Leaders In Waiting

Last week I had the privilege of chaperoning my daughters 6th grade retreat at Camp Minikani a YMCA camp located North West of Milwaukee.  It was the first time I really had the opportunity to observe my daughter with her peer group, outside of sports teams, something I’ve always been curious about.  What I observed was inspiring and qualities I always knew my daughter possessed but again had not experienced with her.

My daughter Claire is among a small group (at least in her grade level) of young leaders in waiting.  While I observed many of her peers’ leadership behaviors, over the course of the two-day retreat, I of course was most interested in how Claire demonstrated the qualities of a great leader.

Even before we arrived, she studied the packing list and was packed and ready to go three days before hand, demonstrating that daily efforts really connect to larger goals.  Once she arrived and determined her group and cabin, she led them through a review of the events over the next few days.

2014-05-08 10.25.47While her peers looked to her for encouragement, direction, and feedback, she never saw herself as their leader, instead she integrated with them and humbly accepted the same from her peers.  Claire knew her peers strengths and weaknesses and helped to leverage them in turn growing their confidence in their own abilities.  This was evidenced during the high-wire walk.  A fellow peer (boy) was terrified to climb the pole and walk across the cable.  Knowing this she demonstrated to him how to do it and then sat down next to him, empathetic, talked to him encouraging him to overcome his fear.  And, he did.  Claire, as do great leaders, saw her peers are people too and while several other of her peers cajoled or laughed she encouraged.

2014-05-08 09.55.01 (2)Next, during the team building activities with her group I observed Claire’s willingness to be accountable and responsible whenever they did something wrong.  Instead of blaming individual team members for stepping on the wrong log or falling in the lava pit (which was clearly evident), she would ask how can we improve as a group.  Taking responsibility for the groups failures demonstrated the leadership ability to put her self interests aside and help the group succeed together rather than separately as individuals.

2014-05-07 16.15.33 (2)Claire continued demonstrating her leadership qualities, even during their free time.  During a game called Ga-Ga Ball, a game she just learned to play from a fellow classmate, took it upon herself to teach other classmates how to play the game.  Great leaders teach others, motivating and inspiring them to be empowered.  Claire could have been immature like many of the girls and boys at this age, but instead confidently stood in the middle of her peers and taught the entire group to play the game.

There are so many other examples of how she demonstrated the qualities of a great leader such as the courage to stand alone, listening, problem solving, patience, this post could go on forever.  However, the wonderful thing about all of this and what I observed was that Claire has never gone through formal leadership development training or classes.  This is in alignment with my belief that we are all leaders in waiting and that we all have leadership qualities inherent to us, we just need the right people to help maximize that potential in our lives.

I don’t take full credit for Claire’s story.  While I am sure she has picked up some things from me, she has a wonderful mother who has been a great leader, teachers who have demonstrated great leadership qualities, sports coaches who have given her tough feedback, and her own faith in God.

Mistakes, Errors, and Humility

If you’ve made a mistake in your life, raise your hand…great.  If you’ve learned something from your mistakes, leave your hand up…great!  If you’ve used what you’ve learned from your mistakes to prevent it from happening again, keep your hand up…great!  If you’ve used what you’ve learned from your mistakes and applied it to a whole different situation, great, that’s learning agility.  The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology uses the following to define learning agility:

Learning agility refers to a person’s desire and ability to learn from experience, and to then apply their learning to other situations
Generally speaking, people who have a greater ability for learning agility take more control over their own learning by finding opportunities to grow, requesting feedback about their work, and consistently engage in self-reflection and evaluation regarding their work and careers.
So where is this leading you might ask?  Let’s look at mistakes and errors as a starting point.  Mistakes imply a misconception or inadvertence and usually expresses less criticism than an error.  An error suggests a standard or guide exists and not making effective use of this, instead straying from the right course resulting in failure.  Regarding the error, the standard or guide may be written, verbally agreed to, or perhaps an unwritten, unspoken cultural norm that exists.  The key to mistakes and errors is that we learn from them and leverage that experience for other situations.  This requires that we have the courage to take risks, be creative and innovative and know that we might fail.
Which leads me to humility.
Humility by definition is the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble.  If one believes that they are better than other people, they also are inclined to believe that they do not make mistakes or errors.  We all know someone who has never backed down for fear of being perceived as weak or dismissing others ideas just because the it’s not aligned with their ideas for fear of being wrong or dismissing valid performance feedback for fear of actual self-reflection.  To overcome fear Bill Treasurer, author of Courage Goes to Work, proposes a bold antidote: courage.  Courage is not fearlessness, in fact it is being fearful and being able to overcome that fear.  When someone says “that was a humbling experience” they are saying “before that situation I felt I was better than the other people involved and now I don’t.”  They overcame their fears of self-reflection.  When practiced often this can lead to higher learning agility.  So, those people that we know, who fear making mistakes and errors, who lack humility, must learn to have courage first to overcome whatever it is they fear.
Whether we make a mistake, commit an error, or even fail at something, it’s imperative that we recognize we have a choice to learn from the situation.  To actually learn and apply it to a new situation, we must overcome our fears by demonstrating humility and courage.
Nothing happens until something moves.

Building Loyalty

The deterioration of loyalty in the workplace has been the subject of much debate and concern. Economic recessions make employers appear ruthless when they layoff their workers. It would appear that disloyalty seems to be the norm as employees search persistently for more lucrative or more fulfilling work. Gone are the days of forty-year careers followed by hefty retirements. Regular job transitions are the new reality.

Organizational cultures lacking loyalty are doomed. With too little loyalty, motivation plummets and cynicism lurks and will divide employees from the organizations in which they serve. In a climate of disloyalty, backstabbing, second-guessing, and finger-pointing contaminate relationships and destroy productivity and effectiveness.

What can a leader do to earn the loyalty or his or her people?

For a moment, let’s examine why we’re loyal in the first place. Generally, we’re loyal to companies for three main reasons, 1) the relationships we have in the organization, 2) the values we share in common with the organization, and 3) the sense of fulfillment we derive from our role within the organization. Each of these reasons provides motivation for us to commit ourselves to a job.

This is not new information, but it’s worth it to repeat, people don’t walk away from a job or organization; they walk away from a manager. The best way to build loyalty is by making an effort to know people at a personal level. Find common interests and build bridges into their world. Understand what makes them tick. Reward their successes. Appreciate each person in a way that recognizes and validates his or her unique personality.

People are drawn to the values espoused by an organization, and they will stick by their side because they share those values. It’s critical for an organization to be clear about its values from the hiring process onward. It’s not enough for an organization to profess its values; it must consistently walk in step with them. Organizations should allow their values to be scrutinized, and give employees permission to hold the organization and leadership accountable to them. Leaders must be able to explain any behavior which appears not to align with values, swiftly confront behavior that runs contradictory to values, and seek forgiveness when the organization and its leaders fail to uphold values.

Like it or not, “What’s in it for me?” is the refrain at the forefront of the minds of those you lead. To win loyalty, cast a vision for the future so that each person sees how they will benefit by being part of the team. Be intentional about uncovering each person’s strengths, and, as much as possible, position them where their job duties match their desires. Train, mentor, and stretch every person under your leadership. People respond with loyalty to those who invest in them.

Defining Leadership for Yourself

How would you define leadership for yourself?

Leadership is about influencing the behavior of individuals and groups, and motivating them towards a common goal. Therefore it is a communication process, one between a leader and follower. Leadership can be a positive force such as Abraham Lincoln or a negative force such as Adolf Hitler.

Leadership is a process, a state-of-mind, a choice one makes to demonstrate. Therefore, leadership is personal and unique to the individual. Leaders who demonstrate a positive force of leadership in their organizations do so by developing their followers potential and increase their quality of life, by building meaningful relationships based upon establishing trust, principles, credibility, respect, setting an example and equally important, giving clear structure and purpose to their followers work. Leaders take a genuine, authentic interest in their followers and work hard to provide meaning and purpose to their followers lives and work.

Leadership is about who you are at your core, your values, and your authentic self. If you know who you are, what you believe in, and what you want to do, then regardless of what you are or are not, you still have to make the choice to lead.

There was never a more prevalent time to demonstrate positive authentic leadership than when I served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army.  Many people that I have encountered since I left the service don’t understand the how leaders are developed in today’s military.  At the core we are taught the same sets of tools that all business leaders are taught, even how we use them and why we use is the same.  We just might have different names or acronyms for the tools.  In the military accomplishing the mission is everything, however, without a mentally and emotionally strong and engaged group of soldiers following you, the mission has a strong likeliness of failure.  The health and welfare of a soldier always came before mission and this requires leaders who are confident in who they are, know what they believe in, and respect for the people who surround them, or simply put a great emotional intelligence ability.  Leaders who were toxic and disregarded their soldiers for the sake of the mission, fail.  Without the will of your followers and the freedom of their choice to follow you, you simply are not a leader.

Developing a Leadership Philosophy

When I was in military, one of the first things I was taught as a junior officer was to develop a “command philosophy” or leadership philosophy.  Oftentimes a leadership philosophy is exemplified in two key points: the first, let’s your subordinate know what is expected of him or her and, the second, let’s the subordinate know what can be expected of the leader.

In my case my opening statement read “It will serve as the direction and path this company will take as we continue to strive for excellence and prepare for war.  I will lead and motivate you based on 5 principles that I hold true and are the basis for my values and ideals; Leadership, Training, Accountability, Discipline, and Have Fun.” I could go on about each of those 5, but you’d have to Google the terms and acronyms for which the military is famous.

This idea of a leadership philosophy should be no different in organizations.  Leaders should be thinking about what they expect of their team and what their team can expect from them.  At its core a leadership philosophy is the way we see ourselves as leaders.

While your leadership philosophy guides your everyday actions, your behaviors, and your thoughts, it is constantly influenced by external and internal forces. We can change who we are as leaders by simply changing our philosophy of leadership, but it requires that you explore and reflect upon your personal values, assumptions, and beliefs about leadership.  And, the great news about a leadership philosophy is that it can change as you grow in your understanding of yourself within the context of leading.

How have you created or found your leadership philosophy?

Leadership and Leaders

With hundreds of ways to frame leadership and a leader, we look to break down what we have experienced over the last 15 years.

Leadership is influencing people- by providing purpose, direction, and motivation- while working to achieve the goals and improve the organization.

Purpose: Purpose gives people a reason to do things
Direction: Communicating expectations, prioritizing tasks, and ensuring all understand the standard
Motivation: Motivation gives those they lead the will to do everything they can to achieve, organizational and individual goals

A leader is a person, who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal, through values, example, and reflection, so that others are motivated to follow.

We feel that it’s most important to emphasize that a leader is a person. We look to emphasize this because a person, or human, is in fact fallible and can make mistakes. What differentiates a leader is how they respond and react to mistakes.

What say you?

Leaving a Leadership Legacy

Whom have you taken the torch from?  What difference will you make?  Whose leadership legacy lives in you today?  Leadership is not solely about results, but how you motivate others to achieve those results.  Your success in leadership is not only measured in numbers, but also with those you lead and making a significant impact in their environment, making it a better place for them today.  A measure of your success as a leader will not only be the impact to the bottom-line, but the long term development of individuals in your organization, and their ability to adapt, grow, and prosper, leaving your legacy for others to carry forward.

Leadership is hard work.  If you took on a leadership responsibility thinking it was going to be easy, you may need to re-evaluate your willingness to see beyond your own needs.  To be a leader you must be willing to do the hard work, demonstrating you are not in it for yourself, sending the message you have the best interests of others at the forefront of your actions.

Building a leadership legacy is leading the development of others, planting seeds of greatness, and cultivating them to grow.

Tip:  Cultivate others, and build your leadership legacy by:

  • Providing opportunities for others to develop through challenging and growing experiences
  • Allowing a strong direct report to be in charge and make decisions while learning from both their successes and failures
  • Cultivating the abilities and strengths of your direct reports in order for them to develop.  Talk to them, get to know them and determine if they have the desire to grow and take on a leadership role
  • Maximizing your efforts of developing others, through the use of targeted experiences
  • While you focus your efforts on the development of others, you must continue to be a coach, a mentor, and a catalyst for their growth. As a leader, to pass the torch for others to carry forward:
  • Guide your people without taking away their responsibility for and power over their own learning
  • Create a learning partnership by providing support and feedback
  • Help to remove obstacles, and inspire your people to test their abilities

Now, we all want to be remembered for something.  The question still remains, what is that something?  If your development efforts are done right, the long term impact will be priceless to your organization.  Regardless of how turbulent your industry, economy, or globe becomes, our organization can and will endure.  How?  By a catalyst leader to leave a legacy.

Tip:  To be a catalyst leader:

  • Bring out the best in your people, plant seeds of greatness, care for and cultivate the leadership in others
  • Lead with the emotional intelligence, influence others through personal power, and create an environment of developing others
  • Trust their decision-making and provide support

Within your organization your leadership legacy is built moment-by-moment, and will influence the future of the people you lead.  Leaving behind a leadership legacy is one of the most important factors for the sustainability of our organization.  Capital can be acquired, but leadership must be developed, cultivated, and passed on.

It takes courage to build a leadership legacy. It takes courage to lead and influence with personal power and in doing so, you will have a far greater impact than anything you can achieve through strength of position.

Tip:  To lead with personal power:

  • Define your leadership imperatives and conduct yourself accordingly
  • Live your leadership values by being authentic, genuine, and honest
  • Inspire loyalty and trust through creating personal and emotional connections

Consider some questions first posed by the late Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts comic strip. Schultz’s questions helped people reflect on the truly important things in life. Schultz asked people if they could name the last five winners of:

  • The Heisman Trophy?
  • The Miss America contest?
  • The Academy award for best actor or actress?

For most people, remembering just a few of these past award winners was a challenge—even though each of these award winners had been popular names at one time.

Schultz would then ask people a second question:

What are the names of five?

  • People whose stories most inspired you?
  • Teachers who most influenced you?
  • Friends who have helped you most?

Think about it, leaders, leave their fingerprints behind.  Who will you pass the torch to?  How will your legacy live?