Monday, May 26, 2014

Deep Personal Humility = High Potential

The first indicator of potential is the right kind of motivation: a fierce commitment to excel in the pursuit of unselfish goals.  High potentials have great ambition and want to leave their mark, but they also aspire to big, collective goals, show deep personal humility, and invest in getting better at everything they do.  ~Claudio Fernandez-Araoz

I wish I would have kept track of the number of conversations I've had with leaders about the concept of humility and leadership.  I find it perplexing that I'm even still having conversations with leaders who question the validity of humility being a critical trait of effective leadership.  There is so much evidence; here are just a few examples.

Military Review, Sept/Oct 2000: "…the humble leader lacks arrogance, not aggressiveness.  The will to serve others eclipses any drive to promote self."

In 2001 Jim Collins published Good to Great, what's become a business classic that will endure for years.  In this book based on research of over 1,400 organizations, Collins concluded that "the key ingredient that allows a company to become great is having a Level 5 leader: an executive in whom genuine personal humility blends with intense professional will."

Bringing it closer to the present, this was published December 2011 in Investment Weekly News. "A study in Organization Science using data from more than 700 employees and 218 leaders confirmed that leader humility is associated with more learning-oriented teams, more engaged employees, and lower voluntary employee turnover."

The US Federal News Service, December 2011: "Leaders of all ranks view admitted mistakes, spotlighting follower strengths and modeling teachability as being the core of humble leadership," says Bradley Owens, assistant professor of organization and human resources at the University at Buffalo School of Management.  "And they view these three behaviors as being powerful predictors of their own as well as the organization's growth." The researchers found that such leaders model how to be effectively human rather than superhuman and legitimize "becoming" rather than "pretending."

I'm almost done, but I've got to include two more quotes from within the past 12 months., November 15, 2013: "Great business leaders are remarkably talented, possessing special skills that allow them to push organizations to great heights.  But true leadership requires them to be both exceptional and humble."

Finally, best-selling author and TED Talk sensation, Simon Sinek says in his most recent book, Leaders Eat Last (2014), "Great leaders don’t need to act tough.  Their confidence and humility serve to underscore their toughness."

The quote I chose as the jumping-off point for this blog came from the most recent issue of HBR (June 2014).  The momentum around evidence-based humble leadership is gaining, not fading.  There are times when I want to grab leaders by the shoulders, shake them, and say "please, just let go already!"  Let go of trying to prove yourself, of trying to be superhuman, of pretending that you've "arrived."  Toughen up and embrace deep personal humility.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Stop balancing and start integrating.

When you take intentional action to do what matters for people who matter, then your stress goes down.  You feel a greater sense of control, and you learn that you have more freedom than you thought you had.  ~Stew Friedman

The phrase "work-life balance" was first used in the U.S. in 1986.  However, the work-leisure dichotomy was invented in the mid-1800s.  Author Paul Krassner says that anthropologists use the definition of happiness that is to have as little separation as possible "between your work and play."   

How do you know if you're out of balance?  There are several clues.  First, 75%-90% of physician visits are related to stress and, according to the American Institute of Stress, the cost to industry has been estimated at $200 billion-$300 billion a year.  So, if your stress level is sending you to the doctor, then you are quite likely out of balance.

If you feel a loss of control or you live an out-of-control life, that's another clue.  If you can tell that your productivity is down, or you aren't engaged in your community, those too are signs of a lack of balance.

But this isn't about balance anymore.  More and more authors and experts suggest a view of work-life integration.  Balance suggests that our lives are compartmentalized; that the domains of our life should not overlap or become interdependent.  Using anthropologists' definition of happiness to illustrate integration, it's when there is little separation between work and play. 

When I read several articles and blog posts on this topic, I noticed a word was used repeatedly: deliberate.  Integration is about making deliberate choices.  Instead of assuming that our domains of life are being thrust upon us, we make deliberate choices about those domains.  Stew Friedman says we should "Design an experiment in which you are deliberately aiming to improve your performance and results in each of the four domains (work, home, community, self)—not to trade them off or to balance one against the other, but to enhance all of them."

Authors Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams describe it this way in a recent article in HBR, "By making deliberate choices about which opportunities they'll pursue and which they'll decline, rather than simply reacting to emergencies, leaders can and do engage meaningfully with work, family, and community.  They've discovered through hard experience that prospering in the senior ranks is a matter of carefully combining work and home so as not to lose themselves, their loved ones, or their foothold on success.  Those who do this most effectively involve their families in work decisions and activities.  They also vigilantly manage their own human capital, endeavoring to give both work and home their due—over years, not weeks or days."

My takeaway from reading several articles on this topic, in order to have work-life integration, is to first define what success looks like in all areas of your life – work, home, community, and self.  Then, be deliberate about enhancing all of them and stop trying to make trade-offs among them.  Have as little separation as possible between work and play.

Deliberate integration can reduce stress and give you a sense of control you thought was only wishful thinking.

Monday, May 12, 2014

When was your last "moment of poverty"?

A moment of poverty; it is this opening that we all wait and long for.  One side calls forth and also creates the other—and neither side needs or wants to take the credit.  It is the essence of what we mean by grace, the ecstasy of intimacy. ~Richard Rohr   A moment of poverty is the ultimate act of leadership.  ~Kathryn Scanland

What is a moment of poverty?  For most of us, when we think about poverty we think of a lack of financial means.  But the meaning of the word poverty has nothing to do with money or finances.  Poverty means a lack, a shortage, deficiency or scarcity of anything.  We've just become accustomed to using it almost exclusively for financial poverty.

Several years ago, I traveled to the remote rural regions of Zambia.  I was certainly anticipating poverty.  In fact, numerous people had warned me about being overwhelmed by the extreme poverty that I would witness.  When I stepped out of the Range Rover at the first village we visited, one of the most remote and underdeveloped, their poverty didn't overwhelm me.  It was how my own poverty was exposed that overwhelmed me.  Sure, I had far more financial means than they did.  However, they had far more joy, peace, contentment, and sacrificial hospitality than I had ever experienced, or even thought possible.  It was a humbling moment of vulnerability.  It was a moment of poverty—my poverty.

Dr. Henry Cloud said that to be an effective leader, a leader of integrity, "you must be strong enough to depend upon, but vulnerable enough to identify with."  If leaders can be open to moments of poverty, and embrace them as opportunities for grace and intimacy with colleagues and employees, their likelihood to have people follow them will be significantly enhanced.  Simon Sinek, in Leaders Eat Last, says "You've got to STEP AWAY from the spreadsheets and the computer screen; you've got to get out of the board room, you've got to do more than blast off a memo here and a memo there – you've got to show em' that you care and show em' that you're there."    

What better way to be vulnerable and show the people you work with that you're there than to allow your own poverty to be exposed. 

An example: you're in a planning meeting with the team you lead.  You suggest a strategy that's got merit but it's not necessarily mind blowing.  Then a staff member speaks up and suggests a strategy that demonstrates real innovate thinking and has the possibility of something akin to hitting it out of the ballpark.  Instead of forcing your idea through, since you hold the leadership position, you commend their creativity and not only support their idea but suggest they take the lead on that strategy.  A moment of poverty can be as simple as demonstrating that you don't always have the best idea (because you don't!).

Moments of poverty can be the recognition that you don't know, that you don't have the answer (right now), that you have limitations, that something isn't your strength but it is someone else's, that you have experienced some of the very same struggles (professional and personal) that some of your employees are experiencing.  It's recognizing that sometimes you are deficient and someone else is more than sufficient.  And neither side wants or needs to take the credit.  It is the essence of grace, the ultimate act of leadership.

Monday, May 5, 2014

For a few minutes on the third day of an NBA scandal, a sports figure led by example

Conciseness signals strength, certitude and honesty – particularly at a time when long-winded leaders seem determined to hide their true intent behind a flood of empty words and promises.  Americans crave authenticity and action from their leaders.  ~The National Journal commenting on Adam Silver

In the last week, this was the title of a feature story in USA Today (April 29, 2014): "Adam Silver gives Donald Sterling lifetime ban from NBA."  The story began with the following two paragraphs.
Until a few days ago, few people in America could have picked Adam Silver out of a crowd.  Tall, thin and, let's be honest, a bit nerdy looking, the new NBA commissioner could have been any other harried executive or overworked attorney in New York. 
Now, however, Silver is an American hero.  His lifetime ban of Donald Sterling and impassioned defense of common decency earned him praise from players, owners and fans, as well as everyday folks who just wanted to see the right thing done and were thrilled someone had the courage to do it.
Adam Silver has since been described as "a great leader," "someone who showed great leadership," and "we have a great leader leading…" to list only a few of the comments published about Silver over the past week.

I am one of those people who fall into the category of "everyday folks" when it comes to this recent news event regarding Adam Silver and the NBA's decision.  But I was certainly intrigued so I viewed Mr. Silver's full announcement to the press.  I wanted to see what he did that has garnered such praise and recognition.  From my point of view, he was unapologetic, he was firm, he was clear.  I also noted, however, what he didn't do.  He didn't attack Mr. Sterling's character, he didn't waver from the facts and make assumptions about Mr. Sterling's motives, and he didn't interject any self-congratulatory comments. 

I think what Mr. Silver didn't do may have won him the recognition of sports fans, as well as those of us yearning for any national display of leadership, more than what he did.  Think about it.  When was the last time we heard a politician (or other national figure) steer clear of attacking character, making assumptions about someone else's motives, and showcasing their own self-righteous behavior?   We haven't seen this kind of leadership on the national stage for so long that it almost caught us off-guard; we almost forgot how to recognize leadership that wasn't self-centered.

Now to bring this a little closer to home, this kind of attacking, self-righteous grandstanding can be found in our conference rooms, executive offices, on Facebook, and in blog comments.  Maybe we've strayed so far from effective leadership because we've also strayed so far from true dialogue and effective communication.  Having our right to express our opinion (which is self-centered) has become more important than achieving a positive, helpful outcome (which is other-centered).

Adam Silver.  A name we all recognize, at least for the moment, because he reminded us that there is another approach to leadership.  An approach that is authoritative and respectful, firm yet compassionate.  Thank you, Mr. Silver for a long overdue example of effective leadership.