Leadership Moments
Weekly Leadership Insights

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!

You don’t grow as a leader when you are safe and comfortable.

Real growth happens when you’re pushed to your limits and challenged to dig deep to find out what you’re truly made of.

As leaders, we should always be looking for opportunities to stretch ourselves, and get a little uncomfortable. Here’s an idea to do just that: surround yourself by people who are completely different than you. Simply stated, harder to do.

As humans, we tend to be drawn towards people who are like us – those who have similar life experiences, belief systems, personalities, etc. What this tends to do is to make us surround ourselves by people who generate like-minded ideas. Likely, in these relationships there is little conflict, making these acquaintances “safe.”

But if you’re looking to innovate, or get to that next level of performance, alignment is the enemy. Don’t seek out people who agree with you – seek difference in perspective, find people who think you’re flat-out wrong, or purposefully search for opinions that are contrary to yours. Just as diamonds are made with pressure and time, you’ll discover that you’re a better leader as a result of the creative tension in your relationships.

Start by considering who is on your personal board of directors – who are your mentors, whose feedback do you seek out? Do these people always affirm you, or do they challenge you? Also consider your peers – do you actively engage those who you deem as “difficult?” Maybe they’re not difficult; maybe they are just different. Also, consider your team. Who is on your bench (and do you have enough diversity)?

There is a tremendous value in diversity of perspective. This level of diversity won’t happen, though, without your purposeful intentions.

At Lead Star, we have extensive experience working with affinity networks to ensure that diverse populations receive the leadership development they need. Contact us today to support your organization.

Lead Star – In the News:  Congratulations to Lead Star’s Founder, Angie Morgan, who was recently appointed to the Marine Corps’ Ambassador Program, which is designed to assist Senior Marine Leaders in achieving their diversity goals.

 

Do you know someone who reacts? Do you react? Something happens and you fly off the handle, scream and yell, or freak out. Sometimes, we just do it. We might not even know that we do it. It’s as if we’re on autopilot. Those reactions are instinctual, habitual, or conditioned, and, often, we let them operate outside of our control. Most people find those reactions alienating.

So, take yourself off autopilot. Be better than your instincts. Learn to respond.

As a former Air Force F-16 pilot and commercial pilot with over 12,000 flight hours of experience, I am reminded of something from pilot training. Guess what pilots are trained to do first when experiencing an abnormal situation in flight? Push buttons? Make a radio call? Execute checklists from memory? No. Wind the clock. What? Wind the clock, really? Yes, pilots are trained to take a moment and ensure that they respond properly to the situation, rather than reacting incorrectly.

As a leader, do the same thing. When something happens, wind the clock. Insert a pause. Take a deep breath. Your goal is to overcome a challenge, or get the team back to high performance as quickly as possible. Pay attention to the way you might instinctually react, and hold that reaction. Then, respond to shape the outcome.

Leading requires that we get ourselves off of autopilot. Override instinctual, habitual, or conditioned reactions. Pause….and respond to influence and inspire.

“It only takes 10 years to become an overnight success.”

When Angie and I started Lead Star in July 2004, we were excited, a little nervous and extremely unaware of all of the amazing experiences the decade ahead would hold for us. What we knew for sure is that we were passionate about leadership and its ability to change lives for the better.

Thanks to you, our loyal clients and fellow leaders, we have the privilege of living our dream to support people in living theirs by becoming better at influencing outcomes and inspiring others. Our journey has not been an easy one. The past decade has been filled with challenges that have tested our resolve. Through every obstacles we’ve faced, we’ve worked hard to apply the leadership principles we advocate. The fact that Lead Star has grown from a modest start up to a thriving consultancy, is a testament to the power of leadership fundamentals. None of us will ever be perfect leaders, but if we have a vision and keep focusing on our credible performance, accountability, sense of service and commitment to achieving success, anything is possible.

Here at Lead Star we don’t spend too much time looking back. Yet we do appreciate that experiencing the success you achieve is a key part of building the confidence needed for the future. Achievement without joy and reflection is incomplete. Thank you for sharing in our journey. Please share in our happiness. This decade would not have been possible without you.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

In our workshops, we often teach professionals about the value of the “80% Decision” – in other words, there is no such thing as a 100%, perfect decision because we can’t predict the future, so we can’t predict the outcome. But if you can reach an 80% information threshold with your decision, then you should make the call.

This 80% decision-making formula has diverse applications – from business strategists, to Marines in combat, to people in the buffet line. The idea is simple and straightforward: Gather the facts and act.

Easier said than done, right? 80% of information doesn’t always settle with everyone. The perfectionists in our workshops always push us and ask, “Isn’t there a way I can do better than 80% to get a little closer to 100%?” Well, there might be … but that depends on how well you listen to your intuition. You see, our bodies can sense opportunities and threats before our brains can process them. How well you pay attention to your physiological responses to challenges can help inform your decision-making process.

So, can paying attention to your responses give you a decision-making edge? I would argue “yes.” So the next time you’re contemplating a choice, and you’ve went through a decision-making process, yet something still doesn’t feel right, use that to pay attention and truly listen to how you feel. Your gut instinct can be a powerful ally.

Even after 25+ years of piloting commercial and military airplanes, I still enjoy looking out the window.  Whether I’m in the cockpit looking out front, or at a window seat in the back, the view from 35,000 feet gives you a different perspective.

It’s easy to get captivated by the view from ground level.  Things that are urgent, important, and overwhelming can consume all of your attention and prevent you from seeing the bigger picture.

Rather than spending all of their time at the ground-level directing, controlling, or managing, leaders empower people to successfully address day-to-day issues.  They make sure their team members have the tools, training, and information to work independently and autonomously.  Leaders identify and meet needs so that their team is able to focus on the work, serve the customer, or strive for excellence.

Leaders spend more time at 35,000 feet keeping their eye on the big picture.  They communicate to their team where they are going and why, and they craft a bold, clear vision to inspire team members to work hard together.  They constantly communicate their vision and connect everyone’s efforts to overall organizational success.

Take time to step back to understand the big picture.  If you spend all of your time at the nuts and bolts level, you run the risk of missing opportunities, or addressing challenges that you might have seen from 35,000 feet.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows …  But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”  Rocky Balboa

On a recent Friday night, I was flipping through TV channels with my son when we came across the opening credits for Rocky. I suddenly perked up – what a great opportunity to introduce him to some powerful life lessons:

  • Hard work requires self discipline
  • The key to success is perseverance
  • Even when you try really hard you might not win
  • After you get beat down, you have to get back up
  • Love is all you need (Ok … so he is 9.  He really wasn’t into the whole romance between Rocky and Adrian, but maybe one day he will find this storyline touching and sweet.)

I kept sneaking glances at him throughout the movie to assess his interest.  When the movie was over, I excitedly asked, “What did you think?”  His response:

  • Do you think that was real blood?
  • Punching dead cows is awesome.
  • Can I have a turtle?

So, not exactly what I expected, but it got me thinking that my role as a leader – whether as a parent, employee, or colleague – is to keep introducing life’s lessons with the hope that one day they will take hold.

I’m sure that I’m not the only person who has been inspired by Rocky and/or other movies.  I would love to hear from you: What movies have shaped your perspectives on how you should lead your life?  Share your answers on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Leadstar.

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