Monday, May 27, 2013

Do you behave?

Leadership requires a profound understanding of self.  The problem with leadership is you have to behave all day long.  ~S. Blanchard

A friend posted this quote on Facebook last week and I've been mulling it over ever since.  I struggle with the idea of leadership skills because I really don’t think leadership is a "skill."  I've always put a skill into the category of something you can watch or observe and then copy or mimic.  I believe that leadership is a way to behave and it's our behaviors that allow us to lead. 

This past week I facilitated a planning retreat for a client.  The leaders in the room were divided into groups and given the task to come up with an implementation plan for the behaviors that they believe reflect the culture they are trying to create.  I walked up to one of the groups who had been talking for some time but had not yet begun to write anything.  When I encouraged them to pick up their pace and begin to outline their plan they said they were stuck.  They said, "You're really talking about changing someone's behavior and that's really hard."  That was one of those moments as a consultant where inside I was jumping up and down and cheering because they got it. 

Changing behavior is really hard and that's why leadership is hard.  It's not a skill.  Many years ago, actually decades, when I was in high school I learned to type on a Selectric typewriter.  One of those antiques with the metal ball that spins around and hits the ribbon as you type.  We were told how to position our hands on the keyboard, which fingers were to hit which keys.  Then the teacher would demonstrate so we could copy her actions.  That's how I learned the skill of typing. 

Behavior, on the other hand, involves changing something that's ingrained into our routine or even into our being.  A physician friend often says that people don’t change their behavior until the pain of not changing outweighs the pain of change.    

William James, philosopher and psychologist, said that humans are biologically prone to habit or we are "mere bundles of habit." It is because of these bundles of habits that we are able to perform many of our daily tasks without thinking about it, like brushing our teeth.  However, one could also conclude that trying to unbundle those habits, and change them, may not be an easy task.

Typing was a skill that I first learned in high school. Currently, I'm working to change my behavior to become more mindful, completely present for other people, and really listen.  Even though this is a self-imposed goal and I can envision great benefits of reaching this goal, it's still really hard.  Unbundling my current habits and replacing them with new ones is not easy.  Synonyms for habit are routine, custom, tradition, and pattern.  All words that imply something that's been around for awhile and sounds as if it might take an act of God to change it.

Continuously developing our leadership behavior is a challenge, no doubt.  If it was easy, there'd probably be a lot more leaders.  Blanchard said it well, "the problem with leadership is you have to behave all day long."

Monday, May 20, 2013

Are you a wandering leader?

Focus means understanding what your priorities are in any given hour, day, month, quarter or year.  Without focus, it's easy to wander – it's easy to become reactive instead of proactive – it's easy to fail.  ~Dave Kerpen

I've written about focus before, but it's so critical someone could dedicate an entire blog to the topic.  The quote I chose this week comes from a paragraph in a blog by Dave Kerpen.  Here's the paragraph in its entirety.

Focus means understanding what your priorities are in any given hour, day, month, quarter or year. Focus means knowing what's most important - product, service, hiring, fundraising, sales or innovation, and then concentrating on that one thing. Focus means knowing what's not as important in any given time period. Without focus, it's easy to wander - it's easy to become reactive instead of proactive - it's easy to fail. With focus and determination, you and your team will understand what's most important, and help you execute - to success.

Have you ever tried to follow someone who's wandering?  Maybe you've been driving somewhere and you're trying to follow another driver who doesn't have precise directions and is trying to find the destination by instinct.  Or, speaking from experience, your dog gets lose in a large city park and darts back and forth and around in unexpected places.  The point is, it's not easy to follow someone who's wandering, it's frustrating, and many times it feels like a real waste of time.

Focus is a way of being, it's constantly making judgments, it's being intentionally proactive and not reactive.  It means you understand what your priorities are at any given moment.

Years ago I was the director of marketing for a college.  We not only led the college's external marketing efforts but we also served as a resource for other internal departments.  We did our best to provide responsive customer service to our colleagues.  However, after enduring much frustration I had to change this policy for one of the vice presidents.  I discovered that he was a wanderer.  He would come to us with a request and we'd jump right on it.  We'd get it completed, sometimes in record time, and when I'd deliver the completed product he would actually sometimes say, "What's this for?"  In his wandering style of leadership he would have already moved on to another idea, I think sometimes within hours, but failed to let us know.  The new policy I established for this VP was that we would begin his requests only after he asked for the same thing at least three times.  That would be our indicator that he wasn't "wandering" and actually had some focus.     

Establishing and communicating priorities (aka: providing focus) is a crucial part of leadership. With so many opportunities, possibilities, and options available to all organizations today, it takes very little for some of us to start wandering.

Does your team know what's most important?  Do they know what's most important this year?  This quarter?  This month?  This day?  Yes, even this hour?  Or are you wandering?

Monday, May 13, 2013

Want peace?

Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.  ~Wayne W. Dyer

I came across this quote by Wayne Dyer a week ago and I've been contemplating how it might relate to leaders and leadership. 

Have you ever met someone who appears to be so unflappable that it doesn't seem believable?  Maybe it even makes you angry because you think they are faking it?  Whatever life throws in their direction they seem to take it all in stride; they go with the flow regardless of difficulties, challenges or even tragedies that come their way?

Maybe it's not fake.  Maybe it's the result of years of retraining their mind to process life simply as it is.    Processing life as you think it should be is a never-ending uphill battle.  How we think life should be quite frequently doesn't align with how it is.  So we're putting ourselves in a no-win situation. 

The year 2008 changed reality for everyone.  We frequently heard the phrase "the new economy" and many other descriptors for how life now was, for the moment and the foreseeable future.  Despite the changes, many people tried (some for years) to process life as they thought it should be.  Investments should provide a handsome return, property values should only increase, and the job market should be a buyer's market.  The people who were determined to process life as they thought it should be, lost, a lot, not just finances, but even peace seemed no longer attainable.

One of several reasons that I now believe this quote is very applicable to leaders and leadership, is because of research on my own blog.  I'm approaching nearly 100 blog posts and by far the most read post was entitled, "The Death Drive and Leadership."  In my very little world, this is the post that went viral.  My definition of going viral is far more people read this post than are on my email list, which means it was either shared or somehow discovered through online searches.  That tells me not every leader out there is at "peace" if reading about the death drive is what’s most intriguing in my 90+ posts about leadership.

Maybe it's time we started working on retraining our minds, and yes, that really is possible.  But you could ask Wayne Dyer and a host of psychologists or brain scientists and they are likely to tell you that it takes lots of practice and lots of time.  One source I discovered suggested it takes six to nine months.  I recall someone I know who was in a car accident and suffered a traumatic brain injury.  Part of his recovery was to retrain a part of his brain to assume new functions and it took a good six months.

I suppose it comes down to how much it's worth to you.  Do you want to be the leader who appears unflappable?  Do you want to be the leader who can take whatever life (or employees, or the economy, or clients) throws your way and you manage through it with grace and ease?   Do you want to be that leader who always seems at peace?  Then maybe six to nine months of retraining your mind to process life as it is, is a small price to pay.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Are you contagious or toxic?

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.  ~John Quincy Adams

One of my recent posts commented on work from Shawn Achor's book The Happiness Advantage and I was very intrigued by another study that Shawn quotes.
Recent research exploring the role of social networks in shaping human behavior has proven that much of our behavior is literally contagious; that our habits, attitudes, and actions spread through a complicated web of connections to infect those around us.  In their groundbreaking book Connected, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler draw on years of research to show how our actions are constantly cascading and bouncing off each other in every which way and direction.  This theory holds that our attitudes and behaviors don't only infect the people we interact with directly—like our colleagues, friends, and families—but that each individual's influence actually appears to extend to people within three degrees. So when you make positive changes in your own life, you are unconsciously shaping the behavior of an incredible number of people.  This influence adds up; Fowler and Christakis estimate that there are nearly 1,000 people within three degrees of most of us.

Daniel Goleman couldn't have said it better: "like secondhand smoke, the leakage of emotions can make a bystander an innocent casualty of someone else's toxic state."  This means that when we feel anxious or adopt an overtly negative mindset, these feelings will start to seep into every interaction we have, whether we like it or not.
One thousand people!  Sounds both humbling and daunting, doesn't it?  Knowing that number—1,000—brings an entirely new perspective to Jack Welch's philosophy of eliminating toxic employees without hesitation and with great speed.  Jack has said, even if an employee has great technical skills, if their attitude and behavior is toxic, you need to get rid of them, immediately. 

I can think of more than several instances where a client had a toxic employee who had great (or at least good) technical skills and because of their technical skills the CEO chose to keep them on their team.  In a number of cases, those toxic employees eventually left on their own.  After they were gone, many layers of the onion started to be peeled back and, unfortunately, revealed the breadth and depth of their toxic behavior throughout the organization.  Daniel Goleman's analogy of secondhand smoke was all too real in these organizations.  The number of bystanders who were innocent causalities was baffling.

All leaders in an organization should mirror John Quincy Adams' description of someone whose actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more.  Now that sounds contagious!  Imagine for a moment a leadership team in an organization who is collectively contagious.  Now layer on top of that image 1,000 people within three degrees of that leadership team.

The feelings and behaviors we exhibit will seep into every interaction we have, whether we like it or not.  Will those behaviors be toxic or contagious?