Leadership Moments
Weekly Leadership Insights

Here at Lead Star we are extremely fortunate to have an outstanding executive director. She runs our firm brilliantly. Whether it’s project management, client service or data analysis, everything Liz does is done well. All the time. And, everybody loves her! Trust me, she’s so talented, we actually get quite giddy when she makes the very occasional mistake- it’s a reminder that she’s human.

I was talking to her the other day about how she does it. How is she able to be such a consistently strong performer? Her humility was strong as she initially deflected the question. But, I pushed for a response. Finally she said this, “If you can’t do things properly, then your whole life is not set up well.” Wow. That really spoke to me.

As leaders we have to be accountable for quality. Setting up our lives well, being able to say no to the projects, people and events that do not reflect the highest best use of our time, making time for proper rest and reflection, actually paves the way for exceptionally high quality on the matters that matter most.

The next time you notice that your performance is slipping, pull the lens way back. How is your life set up? Have you made the often tough choices necessary to ensure that you are able to do things well? After all, doing well earns you much more credibility than doing it all.

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.
– Isaac Asimov

We make assumptions about people all of the time. We do it so fast that we don’t even realize it. More often than not, this leads to problems.

We assume that people know how to do things. We assume people know they should be in the office until 5 p.m. We assume they know lunch break is one hour. We assume they know the weekly staff meeting starts promptly at 9 a.m., or how to complete expense reimbursements, and on, and on. We assume all kinds of things.

When others don’t meet our expectations, we assume something else about them. We assume that they’re lazy; they don’t pay attention to detail; they don’t care; or, they don’t want to be here.

Break the cycle of assumptions! Don’t assume. Communicate expectations and performance standards. Then, follow-up to ensure everyone understands – and hold them accountable to those standards.

Don’t assume that since someone just got out of training, or has worked here for 20 years, or has talked to so-and-so, that they know how to meet expectations.

Maybe, they truly do not know. Maybe, they missed that day in training. Maybe, they were told another way. Maybe, their old boss had them do it her way.

Instead, communicate expectations and standards up front. Give people a high-definition picture of what “right” looks like. Get everyone on the same sheet of music. If you lead a team, that picture of success enables team members to act against your expectations even when you’re not there.

Assumptions lead to frustration. Break the cycle and elevate the performance of your team.

I had to fight some pretty powerful instincts a few weeks ago.

While working with a colleague (the highly accomplished Sean Lynch) on a project, we realized that we needed to follow up with our client to clarify a few details. Sean mentioned that he was going to send out an email to get the answers. When we hung up the phone, I had a few more ideas on what needed to go into that email. I sat at my keyboard, started typing up my notes to Sean in hopes that he received my email before he sent his out and then I thought … Wait!! Am I micromanaging? Are these notes really that important? Or, is it me trying to control the process? Is it me trying to make Sean be like me? I then weighed some facts: Sean’s amazing. He’s a Yale graduate. The Air Force trusted him to fly jets. Delta Airlines made him responsible for thousands – if not hundreds of thousands – of passengers. He’s been on our team for several years. What am I doing?

I then re-read the email*. Yes! Classic Angie Morgan. Trying to control the process. Ugh. I knew I had to let it go.

It then made me reflect a bit more on how these controlling tendencies have helped – and hurt – me in my life. (If you’d like the complete list, I’ll share my husband’s email address with you.) And it reminded me that when working with a team, there are a few important rules to abide by:

  1. Trust that everyone is trying to do their best
  2. Acknowledge that there are always better ways of doing things
  3. Know that not everyone is like you … and that’s not only okay, it’s great
  4. When coaching, coach to result – not to process (because you don’t always have the best process)
  5. People value autonomy – no one enjoys being micromanaged
  6. Check in with yourself frequently to see if you’re the annoying colleague who wants to micromanage everyone … and, then, stop micromanaging everyone

Self-evaluation is critical to helping you grow and develop as a leader. I’m glad I got a chance to reflect a bit on my tendencies – I highly encourage you to do the same! You can start by asking your trusted colleagues, “What do I do that annoys others?” And if they don’t have a good answer, go to a family member or close friend – they will be sure to enlighten you.

*Sean’s email was perfect – better written than anything I could have done.

My small town in Michigan is in the midst of a major road construction project. (We often joke that the official state tree is that large, orange barrel because you see them everywhere in the summer.)

My commute time to my office has tripled. But despite this frustration, I have to say that the construction experience has been – shockingly – pleasant. And that’s mostly because of the flag holders who have been directing traffic.

I don’t know how they do it, but they are smiling 10 hours+ each day … even in sub-40 degree, rainy weather. Every time I pass them, they are nodding and waving, encouraging me to have a great day. Their enthusiasm has had an impact on all drivers – whereas you’d expect road rage and line cutting while traffic merges down to one lane, what you actually get is cooperative drivers who are all in it together. There is even a rumor going around that the construction will end early (I like to think it’s because we’ve all adapted to change very well!).

There are, of course, some lessons here:

  • Just because you work in a challenging environment doesn’t mean you have to be unpleasant – any job is what you make it.
  • An encouraging smile can be the simplest, and most profound, expression of leadership. And anyone, at any level of an organization, can do it. An ounce of positivity goes a very long way!
  • Change doesn’t always have to be painful. It’s how you approach it. When everyone makes the most of their role during change, camaraderie and cooperation emerge.

Interested in becoming a better frontline leader? Sign up for our 7-Day Building a Leadership Habit E-Course. Learn more and please share with the rest of your team!

Humans are the only animals that think about the future. We look forward to the weekend. We anticipate vacations. We envision where we would like to be 5 or 10 years down the road.

We create a vision of what our world will look like when our hard work pays off. We imagine how good the weekend will feel after a long week, or where we will be after years of work, or study.

We’ve been doing this individually all of our lives. In addition to doing it for themselves, leaders also know how important it is to do this for their teams. They create a high-definition vision of where the team will be in the future as a result of everyone’s effort.

Vision:

  • Inspires us
  • Gives our work purpose
  • Meets our need to be part of something greater than ourselves
  • Enables us to see the value of our time and effort
  • Brings people together to strive for something that individually might be unattainable

Vision statements should be short, easily communicated, and crystal clear. No one should have any doubt about what it is. Here are some real-world examples of short, clear vision statements.

  • Feed America’s Hungry. Feeding America
  • A world where everyone has a decent place to live. Habitat for Humanity
  • We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. Make-A-Wish

After you’ve created a vision, communicate it at every opportunity. The more people hear it, the more they will buy into it. People want their leaders to look beyond the present, think about, and articulate where they are going and why.

Vision doesn’t have to come exclusively from the CEO. Leaders at all levels of an organization should be creating visions. A vice-president, regional manager, small team leader as well as an individual should craft a vision about what the future looks like.

Leaders take people places that they have never been. Are you giving your team a clear picture of where you’re taking them?

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.

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