Leadership Moments
Weekly Leadership Insights
Mysterious Letter

Dear Stranger:

When my family and I sat down for lunch at Boyne Mountain Ski Resort this weekend, we saw this bright aqua envelope on our table. My 9 year old son, Judge, picked it up and opened it. You can only imagine his surprise when he discovered $3 (a fortune!) plus an invitation to buy some hot cocoa. In an instant, you put a smile on all of our faces.

Throughout the day, we kept looking at skiers wondering if they were “the stranger” and then we had a great conversation over what inspired you to do something so kind. We then brainstormed ways that we could surprise other kids. We even made a commitment that we, too, were going to do something unexpected and kind for someone else.

While we may never end up meeting you, I just wanted to say “thank you” for inspiring such a wonderful dialogue between my son and I. We promise to pay your random act of kindness forward in many positive and unexpected ways.

You, dear stranger, remind me of the impact one person can make in this world. You rock.

My best, AngieMysterious Letter

Most of us have heard of the leadership philosophy, “leading by example.” It’s one that’s tough to argue with since we recognize that the behaviors we demonstrate speak far more directly, loudly and completely than any words we might choose. It’s always valuable for leaders to check in on the examples we’re projecting. Here are four simple questions to assist you in verifying if your personal example is contributing to the credibility you need to influence and inspire:

  1. Is your say-do gap narrow? Meaning, when you make small (or significant) commitments to others, do your actions match your promises? We can get captivated by the big moments of leadership effort, yet our credibility is most often earned or lost by meeting the simple standards we’ve set through our word to someone else.
  2. How’s your work/life example? Do you tell your team to seek balance and then routinely email your colleagues on evenings and weekends? Sending a batch of emails while traveling, or over the weekend before you are planning to be away from the office, can be a necessary exception now and then. However, if you are always highlighting an example of nontraditional or extreme work hours, your talk of balance might come across as empty. If balance is something you value, make sure your employees see you having a life outside of work.
  3. Is your stress response effective? In times of challenge, change, chaos or stress, others seek leadership from those who can remain composed. Leaders work hard to have the emotional resolve necessary to maintain an approachable demeanor and consistent response to stressful news, events or circumstances. Practice thinking before you act, especially before you overreact, during moments when leadership is needed.
  4. Do you think of others often? Instinctually, we can all be self-focused. As leaders, we learn to understand and meet the needs of others. Service-based leadership can be as simple as taking 10 minutes a day to do something of value for someone else.

Leading by example is an extremely effective leadership style. Some would say it’s the only one that works. Demonstrating it requires the self-awareness to recognize any potential mismatch between your intentions and actions. The most successful leaders model consistent, respect earning behaviors.

Many of us have painful, embarrassing memories of times when we were wrong. Maybe it was:

  • In school, where the Socratic method was alive and well! You were asked a question, gave a good guess, and then were told – publicly – how wrong you were in your thinking.
  • At work, when you spent hours pouring over a proposal only to discover – after you submitted it – that you spelled your prospective client’s name wrong.
  • When you arrived for an important meeting two hours late because you made an error in your scheduling.

Chances are that you’ve been wrong not just once or twice. Throughout your life, you’ve been wrong countless times.

Being wrong is okay. In fact, if we all were to be honest with ourselves, we’re wrong quite a bit. Our goal in life shouldn’t be to avoid making mistakes and strive for perfection. Our goal in life should be to focus on how we respond to those situations in which we either miss the mark or experience complete failure. These are the moments when we need to rise to the occasion and demonstrate accountability the best way we know how: By being absolutely, 100% accountable to our actions (or inactions).

One of my favorite quotes is from the Maya Angelou:

“When I know better, I do better.”

When we’re wrong, rather than berate ourselves, we need to learn from our experiences. Learning is where real growth happens.

So don’t put pressure on yourself to be right. Put pressure on yourself to be your best when life throws you those never-ending curveballs.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Aristotle

During the almost 3 years that I’ve been privileged to be a part of the Lead Star team, I’ve read, researched, reviewed, and shared many thoughts and ideas surrounding the concept of leadership, both written by the Lead Star team and by other thought leaders. I’d like to share with you what I see as 5 habits displayed by great leaders.

1. Narrow your Say-Do Gap: If you say you’ll do something, then do it. Never put yourself in a position where you over-commit and under-deliver. People will remember you based on the promises you keep, not the promises you make.

2. Be Decisive: There is no such thing as a perfect decision. Decisive, action-oriented individuals are the leaders who have the best opportunity to influence outcomes and inspire others.

3. Serve Your Team Members: Service-based leadership is a mindset: you work for your people. It is not complex; often it’s the small acts of service that have the greatest impact on morale and camaraderie.

4. Consistently Demonstrate Accountability: Leaders inspire accountability by accepting responsibility and not placing blame. They look internally first to understand their role in a problem or situation.

5. Always Lead As You Are: Being a leader doesn’t require you to overhaul your personality or change your personal style. In fact, the things that make you special and unique will make you a better leader. Sharing your authentic personality with others is the foundation to earning their respect and trust.

I’d love to hear from you. What other habits do you think make great leaders? Email me at lrohrer@leadstar.us.

Does the word “feedback” conjure up images of sitting in your boss’s office during one of those dreaded performance reviews? When you think feedback, do you immediately think negative? Perhaps we’ve given the term “feedback” a bad reputation.

Feedback is a service. At Lead Star, we focus on delivering feedback in an inspiring way without creating emotional reactions in the recipient. After all, the recipient lets the feedback in and decides whether to act on it.

Do you feel comfortable giving colleagues peer-to-peer feedback in your organization? What do you do if you receive work from another person that doesn’t meet standards? Just fix it? Redo the work to get what you need? Or do you let the colleague know how the work could be better and ask them to fix it? Many times this does not happen as people feel that feedback should only come from supervisors.

Right out of college, I joined the Air Force as a pilot. I was assigned to fly the F-16. As pilots in the Air Force, we were constantly giving each other feedback. We didn’t call it feedback. We were trying to stay safe, and at the same time, become the “best of the best.”

But, you could also say that we were just constantly communicating. We were always trying to elevate our performance and the performance of the team. We were curious and eager to learn from each other. We were trying to make sure that everyone was on the same page and understood how individual effort contributed to the group goal. We were sharing knowledge and learning from mistakes. We were teaching, coaching, and mentoring.

Whether you’re flying jet fighters, treating patients in a hospital, or extracting natural resources, communication is essential to high performance. Research indicates that the highest performing teams give one another the most feedback. Put another way, the highest performing teams communicate the most.

In the end, we should be looking for ways to work better together, so we can build better products or serve our customers more effectively.

Feedback shouldn’t have negative connotations, only come from supervisors, or be off-limits. If you don’t like the word “feedback,” just reach out and communicate.

Over the last decade of teaching leadership, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to observe many talented leaders at work. Leadership is not about being complex; it’s about being effective. Often times, the simplest or slightest behavior change allows us to influence outcomes and inspire others much better. While the behavior changes necessary to “level up” our leadership might be small ones, the challenge often comes in identifying our next steps for development.

Here are three ways I see great leaders distinguish themselves from good leaders:

  1. Great leaders are always seeking to become more self-aware. When we have the confidence to boldly embrace our strengths and seek accurate information on our areas for development, growth as a leader happens. The more we are able to recognize which of our behaviors have the best, and less than best, impact on others, the more we are able to accelerate our leadership capability. Often, greatness as a leader comes when we have found the path to be better than our instincts in critical moments. For example, when we are angry our instincts might tell us to lash out, but instead, learned leadership responses of empathy, compassion and understanding are likely to be more effective.
  2. They recognize that greater success often begins with what they say “no” to. Saying “yes” to everything used to be a key success factor. Yet, in the pace of today’s world, that theory has lost relevance. With many potential commitments competing for our time, we accelerate our success when we have clarity of vision for the big picture results we seek or values we want to live by. By seeking the “best yeses,” we focus our efforts by seeking to engage in the activities that represent the highest and best use of our finite resource of time.
  3. Coach to standards not to preferences. Often, the better performer we are, the more difficult it is to trust others. As our commitment to quality strengthens, we can buy into the false narrative that we are the only ones who can get the job done right. That’s not leadership, that’s our ego talking. The better you get, the more valuable you are when you can coach and mentor others to excellence. That requires recognizing that everyone is not going to be what they can become the first time they embark on a new endeavor. Yet, with great coaching and mentoring, they can be perfectly prepared for their initial efforts to take on new challenges. By coaching to standards and not to preferences, we allow ourselves to better trust others and provide them opportunities to grow.

Wishing you the best as you continue to level up your leadership. The value is in the journey.

Believing you can is the first step to success.

With the holidays approaching, I’ve decided to take on a new challenge to maintain a healthy level of fitness. I’m planning to run 100 miles from Thanksgiving Day to New Year’s Day. While it may seem daunting to think about running 100 miles, when I break it up into smaller segments of a few miles a day, the goal seems very achievable.

The same can be said of goals we set in our own life – personal or professional. We may get overwhelmed when thinking about the many tasks we need to accomplish in order to reach a goal. However, if we break the goal down into smaller steps and focus on one step at a time, we’re amazed by the progress we can make each day or each week.

As we approach the final weeks of 2014, I challenge you to review the goals you set for the year. If you haven’t hit a particular target, determine the progress you can still make this year. What steps can you take now to set yourself up for success in 2015?

Leaders constantly set goals to help them achieve the life they want to live. They have vision. Challenge yourself to dream big and set large goals. Then tackle the steps to achieve those goals one step at a time – or one mile at a time!

Success has many parents. Failure is an orphan.

My college football team is experiencing a leadership crisis. It’s painful to watch such a promising team suffer. When they lose, they really lose. When they win, they barely win. It’s gotten to the point where it’s difficult to watch a game on TV. I’ve even started to ask the question, “What do ‘normal’ people do on Saturdays?”

I was talking to a colleague the other day about his weekend plans. He shared that he was going to our team’s game. I was about to express pity for him, but he added, “Hey, when you are down and out, you need people to cheer you up, right?”

He couldn’t have been more right.

Isn’t it funny that when you’re winning, you have people celebrating with you and cheering you on? But when you’re losing, suddenly the stands are empty. People have a tendency to abandon you in your true moments of need. This is true in football and it’s equally true in life.

The lesson here is that we need fans … and we all need to be fans, especially when we see others struggling.

Fans have an important leadership role to play when they see their teams on a losing streak:

  • They show up on rainy days
  • They are their best when you’re doing your worst
  • They demonstrate loyalty – even when it’s tough

Being a fan isn’t an easy job, but it’s a rewarding one. When your team eventually finds itself back on top, you can look back and say, “Hey, we did this.” There is a unique kind of pride in that.

With Veteran’s Day on Tuesday here in the U.S., I find myself reflecting on the concept of service. As a Marine, my years in uniform were some of the most memorable of my life. I traveled the world and I was in peak physical shape. While those memories are joyful and exciting ones, the most special memories are of the acts of service I was able to witness and be a part of. These include sharing in the beauty of helping people improve their standard of living through the construction of school houses in poor villages, serving meals to hungry children, and listening to the stories of courage of everyday people working to survive in extraordinary times.

I am reminded that we all have the opportunity to be a part of something greater than ourselves. There is no greater value to add in the world than by being of service to someone else. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to learn this lesson firsthand at a young age. When I chose to join the military, I was thinking of adventure and wanting to earn money for school. While those desires were fulfilled, the lasting legacy of service was the most enriching. Since leaving the Marine Corps, the best years of my life have been the ones where I spent the most time in service to others.

As you commemorate the service of Veterans this week, be proud of their service to our nation. Live that pride by taking time to serve and support someone in their honor. Acts of service can be simple – being a kind ear for a friend, taking in the neighbor’s trash can, providing a gift card to a teacher so they can purchase supplies for their classroom, helping someone through a challenging project at work…. there are literally hundreds of opportunities to be of greater service every single day. Just by taking one or two of them, we add value. And, as leaders, the more we serve, the greater we become.

At Lead Star, we feel that Accountability is the gateway to leadership. Until you can admit that you may have contributed to a problem, it’s almost impossible to envision yourself being part of the solution. Whether those problems are performance issues at work, or rocky relationships with family, you must accept responsibility for your share of the problem.

Unfortunately, that isn’t what passes for Accountability at many organizations. Often, Accountability is what kicks in after something bad happens to place blame or point the finger.

What does Accountability mean in your organization? What would you like it to mean? Wouldn’t your workplace be so much better if everyone eagerly accepted responsibility for their own performance? What if people pointed out their mistakes and discussed ways they could do better? How about viewing mistakes, challenges, and missed performance expectations as opportunities to learn and improve?

Humans aren’t hardwired that way, and we aren’t socialized that way. Our first instinct after a problem is to protect ourselves. While we share a lot of information about ourselves, we don’t normally advertise mistakes or post shortcomings on social media.

Leaders must accept responsibility. The fastest way to cultivate influence and earn credibility is to demonstrate Accountability.

We’re human, and we make mistakes. What’s important is not that we make mistakes; it’s what we do following one. Leaders aren’t responsible for all problems. When a problem occurs, leaders look at themselves first to understand whether they contributed to the problem by action or inaction.

The next time you confront a problem, challenge, or missed performance expectation, hold that instinctual reaction to protect yourself while you examine your role in the situation. Practice Accountability and demonstrate behavior you would like to see from others. Accept responsibility and lead with Accountability.

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