Leadership Moments
Weekly Leadership Insights

“Do not worry if you have built your castles in the air. They are where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” – Henry David Thoreau

Every now and then I pick up a book and re-read it to see if there is anything I missed during my first pass. (There always is.) This time I was reading John Maxwell’s “21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” and I was struck by a passage that expressed the higher the individual’s ability to lead, the more able they will be to reach their potential.

After I read that passage, I paused and reflected on what I thought my potential was a decade ago and what I think it is today.

When I read Maxwell’s book 10 years ago, I was beginning many important leadership journeys: new mom, new business owner, etc. I was energized by the idea of reaching my potential because everything was just so … I don’t know … new? I saw so much opportunity. Now that I’m a little more seasoned and more confident in my roles, this passage forced me to ask myself, “Where is the growth opportunity now?”

It forced me to confront a few thoughts that have been rattling around in my head:

  • It’s easy to be busy. It’s hard to make life simple. Maybe true growth is bringing greater focus into your life so you enjoy all that you have.
  • There will always be leadership roles you can fill. But the most important ones are among the people who have hung with you on the journey so far. I need to grow in the relationships that sustain me.
  • Leadership fundamentals don’t change. You change. And when you change, you need to be grounded by fundamental leadership principles so you don’t stray far from them.
  • Be happy … and work to be happier. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve met so many people who can’t find happiness. I think happiness is one of the most important qualities that you can bring to any relationship that you have.

I welcome your thoughts on leadership – or, rather, the things you’ve picked up on your leadership journey. Send me a note: amorgan@leadstar.us. I’d love to hear from you.

“Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.” – Emily Post

Several recent communications have made me sit back and think a minute about the topic of courtesy and consideration:

  • Within the first two weeks of school resuming, I received an email from our school’s principal asking parents to “please refrain from beeping their horns and swearing at other parents and staff members” while in the drop off line.
  • I was forwarded a news story from a friend about two airline passengers getting into a fight over a reclining seat back.
  • At Lead Star, we have received an influx of requests regarding civility training within the workforce to build respect-based cultures.

This raises an important question in my mind: Are we all so focused on our individual needs and wants, that we cannot display simple courtesy to others in our daily interactions?

While we can’t control the actions of others, we can always control our own. Courtesy and consideration begins with us. We can start by practicing service-based leadership:

  • Instead of focusing on how someone’s actions are inconveniencing you, think about how you could assist them. This could be as simple as asking them how they’re doing (or how their family is doing) to learn more about any challenges they might be experiencing.
  • Inviting a colleague to lunch or a cup of coffee could be a great catalyst for a productive discussion about difficulties they may be experiencing with a colleague or on a recent assignment. Ask how you can assist them and express empathy for their challenges.

If we all went about our day with an attitude of service-based leadership, we might be surprised at the results.

After delivering a workshop, I ended class and began packing up supplies. Twenty minutes later, one of the participants returned to the classroom to tell me that she had already found a use for her new leadership skills. After checking in with a colleague, she realized that she now had the tools to improve relationships between team members in her workplace.

It’s always gratifying when participants share their leadership successes. It was especially exciting to hear such great feedback so quickly!

Poor relationships, challenges, missed performance expectations, mistakes, and communication problems are happening around us all of the time. All are red flags for leadership. Unfortunately, our environment doesn’t raise the red flag and wave it obviously in front of us. We have to realize that our leadership is necessary and step up to lead.

Leadership really does apply to everything. Having a retention problem? There’s a leadership solution for that. Teammates not working together? There’s a leadership solution for that. Co-workers not being accountable? There’s a leadership solution for that. New employees not feeling like they are part of the team? There’s a leadership solution for that. In workshops, we discuss leadership and sports, flying, the military, raising children, the office, and much more to illustrate opportunities to lead.

The consultants at Lead Star joined the military to serve our country. When we joined, we weren’t completely aware of the valuable leadership education that we would get along the way. Then, we just applied that leadership to everything that we did. And, you can, too.

Lead Star would love to share the message of leadership with you and your team. We can all become better leaders, and we can use that leadership to improve our workplaces and ourselves. Contact Lead Star today to host a teambuilding event, leadership workshop, or if you’re looking for a keynote speaker. We’d love to help!

And remember, there’s a leadership solution for that.

I was pretty unpopular this summer. I set strict video game rules with my kids and those rules traveled with us wherever we went. Countless times my 9 year old would get mad at me for not letting him play whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, but I stuck to my guns.

“But mom,” he would explain, “My friends get to do this.” I would share, “That’s great that their parents let them do that.” Or, “But mom, you’re not even being fair.” I would offer, “That’s my job.”

Over time I got tired of being flippant with my responses, so I finally sat him down and delivered the reasoning behind my decision. By the time I was finished, my son said, “I get it.” And, truthfully, I was a little upset with myself that I hadn’t shared this with him sooner. I was pleasantly surprised that after we had our talk, the complaints about the “Morgan Family Video Game Policy” were cut in half.

Fast forward to a recent experience I had at an oilfield site. I was working with a client and we traveled to their worksite so I could observe their operations. When we got to the well, I noticed that there were at least seven different companies working together for a joint result.

I was about to comment on how this was a perfect model of collaboration in a competitive environment, when my client expressed his frustration that each company had different rules and regulations related to safety. Compared to the other companies, my client’s firm was very strict on personal protection. When onsite, their employees had to comply with the highest of standards: Fire retardant coveralls, ear protection, eye protection, etc, etc. His employees would routinely complain about the policies, especially when they saw other guys from different companies looking a lot more comfortable.

I inquired: When were these safety standards put into place?

He replied: About six months ago when we had a significant safety incident.

I followed up: What type of communication did you share prior to implementing the policy?

He smiled: Nothing. We just told them to do it.

I laughed and said: Let me tell you about what happened to me this summer with my son.

Now … adults aren’t children (and children aren’t adults). But we have something in common: We’re both human. And human behavior is pretty complex. No one, no matter what age, likes to be told what to do. Rules frustrate us because they constrict us.

It’s not that rules are bad. It’s just that when there is no dialogue before rules are introduced that people get pretty testy. But as I’ve learned … and will continue to relearn throughout my life … that the best way to inspire compliance is to engage in a dialogue before implementing sweeping change. People – such as friends, family, colleagues, employees, you and me – will always fight against change. But if they can understand it and its intent, they will likely be a lot more bought into it when it happens.

Precision of Vision

Many of us fear the unknown. Yet as leaders, the more we work to shape the future we cannot see, the more successful we’ll be. Practicing visionary leadership by bringing clarity to the path forward is one of the most valuable contributions a leader can make to a family, team or organization.

No one can predict the future. Awareness of that truth provides comfort to the leader working to articulate a vision. Since perfect prediction is not possible, it’s exciting to recognize that you can be as creative and precise as you’d like with your future vision. There’s no burden to be right, the standard is to be consistent in your anticipation of what could be.

Bring precision to your vision process by consistently taking these clarifying steps:

  • Look Forward. Anticipate opportunities, identify threats, and look for trends that simplify the complex challenges your team is facing. The more simply you can articulate challenges, the more effective you’ll be at determining ways to overcome them.
  • Talk Strategy. Generate and exchange ideas, connect day-to-day actions to the big picture. Do you spend more time talking about ideas or people? Just like news is the first draft of history, your casual conversations with colleagues about what could be, inform your goals, priorities and vision. Teams that spend more time ideating versus rehashing relationship challenges are teams that achieve big results.
  • Be the Change. Demonstrate adaptive capacity yourself. The more willing you are to embrace change and level up, the more your example will encourage others to move past limitations.
  • Type it Up. Capture your ideas, plans and dreams for the future in writing. Study after study has shown that those who write their goals meet their goals. A written vision can be just for you and your team; it doesn’t need to be published far and wide. It just needs to be readable and reviewable.

Intentional action is the hallmark of a successful leader. When you practice visionary leadership routinely, it will inform your choices in a way that ensures your daily efforts stay connected to your bigger picture purpose.

Feedback is important. As supervisors and leaders, we’re quick to criticize and much stingier with praise. Ideally, we should be giving 5 positive comments for every piece of constructive criticism.

Research shows that negative feedback, negative experiences, and negative people have a much greater impact on us and stay with us longer than positive ones. Our brains have evolved to be more attuned to the negative. Our ancestors survived by remembering, and avoiding, bad things.

So, increase your positive feedback to overcome the negative. The point isn’t to heap unwarranted praise on others, but to provide thoughtful and specific feedback and use constructive criticism sparingly.

Also, try to create more positive moments, experiences, and interactions. Those positive moments spark creativity, generate more passion, and intensify the desire to succeed. With such great effects on team members, think about what more positive moments might do for you!

Want to learn to deliver better feedback? Sign up for Lead Star’s Focus on Feedback Challenge today. Here’s some feedback we’ve received on this resource:

  • “You are a fantastic and most appreciated resource. I have saved every email received to use as a resource again and again.”
  • “The Focus on Feedback daily tips are very useful. Clear, concise explanation makes for a quick read that is straight to the point and easy to understand. I’ve already started implementing the things I learned.”
  • “I did enjoy and learn from your 20 days of Focus on Feedback emails. When I started 20 days ago, I encouraged the managers I work with, and my employees to also sign up. I can see a better way of communication happening in our team, and it is much appreciated.”

I recently had a “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” experience while traveling to a client site. It was one of those days when the whole nation was plagued by flight cancellations, but for some reason I took it personally: I felt like something, somewhere, was out to get me.

I was at my wit’s end by the time I got to Atlanta. While I only needed one more flight to get to my destination, that flight, too, was delayed.

I decided to wait impatiently with the other travelers around the flight attendant’s station. (Apparently we all believed that if we looked inconvenienced enough, a plane would miraculously appear.)

It was then I saw something that redirected my attention. It was a young man, maybe mid-20’s, wearing jean shorts and a t-shirt. Robotic limbs replaced both of his legs and arms. He, too, was going to be on our flight. And unlike the mob of annoyed passengers, he took a seat and waited patiently.

The first thought that crossed my mind was that this man was a Veteran. He just had that look about him – short hair, a clean shave, and a purposeful neatness in his appearance. The next thought that crossed my mind was one of deep humility. Here I was having an internal complaint session about my bad luck when this young man had inconveniences far beyond my comprehension. His presence changed my perspective and attitude in an instant.

And in that moment, I walked away from the attendant’s desk to approach this young man. After confirming his service (he served in the Navy) I shared, “I don’t know what you did or what exactly happened. All I can say is that I’m eternally grateful for your service and the sacrifices you have made for our country.”

I didn’t want to embarrass him by asking too many questions, so I got up to leave. As I did, I noticed that he was attempting to grab something out of his backpack, which is a simple task for you and me (it certainly wasn’t for him). I asked if I could help. He looked up, smiled and politely chuckled as he said, “Thank you, Ma’am, but I’ve got this.”

And boy … did he ever.

The power of his presence and spirit will inspire me for the rest of my life. I’m making it a personal mission to share this story with as many people as I can. Thank you for forwarding it to your friends who would be interested in hearing how Veterans continue to “Lead from the Front” well after they leave active duty.

“Run when you can, walk if you have to, crawl if you must; just never give up.” – Dean Karnazes (Ultra Marathon Runner)

I recently completed my 10th half marathon, and the experience has challenged me to think differently about a few things.

When running the previous races, I defined success in only one way – did I get a PR (personal record)? I sometimes came away disappointed if I was a few minutes slower than the last race, while not allowing myself to factor in course or temperature differences (like 80 degree heat and 90% humidity).

However, this past time, I decided to throw that definition of success out the window and define it differently:

  • Did I train and run the race injury free? YES!
  • Did I enjoy running the course, talking to fellow runners, and cheering on the various levels of athletes that ranged in age from 13 to 80+, wheelchair athletes, and those pushing someone else? YES!
  • Did I savor the final half mile of the race (my favorite part) while waving at those who took time out to cheer me on? YES!

I’ll probably never win a medal, break a record, or take home a cash prize in the events I compete in. However, I will be thankful that I am able to compete on a beautiful September morning and come away with the satisfaction that I crossed the finish line.

We all have a different path to success. Don’t let someone else define your path, and don’t let their definition of success leave you feeling disappointed. Define success for yourself, set your goals and strive for those, whatever they may be!

People follow those they trust.

As leaders, if we keep four practices at the forefront of our relationships we’ll be constantly building trust:

  1. Demonstrate sincere interest in others. We can be captivated by our own challenges, agendas, world and self. Make your interactions with others about them. Find the joy in understanding others and really getting to know people.
  2. Minimize randomness, maximize consistency. Life is full of unexpected events. Don’t let people’s experiences with you be unpredictable. Instead, be the reliable, dependable, even-keeled leader who others will seek to bring calm to chaos. When others trust you, they will share their problems with candor.
  3. Keep all commitments. Follow through on even the simplest of promises earns you significant credibility. Integrity is more than truth telling, it’s being true to what you have said you would do. Often, the first step to strengthen your integrity is limiting the commitments you make. We can do anything, no one can do everything well.
  4. Work for the “wow.” When was the last time you wowed your boss? How about your spouse? How about your best friend? Exceeding expectations in surprising ways is one of the most effective ways to build trust. To achieve the “wow” it shows you’ve paid attention to understanding and meeting someone’s needs in a meaningful way.

Teams are only as strong as the bonds of trust between the members. From work groups, to families, to our networks of friends and colleagues, the more we demonstrate trust-earning behavior, the greater our opportunities for leadership will be.

Do you ever find that you’re frustrated with others and their unwillingness to change?

I certainly have been in that position before. In fact, I was recently talking with a group of colleagues and we concluded that while we’re all completely satisfied with our own status quo, we get frustrated when others are satisfied with theirs.

Why is that? Well, it’s easy to look at someone and begin a sentence, “If only you could just …

Finish something you started

Stop being so set in your ways

Be more open minded to new opportunities

Communicate more

Get over your ego

It’s hard, though, to apply the same scrutiny to our own lives. We have egos. We tend to not see our flaws. However, if we so desperately wish others could change, they likely wish the same about us, too.

A useful exercise is imaging that you are one of the stakeholders in your life – a trusted colleague, an important client, a spouse, best friend or sibling. Then, complete this sentence from their point of view: “If only you could just …”

It might be surprising to realize how frustrating we can be to other people. This knowledge can be incredibly useful as we seek to grow, develop and improve relationships. And any action that we can take on this guidance will help us shake up our status quo a bit, too!

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