Success in Life…

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Success in life should never be measured by a job or career accomplishment, but by the relationships we build and the influences we have on the lives of others.

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Stop Trying to ‘Manage’ Change!

петух-живность-лидер-1375196Have you ever been asked in an interview, “How would you implement a change initiative?” It’s as if implementing a new program or changing a policy can be executed by following a recipe. I’m willing to bet that if you view each change initiative as an independent event with a series of steps, chances are your implementation efforts have been met with fear and resistance, if not outright mutiny. The problem is a matter of perspective. Organizational resiliency and the degree to which change initiatives are embraced are driven not by the effectiveness of the ‘roll-out strategy’ but by the underlying relationship that the company and its management has with their workforce.

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”
— King Whitney Jr.

Having a roll-out strategy that starts and stops with each change initiative is counterproductive to the organizational climate. It’s like a series of one night stands instead of a longstanding relationship built on an investment of commitment and trust. Adaptability, resiliency, and trust must be fostered over time. This is why the competence of leadership at all levels is so critical. Developing an organizational culture of alignment, where employees’ values, perspectives, and priorities are ‘aligned’ with the overall strategic direction of the company or team, helps mitigate the shock of any individual change initiative.

Employees within a culturally aligned organization may not agree with every directive or initiative, but they are more likely to trust their leaders and subsequently accept or even embrace decisions that are made, even those that are unpopular. Change is viewed more as an evolutionary process than a series of periodic singular events. When new initiatives are brought forward, team members feel more engaged in the evolutionary process and have a greater comfort level toward any potential impact. Rather than becoming overwhelmed by fear and trepidation at something new, they maintain a rational perspective focused on the immediate opportunities and longer term benefits.

Teams with a strong culture of alignment are far less resistant to change because the idea of change itself is less threatening. Let’s face it, most people dislike being forced to change. There is some level of comfort even in the consistency of misery. Teams that operate within a culture of alignment may never enthusiastically embrace the idea of change, but will accept it as a necessary business reality. These team members trust their leaders and their values are fundamentally aligned with the general vision and mission of the organization.

“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed!”
— Peter Senge

Developing a culture of alignment in any organization or team requires a considerable investment in time, but it’s not rocket science. Realize, however, that any attempt to alter the culture must be carefully planned and executed. Managers too often function as information conduits. They orchestrate and delegate, hopefully participate, but when new directives are introduced, they simply call a meeting and make an announcement. Cultural transformation requires a little more time and thought than that!

Don’t Let The Need For Affirmation Undermine Your Company’s Vision

1958550_296566357161058_1493398203_nUsually, the word “vision” in leadership brings to mind lofty, high level ideals – a long term strategic objective. But leaders with vision do more than align staff members with a company’s mission or rally the public around a common cause.

Visionary leaders focus on everyday objectives as well. They are optimistic and enthusiastic and inspire those around them. People naturally follow leaders who arouse their hopes just as surely as they reject anyone who is perpetually pessimistic. Have you ever known an effective leader who was lazy or constantly negative?

That’s not to say that visionary leaders operate in a vacuum. They cannot simply pretend that setbacks don’t occur or that challenges don’t exist. The reality of a given situation may very well present real and significant problems to be addressed. They have to be honest and forthright to stay credible. But rather than allowing the focus of the group to become fixed on the obstacles, they engage the team in developing productive and meaningful solutions.

Visionary leaders are passionate and purposeful about the work that they do and the objectives they seek. Indifference is contagious and erodes the credibility and effectiveness of a manager, so leaders demonstrating strength of vision must have the courage to challenge those around them, subordinates and superiors. In this context, ‘challenge’ means that visionary leaders question the validity of assumptions or reasoning of others, not to be obnoxious, but to better understand and facilitate meaningful two way communication and feedback. It’s a fine line to be sure, but if leaders are afraid to speak up, the flow of communication becomes so filtered that it is rendered meaningless, or worse, actually opposite of what was originally intended.

There’s a great book by George Washington University Professor, Jerry Harvey, called “The Abilene Paradox.” In it, Harvey illustrates the paradox in which a group of people collectively decide to pursue a course of action that none of them actually wants, however no one speaks up against it for fear of being the squeaky dissenting wheel. They each incorrectly assume everyone else wants to go along.

Just as visionary leaders must be willing to challenge those around them, so must they be willing to be challenged. How often do we solicit the opinion of others thinking we want information, when we really just want affirmation? That kind of confirmation feels good, but it doesn’t mean very much. It’s like telling the emperor that his new suit looks fantastic instead of pointing out that he’s walking around naked. And guess what often happens when the information we receive doesn’t quite align with the affirmation we were looking for? That’s right, the emperor is not happy… until he finally realizes that someone had the courage to be honest with him and act in his best interest.

I think it’s natural to prefer a response that validates rather than challenges, but there is tremendous value in constructive feedback. Visionary leaders check their ego at the door and rely on those they trust to be honest and provide candid information and insight. Their purpose is to make everyone around them better, but they also reap what they sow. Engaging others in an objective focused process makes them stronger, more effective, and more motivated. And that’s the whole idea.

“I don’t want any “yes-men” around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs.” ~Samuel Goldwyn

If Every Fool Wore a Crown…

night sky scapeThe very concept of humility rarely crosses the mind of most people in positions of authority. It is simply not how we are typically conditioned to think. Our culture champions the loud, the bold, the brazen and ruthless. We live in a self-centric society. It’s the ‘me’ generation – self-absorbed, self-centered, entitled and narcissistic, demanding instant gratification and lacking concern for others. It’s every man for himself, every woman for herself.

It’s no surprise that humility is often interpreted as a sign of weakness, and those with a humble unassuming demeanor are perceived as lacking self-esteem or confidence. Quite the contrary, humility is the epitome of self-confidence, a comfortable assurance mindful of pretension and vanity. There’s a wonderful quote by William Temple that aptly sums it up…

“Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself at all.” – William Temple

Contrary to the view of leadership that many managers maintain, superior leaders have a heart for service. But servitude in this context does not mean that leaders are subservient – they don’t wait on people, do their jobs for them, or clean up their messes. Servitude means that leaders work on behalf of the people they lead, serving the best interests of the individuals, team, customers, and organization. They provide guidance and coaching and continuity of vision and direction, delegate effectively, but also roll up their sleeves when appropriate.

Humble leaders constantly strive to better others. They don’t need to seek the spotlight of recognition for themselves, especially to the exclusion of others. Their success is defined not by being indispensable to the organization, but by leading others to self-sufficiency. The most effective leader is one who makes his or her own presence largely unnecessary on a minute by minute, day by day basis. They lead, empower, and cultivate an environment where personal ownership and alignment with organizational mission is the motivator, rather than mere managerial oversight.

Finally, leaders who understand the importance of humility also don’t abuse their authority. In fact, they understand the difference between having authority and being authoritative. Authority is like a sword. Those who are authoritative swing it indiscriminately, either to reinforce their position of power or through simple inexperience. New managers in particular have a dangerous tendency to let their freshly bestowed title go straight to their heads. They wield their title like a sword, without first establishing credibility and trust. These managers have not yet figured out that there is no correlation between title and authority beyond the implied presumption of power. Like trust and respect, the crown of true authority is influence, and influence is earned, not bestowed.

David Packard, the co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, exemplified humility in his leadership and management of his company. A man who avoided publicity, Packard is quoted as saying: “You shouldn’t gloat about anything you’ve done; you ought to keep going and find something better to do.”

Principles vs. Preferences: Are You a Disciplined Leader?

business-foundationSelf-discipline, resilience, and integrity all go hand in hand.  But in a much broader sense, the discipline that strong leaders demonstrate reflects much more than mere self-control.

Disciplined leaders must be able to consistently make decisions that are clear-headed, informed, and conclusive.  Their response to difficult and stressful situations is thoughtful and purposeful, never random or subjective, particularly in emotionally charged situations.  Objectives are communicated clearly and unambiguously. This is not always an easy thing to do, which is why self-discipline has such a profound impact on those around us.  To borrow (and modify) a quote from the world of sports… “Adversity doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”  A firm, definite, and decisive leader demonstrates grace under pressure, very clearly reinforcing the perception that he or she is in complete control (of both the situation and his/her own emotions).

While disciplined leaders are by necessity decisive, they must at the same time exercise sound judgment. Emotions run high in times of crisis.  Most people intuitively look for someone to “do something” in emergencies. It requires great discipline to think before responding.  Any situation that requires action, whether a crisis, conflict, or everyday business decision, necessitates a thoughtful and measured response from a leader.  Knowledge and experience are necessary, even crucial.  But like a sword, they are only as effective as the person wielding them.

Leaders can, and should be, flexible when appropriate.  However, it is one thing to compromise on matters of preference, it is quite another to compromise on matters of principle. Principles are rooted in personal doctrine or institutional values, and are a specific basis for conduct or management. Preferences are simply a matter of who controls non-essentials, and are driven by experience and familiarity.

It is one thing to compromise on matters of preference, it is quite another to compromise on matters of principle.

Strong, disciplined leaders understand this difference.  Unfortunately, in a world where the boundaries of morality and ethics are deemed malleable and subject to individual interpretation, the concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ becomes driven by convenience and preference, lacking any principled bearing. As a consequence, the line between principle and preference is grayed. Principles are compromised for sake of appeasement or through capitulation to the path of least resistance.

It takes courage to draw a line in the sand, to stand up for what you believe.  Some consider this to be close-minded or prejudicial, even intolerant.  One thing is for sure.  Those in positions of influence weaken themselves as leaders whenever they compromise their principles.  Whether in the business world or politics, it is rare to find everyone in agreement.  This is not to say that leaders shouldn’t be appropriately questioned. Convictions that can’t be reasonably defended should be rightfully challenged.

In a world where the boundaries of morality and ethics are deemed malleable and subject to individual interpretation, the concept of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ becomes driven by convenience and preference, lacking any principled bearing.

Values vary and people come to different conclusions and form different beliefs.  It requires strength of conviction and great discipline to stay the course when faced with temptation to concede or compromise principles. However, people are far more willing to follow a principled and disciplined leader, even one with whom they disagree.  By contrast, no one will follow a leader they don’t trust or in whom they have no faith, leaders who fail to be true to themselves and the principles on which they claim to stand.

The Quiet Resolve of Uncommon Courage

On January 26, 1945, just weeks after receiving a battlefield promotion from staff sergeant to second lieutenant, Audie Murphy found himself a company commander in Holtzwihr, France. With temperatures in the teens and 24 inches of snow on the ground, Murphy’s unit was down to 19 of its original 128 men. Facing a German tank attack, Murphy ordered his men to retreat and then stood alone and wounded atop a burning half-track, manning a machine gun and directing artillery fire into the enemy position 100 feet in front of him. Asked by the artillery officer how close the Germans were to him, Murphy snapped back, “Hold the phone and I’ll let you talk to one.” The artillery fire and subsequent counter attack led by Murphy successfully repelled the Germans, and Audie was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courage under fire.

Murphy’s example of valor is uncommon, but it’s important to understand that his actions were not motivated out of a desire for personal advancement or notoriety. He was just 19 years old that January of 1945, having lied about his age and enlisted in the Amy at age 16. He didn’t set out to become a leader or a hero; he simply wanted to serve his country and protect the men in his unit. Prior to his promotion to lieutenant, Audie had already earned a Distinguished Service Cross and two Silver Stars as an enlisted man. In his later years he summed up his perspective on leadership succinctly, “Lead from the front.”

Military heroics such as Murphy’s provide obvious examples of courage. However, there is much more to courage than performing brave deeds. Courage manifests itself in many forms and in small, everyday ways. Sometimes courage is demonstrated on the field of battle where all the world may eventually bear witness. But other times it’s demonstrated in the boardroom or conference room, before colleagues and superiors. Sometimes courage is tested in the face of overwhelming peer pressure or public opinion, and sometimes it is quietly demonstrated in defense of others who are not even aware.

It’s not enough that we do our best; sometimes we have to do what’s required. – Winston Churchill

No one would argue that courage is often the catalyst for action. But at times, it also takes courage to be patient, to stand down rather than act immediately, especially when confronted with adversity. Knowing when to intervene and when to let events run their course comes with experience and confidence. Courageous leaders calmly assess the situation and explore alternatives, even as others respond emotionally, demanding swift action. This measured response to adversity requires discipline and the courage.

Courageous leaders take the initiative and act in the best interest of others, regardless of their own position or level of authority. They don’t wait to be told, or (necessarily) wait to ask permission. I once worked for someone who taught me that when confronted with a crisis, it’s better to act and be wrong than just sit back and do nothing. I believe that to be generally true, but it’s also important to note that sometimes acting in the best interest of others means allowing them to fail so that they might learn from the experience. Courageous leaders make decisions that serve the greatest long term good, even at the expense of short term personal gain.

Courage keeps trudging along regardless of obstacles, sometimes in the face of fear, but always out of conviction for what is right, for what needs to be done. A popular quote states that character is revealed in the actions taken when no one is looking. I would add that courage provides the resolve.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” – Mary Anne Radmacher

Character, Integrity, and the Authority of Conviction

father-and-childJohn Adams wrote. “Because power corrupts, society’s demands for moral authority and character increase as the importance of the position increases.”

Strength of character is one of the most important attributes of a leader, but how is character evidenced in day to day business? Certainly, effective leaders must have credibility, the trust and confidence of others, and key to credibility is a strong sense of integrity. Integrity is built on honesty and the consistent, steadfast adherence to established principles and standards. Strong leadership is dependent upon character, and character is certainly measured, if not defined, by integrity.

Perhaps the greatest risk to the integrity of a leader is temptation. In the eyes of employees, team members, students, constituents, and even family members, leaders are held to a higher ethical standard. Leaders are expected to conduct themselves in a manner that is measured and fair and beyond reproach. Of course in reality, leaders are fallible humans, subject to the same temptations, distractions, and vices as everyone else. But the perception and expectation that leaders will put principles before self-interest persists nonetheless. For this reason, a strong sense of personal self-discipline is critical. Self-discipline ensures we act and make decisions based on principle rather than preference.

This is one area where both our political and business leaders tend to fail us. We are bombarded on a daily basis with headlines that expose fraud, corruption, scandal, and abuse of power on some level. The politics of power and influence drive many of the decisions that are made, policies that are introduced, even promotions that take place. It’s quite a chess game, the posturing and positioning, and with the underlying design to sustain or grow someone’s position of power and influence.

Certainly not all leaders are self-serving. But the fact is that any lack of integrity we see in our leaders is extremely destructive to their credibility. We quickly lose faith in both their ability to effectively lead and perhaps the principles for which they stand.

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” — Abraham Lincoln

Whether a boss, an elected official, or an entire company or industry, the character of our leaders is always under a public microscope. Transgressions may be headlined on the nightly news for all the world to see or quietly whispered between co-workers around the water fountain. At either extreme, the unfortunate consequence is an erosion of trust. Trust is a product of character and integrity, the mortar in the foundation on which effective leadership is built. Without trust, how long will anyone continue to embrace their vision and follow their lead?

If character is built upon a foundation of integrity, discipline, and trust, it’s framed with resilience and covered in unwavering conviction and confidence. Leaders must be strong and undaunted. However, voice of confidence should not be confused with voice of arrogance. Confidence is driven by a firm conviction in a vision, mission, or goal (an external focus). By contrast, ego, pride, and an inflated sense of self-importance all breed arrogance (an internal focus).

How many times have we answered a daughter or son’s “Why?” with, “Because I said so!” As a parent I can personally relate to that, but it is a great example of a authoritative response based on position instead of conviction. If a decision is based on objective criteria, would not a better response be a confident explanation designed to educate and foster trust?

“Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.”
― Thomas Carlyle

Strong leaders do not communicate from a perspective of position or title. They don’t have to. Quite the contrary, their voice of authority comes from the strength of conviction of right and wrong, not strength of ego. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that is extraordinarily important.

Finally, strength of character cannot be complete without sensitivity to the needs of others. Empathy is essential to compassion, sensitivity, and understanding. Leaders must be willing to give people room to fail as well as succeed. Everyone needs encouragement and reinforcement when they struggle. That’s why we coach and mentor. Those strong of character do not delight in the failure of others, they are burdened by it. The real distinction, however, is that they feel compelled to help.