closest to them or within their own circle of authority (especially in crisis), without doing their own research or fact-checking. In short, you have to do the homework.
- A lack of strategic or adaptive planning expertise: I was taught a long time ago good times and profits (especially over an extended period of time, can mask a lot of deficiencies and dysfunctions. One of the first to gather dust is the planning process. I work with a lot of organizations and their lack of planning is one of the top 3 deficiencies I encounter over and over.
We’re in a crisis now! I still remember how surreal things were for a long period of time after 9/11. I thought that might be the significant crisis of my lifetime. Now, here we are with COVID-19. It’s rippling the globe and affecting all of us in ways we’d probably never imagined.
Rather than spend time criticizing the leaders of our government (which most of the media is doing on a daily basis), I’m spending my time in the space I have influence over, looking for any gaps in leadership that I can fill. Whether it be my community, my client base, my family, my church; whatever it may be.
I’ll look by being aware of both myself and the situation, communicating consistently with all of my platforms, doing my homework and providing accurate data and information, and planning how to adapt and respond in real time.
Truth be told, that’s how we can all lead in crisis!
I’ve written and talked in the past about the lack of Succession Planning in most organizations. I use the term most very literally. For Profit, Nonprofit, Academia, Faith-Based; the sector matters not. The data supports this perspective and has for some time, reflecting significant gaps even beyond the leadership levels of an organization.
For example, even at top-performing companies in the For-Profit sector, the percentage of employees with succession plans in place drops from 94% for management and executives to 75% for middle management, and then a precipitous drop to only 8% for operational and office staff. In the Nonprofit sector, 70% of those organizations have no Strategic or Adaptability Plan at all in place, much less a Succession Plan.
The process of Succession Planning isn’t just a matter of generating a list of names to replace someone in a given role. It’s a critical component of talent management that includes training and development for those who will eventually take important leadership roles at every level in the organization. I’ve seen more than my share of organizational failures because of poor succession practices motivated by crisis, ego, nepotism, or my least favorite, extreme diversity, just to name a few. It doesn’t take long for these kinds of motivators to embed themselves in the culture, thereby guaranteeing a culture of failure, as well.
I could take the rest of this post and focus on providing a litany of addresses and resolutions for Succession Planning. I could provide clichéd terminology about leadership. For example, an organization needs to demonstrate a commitment to innovation and high-quality products and services by developing leaders with the authority and credibility to push the workforce to meet desired objectives. I don’t know about you, but I get tired of hearing the same-old word speak from so-called subject matter experts on development that clearly haven’t enough innovation or creativeness than to use such scripted language. It really wears me out.
Yes, it’s a given that organizations need to identify those with the necessary technical and process skills. But let’s face it! The root of every successful organization is timely decision-making. If leaders aren’t in place and equipped to know what’s next, why it’s important and how to allocate resources appropriately, then the rest of it really doesn’t matter.
Yes, organizations need to put a structured plan in place for leadership continuity. However, for that to happen, they need to zero in on identifying individuals who have leadership potential.
So, why am I focusing on identification? Because, even with organizations that do have Succession Plans in place; have all of the training and development resources required in place; have a deep talent pool to pull from in place; have external stakeholders raving about great performance and leadership in place; they still rely on successful performance as the best indicator of leadership. The fact of the matter is successful performance does not guarantee successful leadership. I was taught many years ago that good numbers can mask a lot of problems, especially if you’re not paying attention to details beyond the numbers.
In the first chapter of my first book I Didn’t Ask You to Dance, I Asked You to Talk!, I write about my first encounter with Sam Walton, how he became my mentor and some of the most important lessons in leadership I learned over the course of our relationship. I didn’t realize then that the first lesson he taught me was at our very first meeting when I was 16 years old. That lesson was how to see something in someone else that they can’t see in themselves. It took me a few years to understand and then to replicate how he did that. He was a master at surrounding himself with talent and I learned to become one by focusing on the following five (5) factors.
1. Focus on Potential, not Performance.
Performance defines ability and expertise. It’s a metric to keep in mind but not the sole metric. Some individuals aren’t cut out to be leaders, even though their performance is at the higher end of the scale. They don’t have the capacity, or the desire and are often content to be followers. I’ve seen many set up to fail because they were promoted for performance or as the result of one of the other motivations I mentioned previously.
2. Note the level of Engagement. Are they a Catalyst or a Watcher?
There are those in every organization who make things happen by making the decisions necessary to take challenges and opportunities to their logical conclusion. There are also those that prefer to watch and wait for things to happen before they take the necessary risks. Look for potential leaders in the ranks of the former, not the latter.
An individual must feel invested in an organization’s objectives and should see their professional achievements through the prism of organizational growth. Ask Does this individual proactively make suggestions for process improvement and show interest in going beyond their personal perspective to seek out new learnings and opportunities for personal growth?
3. Are they Accountable or are they just ‘running for office’?
Individuals who are accountable do not shy away from taking responsibility for their actions because it might reflect poorly on them. They’re not afraid to be accountable for failure because they understand it’s the best way to learn. You’ll also find that they’re very good at holding accountability with others, as well.
4. Look for evidence of Empathy & Emotional Intelligence.
Individuals with these traits are great team players, put others before themselves, take time to interact with everyone, focuses on building personal relationships and is a master listener. This kind of individual can constructively use an understanding of people for the benefit of the organization.
5. Look for remarkable Communication Skills.
As an Adjunct Professor, my focus in the classroom wasn’t with how well graduate students could test. I was more interested in their cognitive skills. In short, I wanted to know how well they thought things through, and could they articulate and write their thought process at a level I knew the marketplace required.
Elite Leaders have extraordinary communication skills. If they want to make a particular point, they’re able to do so effortlessly. They’re able to do the same in written form, as well. This ability to explain ideas in a clear and concise manner with specifics that are simple, relevant and compelling is very rare.
Truth be told, the best way I’ve learned to spot the best, brightest and most passionate is by asking a lot of questions. It’s in the listening and watching for the answers that you’ll see the potential for leadership reveal itself.
What makes an effective and inspirational leader? Ask ten different people and you’ll get that many different answers. Also, there are as many theories and methodologies as there are books that have been written about Leadership, although there always seem to be a few consistent themes.
I’ve worked in the past and continue to do today, with a number of organizational Leaders; assessing, profiling (yes, profiling), developing, guiding and coaching them in the area of Leadership Character & Behavior.
Over the years and even now, I keep coming back to 10 tips that I continue to recommend to anyone aspiring or currently desiring to improve on their journey to being an Elite Leader.
- Explore, understand and be able to articulate Why? Because leadership usually involves some level of sacrifice, I’m always curious about mid-level individuals who aspire to become high level leaders. Anyone who’s been effective in a leadership position over time understands the pressures, expectations and pitfalls involved with being a leader. Listen to my most recent Podcast on The 5 Perils of Leadership and you’ll get my implication. The buck generally stops with them and they hold accountability for their teams, themselves and often, their entire organizations. Who would want that kind of pressure? As with any initiative in life, understanding the Why? is not only critical in the context of Leadership, but in all things. One of the first questions to anyone I work with is What drives and motivates you to wake up every day and be excited about your current environment? These motivations can be incredibly varied and unlimited, but a central theme with most elite leaders is the desire to effect change, help others, or both. An individual’s Why? should be simple, relevant and compelling, An example would be creating a high-level soundbite that implies the theme behind the entire movie.
- Be Passionate! Some people welcome responsibility, while others avoid it. The willingness and capacity to assume and accept responsibility is a key indicator of Elite Leadership. Often, this requires some level of development and anyone aspiring to this level of Leadership, must have the passion and drive to develop. They must be able to answer the following questions: (a) Are you ready to discover and strengthen your leadership competencies? (b)) Are you able to take and apply constructive feedback in an effort to improve? (c)) Are you willing to abandon unproductive and ineffective habits and behaviors and embed new ones? If the answer is Yes then we have the foundation to develop the required Leadership Competencies.
- Assess strengths and be honest about potential blind spots. Any developmental approach needs starting point. (I always begin with an assessment of character and behavior that provides not only a profile of your current leadership style, but an identification of your default style when in crisis.) What are you really good at? What needs work? What characteristics would you like to change? What characteristics would you like to acquire? What behaviors are holding you back? What behaviors are necessary to move you forward? It’s also desirable to seek feedback from peers, direct reports, subordinates; anyone that you think can provide valuable insight. While this can be difficult at times, if you’re being honest with yourself, much of what you hear shouldn’t surprise you.
- Improve Cognitive & Social Skills. Effective leaders are smart. That doesn’t mean you have to have an Einstein IQ, but it does mean that you need to be confident in what you’e doing, assess situations and events judiciously and make sound decisions. Learn more about your business and your people. Learn how to collect and analyze data to inform and support your decisions. Be socially astute by learning to be tactful and measured in communications and seeing things from others’ perspectives. Solicit information from your team, your peers and your superiors. Even highly effective leaders work with a coach or mentor to help them reveal blind spots and reinforce their strengths and talents.
- Improve Emotional Skills. While being smart is a major asset, it isn’t everything. An effective leader also needs to be emotionally intelligent, which is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and handle interpersonal relationships thoughtfully with empathy. The ability to read and sense others’ emotions and monitor your own in response is critical. In short, this how Elite Leaders show up!
- Strengthen Character! Albert Einstein once said Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character. Character and Behavior are inexorably linked. Leaders can be smart and technically competent, but can and will fail spectacularly if the they lack the ability do the right thing. The Leadership Graveyard is full leaders who inspired and motivated masses, but for absence of character and integrity, became infamous villains. Character is critically important for keeping a leader on the right path.
- Set Realistic Goals. If you’ll read a Blog Post I wrote entitled Leaders, Are Your Goals Overrated?, you’ll understand this recommendation. Whatever qualities you’re trying to develop or strengthen, it’s important to set meaningful developmental goals. They need to be specific, tangible, measurable and achievable.
- Get Feedback. It’s vital to receive feedback throughout the development process. Having an experienced mentor or coach who provides honest and constructive feedback is invaluable. In lieu of that, collaborating with a partner-peer, who’s also working on leadership development will allow you to give each other feedback. Another strategy is to ask your direct reports or employees how they perceive you and if they have noticed improvement. Don’t be discouraged by slow progress or the occasional misstep, as those can be used as learning learning opportunities to further develop your competencies.
- Reward Progress. Leadership development is hard work. You’ll be pushing boundaries, stepping out of comfort zones and exploring new territory. When you find yourself breaking through a barrier, it’s important to recognize it, not only to yourself but to others.
- Strive for Continuous Improvement. I’ve noted in many of my postings, video broadcasts and podcasts, my penchant for continually seeking out data, information and feedback that will improve my ability to help others. My primary objective is simple. I want to stay as simple, relevant and compelling to others as long as I possibly can. Benjamin Franklin once said Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning. Developing leadership competencies is an evolution, not a revolution. It’s a continuous path to becoming the best version of you.
Truth be told, if more Leaders would invest in their development with the degree of importance they place on achieving productivity and profitability objectives, they’d achieve those objectives many times over any expectations they may have had.
One of the fundamental principles of Organizational Structure & Function is that function follows form. In other words, the way the org chart is configured is the way information and process will flow. This principle pretty much applies to anything that’s put together.
When beginning an interaction with organizational clients, I’ll always first ask for a copy of the org chart. I want to see not only how people and processes interact with each other in the hierarchical environment, but also where the gaps are. The other thing I want to get a feel for is the cultural context of the organization, specifically as it relates to capacity and resources.
I’ve been asked many times how looking at an org chart will give me that kind of feedback. I’ve noted in previous posts, podcasts and video broadcasts, about the two lens through which I view the world. One is the lens of Leadership and the other is Organizational Structure & Function.
One of the easiest flags to spot in an organization that isn’t performing to the expectations of stakeholders (both internal and external, especially in terms of objectives and outcomes) is an org chart with too many layers and too many horizontal or vertical influences. When I see that level of dysfunction, I can consistently attach various indicators that prevent such an organization from accomplishing their objectives. More importantly, I can identify a culture that even sees some objectives as impossible because the org chart has never been configured with consideration given to capacity and resources.
So, what do I mean by Capacity and Resources?
The definition of capacity is very straightforward. It means the maximum amount something or someone can hold or produce. I’m even more focused on people when I look at the model than I am on process because if the right people aren’t in the right place with the right amount of authority and empowerment to do their jobs, the process part won’t really matter.
The definition of resources is also very straightforward. It means having a stock or supply of money, materials, staff, and other assets that can be drawn on by a person or organization in order to function effectively.
When this happens and unless it’s addressed, a culture of mediocrity develops over time that prevents three things from existing in the culture that are non-negotiable in order to accomplish really big, innovative and what seem to be impossible objectives. Pay attention to the definition of these three things, because the real meaning of important but oft quoted words too often gets lost in the translation. I’m going to add to that translation now.
The first is belief, which means acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists; trust, faith or confidence in someone or some thing. Think of how much less effort is required with that kind of acceptance in place.
The second is desire, which means a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen. Think of how much less effort is required with that kind of emotion in place.
The third is purpose, which means the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists. Think of how much less effort is required to cast a vision with that kind of conviction in place.
Truth be told, without these three cultural components, the Org Chart will be the least of your worries. You’d better start thinking about your life cycle.
At the beginning of this year, Buzzfeed published an article declaring Millennial’s the Burnout Generation. I thought this was very typical of a publication that (for want of a better description) chooses to paint Millennial’s as victims of every generation that came before them. Since Buzzfeed is led by Millennial’s, I guess that makes sense.
They describe themselves as seemingly running out of energy or motivation to do even basic tasks like washing their clothes, cleaning their safe spaces or even running the most mundane errands. They’re always feeling overwhelmed, stressed and have a perpetual sense of constant disappointment in the world at large. Like most of Buzzfeed’s articles, it lacked any research or data, was almost entirely anecdotal and blamed capitalism, Facebook, and everyone’s parents. I for one, get tired of my generation being so critical of the Millennial’s because there’s a lot we can learn from them and I really enjoy interacting with them, especially since I have two of my own. However, in this case, they do a pretty good job of indicting themselves without too much help.
I’ve always taken issue with this idea of Burnout and have always felt it was just made up. After all, we live in a culture that has evolved from one of practical, logical, fact-based evidence to one of cliche’s and narratives that take on lives of their own. Depending upon what group you belong to (especially if you’ve chosen to adopt the values of that group), and it becomes the only lens through which you choose to see the rest of the world, those cliche’s morph into ideological afflictions that supposedly infect us all.
Examples that come to mind are overworked, underpaid, marginalized, disenfranchised, and I could keep going for a while. The problem with all of these cliche’s and attending narratives is that they’re all subject to choice. Taken collectively, it’s easier to be a victim of any one of these afflictions and buy into the group think that created them than it is take ownership of the fact that whoever belongs to the group is choosing to do so.
Take the overworked narrative. There’s simply no evidence in the data. Previous generations dealt with just as much work (if not more), not to mention the anxiety of sky-high crime rates, worse health, and the nuclear threat. On average, people work fewer hours today than at any time in modern history. We have more leisure time and choices, are more traveled and are more educated than any other generation.
Take the Millennials narrative. They may have more debt, but they’re also more financially responsible, saving earlier and more for retirement than any other generation. What about all those chores and mundane errands? There’s literally an app for every single one!
Take the Burnout narrative, which by the way isn’t exclusive to Millennials. I think they’re a couple of factors that contribute to this cliché and it’s narrative.
The first is something known as Direct Attention Fatigue (DAF), which is exposure to too much stimulation, causing mental and emotional fatigue to the point that we shut down, feeling lethargic and irritable. I’m an Author, Blogger, Video Broadcaster, Podcaster, Speaker, Facilitator and I do my own website development and Social Media. I’m a living testimonial to the effects of DAF. (By the way, Buzzfeed puts forth that DAF is a product of late-stage capitalism and its evil corporate overlords. I can scarce take it in! 😊)
The second factor can best be described as follows: Perceived Reality – Expectations = True Reality. By any standard, we live in the best economic era in history. I can present all the data in the world to support it, but it’s never going to be enough for anyone with over-sized and unrealistic expectations.
Being stressed and anxious isn’t a new phenomenon. We’ve been dealing with it since the beginning of time. For whatever reason, there are more people than ever before that seemingly never expected to have it and it’s become so terrible that they had to have a name for it. Ergo, Burnout! I just don’t buy it and never have.
Finally, there’s one question I keep asking myself more and more often. Is the News really worth it anymore? I’ve always loved the news and have pretty much been very diligent about staying up to speed on what’s happening and also doing so from as many viable sources as possible. However, it’s become increasingly evident to me that as more and more of it keeps being put out there, it becomes increasingly difficult to digest it all, much less arrive at any concrete conclusion.
I have some friends and family that have a compulsion for news that borders on obsessive. With some of these friends, a conversation about anything substantive is impossible without the bombshell of the day taking over the discussion. With some family, I can’t stay in the room for more than an hour because of the endless barrage of one narrative that keeps coming out of the TV and into the discussion. If I even dare to engage with a different opinion, narrative or (God forbid) factual data, I become the anti-Christ. It just wears me out. What’s even more distressing is that I’ve seen these compulsions break up friendships and create breaches that may never close. Yet, if they were asked what benefit they derived from this obsessive consumption, I’m not certain anyone could tell you. Truth be told, I just think that most of the news keeps removing us further from reality.
So, what does all of this have to do with Leadership?
The biggest obstacle to any organization is when it’s best, brightest and most passionate (regardless of demographic, race, religion, sex, gender, etc.) become silent. They’re not sick, I can assure you. They’ve become unmotivated.
When that starts happening, the issue is and will always be leadership that stopped listening to reality and started buying into the narrative.
In a busy world filled with constant distractions, it’s rare to find elite leaders, who are actively being intentional about their lives and businesses versus just reacting to the endless demands of incoming emails, text messages, voice messages and social media updates.
These kinds of leaders are bombarded with just as many distractions and requests for their time as everybody else; yet they seem to be able to get it done and still have time left over to focus on whatever’s required, professionally or personally.
So, how is this possible? We can all recognize this kind of individual when working with one, but even then, it may be difficult to explain what makes them not only efficient, but effective, as well.
I’ve been studying these kinds of elite leaders for some time and I’ve noticed one consistent characteristic with all of them (Steve Jobs, Simon Sinek, Warren Buffett, Sam Walton, who was my mentor for most of my career with Walmart, to name a few). They all prefer(red) to wear the same kinds of clothes every day. Most of you reading this post right now are probably asking yourself why that’s so significant.
Sidebar: I’m a confessed, obsessive profiler. At the risk of sounding gender insensitive, I was raised with 5 sisters, a strong-willed Mother and Grandmother, and a Father that travelled a lot. As a result, I spent a lot more time listening and observing than I did talking. (Hey, the data is irrefutable. Women are a lot more socially constructed than men. 😊) I also became certified in body language translation and non-verbal communication some years ago in order to take my communication skills to the next level. It’s been an invaluable advantage in understanding the unspoken context or backstory with anyone or any environment.
So, back to why this common characteristic is so consistent with elite leaders.
Because wearing the same thing or type of thing every day is a physical manifestation indicating a core focus and value placed upon simplicity, which is freedom from complexity. It also represents a core focus and value placed upon a character trait I don’t see articulated or written about much at all, which is proactivity; causing something to happen rather than responding after something’s already happened.
Think about how simply profound this is as it relates to leadership in general. In other words, it’s not nuclear physics.
I’ve shared before that my three (3) favorite words in the English language are also my three (3) core values.
- Simple, because I want everyone involved to understand what’s necessary.
- Relevant, because if I’m going to participate, it must matter.
- Compelling, because I want to influence those following me in the same way.
This is the filter through which I pass all decisions having to do with who and how I spend my time.
What I want to share in this post are five (5) steps that I think elite leaders take on a daily basis that are game changers.
- They know where they’re going.
Stephen Covey once wrote: To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.
One of the hardest things to do for any leader is to keep the team focused on achieving the goal. It truly is a balancing act between adjusting to the daily demands and the obvious pivots that every leader has to navigate in a constantly evolving landscape.
- They prioritize what’s important.
Discerning between what must be done and what could be done is a skill that all proactive leaders have developed. Team members will constantly present new opportunities and ideas. The leader must be able to prioritize what’s important and what needs to be done first instead of just chasing the next new idea.
- They say no often.
A proactive leader must learn to say no to most ideas and opportunities. The mental and physical bandwidth required to execute realistic short-term and mid-term plans that are already mapped out is hard enough.
Steve Jobs once said, People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.
Jobs was constantly being pitched new ideas and concepts from employees, customers, friends and family; yet he realized that he couldn’t build a reputation based upon what he intended to do. As a result, he was known for saying no to most opportunities and ideas so that he could have the bandwidth to actually finish the tasks at hand.
- They limit the number of decisions they have to make every day.
We live in a time and place where the sheer volume of data points and interactions with our professional and personal environments has exceeded our ability to properly, mentally and emotionally deal with all of them.
While reading this post, you’ve probably already received either an email, a text, a social media update or a missed call. In order to stay proactive, the most effective leaders attempt to automate everything they possibly can that makes sense, especially when they’re feeling overwhelmed by the daily decisions they have to make.
This one is probably of most importance to me personally. It’s why I spend a lot of time front loading anyone under my influence that I feel has the potential and talent to do more than they think they can if I’ll just let them. Elite leaders don’t limit the capacity and abilities of subordinates out of fear, insecurity or (the most toxic) pure meanness.
- They’re intentional about who they spend time with.
Proactive leaders surround themselves with proactive and positive people. This doesn’t mean investing your time into the lives of every single person under your influence, which is a recipe for disaster. I can assure you personally from experience, there will never be enough bandwidth for that. There are times when making no new friends is a wise decision. 😊
Truth be told, the choice to be proactive or reactive is just that; a choice. Proactive leaders do not become this way by accident. They make a choice to do so and embed the necessary daily habits to ensure they stay that way.
Your assignment, should you choose to accept it is this.
Are you also willing to take those same steps?
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As the marketplace (and any other sector, for that matter) has evolved to more project-focused and team-based work, very seldom does a Leader get to choose who’s on the team, nor do team members get to choose the Leader. In short, you work with who you have.
It’s very difficult to assess the capacity of any individual until after you’ve interacted with, assigned responsibility and observed them in a working environment. Also, under the current typical appraisal process (which I just despise), you may not be able to weigh in until after 30-60-90 days. There are some Leaders that won’t even confront substandard performance during that time frame unless they have no choice. Additionally, if a Leader is also bound by a culture that requires HR input combined with Legal input before any decision can be made, then substandard performers can linger for a long time and certainly beyond the timeline of any task or project.
If you’ve read any of my posts, listened to any of my podcasts, or watched any of my videos, you’ve noted my intentional and committed focus with Character and Behavior. I’ve been focused on this aspect of assessing those around me for many years, both as a follower and more so as a Leader.
Rather than bore you with scripted processes from either an HR or Legal perspective, I want to share 5 simple, relevant and compelling questions you can ask yourself about those you’re assessing that will quickly tell you what kind of team member you have.
- Are they always a part of the answer, or a part of the problem?
- Do they see an answer for every problem, or a problem for every answer?
- Do they always respond with their best effort, or with ‘that’s not my job?’
- Do they see an answer for every problem, or a problem for every answer?
- Do they see a green near every sand trap, or a sand trap near every green? (Since I play golf, this is my favorite. 😊)
If you’ll ask and answer those 5 questions with each member of your team as you interact with and Lead them, you’ll discover who and what needs to be addressed.
Truth Be Told, you’ll know quickly ‘who’s all in vs who’s not!’
Scientists around the world began working with this reporting, only to discover that they couldn’t duplicate the same results. It turns out that the two scientists hadn’t told the truth about their research. Millions of dollars and countless hours were wasted.
Science is based on honestly and accurately reporting what happened, as is (it turns out) any kind of reporting of results, whether it be research, journalism, investigations, etc., is also based upon the same kind of honesty and expected truth. We need people to report what’s really truth, so we can not only depend upon it without fail, but that we can work with it to not only come up with real solutions, but accurate ones.
In contrast, we don’t expect the truth in a poker game, in the negotiation of a new car, and especially (given the last few years) the campaign speech of a political candidate. We signed up for smoke and mirrors, hyperbole and some gamesmanship. In other words, if we engage in the process, we’ve signed up for the outcomes. The key concept here (as usual) is the outcomes and how they affect everyone.
If the scientific community is engaged with us in providing the factual results of experiments, then it’s on us to engage with that honestly. If our co-workers are engaged with us to hear the truth about the culture of our organization or the results of a new initiative, the entire system depends upon us providing the factual results regarding that culture or new initiative.
Living without accurate reporting of results (when it’s what we expect), goes far beyond the ethical problem with lying. Like the toxic loans that led to the financial crisis of 2008, when lies are mixed in with the expectation for truth, the system grinds to a halt. As a result, we spend all of our time filtering for the truth instead of actually finding actionable solutions that help us get the real work done.
It’s an incredible honor to have a role where we’re expected to tell the truth. Our colleagues are trusting us, letting down their guard and enabling us to create and produce great work. It doesn’t take much to break that trust and to degrade the efficiency of the entire process.
Truth Be Told, how novel would it be to not only have people expect the truth from us all, but to actually get it?