Elements of Leadership – Part 3: The First Step Every Great Leader Must Take

Are great leaders born or made?

Take a minute to consider the leaders who have touched your life. Perhaps at a former or current workplace, a non-profit you care about, or a community organization?

Think of people you trust and respect.

Who are they? What do you know about them? Do you know their story, how they came to be the leaders they are today? How they came to earn your respect?

If you do know their story, chances are they’ve had their share of adversity and have had to make important choices along the way. They have persevered and become successful—in the broadest sense of the word—because of a strong belief in what they were doing. And despite of what others may have seen as personal obstacles or shortcomings.

Great leaders have the ability to see what is possible, often when others don’t. They acknowledge and are able to utilize their individual traits, abilities, skills and interests to make progress toward a vision of what they believe can and should be.

Then they make one first simple step. They do something, small. They choose to act, to set things in motion. Not out of ease or convenience, but out of a sense of purpose. Or need.

Whether clearly defined or subtly innate, there is a direct connection between this urge to act and their personal and deeply held values and convictions. They are aware that there are some things in life that give them energy, and others that consume it. They are aware that it costs them more energy to hold back than to be deliberate and to act.

They choose to spend this energy wisely, in a way that is purposeful and beneficial to themselves and others, that provides life and joy instead of having to be contained and carefully managed. Blaming others for injustice, problems and obstacles and contributing to maintaining a status quo is simply not an option. It costs too much.

Great leadership is rarely based solely on a rational decision. It starts with a simple step and builds momentum and strength. It results in meaningful change. Not because of the results in and by themselves, but because the achievements are inherently linked to their origins and rationale.

Great leadership can only be as long as there is self-awareness and self-development.

It begins with acquiring an understanding of your values, convictions and sense of purpose. It includes an understanding of where you have been, in order for you to be deliberate about the direction you are heading. It requires courage and determination that can only be derived from the realization that you can lead and achieve because of who you are, here and now, and an appreciation and acknowledgement of the qualities and strengths that you already inhabit. Not what you aspire to be based on the perception of others.

Embrace who you are, your strengths and values. Comparing yourself to others may be an interesting exercise, but will ultimately only be a distraction. Be proud of who you are, your background, your story and qualities. Yet be deliberate in how you use, develop and direct them.

You already have everything you need to be a great leader. Yet you have to understand and appreciate what is important to you. And decide to make the first step.

Because great leaders are born, every day. And then they are made, again and again.

 

Simple questions are often the most difficult to answer

Sometimes the simple questions are the most difficult to answer, especially those related to ourselves and our being.

Here are two short videos featuring lectures by the late Alan Watts. Take a few minutes of your day, find a quiet location, watch the videos, allow yourself to feel and listen. And you will find yourself asking some simple questions.

What do you want? What is within your control? What will you do? What is possible? What will you commit to? What now?

There need not be an answer. But sometimes asking the question is a worthwhile exercise in and by itself.

 

What if money was no object?

 

The Dream Of Life

 

Elements of Leadership – Part 2: It’s what you know and how you use it

I have had the opportunity to work with leaders from very different backgrounds, cultures and professions. Whether I work with a client one-on-one or facilitating a workshop, I have learned to take the time to ask simple questions. Before charging ahead into the unknown territory of “what can be,” it is critical to understand “what is.”  

I have come to appreciate the value of establishing a shared foundation of knowledge, understanding and terminology.  “What do you do?” “What does a normal work day look like for you?” “Who do you talk to on a regular basis, and who comes to talk to you?” “What do they ask for?” And, perhaps the most effective question – “and then?”

These are questions that ask for specific and objective information, meant to allow for minimum bias or judgment. Slowly but surely we arrive at a shared understanding of what leadership is, what it represents, how it functions, how it is effective and where the potential may lay.

This type of informal assessment can be supplemented with information from a formal leadership assessment, which provides additional insight on leadership strengths, preferences and development areas.

This assessment phase of any coaching or development process is critical. We are sketching a map of the surrounding landscape, and building rapport and understanding along the way. The resulting map is used to plot a destination we agree upon and the road we’ll have to travel to get there.

Why is this so important?

Imagine yourself left in a forest, without a map or compass. Which direction would you travel? Without a map of the terrain, does it matter which direction you go? How will you know if you are making headway, without knowing where you are in relation to your destination? How would you determine what your goal or destination should be?

And, if you were responsible for a group of people who trusted and depended on you, how would you make the right decisions and be able to convey them with credibility and confidence?

Peter Drucker famously stated that “management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Doing the right thing, traveling in the right direction, requires a good map. It requires knowing “what is” so that you can determine the proper “to be.”

Strong leaders are often celebrated for their accomplishments, for what they are or were able to accomplish or achieve. It’s therefore natural for  leaders to focus significant time and energy on determining how to reach organizational goals related to budget, growth, development, and sustainability. In the absence of a good map, this journey can be arduous and a heavy burden to carry.

Do you have a map? How do you define your leadership?

The truth is that no one can define your leadership. Nobody but you.

Elements of Leadership – Part 1: Good leadership, common sense and purple cows

An organization requires good leaders to grow, develop and be successful. But what is the definition of a “good leader”?

Answering this question has developed into a multi-billion dollar industry, brandishing competing definitions, concepts and formulas. At some point in time, we have probably all purchased a self-help book or bought into a concept that purportedly had “all the answers.” They all come with some good perspectives and help us reconsider our existing approaches to leadership. Which is great, and always a well-worth exercise. But I think it’s safe to say that any book, concept, or article that argues to have all the answers never does.

Try to google “leadership fads” and you will end up with a long line of articles, including this one written by Steve Tobak @Inc. I found the article quite entertaining and interesting. In it, Tobak reviews some of the recent “fads” and argues that good leadership is the result of a combination of using common sense while embracing individual strengths that may provide a level of competitive advantage. This pragmatic and utilitarian approach definitely has a nice feel to it, although it doesn’t provide an answer to the question of what really defines “good leadership.”

If we all focus on our own individual strengths as leaders, combined with our individual interpretation of what constitutes “common sense” – wouldn’t we run the risk of turning into “purple cows” as described by Seth Godin in his book by the same name? Would we end up in a race where the end goal would always be to be a “remarkable” purple cow amidst all the regular brown ones? In a tough and challenging marketplace, where corporate ownership, brands, priorities and strategies have to be as effective and cost-efficient as they are flexible and in adaptable, won’t leaders and organizational leadership get caught up in the never-ending race toward one-up competitiveness?

I think they already have.

Over the last several years, faith in leadership appears to have slowly eroded in many organizations, both public and private. In important aspects, the financial crisis may have contributed to this, although the big financial institutions’ fall from grace may also be interpreted as a symptom of a broader problem of a growing leadership deficit in private enterprise. The more recent “fiscal cliff crisis” certainly provided a level of justification to the growing number of people who lack faith in our political leaders and the overall political process. In organizations across the nation, employee satisfaction and engagement is at a historical low. Numerous studies have found that more and more people are looking for alternate employment, or that they are unhappy with their current employers. The leadership deficit is growing by the minute.

So what do we do about it?

I believe that we have to make a concerted effort to turning things around, starting by taking a fresh look at our goals and priorities when it comes to the role and what we expect of our leaders in private enterprise, government, and non-profit organizations.

Because we need good leaders, better leaders. I believe anyone will agree. I would also argue that we need for people, for everyone, to have faith in their leaders. Yet for either of these to be realistic, we need our leaders to have faith in themselves and their ability and effectiveness in leading others.  Without first establishing a foundation of competence and confidence, within our group of leaders and beyond, nothing else that we do will matter.

Do you agree?

If you do, the first priority should be to find new and better ways and tools to develop and guide our leaders. Our goal should be to develop good leaders who have the skills, knowledge and abilities required to have sufficient confidence in their own abilities, who fully understand and accept the importance and value of their role and responsibilities, and who are effective in building the authority needed to leading and developing individuals, teams and organizations to enable them to accomplish extraordinary things.

Because this is what leadership is all about! It’s what makes leadership fun and so worth it.

We will return to this topic in the weeks to come, discussing what the essence and practical implications of good leadership really is. Please feel free provide your thoughts, comments, and suggestions. I welcome thoughts of disagreement even more than those who agree.

What is your organization doing to develop better leaders? What is your plan for developing your own leadership skills?

2013 is here. Now. It’s your turn to lead.

2013 is upon us. A new year with new promise. How did you do with New Year’s resolutions in the past? Were you able to make real changes? Or did things return to normal too quickly?

Some among us spent a lot of time talking about how the world would end. It didn’t. We’re still here. Congratulations!

Now it’s time for action. No more excuses.

It’s time to fulfil your promise. It’s time to reignite your passion and your purpose.

It’s your turn to lead.

You have it in you to make extraordinary things happen. In your life, in your family, in your work.

It starts with clarifying your core values.

Align those values with your actions and the values of those around you. Small steps, every day.

We call this to Model the Way.

Next step: When are you at your best, both as a leader and as a person?

Most people describe their personal-best experiences as times when they imagined an exciting, highly attractive future for themselves, their families or organizations. They believe in their dreams and visions of what could be. They are able to live what they believe.

Do you remember the feeling? It’s like a drug. And still it’s real. And powerful.

Some people are able to maintain this optimism and state of mind on a continuous basis. Like the people who walk in the door and instantly make an impression of credibility and respect.

That is you.

You can Inspire a Shared Vision.

This is just the beginning of The Leadership Challenge. Small, deliberate steps with big real-world consequences.

2013 is upon us. A new year with new promise. It’s you turn to lead. The Future is Ours.

Thank you, Kayla, for inspiring this post.

Building a successful leadership pipeline – 7 things I learned the hard way

In 2010, I was hired by a European multinational company. My initial task: to engineer a program to develop their top 100 leaders and give rise to a more pronounced performance culture within the company.

It was a personal and professional challenge, and I grabbed it enthusiastically.

The company was growing and expanding both organically and through M&As, and the European economy was still doing fairly well. We had firm support from the board and senior leadership team. The leadership development program quickly took form, building on a framework of existing initiatives and programs and using both internal and external resources.

I was expecting that it could become difficult to implement a truly universal leadership program for the entire company, which employed staff and leaders in about a dozen European countries. Operating a program for leaders from such diverse countries, with different histories, cultures and languages – I knew there would be things that I would have to figure out under ways. And I was prepared for having to adapt parts of the program as it progressed and as we learned more about the effectiveness of the individual learning segments.

I was not prepared for having to completely rethink important elements that I, until then, had held to be more or less universally true and effective.

In retrospect, this was of course a good thing to have happen. I learned quite a bit over the following months. And I was reminded of several things that I already knew about leadership development, but that I at the time had come to neglect:

  1. It’s vital to have good support and buy-in from senior management, but it’s not enough.  In order to create a successful program, it is equally or more important to get the support and buy-in from local leaders at an early stage.
  2. A top-down concept and approach can work well, but can never be unilateral. An ideal leadership development program can (and arguably should) be centrally run and funded, but needs to be locally owned and operated in key aspects to be fully effective.
  3. It’s important to have accurate maps of the landscape before launching the program. It’s great to have a well-designed, well-funded and logistically sound program, but you will likely fail if you don’t include the understanding and perspectives of people on the ground regarding the learning topic. Take the time to observe and learn from the people who actually do the job and who know your processes, products, people and customers. In the case of leadership development, make sure you have a firm understanding of what leaders on the ground understand with key terms such as “leader”, “leadership”, “delegation” and “accountability”, and of what a leader “can and cannot do” as part of their corporate role and function.
  4. Make sure that all important stakeholders have the same understanding of program goals, benchmarks and timelines. You will need this whether the program is successful or not, and you will likely not be able to renegotiate this once the program is operational.
  5. Make sure you have a firm value base for the program, its benchmarks and operational goals. The likelihood of success (and program sustainability) increases significantly if your program is firmly grounded in a highly visible and operationally meaningful mission, vision, and set corporate values. This will answer the important questions that will be voiced from all levels and parts of the organization as the program unfolds – notably why, how, when and who. You need to be able to answer these question well and with legitimate conviction.
  6. It’s personal. Make it part of your schedule to visit and network with your stakeholders and constituents locally and centrally throughout the organization. Spend as much time as you can doing this, and it will always be worth it. But you should always do more. It is not the program in and by itself, but the relationships you build that will determine whether the program will be effective and successful.

Recent key indicators show the economy starting to exhibit new signs of life. That’s good news. The bad news is research shows many organizations in the US and across the globe cite bolstering leadership bench strength as a major workforce challenge.  As business begins to accelerate and companies rapidly expand their product and service strategies into neighboring countries and emerging economies, they often falter when it comes to constructing a solid leadership pipeline.

At Corporate Elements, we have considerable experience developing internal and external leadership development programs – locally, regionally, and globally. We partner with you and your organization to strengthen your existing leadership pipeline.

The Leadership Challenge® is our flagship leadership development program. It is based on The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® discovered through intensive research into the leadership competencies essential to getting extraordinary things done in organizations.

Contact us at (218) 329-0836 or by email at ole@corporateelements.com to schedule a free initial consultation.