5 Most Common Problems with Crisis Leadership!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

Where Are All Our Mature Leaders?

In the past few years, we’ve seen a schoolyard attitude reflected in the halls of government and corporate boardrooms across the country. Arrogance, pouting, tantrums, personal attacks, and betrayal of trust seem to be the order of the day. The timing couldn’t be worse. The nation’s current problems, as vast and overwhelming as they are, appear secondary to the whims of spoiled children, unwilling to play well together. At a time when we need solid, grounded leadership, we seem to be in short supply of leaders, who act like adults.
This bad behavior is not necessarily a new thing. Decorum, self-control, compromise and honor have been found lacking in both the political realm and the C-suite for some time. To be fair, many leaders are honest, hard-working, dedicated individuals. But just as the squeaky wheel gets the grease, the leadership that seems to get the most attention in both the private and public sector today is the most poisonous.
Leaders with maturity have an experience-driven perspective that provides an awareness of their emotional patterns and triggers. It’s the ability to suppress impulse and master emotional reactions. Many of our leaders today have other excellent leadership skills, but a remarkable few can control their impulses and put the needs of others first.
The key is control. Every day, we’re confronted with decisions that have short-and long-term implications. Mature adults can fend off short-term impulses by keeping the long-term in view; this helps them stay in control.
The best leaders I’ve worked with are masters of their emotions. Sam Walton was the best I’ve ever seen. He could rein in his emotions when the situation demanded it or use them when needed for maximum impact. At times, you need to be still and impenetrable; in other moments, you need to be able to pound your fist on the table. 
It’s not about whether you’re typically a calm or intense person. It’s about your ability to master your emotional tendencies and reactions. It’s about developing the ability to fit the emotion to the demands of the situation. It’s about staying in control.  
Maturity is expressed through judgment. Leaders who put their own gratification above the needs of others lack the ability to see the long-term consequences of their actions. This does not bode well for them, the economy, or our country.  It’s time we start considering and requiring emotional maturity and control among all our leaders, especially those in government.  
Maturity takes time to accrue and it doesn’t always come with experience, as we’re seeing on full display daily, especially during the current crisis with COVID 19.
Truth be told, we need more mature leaders and we need them now.  

How Do the Best Leaders Define Success?

Each of us has a definition of success. We may not be able to articulate it or write it down, but we’re always trying to succeed at something. That something, whatever it is, drives our thoughts, feelings and actions.   

We’re constantly focused on what we want to accomplish, whether we realize it or not. Our concept of success has been developed and conditioned over the years by the media, family upbringing, peers and various life experiences. The net effect can be either positive or negative. So, take a moment to reflect on these questions:

  1. What are we trying to accomplish?
  2. How will we know if we’ve succeeded once we get wherever there is?
  3. Can we ever get there, or is it all just a process? 

The net result of our definition of success will have a direct correlation to our overall Personal Leadership Effectiveness. The reality is that most of us are motivated to achieve success. However, we need to be sure we define what that success is or someone else will do it for us. 

How are you defining success? 

Is it power? There are countless successful people with enormous power, and yet they suffer from failed relationships and ruined reputations. The common philosophy is that if you’re going to succeed professionally, then you have to forfeit success in other areas of life, which (in my view) is nonsense. 

Is it prosperity? Possessing things and having money aren’t wrong. However, when we become preoccupied with those things, we begin to miss our true purpose or reason for being here.

Is it position? Some believe that position defines success. There have been many notable people who achieved influential positions in business, government, faith-based institutions, politics and entertainment; whose lifestyles were later exposed for doing things that were not considered appropriate.

Is it prestige? Being known and recognized is a heady feeling. Many people with prestige can tell you that it can be very fleeting. How many actors, sports celebrities and politicians have we seen over the years gain instant prestige and just as quickly fall into obscurity? Prestige certainly is no guarantee of success. In fact, those who are known and recognized often receive an equal or even greater amount of attention when they fall.

Is it pleasure? The rule of life is to make business a pleasure, and pleasure our only business, said Aaron Burr. There are many people that make an idol out of pleasure. Building a life around self focused pleasure isn’t satisfying in the long run.

To be fair, these definitions of success don’t always result in personal devastation. In fact, they’re neither good nor bad in themselves. But their use or abuse absolutely determines the outcome of a person’s life. This post isn’t meant to discourage anyone from enjoying the rewards of their hard work. It’s meant as encouragement to leverage those rewards for the good of others and the individual.
The key questions here are:

  1. What is your concept of success?
  2. Have you deliberately developed one, or has yours evolved through the influence of others and the culture around you? 
  3. Is your concept the right concept of success? 

The importance of building success in all areas of life is key to elite leadership. It must be balanced, integrated success. It should be in harmony with who we are. If we succeed in work and yet fail in personal relationships, we haven’t succeeded.  If we accomplish great things, but live miserably in the process, then we haven’t succeeded. Only a life rooted in real and and lasting values is successful.

There’s an emotional, mental, physical, spiritual, and relational sides to our individual being.  Beyond that, we have responsibilities in various areas: work, family, community, etc.  Each of these areas has sub-responsibilities and they’re all interrelated. We can’t afford to succeed in finances, yet fail in relationships and call that success. We can’t achieve levels of excellence in our organizations, yet burn out physically and emotionally. We must be winning in all areas or our lives to be successful.

You’re probably thinking of the old cliche you can’t have it all

Truth be told, we were meant to and can have it all.  We just have to do it holistically! 


This re-commitment I’ve made recently has really re-energized me to not only consider things I haven’t before but motivated me to make those things happen. I’ve become even more aware of this influence on my mindset as I focus more on Personal Leadership Effectiveness™, a concept of governing and leading oneself I’ve been working with for the last five (5) years.  

I’ve learned that taking actionisn’t just the effect of motivation, but also the cause of it. Most people only commit to doing something if theyfeel a certain level of motivation, or if it becomes expedient. For example, weonly become motivated to study for an exam because we’re afraid of the consequence, which is failure.
We’ve all lacked motivation at one time or another, especially when we shouldn’t. We feel lethargic and apathetic towards a particular goal because we lack the motivation. We lack the motivation because we don’t feel any driving emotional desire to accomplish something. Often the changes and actions we most need in our lives are inspired by negative emotions, which prevent usfrom taking action. I’ve been there and I’m sure everyone reading this post has been or is there now.
If someone wants to lose weight but experiences shame about their body, then the act of going to the gymisapt to inspire the same emotions that kept them at home on the couch in the first place. Past traumas,negativeexpectations, and feelings of guilt, shame and fear often motivateusaway from the action necessary toovercome those very feelings.  
But the thing we all need to know about this Catch 22 cycle is that if we’re not careful, it can become an endlessloop. Being aware of this possibility helps us to change the way we think by recognizing the toxic habits that got us there in the first place and replacing them with new habits embedded in our mindset. In short, if you lack the motivation necessary to make an important change in your life, then do something (anything really) and harness that action into motivating yourself.
The best personal example I can give you is operating my own website and social media platform. I donthave a boss telling me what to do and I often must take calculated risks that I’mpersonally invested with,both financially and emotionally. I’ve spent hours upon end writing eBooks, re-branding my entire website, re-directing my branding focus to learn how to create attention marketing via email campaigns and moving away from non-productive habits to create new ones in the process. In short, I’m putting myself out there like I’ve never done before because it’s never been my nature to bring attention to myself. Combine all that with not having anyone around topush me, dealing with distractions that can quickly become more appealingoptions, and it becomes a daily challenge to stay on course.
I’ve learned over time that forcing myself to do something, eventhe most menial of tasks, quickly makes the larger tasks seem much easier. Take the website for example. I had to force myself to sit down and just design the header for starters. After the header was finished, I foundmyself movingon to otherparts of the site and before I knew it, I was motivated, energized and engaged in the process. Inevitably, the appropriate motivation occurs at some point or another. The motivation is natural, the inspiration is real and it’s just overall a better way of getting things done.

The mere action of doing something inspires new thoughts and ideaswhich lead us to solving the problems we encounter. This never happens if we simply sit aroundjust contemplating doing something.
I’ve never believed in someone being lazy or burned out. They’re either sick or uninspired.
Truth be told, you can surround yourself with all of the motivational resources and experts available, but when it comes right down to it, if it’s to be, it’s up to thee!

Values vs Principles: What’s the Difference?

With my work in Leadership Development, I use an assessment called the Merit Profile™, which measures an individual’s Personal Leadership Effectiveness™ (PLE™)  in the areas of Character, Behavior, Attitudes, Beliefs and Commitments.
I use a values-based approach because I think that before an individual can have clarity with their purpose and vision, they must first know what they value. I’m not talking about integrity, trust, honesty, etc. In my view, those are givens, meaning that’s what we expect from everyone we interact with. What I want to know is what two or three things does a person value or (more specifically) care about right now more than anything?
In my work with leaders or aspiring leaders, I often find that most are confused about the difference between values and principles. That’s not uncommon because most of us spend more time at work than we do away from work. As a result, we spend more time being influenced by protocols and policies (rules & regs) than we do by values, unless one’s lucky enough to work where organizational and personal values are aligned.
It’s almost impossible for human beings to live in isolation. We’re all part of a society and we follow unwritten rules, customs, and traditions deemed right for everyone. These rules can be about morality as to what’s right and what’s wrong, or they can be religious in nature. These two concepts of values and principles become guiding forces in the lives of most of us. Though closely related, values and principles have differences that are very important.
Values are sets of beliefs about good and bad, right and wrong, and about many other aspects of living and interacting in a society with others.
Though there are universal values like love and compassion, all values vary from culture to culture. There are also personal values that vary from person to person. Values are beliefs and opinions that people hold regarding issues and concepts such as race, liberty, freedom, love, sex, education, relationships, friendships, religion, gender; in short, every value conflict we’re seeing play out in front of us every day.
Most of the time, values tend to have a religious sanction and people hold them without knowing much about them. They consider some things as sacred and others profane just because it’s written in the sacred historical document or archive of their choice. However, in today’s environment, values relative to all those noted herein are also held without knowing much about them. In fact, I’ve often noted that most people make assumptions about what they think they know rather than what they actually know. Why? Because it’s easier to believe someone else’s narrative than it is to do the research or homework required to know what’s needed to make a value judgement, especially when attempting to identify one’s own personal core values.
Values serve as a guiding force in life and provide a sense of direction to an individual in a society. There are times when there’s a lot of confusion in the minds of people regarding an issue or a feeling. At times like these, clear cut values help an individual come out of a dilemma and move ahead in life.
For example, abortion may be prohibited and disapproved by a religion, but a modern government may allow women to decide their family size. If a woman holds positive views about abortion, there’ll be no dilemma and no battle between her own value about abortion and what her religion says about the issue. In the case of a contradiction between values (or value conflicts as we call them), there can be a lot of mental conflict that can torment an individual for the rest of their life. In short, there’s no such thing as an easy values conflict.
Principles can be described as rules or laws that are universal in nature.
These principles are about human behavior and they set or govern the interaction between people in a society. Principles are unwritten or written laws that are expected to be followed. Those seen violating these principles are looked down upon in a society. People also create their own guiding principles in life. Whenever they’re in doubt, they can default to these principles in order to remove any doubts they may have.
As noted, principles are about universal truths or standards. One must have clear cut principles about concepts such as fairness, justice, equality, truthfulness, honesty, etc., in order to take a stand on any social issue or event. Having a principle allows one to make a stand in a way that reflects what is felt about important issues and concepts.
We need them both!
Both values and principles serve important roles in the life of an individual while dealing with others and dealing with social issues and concepts.
Values are sets of beliefs about subjective traits and ideals, while principles are universal laws and truths.
Principles serve as an anchor when confronted with conflicting issues, while values allow us to move ahead with confidence expressing our beliefs.

Truth be told, when people get lost, it’s because they don’t know what they value, nor do they have any guiding principles in place. 

Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?

HABITS are a funny thing. We reach for them mindlessly, setting our brains on autopilot and relaxing into thunconscious comfort of familiar routine. Not choice, buthabit rules theunreflecting herd,William Wordsworth said in the 19th century. In the everchanging 21st century, even the word habit carries a negative connotation.

Thats why it seems a bit illogical to talk about habits in the same context as creativity and innovation. But brain researchers have discovered that when we consciously develop new habits, we create parallel synaptic paths, and even entirely new brain cells, that can jump our trains of thought onto new, innovative tracks.
Rather than dismissing ourselves as unchangeable creatures of habit, we can instead direct our own change by consciously developing new habits. In fact, the more new things we try and the more we step outside our comfort zone, we canbecome inherently creative, both in the workplace and in our personal lives.
But don’t bother trying to get rid of old habits; once ingrained into thepsyche, theyre there to stay. Instead, creating new habits and ingraining those into our psyche can help us create pathways that can bypass the old ones.
All of us work through problems in different ways. We may not even be aware of some of those ways. Researchers in the late 1960’s discovered that humans are born with the capacity to approach challenges in four primary ways: analytically, procedurally, relationally (or collaboratively) and innovatively. My primary way is to approach problemsolving collaboratively, yet, over the last few years, its become clear to me that I also use the other three approaches interchangeably as the environment calls for.
If you’re asking how I discovered allthis, it was during the early part of retiring from my first career that I became interested in the Charter School concept and co-founded the State’s first such school here in NWA. It was then known as the Benton County School of the Arts. Now all these years later, as it’s grown from a k8 to include a high school, its known as the Arkansas Arts Academy. Ivealways been fascinated by alternative forms of education and really dug into learning as much as I could, especially about how we think cognitively.
One thing that’s always driven me crazy about public education is the continuing emphasis on standardized testing, which highlights analysis andprocedure. As youll note, only two of the scientifically identified approaches to problem-solving are being used by our kids. It was the case for me, for my kids and still the case today. This flies in the face of a major fundamental of the American belief system, which isanyone can doanything. It encourages mediocrity, not excellence, which is knowing what youre good at and then doing it.
This is where developing new habits comes in. If you’re an analytical or procedural thinker, you learn in different ways than someone who isinherently innovative or collaborative. Figure out what has worked for you when youve learned in the past, and you can draw your own map for developing additional skills and behaviors for the future.
Simultaneously, look at how your friends, peers, or direct reports approach challenges. We tend to believe that those who think the way we do are smarter than those who don’t. That’s a common misperception and a fatal one, particularly for leaders who surround themselves with people who think like they do. If seniority and promotion are based on similarity to those at the top, chancesare there will be a significant lack of intellectual diversity.
This is another reason I really like the Merit Profile™, the best assessment tool I’ve ever used and trust me, I’ve taken or tried them all. This is the first and only one I’ve used that not only identifies an individual’s leadership style by measuring character and behavior, it identifies the habits onedefaults to in times ofeither comfort, stress or crisis. Only by identifying what thoseold habits are, can webegin to create new ones.
For example, try lacing yourhands together. Youll notice that you do so in only one way every time. Now try doing it with the other thumb on top. Feels awkward and even confusing, doesnt it? At that moment is when the brain begins organizing the new input, ultimatelycreating a new synaptic path if the process is repeated enough. 

Youve heard the old saying that a new habit takes about 21 days to incorporate. The reason it’s an old saying is that in today’s challenging environment, it takes about 66 days.
Truth be told, only by identifying old habits, can we begin to create new ones. 

It’s Always About Values!

In a world of ruthless exploitation and competition, where self-serving behaviors and instability seem to be the norms, values-based leadership holds several extraordinary promises that any sensible leader would want to realize:
1.      Self-managing employees with less need for supervision and control.
2.      A more genuine corporate culture with greater respect between people.
3.      Increased enthusiasm and clarity of mission and vision.
4.      Service oriented mindsets.
5.      Socially responsible and environmentally friendly work practices.
6.      Reputation of reliability, fairness, trust and honesty.
7.      Enhanced integrity, accountability, decision making and performance.
8.      Greater commitment of team members, customers and all stakeholders.
9.      Increased flexibility and intelligence.
10. Better integration of work and life leading to job and personal satisfaction.
The essential characteristic of values-based leadership is that the welfare of people is the goal of the leader and not that people are the means to the leader’s goal.
Ultimately, it’s not the magnitude of our actions that matters but the amount of care and concern we invest in our people. If you want to lead your people, you first have to understand them. If you want to understand them, you have to really care about them. Do you care about your people?
So, is it really that simple? Yes and no!
Yes at the level of your attitude where the answer is an absolute; no at the level of organizing your business, where it takes a significant amount of work to set up a structure that will reflect values and the concern you have toward your business, your people and your world.
In concrete terms, values-based leadership is the intention and attention paid to aligning a community or an organization’s values, mission and vision with its strategy, performance management, rewards, processes and systems.
It’s essentially about cultivating a purposeful consistency in the organization, allowing a culture of genuine sincerity, trust and collaboration to flourish, and endeavoring to do what you always say.
Value based leadership is a system that takes into consideration the whole organization and organizes it around well-defined core values.
Core values are fundamental convictions that employees have about how they want to behave in the context of the organization’s mission. They’re guiding principles which underlie and reflect an organization’s or an individual’s mission. They guide the behavior and the decision-making of the entire workforce daily.
They form the enduring character of a community, team or an organization and its identity. Vision, strategy, processes and systems can change in response to changes in the economy or in market trends, but an organization’s values should remain firm and unchanged.
If more organizations practiced a values-based approach to leadership versus a directed, authoritarian approach, they would experience what the data has supported for a very long time; a level of performance and profitability that would exceed their expectations year over year.
I worked in just such an environment for 27 years with the largest company on the planet. It was pretty much more fun than I’ve ever had in a workplace environment since. The only reason I left was when it stopped being fun because of a slow shift in the culture from one that cared more about the employees to one that cared more about the shareholders.
Truth be told, that kind of shift isn’t fun for anyone.

Leadership in 2020!

Technology, innovation, and global influence (whether you like it or not) are accelerating the need for organizations to get and stay ahead of their competition. For any organization to evolve, attract the best people, and provide the best products and services, their leaders must evolve too. Leaders who don’t keep up will inevitably be overtaken and left behind.

Take for example, the evolution of cell phones. There are too many leaders today that could be characterized as flip phone leaders. One of the few television shows I watch is NCIS and their leader, Jethro Gibbs. He refuses to transition from a flip phone to a Smartphone. Even though it’s a cultural component of the series that defines Jethro’s personality, one can’t help but notice two things:

1.      The frustration by his team and his direct report with not being able to reach him when they need him is compounded and elevated on a continuum.
2.      The extra work required for him to keep up or stay ahead elevates his frustration with his team and his direct report, also on a continuum.
I’ve noted often here on my Blog, my Video Broadcastsand my Podcast, about how fast our environment is changing and about the Character and Behavior traits and competencies needed for leaders to keep up. In keeping with that theme, here are what I feel are the top five (5) of those traits.
1.      Be professionally consistent. Identifying the organization’s purpose and core values and living those out daily is at a premium. When people understand what’s expected in terms of performance and behavior, they align with the culture, reinforce, and reflect that same consistency.
2.      Have an unwavering commitment to the right behavior. When the leader is driven by the organization’s mission and core values, the result is a culture that will consistently force those who don’t align to leave. An important recognition here is this also applies to external stakeholders. There are times when a leader has to say no to partnering with other individuals or organizations because they don’t align culturally. Doing the right thing is at a premium.
3.      Be a 360-degree thinker. It’s at a premium for leaders to keep up with shifts and trends in the external environment. I refer often to the need for leaders to keep their heads on a swivel, scanning the environment on a continuum in order to pivot in real time to events that require an immediate adjustment internally. It’s also why I note the need to remain strategic in thinking, while shifting to being adaptive in culture.  
4.      Be intellectually versatile. Leaders who can draw from a broad range of knowledge and experiences are better equipped to anticipate and lead, especially when change or transformation is required. One of the traits I find most lacking in many leaders is the desire to continue learning. A leader highly committed to valuing their personal and professional network, having a collaborative mindset, and willing to be a feedback portal for knowledge and constructive perspective, will inevitably become more adept intellectually and emotionally.
5.      Be authentic and transparent. Rare is the leader today, who has a healthy rather than toxic ego. Being an elite leader is at a premium. Leaders who model a consistent authenticity in every respect (especially with telling the truth), not only inspire followers to model the same, they promote organic cultures that are change-friendly, able to pivot in real time and will always focus on doing the right thing.
It’s imperative that leaders continue to develop their mindset as well as their Character & Behavior competencies in order to stay ahead of the accelerating pace of change. These mindsets and behaviors are the foundation for elite leadership.

By going through a structured leadership development process, leaders can build the competencies necessary to create continual innovation and growth in their organizations.

Truth be told, this is a must for leaders moving into 2020 in order to keep from becoming that outdated flip phone.

What Will You Value in 2020!

As we roll into 2020, the American lifestyle defies classification as we mix and match all the disparate choices offered to us daily.

On TV, we’re presented with reality shows that have no boundaries in terms of topic and are focused only on shock value. Social Media offers a platform from which anyone can spew anything with no consequence and there are no boundaries in terms of topic or target. People and families are destroyed every day in the name of whatever theology or reality one wants to embrace, especially relative to politics and religion.

These days, people seem to migrate between different ways of living with a focus on only one thing: I want what I want regardless of how it affects or influences anyone. Nothing is sacred anymore and no one is safe from either being ostracized, marginalized or otherwise neutralized, especially if they’re deemed a threat or obstacle to what one wants, despite the cost.

In such an environment, the way we monitor social change (demographics, attitudes, behaviors) is no longer enough to chart social progress because no one can define what progress really looks like. The only real measure that seems to matter is Did I get what I wanted? 

This is why I continue to focus on core values as the best approach to leadership, not only professionally but personally. While attitudes and opinions change quickly, core values are enduring and often last a lifetime. There are some values that change over time based upon environmental influences, but there are a core few that last a lifetime. They represent the guiding principles in our lives, such as achievement, helping others or individualism. Our value system strongly influences our views of how we should live and the decisions we should make. They affect the jobs we do, the people we spend our time with, and how we spend our money.

Our value system is the sum total of all the choices we make.

Two thirds of Americans say that having close relationships is always on their minds. More than half say the same about security and stability. The responses are the same regardless of age, sex, race, income or region. Overall, the respondents are less concerned about me oriented values. Only one third are thinking about having the power and influence to get what they want in life or about developing themselves as individuals. I bring this survey data to attention because it flies in the face of what we know about the fastest growing demographic in the US.

Today, with the majority of the workforce and the consumer base are populated by those we now identify as Millennial’sThey represent a values group called self-navigators based upon their rejection of tradition and conformity and their belief that there is no safety net. However, it’s important to understand that they’re forming their value set around the same four influences all of us before them have, do now and will in the future.

  1. Events: There’s no denying that 9/ll (just to name one) influenced all of our lives and our values. 
  2. The Economy: There’s no denying that the US financial collapse in 2008 (just to name one) influenced all of our lives and our values. 
  3. Technological Advances: There’s no denying that the continued evolution of the Internet (just to name one) and the technology it spawns, influences all of our lives and our values. 
  4. Parenting (or the lack thereof): There’s no denying this for anyone on the planet.  

As a result, Millennial’s are forming their own reliance network with others, who prove themselves worthy allies. These self-navigators have concluded that the traditional formula for happiness doesn’t happen for very many people. You’re seeing this belief take hold also with other demo-graphical generations as evidenced by the desperate search online to find a group to relate to, align with and belong to. Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, anyone? Think about it. As long as you can sit behind a computer or pick up a cell phone, you’re never alone!

The one common characteristic Millennial’s share with the rest of us right now is that none of us trust corporations, government leaders or anyone else simply because they’re in a position of authority.

In today’s environment of corporate downsizing, lack of affordable education, and ineffective governance, where a diploma doesn’t guarantee a job, getting a job is no guarantee of keeping one and retirement may never come, it’s kind of hard to argue with them, isn’t it?

Truth be told, better to try and understand them, thereby becoming a worthy ally! Who knows? We might learn something and in turn, become an influencing partner in the relationship. 

How Do You Recognize A Leader?

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.