Leadership Moments
Weekly Leadership Insights

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Memorial Day is when our country pauses to remember the men and women who have died while serving our country.

During this time I get many “thank you for your service” comments from those who haven’t served, but appreciate the sacrifices my family and I have made for our service. I value these expressions – even if they’re delivered as a shout out on Facebook. But I also know many service members (past and present) feel like the “thank you for your service” message is contrived.

Some believe it’s offered half-heartedly. Others feel like it doesn’t acknowledge their sacrifices. And many wish for more than appreciation – they also wish to be understood. Less than 1% of Americans have served in the military. Many Veterans feel that if more Americans knew more about the nature of military service, there’d be greater attention drawn to the challenges they experience once they transition out of active duty.

My personal belief is those who care enough to thank a service member also care enough to learn more from them. They just don’t know how to engage active duty personnel and Veterans. They’re unsure of the words to choose, or the questions to ask. They’re also careful not to offend, so they play it safe with a simple “thank you for your service.”

To help you spark a dialogue, I’ve created a list of follow on questions that can be presented after thanking active duty personnel and Veterans for their service. These are great conversation starters and are “safe” questions – questions that every service member has an answer to:

  • Why did you join the military? Which branch did you serve?
  • What did you do while you were in service?
  • Where were you stationed? Where were you deployed? Did you serve overseas?
  • Did other family members serve in the military? Which branches?
  • What lessons did you learn while in uniform that have served you well in your life?

This Memorial Day, I highly encourage you to engage a Veteran to learn more about their experiences and share your interest and curiosity. As America’s military is older than America itself, you also might get to hear a great sea story or history lesson that furthers your pride in our country and its service members.

People truly enjoy being appreciated, respected and nurtured. Simple goodness never seems to go out of style.

I recently returned from facilitating a retreat for dynamic, successful leaders. The participants had been invited to attend, all expenses paid, purely for the experience. Meaning, there were no strings attached, the event’s sole purpose was a “give back,” created to convene and connect talented professionals. At a beautiful spa setting, the participants enjoyed a day of relaxation followed by a day of leadership learning.

They left energized and ready to take their leadership impact to the next level. But, that was only after they worked through how skeptical they were to be invited to participate in something that seemed, “too good to be true.”

The more effective you are as a leader, the more you are able to bring goodness front and center, taking actions purely for the results and value they bring to others. Here are four steps for bringing a heightened sense of goodness to your leadership style:

1. Recognize your impact. Your behavior and actions make an impression on people. Leaders realize this and work to make sure they show up in ways that showcase their credibility and sincerity.

2. Value yourself. We can’t lead others until we recognize our talents, worth and contributions. Know your strengths, and have the self-awareness to anticipate blind spots. Yet as you improve upon your weaknesses, affirm yourself in the process.

3. Listen and serve. Goodness requires a sense of understanding. When we can anticipate what our colleagues, friends and family need or want, we are better prepared to be helpful.

4. Don’t worry about credit. If we are honest with ourselves, many times in our professional lives our actions are motivated by a desire for accolades and recognition. It’s great to be noticed, but it’s not always important. We’re practicing simple goodness when we let go of a need to be affirmed, and instead just seek to do what we believe is valuable.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be accountable to success but how difficult it can be to be accountable to failure? When success happens, it’s rewarding – if not exciting – to see how we contributed to the result! When failure happens, it can be embarrassing to consider our role in it. This is why many are quick to place blame, or deny their role, when mistakes get made. We want to protect ourselves – and our ego – from less than best results.

I had the honor to work with a National Football League team fresh out of grad school. I was in an entry-level role in football operations, which meant that I helped take care of the players and coaches off-field needs so they could concentrate on the on-field stuff. Trust me, being a part of the NFL was a dream come true, but it was not as glamorous as it might sound. I passed out checks, booked flights, gave rides to medical appointments, ordered catered meals, etc. But I loved doing it because I loved the team.

Our team had a pretty good season. So good that we made the playoffs. And boy, was I proud of how I contributed to the team’s success! So was everyone else. From the bus drivers, to our team photographer, to guys in the operations department. During playoff season, we were all raising our hands to say that we had something to do with our team making it this far. We were being accountable to our success.

Well, the first round of the playoffs came and we get our butts kicked. It was ugly. When it happened you certainly did not see me raising my hand trying to take accountability for my role in the loss. I was thinking “you guys stink’” and “thank goodness I had nothing to do with this.” I believed I had nothing to do with the loss even though I had been quick to claim a piece of the earlier success.

Through time, I’ve learned that when facing defeat or failure, an effective leader must first seek ownership. I may not have been on-field while the team played, but I know there were things off-field that I could have been doing better. If I can be a proud winner, I should also learn to be an accountable loser.

Effective leaders:

  • When things go wrong, they look to themselves first before pointing the finger at someone else.
  • Look at failure as a learning opportunity.
  • Don’t focus on blaming others for shortcomings. Effective leaders provide feedback, only after they have examined their role in the challenge.
  • Have a bias towards action when there is a problem. Only action – demonstrated in the spirit of accountability – solves problems.

Take ownership and start being part of the solution today!

“Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” – Charles R. Swindoll

While it may be tempting to try to control everything and everyone around you, your efforts will always be futile. You can’t change the personality of a pessimistic co-worker. You can’t control how your boss might react to the bad news that you have to deliver. And you can’t control the actions of an unhappy or dissatisfied customer.

You must recognize that there are only two things in the world that you have control over: your own actions and your response to other people’s actions. So the next time you find yourself desperately grasping for control, stop and take a look at exactly what you are trying to achieve and ask yourself if control is even possible. Then focus on what you can do or how you can best react to effectively influence the situation in order to make progress.

We all know that there is so much in life we can’t control. Other people, bad traffic, the weather. Yet, we have full control over how we respond to the uncontrollable. How we command our ability to respond well, says so much about our ability to influence and inspire. And, ultimately our ability to be happy and fulfilled. That’s the agency factor.

Agency is our ability to claim power and control over our lives. Not over everything, just over the choices we make as leaders. Having agency is not an excuse for micromanaging or being overly controlling – we know those behaviors alienate others. Instead, agency is present in our lives when we:

  • Understand what we value and prioritize our time to do the things that matter most.
  • Have boundaries between our work and life, not always being 100% available for everyone at every moment. Just having one day of the week be email or cellphone free is a strong example of bringing agency to the forefront of your leadership style.
  • Making choices about how we spend our time, who we spend it with, and what we do as often as possible. We all have errands to run and must do tasks, but do we live every moment of our lives as if we are responding to orders instead of envisioning what matters most and acting with intent?
  • Having the courage to enjoy our choices or, if we don’t, the courage to change them.

The word agency actually means to act on one’s own behalf. When we do this, we become better at demonstrating inspiring authenticity. The more authentic and comfortable in our knowledge of ourselves we are, the better we are able to add value to others.

I just read another article about leadership development. In it, the author said that you can’t train everyone to be a leader. When I hear that not everyone can become a leader, it’s like listening to fingernails across a chalkboard. I cringe. I just don’t believe it. At Lead Star, we believe that everyone can become a better leader.

Saying that not everyone can be a leader is like saying that you can’t teach everyone to play golf. Now, everyone may not make it on the PGA Tour, or win The Masters. But, everyone can play the game, and with a little bit of practice, everyone could get better. Leadership development is similar. We may not all become perfect leaders, but we can all demonstrate accountability, credibility, confidence, decisiveness, and emotional resolve. Those behaviors enable us to influence and inspire people around us. And, by developing self-awareness around our current behavior and by practicing, we can all learn to demonstrate more of those behaviors.

Leadership development is a journey, or a continuum, not a destination. We are all on that journey somewhere. And, we can all keep taking steps on that journey to become better leaders.

That doesn’t mean that everyone is the boss. At Lead Star, we think that everyone can demonstrate leadership behaviors in whatever role they fill.

How much better would your job be, would your workplace be, if everyone around you took more responsibility for their performance; strove to meet and exceed performance standards; connected their actions to the ability of others to succeed; worked to meet the needs of colleagues; and, dispensed open, honest feedback to elevate performance? That’s leadership. And, we can all do it.

Have you ever been asked to do something outside of your comfort zone? Something that you may have never done before or was even outside of your role at work? A few years ago I found myself in a similar situation while volunteering for a local non-profit organization. I was asked to head up their sales committee for a charity golf event. My first thought was, “Me? Sell sponsorships? No way!”

I dismissed the idea completely because I had zero interest in it and, if truth be told, I felt that I wasn’t going to be very good at it. Where did I get this idea? It was actually my fixed mindset talking to me.

Carol Dweck, the author of Mindset, is committed to helping professionals recognize their true potential by sharing her research around fixed and growth mindset. Through her work, she has concluded that we are born with a growth mindset. We embrace challenge and the joy of learning when we are young. But as soon as we start to become evaluated, such as in formal learning institutions or at work, something happens to us — we start to switch between a fixed or growth mindset. When we adopt a fixed mindset, we limit our opportunities for growth.

Clearly, in my situation, I let my fixed mindset take over. My first response wasn’t to embrace the challenge; I wanted to stay in my comfort zone, and if I had to do it, I was not going to put in any effort.

Thankfully I had the self-awareness to recognize my fixed mindset. I knew that type of thinking would not only inhibit my professional development but also impact my career potential. I took that negative energy that I had about sales and I used it to motivate me. I turned that fixed mindset into a growth mindset. I recognized the challenge that I was facing and looked at it as a learning opportunity. I knew that the skills I needed to be successful could be developed and I was determined to develop them.

In my first real sales experience, a volunteer opportunity that I could have easily said no to, I sold more than $100,000 worth of sponsorships for a golf tournament. Not bad for someone who wanted nothing to do with sales and avoided it at all costs.

Your mindset is your choice. Here are some tips of when your fixed mindset is influencing you:

  • An opportunity is presented to you but your immediate response is “I can’t do that” or “I am no good at that.”
  • A peer gives you feedback regarding a project you are working on but you get defensive and are not open to honest and critical feedback that can be helpful in your success.
  • You start a new project but you face one setback after another and just want to give up.
  • You reluctantly take on a new assignment but you really are not interested in learning anything during the process and just want to get done as quickly as possible.
  • You miss a deadline and vow to never take on anything like that again. You let failure define you.

During these moments, remind yourself that your mindset is your choice. Then make a conscious choice to switch to growth so that you can benefit from the experience.

A gem is not polished without rubbing, nor a man
perfected without trials.
Chinese Proverb

Leaders must do two things well: influence outcomes and inspire others. One way to influence and inspire is through effective communication. Your ability to have honest and compassionate conversations contributes to your growth and development, as well as your team members.

Do you want to give someone a piece of feedback but aren’t sure how to do it right? You want them to know something, but you also don’t want to upset them, or create a confrontation.

Here are some tips to successfully deliver feedback:

  • Ask the person if you can share some information with them.
  • Admit that this is an awkward moment for you.
  • Describe specific actions, mannerisms, or words you would like to make them aware of.
  • Tell them how their behavior affected you.

Don’t:

  • Judge, infer, or assume anything about them, their behavior, or their intentions.
  • Label them (as lazy, inconsiderate, rude, etc.).
  • Label the feedback you are about to give (“I’ve got some constructive criticism for you.”).

Here’s an example: “Robert, may I share some information with you? As I say this, realize that this is also an uncomfortable moment for me. During the meeting yesterday, you spoke over several people while they were explaining various aspects of the budget. I felt like you didn’t value other team member’s input.”

Put aside hesitations about delivering feedback, and demonstrate your desire to elevate performance by addressing a colleague, or issue, requiring attention.

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. – Winston Churchill

So … it happened.

You were just blindsided by some constructive criticism. To make things more uncomfortable, it stung a bit. Perhaps the person who delivered it didn’t use tact, or maybe even the feedback you received wasn’t relevant. Nonetheless, you now have to deal with the information you just received.

Believe it or not, how you handle this moment will have a lasting impact on your relationship with who delivered the criticism. Research has shown that if you do nothing and say nothing about the criticism, your relationship won’t improve. But if you can respond with a leadership response, engage in follow-up, and show that you’ve taken the feedback to heart, your manager/ boss/ friend/ spouse/ customer/ client’s perception of you and your performance will become increasingly more favorable.

Here’s how to LEED when you receive criticism:

  • Listen. Even though your instincts are to get upset or become defensive, calm them down so you can truly hear the information that you’re receiving.
  • Express Appreciation. Thank the person for sharing this information with you. When you express appreciation, you’re not agreeing with the person – you’re acknowledging that you know how hard it was for them to share it with you and you’re grateful that you have the type of relationship where they can bring this to your attention.
  • Evaluate it. After you receive it, consider how the feedback relates to your performance in the role. Also evaluate the relevancy of the information you are receiving. Sometimes evaluation can take time; after receiving feedback, it’s okay to share, “Wow. You’ve given me something to think about. Can I spend a few minutes considering this before I give you a reply?”
  • Decide. Not every piece of criticism is a mandate. Sometimes you’ll choose to do nothing with it. Sometimes, though, you’ll discover a small action you can take that will make you better.

When you receive criticism well, you’re not only expanding your communication abilities, but you’re showcasing to others that you can be trusted with information and that you value candor and honesty.

Even though I’m the person who went to law school because there was no math in the curriculum, I do appreciate the value metrics add to business operations. But, what if the comfort we can find in the numbers is only part of the picture?

I was just talking to a client who is a C-Suite executive in a robust organization. When you look at the numbers, her company is thriving. Yet she’s convinced there are some icebergs on the horizon as she looks at the human dynamics of her business. Senior managers aren’t getting along well, there are competing agendas within the management team, and a willingness for peers to hold each other accountable to results is fleeting. Her strength as a leader comes across in her ability not to get caught up in the hubris of success. She knows that success won’t last if the people challenges are left unaddressed. That’s why we were talking. I’ll be working with her team in the coming months.

Sometimes we buy into the numbers too much. Perhaps it’s because they bring some sense of order to the often chaotic world of achieving success with and through other people. Numbers are neat and clean, while working relationships can be messy. The best leaders recognize this and consistently invest time, resources and effort into continuous improvement of what is often the most unpredictable, but most powerful aspect of our organizations – the human factor.

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