Self-expression is an element of emotional intelligence that is often misunderstood.
I have been thinking a lot recently about the dynamic relationship between leaders and followers. Primarily, my thoughts have centered around the fundamental concept of what it means for someone to lead me and what words best describe me as a follower, what I want a leader to contribute to my life. I don’t expect that what I am about to share will rock your world in any way. In fact, prior to reading on. why don’t you answer these questions for yourself, and then compare your thoughts to mine?
- What does it mean for someone to lead me?
- What word or words best describe what I want a leader to contribute to my life?
Let me tackle the second question first:
As I spent some time contemplating what I want a leader to contribute to my life, these four things came to mind:
- Trust in the vision they are creating. I think there is an inherent assumption that if I am going to allow someone to lead me in some way, then I am going to invest my time, talent, and/or my resources working toward whatever picture of the future they have. For me, if I am allowing someone to have influence over my life in any substantial way, I have to have some assurance that they are credible and have access to the knowledge and skill to get us moving toward our desired future state.
- Hope that the future is safe and abundant. While risk is inherent in any leader-follower relationship, I do think the Hippocratic Oath has merit not only in medicine but in leadership: First, do no harm. Resilience and optimism are both integral parts of the faith that we all put in leaders that have influence over us. We do not expect them to be perfect. It is reassuring that as we journey we will do it together and watch out for each other.
- Love me for who I am and how I was created. I am not talking about romantic love, but a brotherly love. A kind of love that recognizes the influence a leader has over me and yet respects my value and recognizes how I fit into the organization. No matter what happens this leader will have my back and I have theirs. This love values my strengths and accepts my weaknesses, a love that shows compassion.
How about you? What words did you come up with that you want a leader to contribute to your life?
As I reflected and examined the question above I noticed that in each of the descriptions I wrote another word kept surfacing that is a perfect one-word description of what it means for someone to lead me:
Influence is the sum of positive (I choose to focus on positive rather than coercive) behaviors that you as a leader exhibit that have an impact on the choices I have as a follower.
As a leader, you have a vision you are trying to implement, and an idea for how to get there. As a follower of yours, I recognize that you have some kind of authority over me. You don’t need to flaunt it. You have some idea about the direction you want all of us to go. You recognize that we have choices and hence you must be adept at getting your vision clearly articulated. You must be skilled at getting your thoughts and ideas integrated and communicated into the social structure of the organization. Influence is the idea that I “buy in” to your thoughts and ideas and am choosing to come along with you. As time moves on you continue to have some degree of power over my choices in the form of increasing my faith, knowledge, experience, and my integration into the community you are leading. As leaders, we must never forget that while it may seem desperate at times for some followers, they do have a choice whether to remain under your leadership or not.
Influence is the idea that I “buy in” to your thoughts and ideas and am choosing to come along with you. As time moves on you continue to have some degree of power over my choices in the form of increasing my faith, knowledge, experience, and my integration into the community you are leading. As leaders, we must never forget that while it may seem desperate at times for some followers, they do have a choice whether to remain under your leadership or not. As a follower of yours, I really desire to align myself with the social norms you create. You don’t need to degrade me in public. As your follower, I know you are going to do things for me and expect things in return. Share what you expect and then work with me to see if I can hit your expectation.
What Is Your Influencing Style?
As you might have guessed, psychologists have been studying this idea of influence for almost 100 years. While some of the terms have evolved, the ideas supporting the original make-up of what it means to influence have remained fairly constant.
Using an Influencing Styles Inventory Assessment leaders can discover the style they prefer to use most often, the benefits of that style, and some of the traps that overuse or misuse can cause.
This Influencing Style Assessment gives leaders the opportunity to obtain a certification to use with followers in their organization. This certification gives leaders and coaches a tool to find ideas and strategies for those in those in their sphere of influence to make them more effective.
Using The Influence Style Indicator
Angela is a new member of my team who is responsible for our marketing and social media efforts (you are reading this article, thanks to the hard work of Angela to get it out over many different media platforms.) I asked Angela to take the assessment and answer some questions about the Influence Style Indicator so you could learn more about it
Angela, How easy was this assessment to take and how long did it take you to complete it?
It was very easy, I received an email with a link directly to the assessment, and I completed it in about 15 minutes.
What is one thing that you learned about yourself from the assessment that you didn’t already know?
I learned that it does not come naturally to inspire others when I am trying to influence, and I actually learned that I was wrong about what I thought it meant to inspire others with my influence.
How do you see using this assessment as you influence others on our team?
I want to be more inspiring when influencing our team. The assessment showed me what it means to inspire with influence, which brings unity to a team. I was given many practical examples for how to inspire in a constructive way that moves things forward. I learned that even though the style of influence I most often tend to use is in making rational appeals for why my leadership should be followed, I really feel that inspiration is something I'd like to work into my influence style. I would love to be someone who leads others in ways that make them feel hopeful about not only my leadership but also their personal well-being.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to be more influential as a leader in their organization?
After taking this assessment, I would tell someone who wants to be more influential that they should really listen to themselves more closely when they are presenting their opinion on anything, not just in the workplace. Good influence is not just self-aware but requires a thoughtful care that often comes out through our words. There are many ways to influence, negative and positive, and when we are trying to influence others to go along with our plans, we can get so caught up in wanting to get our way that we do not stop to think about the best way to go about making that happen, and how to behave if that does not happen.
If you are interested in learning more about this assessment and how it can be valuable to your organization or your practice as a coach we would love to connect with you.
This article is the first in a four-part series for those who develop leaders to have more confidence and credibility.
Over the past 9 months at Livingston Consulting Group, we have been working on something pretty cool that I think many of you might find interesting, and possibly applicable to the leadership work that you do.
Here is Our Story
It all started with some conversations I was having with both my coaching clients and a few of the university students I teach in leadership development and executive coaching. At the end of my classes, I would get at least 3 emails from students saying something like, “I am getting a great education and will have a firm foundation for the direction I want my life to go. However, I feel like I am lacking the tools and resources to be successful.”
After having many phone conversations with these students about coaching, which often involved questions of process and procedure, coaching skill, sales and marketing, and practical development tools, I quickly saw needs and desires for leaders of all types:
- those who coach others
- those who shepherd others
- those who counsel others
- those who train others
- those who consult with others
- those who facilitate groups of others
The main message I heard as I talked with students and clients alike is that they desire to increase their credibility with those they serve. However, budgets are tightening, travel is becoming more restricted, virtual meetings are becoming a reality, and yet the leaders I talk with still lack quality tools to develop their followers.
Fast-forward to October of 2016: I am meeting with my virtual team (Brandi lives in Tampa, Angela lives in NYC, Michelle lives in Grand Rapids, Gretchen lives in Madrid, and Madison lives in Indianapolis,) and we are discussing Clayton Christensen’s book Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice. In the book, Christensen outlines his "theory of jobs" that details how organizations should decipher what job it is that they actually do for their customers.
As we are discussing this book, someone on the team asked, "So, what job are our customers really asking us to do?"
This was an easier question to answer in regards to the training and executive coaching that I do. But when it came to providing tools and resources to those who develop others we felt like…we were missing the boat.
So we worked on it.
And we decided that our mission and the job we perform is: to provide confidence and credibility to those who develop others.
The Next Step
I will not bore you will the details of launching this new endeavor, but the real highlight is that we will be offering certification in 4 new leadership assessments starting in April of 2017! Over the next few weeks, I will be giving you a peak into what these tools can do for you as a leader, as someone who develops leaders, or someone who is interested in becoming a leader.
Emerging Leader Profile 360
This week I will be highlighting an assessment called Emerging Leader Profile 360 Feedback (ELP 360.)
This assessment is an electronic 360-degree assessment for those in an organization who are showing leadership promise and want a development plan that takes them toward this vision. This tool allows their superiors, peers, and subordinates to give the emerging leader competency-based quantitative and qualitative feedback.
Brandi has been on my team for about 18 months now. She is responsible for all of our internal operations. While she has been in leadership roles in the past, the experience she had was not as positive as one would hope. So we decided to provide her with the ELP 360 as she is quickly emerging as a real leader on our team.
I asked Brandi a few questions that I thought you might enjoy her response to:
What was your overall impression of the Emerging Leader Profile 360?
I was pleasantly surprised by the comprehensive evaluation of my leadership that the Emerging Leader Profile 360 provided. Not only was the feedback I received from my manager, peers, and direct reports insightful and helpful, but I also found the self-evaluation to be incredibly valuable as it forced me to slow down and really think about how I interact with my work responsibilities, my colleagues, our clients, etc.
How did you initially feel when I approached you about taking the Emerging Leader Profile 360?
When I was approached about taking the Emerging Leader Profile 360 I was both excited and a bit nervous. Self-evaluation of my leadership is one thing, but to open myself up to the evaluation of others on my team was a bit intimidating. Feedback is often the catalyst for growth, so I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn about my leadership from the perspective of those who work closely with me on a day to day basis.
What is the most significant thing you learned about yourself from this feedback?
The most significant thing I learned about myself from this feedback has to do with my confidence as a leader. Both my self-evaluation and the feedback I received showed that I tend to “panic” when confronted or challenged by others. In the workplace, there will inevitably be times of unavoidable confrontation. As a leader, it is important that I develop the confidence necessary to express my thoughts in a healthy way, even in challenging times, rather than shutting down or avoiding the conflict entirely.
How do you see this feedback accelerating your leadership abilities?
The insight from the 360 feedback has given me clarity around a few key areas where I can focus on maximizing my strengths as well as developing areas where improvement is needed. The feedback I received has given me a fresh and energized perspective and I look forward to the ways I will grow and develop my leadership as a result of this experience.
Brandi, thank you for your transparency in sharing what you learned about yourself and this process.
How about you, leader?
Do you need to have confidence and credibility with those you develop? If so stay tuned, we have more stories coming over the next few weeks, and in April you will be able to register to get certified in these exciting leader development tools!
A good friend of mine (and an avid reader and commenter on this blog,) Ken, submitted my name as a speaker for an organization he is affiliated with. He emailed me asking if I would consider giving a talk and facilitating a dialogue on the value of emotional intelligence (EI). I am always humbled when anyone thinks that I might have something valuable to say when it comes to EI. It is one of my favorite subjects to talk about, and I often use the EQi 2.0 in training programs I do and with almost every coaching client I work with does a self-assessment that shows them what their leadership habits may appear like to others.
Now, here is what you need to know about Ken. His job is to serve as a hospice chaplain in Polk County Florida. His request was for me to come and speak to a group of his peers and his boss on the subject of how EI can be of value to a hospital chaplain.
Gulp! I have to admit, the email produced mixed feelings in me. Like I said above, I was humbled for sure, but scared out of my pants as well. Hospice chaplains...really?! While I might know something about EI, my immediate “knee-jerk” reaction was, I don’t know anything about hospice chaplains!
Then the negative self-talk started to creep in:
- You’re no expert in hospice care.
- What do you know about how to fit EI into their world?
- You have never even studied EI in this context, what if there is no data?
- Your not a very good public speaker.
- Maybe you should call him up and back out.
Now, am I the only one this happens too? When you are hit with a complex, tension-filled situation what do you do? Do you immediately become filled with fear, anxiety, and self-doubt? How do you stop the negative self-talk from creeping in and taking over your thinking?
Here is a quick and easy method that I use when this happens to me: I use an acronym I call "STOP." It is a four step method that helps me turn my negative thinking into a more positive and constructive use of my time and energy.
Stop: Do something to interrupt the cycle of negative thinking.
Take a deep breath: Breathing relaxes your tension, releases dopamine, and calms you down to think more clearly.
Other focused: Exercise empathy and become curious about what it is like to be in the other person's shoes.
Purpose a question: Asking questions can have a calming effect and bring you more into a zone of safety than one of fear.
Here is how the model helped me get rid of the negative thinking and increase my confidence in this situation:
When I first noticed the negative thinking creeping into my mind with the thought, you’re no expert in hospice, I should have taken the time to put this model into effect. Unfortunately, even though I teach this stuff, I got all the way down to, maybe you should call him and back out before I put this into practice.
Stop: Psychologists call this pattern interrupt. I noticed the negative thinking and I did something physical to draw attention away from the negative thought. In this case, I was sitting down when I read the email. When I finally noticed the negativity, I stood up. I concentrated on doing something different. Distract yourself away from the source of negativity.
Take a deep breath: When I stood up, I took several yoga style breaths. Focused on bringing my belly button to my spine. I actually could feel myself starting to calm down. This is often when I will also say a prayer, asking God for wisdom as I navigate these treacherous negative waters. I distracted myself from the negativity for a moment. That is the goal with this step.
Other Focused: I tried to take the thoughts off of myself and my shortcomings. I put my thoughts onto Ken and his team instead. I began to think, what might they need from a model like emotional intelligence? What value could it bring them? Notice the questions starting to form when I start to turn my thinking from self-referential to other-focused.
Purpose a question: I crafted an email back to Ken asking him, what are some common situations that hospital chaplains find themselves in where they need more EI? What had other speakers done that the chaplains found valuable? How had he used EI in his work as a hospice chaplain?
I noticed, then, that my fear and anxiety were dissipating into curiosity. I was moving from a lack of self-consciousness into a state of confidence by focusing on the value I could bring to this group of dedicated servants.
Self-Actualization and Optimism
According to authors Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book, EI always exists in balance. This is pretty easy to see when we think about a leader who is very self-confident but lacks any empathy or interpersonal ability. We often put a label on a leader who has this balance of qualities as being someone who is arrogant at best, and a real narcissist on the more clinical side of the psychology
In my case, I am usually a fairly self-perceptive person. This means that in part, I get a lot of meaning and purpose out of my life and the work I do. This is a real strength for me.
Most of the time I am optimistic, which means I have a positive outlook on the future and am fairly resilient in the face of setbacks. However, this ability can come into question, especially when fear or anxiety enter the stage. My optimism can turn into a negative downward spiral of self-critical thinking.
What I need when I am faced with these fears and anxieties is to balance my self-actualization and my waning level of optimism.
The STOP model helps me to put the brakes on the negative thinking, so I can use all the meaning and purpose I get in my life to teach and coach emotional intelligence, regaining my level of optimism.
I am happy to report that Ken and I have a call scheduled to talk through what value EI can bring to the hospice chaplains and the talk is scheduled for mid-April.
Homework: Where do fear and anxiety creep into your leadership? Can you anticipate when these events occur? When you feel your thoughts going negative, try using the STOP model to see if it can bring you back into emotional balance.
Every leader needs a voice who will speak truth to and help them see things that are not obvious. Henry Kissinger is famous for saying that one of the most difficult things for a young leader to do is to “speak truth to power;' to go up the power gradient with information that is contrary to what the hierarchical, authoritative, and referent, position believes to be true. We have all been there at points and felt the emotion of that moment. There is inherent organizational danger in communicating things to a leader that they are not seeing in the moment:
- You could be rejected which leads to embarrassment
- You could be dismissed which leads to self-doubt
- You could be humiliated which leads to isolation
- You could be discounted which leads to demoralization
The young leader has information that someone in a decision-making position needs to hear, and is frozen in the moment by these potentially negative outcomes.
The other side of the proposition is, all things being equal, there is huge upside in communicating to a leader what they are not seeing in the moment:
- You could be celebrated for the input
- You could be included in the decision-making process
- You could be honored for your courage
- You could be valued for your contribution
Whether a part of reality or a figment of our imagination as a young leader “speaking truth to power” can seem overwhelming. This is the risk tension that the young leader faces. Some of the mediators that go into the “speak truth to power" equation are:
- Culture of the organization-What is the level of freedom that truly exists for information sharing?
- Young leaders' personal-risk tolerance-Where do they fall on a spectrum between “wary” and “adventurous”?
- Receptivity of the leader to feedback-What is the historical behavior elicited when contrary opinions have been shared?
Receptivity of the Leader
I think we can all pretty easily agree that the young leader when faced with a decision to speak truth to power, has a burden that can feel like wearing a shirt made of lead.
However, as more senior leaders in organizations, how much of the burden falls on us to create an atmosphere where much of the risk is mediated for a young leader? How much of the responsibility is ours to create the environment in which others feel a freedom to be able to share?
I argue that much of the speaking-truth-to-power-dichotomy rests not in the hands of the deliverer but the receiver. And yet the senior leader is the one who often times has the most to lose by missing key information that was never brought to them. In the fast-paced, get it done now, microwave culture that organizations exist in today many of us cave into our survival reptilian brain that tells us to do whatever we can to survive.
Many times these environmental and personal factors are not acting in our favor. As leaders, we have to put effort into creating a persona and a culture so that the voice we need to be able to hear in our organization comes through.
5 Actions you can work on today
Here are my top 5 tips for leaders who want to improve their chances of hearing all the information they need to hear to be able to make an informed decision:
- Slow down your cadence-Most of the leadership mistakes I have made were because my world was moving fast and I did not slow down to see more possibilities. The faster I went, the more convinced I became that I was right, and the further away I got from the truth. Take a deep breath, count to 10, silently sing a familiar tune very slowly (I like; “Row, row, row, your boat), pray, do whatever you need to do to slow your reality down.
- Become curious-The practice is to suspend your need to be right or heard and to work really hard to understand the other person's position. Before you jump to conclusion or shoot them down because of what you know that they don’t, spend some time to really discern the message they are bringing to you.
- Always say thank you-So before it feels like I am your mom or kindergarten teacher, just hear me out. You would be surprised at how often I observe leaders in interactions where they turn and walk away without expressing gratitude. I don’t think it is an intent to be mean or degrading, the pressure of the moment takes the brain to the next thing rather than finishing the relationship with the current interaction. Researchers at USC found that simple acts of gratitude provide benefits ranging from feelings of reward and satisfaction to just helping people to hold on to their humanity.
- Spend time reflecting- At the end of your day take the time to review the day. Play back the interactions you had with others. Resist the temptation to become defensive and ask yourself questions like: I wonder what they were really trying to ask me? Why did I feel such a strong need to defend myself? Why did I feel such a strong need to exert power in the moment? What unintended consequences could the action I took cause?
- Do the inner work of developing your soul- The psychology data says you are as intelligent right now as you will ever be. Your personality is fully formed, so you know if you are extroverted or introverted. You have most of the skill you will ever need. So what is your next step in development? Do you need to work on developing the soul of your leadership?
If any of you would be interested in joining a group on what it means to develop the soul of the leader send an email to Info@DrScottLivingston.com. My assistant will coordinate a time for us to talk about your interest and what a group like this will look like.
Pick one of the 5 Actions above and work on it every day for a week. For example, in every personal interaction and every email you send, say “thank you." Work on making your attitude heartfelt and not rote. If you try any of these let me know how they go for you, I would love to hear.
It happens every year. Around the second week in January, just when I am recovering from my holiday vacation, my lovely wife of 32 years will ask me a very pointed question. It is a question that comes from her desire to know me and connect more deeply with me. Her question is:
“Scott, what is your word for the year?”
The answer gives her peace about where I am in life. I do not see it as a nagging question. Her intention is not meanness, nor is it meant to put me on the spot, although, it is direct. Her intention is to to get me to focus. To be honest, I like the question, it is deeply reflective of where I am at the moment, and what I am thinking about our future.
If you read this column with any regularity, you know I like to talk and write on a number of leadership-oriented topics. I am interested in many things. I love sports, reading, running and walking, and sitting around. I like sushi and steak (hamburgers are my favorite!) I listen to smooth jazz and “that Old Time Rock and Roll.” I love God, and people who screw up all the time. I guess you could say I am a classic Jack of all Trades, Master of None. I tend to bounce around a lot.
That said, it is totally fair that my wife wants to focus my attention. She deserves to know a single avenue I am going to go down in any given year. What am I going to concentrate on? What can she ask me about from time to time to see how I am doing?
In years past I have had words like:
Family Vacation Perform Read Persevere Wisdom
Last year my word was commit. I had a lot of business opportunities, and I really needed to focus on the next step to take in growing my business. The biggest need I had to meet as a leader was to commit to something and stick with the plan. I am the kind of guy who has an idea for a new book about twice a day, but who gets bored easily so that the book I thought about writing in the morning doesn’t seem nearly as interesting as the book I thought about writing in the afternoon.
2016 was a year I needed to commit to something and see it through to the end.
Powerful Leadership Question:
Why is having a Word For The Year such a powerful concept?
Perhaps the idea is best summed up by something I read recently about presidential inauguration speeches. After analyzing all the inauguration speeches given by the 44 U.S. presidents, researchers found an inverse correlation between the length of the speech given and the historical success of the president. In simple terms, the shorter the inaugural speech, the better the president. For example, Washington’s second speech came in at just 135 words. Jefferson, Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson all are credited with short speeches. After a quick Google search, I found that the longest speech belongs to William Henry Harrison who spoke for 1 hour and 45 minutes using over 9,000 words. He also delivered the address in a snowstorm, came down with pneumonia, and died a week later.
Brevity Has its Benefits
A Word of the Year can be a pin-pointed theme for your year. These attributes are what I look for when I am choosing my Word of the Year.
- Focused. This word keeps me grounded and centered. Since I have such an ability to stray off topic and chase rabbits down trails, The Word For the Year gives me a central point to return to often.
- Measurable. I can easily set goals around my word of the year. This allows me to be intentional and look for examples of how I am displaying my commitment in my life.
- Simple. Since it is only one word, I do not get distracted by complicated plot twists. It is easy for me to remember what I am trying to focus on in that given year.
- Memorable. While I am not completely losing my mind (some on my staff might disagree with this,) I find that it is easier and more efficient to search my mind for one word I want to remember than for some phrase or quip.
- Communicable. My word of the year is easy for me to communicate to others. The message is much less likely to get lost in translation if I keep my thoughts to one word.
My Word for 2017
This year the focus of my leadership life is contentment.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear this word? Lazy? Complacent? Comfortable? Peaceful?
For some, this word probably sends shivers up your spine. You may be saying something like, “interesting word for a guy who runs his own business!”
However, when I was researching this word I started with its definition. Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction. This does not mean that I stop trying, it does not mean I won't try my very best. In our company, we have adopted a verse from the Bible that says, “Whatever you do, work at it as for the Lord and not for men.” It reminds us that we need to have an attitude that reflects the work we do, which has an element of spirituality to it.
So, in no way does the word contentment mean complacent, or indifferent, or even comfortable!
What it does mean to me is that at the end of the day, when I finish the work I set out to do, or even if I don't get everything done that I hope to….I will be content. When I really want to meet with someone for an hour, but who only has 15 minutes instead, I will be content with the time I get. If I put a bid in on a project I really want to do and I don’t get the work, I will be content.
My real goal here is to put my very best effort in, knowing that I can be happy knowing I did my best. I don’t think contentment excludes self-examining where I could do better, nor does it mean accepting mediocrity. That is not my best. I will NOT be content if I do something without giving it my all.
The reason I chose contentment as my word of the year is to remind me that if I have done a good job, finished the race, and done the best I could with the talent and effort I have, then I should be content.
What is your word of the year? Have you ever thought through something like this? What kind of focus would this bring to your leadership life if you committed yourself to defining your year by one thing? Comment with your word and definition below so that we can connect throughout the year about how our words of the year are shaping us in 2017!
I was having a conversation with a really close friend the other day. This person is a high-level leader who has a lot of autonomy in his role. He can make many decisions that can affect many lives. His board of directors gives him a lot of latitude to direct the vision and mission of his organization. His team loves working with him.
He knows leadership. He not only articulates this in the way he speaks, but I can see the actions of his life. He is:
- Self-aware and others-aware.He knows his strengths and weaknesses, and is not afraid to admit when he doesn't know something. He is keenly aware of how others are presenting themselves.
- Communicates vision. He repeats the vision for his organization over and over and over. I mean, if you are part of his group and cannot articulate what the organization is about, then you must be trying not to understand. You might not like it, You might not agree with it, But there is one thing for sure…You HAVE HEARD IT!
- Displays cognitive and emotional intelligence. He is smart enough to be in his role and knows when his emotions are in play and how to manage them.
- Balances task and relationship. He realizes that leadership is about both Leaders have followers and they need to work together to create the organization's vision.
- Understands positives and negatives of culture. He knows that culture has both cool stuff about it and warts, and that is all just part of the cultural paradox.
- Change Matters. He moves his team forward because he knows if he stands still, they become irrelevant. He is keenly aware of dynamics of change like conflict, stress, and speed.
- Strategic and systematic thinker. He has a strong ability to know what the root issue is that needs to be addressed. He listens compassionately to all concerns and can keep his team focused on what the whole organization needs.
- Spiritually connected. He interacts with people showing both grace and mercy at appropriate times and has a strong moral compass.
He both knows leadership and acts as a leader. As you can tell, I am a fan. I am not in any way saying he is perfect, just that when it comes to leadership he really gets the core essence.
Our dialogue was actually quite short. Neither of us had much time that day, but the conversation was about something very important to both of us. We both are members of an organization that is struggling. Its current leadership has been in place for a few years.
Leading this organization is in no way easy. What is easy is to sit back (like I am doing) and be critical.
My intention is not to be negative or critical but to turn some of our observations of this organization into a learning moment for all of us.
Here are 5 leadership mistakes we quickly identified. Perhaps you could use this list as a reflection of where you are in your own leadership.
- Personal Agenda. The leader has become emotionally attached to his initial vision and doesn’t seem to be allowing himself the capacity to learn.
- Incremental Change. The leadership team has gotten into the weeds of the change that is needed. They are too focused on the tactics of making the change happen rather than staying strategic and delegating. This is causing the change to be micromanaged and blame is starting to occur.
- Spirit of Defensiveness. When strategy gets questions and an answer is given confidently. When people want more depth, the same answers are given only louder and with more extraversion. This behavior is turf-protection rather than a spirit of openness and curiosity.
- Vision possibility. While the vision for the organization is inspirational, it is one that is hard to relate to the practical. While inspiration carries with it emotion and cultural comfort, a vision has to do more than give a feeling of eating “Momma’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes." George Bernard Shaw gets attributed with one of my favorite vision quotes that makes the distinction between inspiration and possibility: “you see things; and you say, ‘why'. But I dream things that never were; and say 'why not!’.”
- Lack of personal awareness. Perhaps the biggest issue is that many people tell this leader he is great all the time. I think he has started to believe it. While I am sure he feels some pressure in the role, my concern for him is that he is falling prey to the invulnerability fallacy.
- The invulnerability fallacy. Because he has risen to the top, and many in the organization were excited he took the role, nothing can go wrong for him.
It is good for all of us to get really honest with ourselves from time to time. If you are sitting there telling yourself, “Well none of this happens to me so I am doing well," then perhaps you are suffering from the fallacy of thinking that you are all-knowing. I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains.
I think as leaders we need to constantly be challenging ourselves across a number of leadership domains. This is one of the reasons that coaching is so important. Every leader needs to have a voice who will speak truth to them. Who can help them see things that are not obvious. It is very difficult for someone who is internal to the organization and wants to stay, to deliver meaningful, long-term feedback. Once in awhile, someone will speak one word of truth, but very few will have the intestinal fortitude to continue on. This is one of the real values that coaching can bring. Hopefully, you are working with a coach, and this coach is providing you the challenge you need in your leadership life.
Every leader needs someone in their life who will keep them honest and humble, who doesn’t have much to lose in delivering bad news, a trusted voice who can lead the leader out of the wilderness, someone you can put your faith in because you know they have your best interest in mind.
I have given you 8 positive leadership dimensions and 5 things that can go wrong in leadership. Do a reflective assessment of your own leadership. Not that these two lists are in any way definitive, but use them to think, reflect, and assess what your leadership looks like. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
Many of you wind down a bit and focus on your family this time of year (and I am so proud of you for doing that), so you don’t want any heavy leadership stuff. However, more than one of you, now that Christmas is over, will sneak an hour or two just to catch up on email or see if anything happened over the last two days while you were off. The other thing you are probably starting to do is plan your development activities for 2017. With that in mind, I thought I would give you something quick to read that might be relevant for your 2017 development plan.
Here are the top 5 books I read this last year and a very brief synopsis of what I learned:
Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David Duncan
A very convincing argument is made about what the authors call "The Theory of Jobs." Basically what they are saying is that people hire companies and products to do a job for them. If you can figure out what people hire you for, then you have a unique advantage on how to market and position yourself.
Personal Application: I am asking myself "Why do people hire me as a coach? What job are they asking me to do for them?" My answer for this right now is that my clients desire an honest assessment of what their leadership looks like. I provide both that honest assessment they are seeking, as well as a compassionate response.
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
In this New York Times bestseller, a very powerful argument is made for what successful people really possess. So much emphasis is put on talent in our culture that we often overlook what allowed that talent to develop and thrive. Using both psychological research and powerful example, a very strong case is made for being passionate about a goal and then sticking with that goal over time. This combination is what leads to success.
Personal Application: I am using this book to write some high-level, mid-level, and low-level related goals. I have some things in both my professional and personal life that I want to still achieve. If I do not start moving on them, time will find a way of passing by. I need to write these goals down and have my coach hold me accountable to them.
A Man Called Ove. by Fredrik Backman
This is a brilliantly written piece of fiction that weaves the story of a man that I could have grown up next door to. Ove possess many quirky, yet admirable traits I kept finding myself saying, “Now, that is a really neat perspective! I wonder how I would show up in that situation?” For those of you who don’t usually read fiction, this is one that I really think you will enjoy. The best fiction story I have read in many years!
Personal Application: Since this is a book of fiction, it is hard to find application directly. I will say that this book has caused me to want to read more stories from Backman. If the rest of his work is as good as this, he for sure is a certifiable genius.
A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design by Frank Wiczek
Unlike A Man Called Ove, this book is deep and quite thick, not only in page number (over 400) but in content as well. Wickek is a Nobel Prize winner in physics, but don’t let this warning scare you away. This book speaks to one central question, “Does the world we live in embody beautiful ideas?” This book is more of a scientific and philosophical musing on what entails beauty. Since I love all three of these; science, philosophy, and the idea of beauty, this was a real winner for me. It is all I can do to resist myself and share with you the conclusion. If you like books that will make you think and challenge your current worldview, then this one is for you.
Personal Application: I am working hard at finding beauty in the world I live in. By searching for and recognizing beauty, I am more aware of the pain, suffering, and strife in the world, and what I am called to do about turning those things into beauty.
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippet
As I start this review I want to enforce that I am a happily married man. My wife, Kim and I, have been together for 32 years and neither of us would change that. Period. However, I do have a confession to make; I have a PROFESSIONAL crush on Krista Tippet. She is actually one of the top 5 people who I would love to meet and spend time with. The opening sentence of the book Krista writes states this, “I’m a person who listens for a living." Some of the people she has interviewed are those who have shaped the very fiber of our world's culture. This book is a distillation of the wisdom she has gleaned from her 30 years or so of interviewing scientists, poets, theologians, activists, who have in many ways shaped the culture of our world.
Personal Application: In reading this book I realize I need to be more open to what I do not know rather than only focusing on what I do know. I am working on becoming more comfortable with questions than answers. With paradox over position. With listening rather than convincing.
If you have any money on your Amazon gift card left or your Grandma gave you a crisp $20 for Christmas, you can’t go wrong with any of these. I guarantee it.
Homework: You really want to know what your homework is? Go buy one of these great reads and see what application you can make to your own leadership life! If you do this assignment, I would love to hear about it. why not post a comment or two. I love to discuss books and how they impact our leadership journies.
The coolest thing happened to me last night! My wife had a meeting and rather than sit at home in my office, she dropped me off at the local Starbucks. So I am sitting outside (a benefit of living in Florida) having a hot chai tea latte (my personal favorite), grading some papers for an Executive Coaching class I am teaching. I had graded about 12 papers and my eyes were starting to cross when an older gentleman sat down at the table next to mine.
I know better than to make eye contact. When you make eye contact, that is when they start talking. Even thought I had completed what I needed to get done, I had a chance to get ahead in the class. I had work to do. Just stay focused, Scott, you can do it. Just don’t look up.
But the words of my pastor’s sermon jumped into my mind at that very moment “the gift of Christmas is found in the margins." The point of his sermon last Sunday morning was that even when it looks like all is lost and you have no power of your own to provide, God is in the margins. Christmas is a time for hope because 2000 years ago the Romans had such powerful rule over all the people they had lost hope. Then, in the middle of the night, in a Bethlehem stable, HOPE showed up in the margins. God acted because he cared. I was thinking to myself, “Scott, how much do you care?"
…And as I was having this thought, you guessed it...
I looked up!
“You live around here?" the old-timer asked.
That was it. I was done for the night. Turns out he was a real talker. We spent the next 45 minutes together of which I asked 3 questions and he talked the entire time. And what a glorious night it turned out to be! Turns out he was a football coach from central Ohio down in Florida for Christmas with his daughter. He started in the high school ranks and worked his way up the coaching ladder. He has spent time with and coached for some of the all-time greats: Bo Schembechler, Tommy Tuberville, and even spent some time in the Canadian professional league.
I honestly could have listened to him all night. He had such a neat perspective on both football, coaching, and life.
Here are my three big take-a-ways from my conversation with the old coach.
- There is only one letter difference between "hire" and "fire." No matter which you are experiencing, there is probably some “ire” in each. Do the very best job you can with the job you have today. Hold everything loosely, because you never know when you could lose your job, even when you have a winning record. If you get a new job, there are others who wanted it and some of them might still be on the team.
- Professionals don’t need your advice. At the end of the day, the professional (football player or insert whatever noun you wish) gets paid for how they perform. Period. They are ultimately responsible for the decisions they make that affect their overall performance. There is too much victim mentality today. Too many people think they are entitled to something they haven’t put an ounce of effort into. Professionals might want you to help them think through something, or get some perspective, but don’t ever be fooled into thinking they want your advice.
- The end will come. One of my questions for him was, “In hindsight, would you do it again?” Without flinching or even much thinking, he said, “Without question!" He said, “I have this tablet thing at home (and I am dying laughing on the inside), and I get messages from other coaches, from past players, even from kids in my English class. They say, "Hey coach, good to see you are still alive. Did you see that game last night between Clemson and Virginia Tech?”
Then came one of the only pauses in roughly 45 minutes of conversation …
“Do it again…I would not have done anything else.”
In rather dramatic fashion, my wife pulls up in the old Kia Sorento to pick me up.
As I thanked him for the lively conversation and started to walk back to the car it hit me right between the eyes: God had shown up in the margin, but not as I had originally intended it.
My original idea was to show up and be some margin in this guys life. After all, he was older and all alone.
Turns out, I could not have been more wrong. Turns out I was the one who needed the blessing of someone else's company.
I don’t even know the old coach's name. For all I know maybe he wasn’t even a football coach. But I am really thankful he took the time to show up and provide some light into the margins of my life.
Maybe you know someone in your organization who is feeling marginalized. Maybe there is someone who needs a 45 minute Starbucks conversation. Even though you don’t have time, maybe what you need to do is stop and recognize that they are human too. Who knows, maybe you will be the one who ends up with the blessing. Merry Christmas!
Earlier this week I was feeling a bit stuck. I felt like there was something I wanted to articulate this week, but I was having a really hard time pulling it together. It felt like I was procrastinating. I had something that I needed to get done and I knew I needed to work on it, but it just wasn’t coming to me.
As I described the situation to my friend Joanne she said, “Are you sure you are procrastinating? Could it be that you are incubating?”
Now there was an interesting idea and perspective!
Joanne’s thought was that I had an idea that was just stewing around in my head but it wasn’t quite ready to come out yet. She suggested that I try a gratitude journal to see if that would help me break through.
So I did, and here is what I wrote:
Top Ten Things I Am Thankful For In this Season of Life
- I had an amazing week this week!
- On Saturday I spent the day facilitating a training with 50 leaders who examined their own emotional intelligence.
- Monday I spent time with some amazing coaching clients.
- Tuesday I facilitated a new workshop we are doing called “What You Know About Stress Is Killing You.”
- Wednesday and Thursday I worked with some amazing young leaders, helping them process an emotional intelligence 360.
- Friday I spent the day with my wife, Kim.
- Saturday Kim and I ran in the Everglades Half Marathon.
- Sunday we had an amazing day of worship at Grace River Church.
- A body that allows me to still run and exercise.
- Spending time in the morning with God.
- Writing this blog.
- A home without discord.
- Kids who call me during the week to check in.
- The picture I got from my Granddaughter this week that was drawn just for me.
- Airplanes so I can work with cool people and see my boys & their families in Columbus and my daughter and her husband in Madrid.
- My Team: Brandi, Gretchen, Amy, Rick, Tom, Joanne, & Tim.
- My beautiful wife who is the most amazing, faithful woman I know.
What Gratitude Did for Me
After I finished my list, which took me less than 5 minutes to do and just flowed off the end of my pen, I had an amazing insight.
What had been incubating in my head were the great relationships I have! My family, my clients, my team, and all of you who take the time to read these words.
I am so thankful for all of you. It is you who make my life joyous and complete.
My thanks to all of you for your encouragement and support in 2016. May God richly bless you and your family this holiday season.
Since this is Thanksgiving week, you don’t have any homework from me. Enjoy your week with your family and friends. If you're feeling ambitious this week, try creating your own Top 10 list of what you are thankful for. If you do this I encourage you to capture the emotion at the end of creating your list. How did expressing thanks make you feel? Now share this emotion with others. You will be glad you did!
Last week I had the opportunity to give a webinar to a group of highly talented coaches who are members of the Georgia International Coach Federation. The topic of our discussion was The Secret of Developing Emotional Intelligence. As webinars go, it was a fascinating hour of exploration on what leaders can do TODAY to become more emotionally intelligent. As we went through the topic there was one slide that really caught the attention of the coaches. There were more questions and comments about this one idea than any other we discussed.
Developing the Whole Leader
If you have followed these ramblings for any length of time, you know I am a big believer in the development of the entire person: body, mind, soul, and strength. The entire leader needs to show up every day. If we miss developing any part of our humanity then we become out of balance. If you ever have driven a car with a flat tire you know what it feels like when 3 of the tires are full of air and running fine, but one of them is lifeless and flat. You can’t go as far and you can’t go as fast. The same is true with leader development. If we don’t balance our development, we will struggle in the long-run with effectiveness in our leadership lives.
Developing your body entails paying attention to what you put in it, how you use it, and how you rest it. Developing your mind involves intellectual stimulation, creativity, and includes things like serious play.
Developing your mind involves intellectual stimulation, creativity, and includes things like serious play.
Developing your strength to me means your attitude. How are you showing up? Do you provide energy and enthusiasm to those you lead or do you “suck the life” out of the room? Strength entails attitude, passion, commitment, perseverance.
Developing your soul. This is what I want to engage you in today. The soul is the essence of who you are. This is often a scary place for some folks because it feels religious and spiritual on one hand, or conceptual and theoretical on the other. I want to acknowledge this fear and say that yes, there is an element of spirituality and theory in this idea of the soul. But it is not one we should run from or ignore, as it is one that for sure can affect our balance as a leader.
The soul is often thought of in terms of the human psyche. The etymology of the word psyche refers to the animating spirit of the individual. Those who are experts in the spiritual disciplines tell us this is the part of our humanity that is eternal and lives forever. If you believe this premise, then paying attention to what makes it up and developing it has real value to all of us, especially those called into leadership.
5 Realms of the Human Psyche
The graphic used in this post represents how I am looking at the human psyche these days. While this graphic is not a complete picture of the soul, I do think it begins to capture major components when it comes to leader development. (i.e. an example of what is not pictured would be a memory. I believe one aspect of the human soul is the capacity to recall history, even though our recollection at times can be dim.) The graphic is best read from the inside out, so that if some type of stimulus happens in our outside world, the first filter that stimulus goes through is your values and beliefs and then the reaction moves out toward a behavior you elicit.
At the very core of the leader are our values and beliefs. Some scholars will take these constructs and call this the leader's worldview. While every leader has a worldview, most of these structures that support the core of who we are, we don’t think much about. Your worldview is how you rationalize and explain everything that exists and that matters to you. A simple tool to understand your values is a values card sort.
Leadership Question: Do your values/beliefs/worldview align with your leadership principles and actions?
These emotions are your basic feelings and perceptions that shape your world. The feelings that are elicited by events, the recognition of those feelings, and the experience you have with the emotion are all part of the affective realm. Things like fear, disgust, happiness, surprise are all responses leaders elicit, recognize, and experience. I think the MSCEIT is an excellent development tool for understanding this level of emotion.
Leadership Question: Are you aware of the impact of your affective responses that you are not proud of?
The next realm is that of our preferences or personality. When you get a stimulus from outside, do you prefer to react via the outer realm of people and things or the inner world of ideas and impressions? There is no right or wrong in this domain, only what the individual finds most comfortable for them. Some of the more popular models for describing personality are DISC, MBTI, and a newer tool, the Pearman Personality Integrator.
Leadership Question: Do you know your personality type along with its strengths and inherent weaknesses?
Trait Emotional Intelligence
This level describes a leader's awareness of their emotional ability. While there are several models for describing trait emotional intelligence, my personal favorite is the Bar-On EQi 2.0. The model considers the emotional ability around 5 distinct domains such as self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal relationships, decision making, and stress management.
Leadership Question: Do you know how balanced emotionally you are as a leader?
Skills & Talents & Behaviors
Finally, we reach the outermost layer. It is actually the layer that is seen by the most casual of observers. Unless others know us well, rarely do they know our worldview or our emotional triggers. What they see are the skills and talents we display. Tools such as Strengthfinders, Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Inventory, or 360-degree feedback are valuable at helping leaders understand their behaviors and the impacts they can have on others.
As a leader, when you are thinking about developing this innermost part of who you are, I want to encourage you to develop the whole you. For example, you may be an excellent politician with great negotiating skills, but without a value structure to support your skill, we all know too well what we get when this happens. Before we are too hard on the politicians, you may be a minister who is very good at public speaking, but if you do not value people you may end up hurting those you say you care most about.
Leader, don’t leave any one of these domains to chance in your development. I encourage you to consider all of them as you think through what development needs you are planning for the next year. What I see too much of in my executive coaching practice is leaders wanting to focus on skill, rather than doing the deeper but more valuable work.
Best hopes as you traverse your own personal development.
"One of my clients had a profound impact on my life this week. What I heard him say is:
"Scott I realized that I have to take care of me. I am at my best when I am taking care of myself. I decided that I am going to do yoga when I get up in the morning, and I am going to exercise at noon. I am going to be conscious of my diet and make good choices about what goes into my body."
When I probed for the reason, he continued,
"There has been a lot of negativity in my life recently, and I am just not going to allow it to get me down any longer. I am going to choose the leader I want to be and not be some weak victim of circumstance."
According to the National Wellness Institute, wellness is "an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence."
Four things to notice about wellness:
- It is an active process. It is something you devote energy to making happen. It is intentional on your part as a leader.
- It starts with self-awareness. Are you aware of the moment when health choices present themselves?
- Wellness is a choice. You decide to be well in the moment, or say screw it and become a victim of your circumstance.
- There is an end game. A successful existence. This is your life. You only get one. Why not make it the very best that it can be?
The National Wellness Institute describes six different dimensions for us to consider as we examine our own wellbeing:
This week I want to focus on your Emotional Wellbeing as a leader.
One of my favorite authors is Martin Seligman. As a past president of the American Psychological Association, he has the credibility from a research standpoint that is really meaningful for me. In addition, Martin is a gifted storyteller who can weave a story together and then bring home a point that has real impact and causes me to pause and examine my own life.
One of my favorite stories that Martin tells is in his book Authentic Happiness. He details the stories of two of 180 nuns who are the subjects of an impactful and noteworthy study on longevity and happiness. If you want all the details, you really need to get the book, it is a great read. Here is the bottom line:
- 90% of the most cheerful 25% of the nuns was alive at age 85 vs. only 34% of the least cheerful 25%.
- 54% of the most cheerful quarter was alive at age 94, as opposed to only 11% of the least cheerful.
Studies of longevity are admittedly dicey and very complex from a pure science standpoint. Causality is extremely difficult to make a case for. However, one of the reasons this study is so impactful is that nuns lead very similar life. They eat similar food, they don’t smoke or drink alcohol, they have similar routines. Sure there are some other differences that could account for the results:
- Different levels of intellect
- Different depths of spirituality
- Different outlooks on the future
However, none of these in the research made any difference. The thing that Seligman points out that made a difference in the longevity of the nuns was the amount of positive feelings expressed.
If longevity is at least one measure of a successful existence, then the positive outlook you have on life matters!
Happiness and Emotional Intelligence
In the Emotional Intelligence training that I do as a part of my consulting, one of the attributes we measure is that of Happiness or Wellbeing. In the model we use there are four factors that comprise Wellbeing:
- Self-Regard: Believing in yourself and living according to your values.
- Self-Actualization: A willingness to learn and grow in accordance with your values.
- Interpersonal Relationships: Engaging in mutually satisfying relationships.
- Optimism: The ability to respond, recover, and claim a happy state from disappointments and setbacks in life
There are two important considerations as you evaluate your own level of well-being.
The first is that you display as much of these four attributes as you can. Believe in yourself and live according to your values. Learn and grow in areas that really matter to you. Have friends and ensure that there is reciprocity. Realize that things are not always going to go your way. It isn’t if you are going to have a setback in life it is when. What counts is how you respond.
The second is that you have balance between these attributes. For example, you want to make sure that your self-regard is balanced with your interpersonal relationships. If you have a high level of self-regard and low levels of interpersonal relationships, you could come across as prideful and in it for yourself. If you have low levels of self-regard and high interpersonal relationships, then you could come across as needy and not fun to be around.
As you think about the successful life you want to live as a leader, are you choosing to maximize and balance these 4 attributes of emotional health?
Rate yourself on a scale from one (low) to 10 (high) on each of the 4 attributes of well-being. Are you maximizing each attribute? Are all four of the attributes in balance with each other? As you reflect on these, what changes would you need to make to live a long and successful life?
I was recently interviewed to be a coach for a leader who runs a company owned by a venture capital organization. After laying out the situation for me, the person seeking to hire me asked a question I hear a lot at the end of an interview: “Based on what I have shared with you, Scott, can this leader be developed?” My answer to this question is almost 100% of the time a dramatic Yes!
It is not can a leader develop, rather, how difficult will it be for them and what are the chances that the desired change will be observable by followers? My position on leader development is simple: Anyone who has a positive, healthy, mental outlook can be developed through coaching - IF they really want to change. In coaching, we often spend too much time focusing on the skill of the coach and not enough on the desire of the leader to change.
I love what Angela Duckworth says at the end of her book, Grit, about this. You can grow your grit in one of two ways; from the inside-out, which is to cultivate your interests and practice. Her perspective is that you can also grow your grit from the outside-in via parenting, mentoring, friendship, and yes, even coaching. The question is not if change can occur, the question is how and how long.
I thought it might be fun to look at the “can the leader be developed" debate via a case study. This will give you an opportunity vote on whether you think these types of leaders can really learn and change.
You have an opening in your organization that has been created by the retirement of someone who has previously held a few different roles in the organization, but held the one he is retiring from for about 8 years. There have been several applications made since the posting of the job, but the choice has been narrowed down to two candidates. One is an internal candidate and one is an external candidate. Neither candidate is perfect for the role, so you know that some development is going to be required for this new leader even though both have a lot of experience. Experience is key, but part of your challenge is deciding on the type of experience you will value most. You get the feeling that some changes need to be made in the role. In your interviews, both candidates claim to be agents of change and have somewhat of a track record to support their accomplishments.
The Internal Candidate
Industry experience is on her side. She has been around for over 25 years and has strong support. In fact, in a meeting with the person who is retiring from the organization his quote regarding this internal candidate was that "Your decision is a no-brainer. The future success of the organization and everything that he has worked on his entire time in the organization depends upon the internal candidate being chosen.” You value the perspective of the retiring leader, but as you reflect on his actions and reputation he really has been a “bully” in how he has accomplished organizational changes.
There is no question she is bright and has a strong network in the organization.Those who love her almost have a blind passion for her. People who you have seen think deeply about problems and how to solve them in other circumstances, seem to just answer robotically in a sort of “corporate speak” type affirmation when you ask questions about her qualifications for the role. You get this blind stare from them that feels like, “What other choice do you have?"
Since this candidate is internal there is quite a bit of history on her performance. Your impression, as you reflect on her accomplishments, is that you are really not clear on exactly what she did. Your knee jerk reaction is that her decision-making at times has been poor. It even seems like over time her story changes to fit her image, you want to call it unethical but you really can’t because you just don’t feel like you have all the data to make a claim like that.
As you pour through her files, your impression is that her judgment hasn’t always been the best, but there is nothing in her Human Resources file that supports your feeling. The feeling you get is that the entire file isn’t there, like something is missing or been deleted but you can’t put your finger on it.
You write down on your yellow note pad: Internal Candidate development needs are decision-making and judgment. Perhaps a bit unethical.
The External Candidate
Talk about slinging from the hip. This guy just doesn’t hold back at all. Opinionated and brash is what comes to your mind. You are surprised that of all the external candidates the organization looked at his name rose to the top. There were several other qualified choices, but in the end, this “outsider” rose to the top. Go figure. You even ask yourself if you should start the external search over, but alas, getting a leader in position is more important that starting over. It seems like this search process has drug on way too long.
This external candidate has a lot of experience, although all of it has been built in a different industry. When you check around to get the scoop on him you find that there really seem to be two kinds of responses from those you talk with. Those who love him... really love him. Those who don’t... really don’t. Doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.
Since the candidate is external you wonder how his experience will translate into your organization. His external accomplishments are right in front of your eyes. You cannot deny his ability to make a tough decision. Countless people you talked to about him tell stories about the decisions he has made even when they were not the most popular.
As you pour through your notes on him, since you don’t have a formal file and some of the information he promised you has not come in yet, your impression is that while he can make the tough decision, he is a bit of a lone ranger. Your biggest concern is around fitness for the role. Really it comes down to his social skills, and he can at times be unpredictable and insensitive.
You write down on your yellow note pad: External Candidate development needs are Organizational Savvy and Executive Presence.
If these were the candidates you had to choose from to fill this important leadership position in your organization, what would you do? What questions are rumbling around in your head? Can you use good impulse control as the owner of this decision, separate yourself from your emotion, and make an informed decision? If you have all the information you need, what would you base your decision on? Does developing as a leader come into the equation? Which of the two candidates is most coachable? Which one seems to desire learning and development the most?
The Development Debate
You have a tough decision. Speaking strictly from a leadership perspective, which of the two candidates from the case study will respond to development and coaching? You know you are going to have some work to do no matter which candidate you choose. What kind of stories will you be able to tolerate as you observe the candidate you choose as a leader?
You glance down at your yellow note pad, which has reduced all the clutter and noise about your decision, to two sentences:
- External Candidate Development Needs: Organizational Savvy and Executive Presence.
- Internal Candidate Development Needs: Decision-Making and Judgment.
Which of these two is most likely able to change and develop upon the retirement of your current employee?
Watch the Presidential Debate tonight (Monday, September 26th) along with almost 100 million other people. Since no leader is perfect and we all need to develop, strictly from a leadership development perspective, what goes into your decision? I would love to know what you think. Send me a comment or a note. I am not really interested in how you will vote, rather I am much more interested in what you think about the nuances of leader development.
Let me start by saying I usually do not write on political leadership. However, November is coming upon us quickly and this election season has been nothing short of eventful. Is that what you would call it…eventful? Personally, I’ve had some good conversations about the upcoming elections with colleagues, friends, and for what I'm most thankful for, my kids. It's been interesting and equally rewarding seeing them do their own research as well as engage in conversations to find out what their mother and I think. What I've gathered from my kids and other individuals is a feeling of indecisiveness when it comes to the election. What I believe invokes this indecisiveness is the lack of trust in either of the candidates. Looking at their past actions and decisions, as well as hearing their claims and promises, presents some nonalignment that makes voters increasingly uncertain in the decision they will soon have to make.
At times I want to laugh out loud when I hear the pundits saying things like, “We are working on making our candidate seem more trustworthy." Trust, from my perspective, is not a short-term fix when it is violated. The time to think about trust is before the violation occurs. My hope and prayer for you as a leader is that you never have to work on restoring your follower's trust. I hope that in all you do, you remain trustworthy in the eyes of your constituents.
It is undoubtedly certain that trust is crucial in leadership, and if trust is broken it makes following leaders more difficult. In Robert Galford and Anne Seibold Drapeau's classic article The Enemies of Trust (Harvard Business Review), several examples of how trust can be destroyed are provided. You may be thinking, "I don't need an article to tell me that!" as I imagine many of us have experienced broken trust from leaders or even entire organizations (even as I eluded to with the current election). Instead of looking at trust from when it's broken, I want to give you two items to reflect on as a measure of the level of trust you have earned as a leader.
Be Clear and Consistent
In previous blog posts I have emphasized the importance in communication. I've also mentioned the importance of repetition so that what you communicate is remembered and repeated by your followers (hence why I keep repeating the importance of communication.) Yet, communication loses it's value when the message is not clear and consistent. If a leader isn't clear when articulating expectations, it is difficult for followers to trust that the leader even knows what it is that they want to be accomplished. Equally, when multiple messages get communicated, the inconsistency of the message leaves you with questions and hesitation, not assurance.
Not only should the message be consistent, but the standards of followers should be on an equal level. Galford and Drapeau suggest that leaders may show favoritism to certain employees so that particular employee stays with the organization, however, the leader "doesn't take into account the cynicism engendered in the rest of the organization." (The Enemies of Trust, HBR)
It's hard to talk about trust without centering the topic on honesty. Honesty is a compliment to trust. Think about a time someone was dishonest with you and the hesitancy you experienced trusting them the next time they gave you their word. That's a pretty basic example of the value of honesty, but let's think about some other circumstances where honesty from leaders is valuable. For example, Galford and Drapeau discuss the problems with false feedback and a leader's inability to be honest about their follower's performance, whether good or bad, hinders future decisions of termination or even promotion with employees. Not only does this lessen follower's trust in their leader, but it limits the growth of the organization.
Leaders also must be willing to trust their followers. Putting faith in your followers to complete a task or step up in their own leadership gives value and recognition to the follower. We all know leaders who "hoarded responsibility" from an employee, leaving the employee resentful for not having the opportunity to use his/her skills and develop professionally.
I have a feeling we are all going to be hearing a lot about trust between now and November. These are two metrics I am using to evaluate trust in political candidates. How about you? What will you be using to assess whether or not you trust your leaders?
Where to Go From Here?
You might be thinking, "This is an interesting perspective, Scott, but what do I do with it?" My goal with this post is not to leave you with a list of "should's and shouldn't's," but to simply get you thinking about the leaders in your life. Whether it's the ones you know and follow personally or the ones that are connected in your community, what do you trust or not trust in their leadership? Is their communication clear and consistent? Are they honest and trusting of their followers? What would help you trust your leaders? Or, an even bigger question might be, to help your followers trust you?
Spend some time reflecting on trust and what it means to you. How much do you value trust? How much do you expect your leaders to be trustworthy? What are some other habits of trust that you look for in a leader that we didn't mention? Let us know what they are in the comments below.
My good friend Kris Bowers is the president of the Indiana chapter of the Kiwanis Club. A few weeks ago she asked me to be the keynote speaker at their annual convention. I was honored to be asked by Kris, who is a classmate of mine from graduate school and a person who exudes servant leadership. Kris and I had the opportunity to talk over the phone about her organization and the goals for my talk prior to the event. As I was taking notes on what Kris was saying about Kiwanis and the direction the service organization was headed, one theme rang through loud and clear. According to Kris, this organization will thrive based upon the leadership that is exhibited.
Perhaps this is not a shocking revelation to you. I know so many of you who follow these musings truly believe that organizations rise and fall based upon their leadership.
And yet, how many of us fall into the leadership fallacies of:
- Leader has the best view.
- Leader is the smartest person in the room.
- Leader means power position.
- I got this far, I won’t fail.
- My experience is valid, so I am better grounded than anyone else.
I have to admit that I have to check myself often to guard against these traps. Just the other day I was talking with my staff about a product we are excited about rolling out in 2017. In the middle of the discussion, I had a moment of self-awareness. It was not an out of body experience or anything like that, however, I found myself both talking with the staff and observing their behavior at the same time. I realized I had been droning on for about 5 minutes with all my knowledge, wisdom, and experience about what we should do and how we should do it.
It was kind of surreal.
In the moment, my mind took me back to the keynote I had done for Kris and the Kiwanis Leaders of Indiana. You see, I had asked these leaders to think of a leader they admired the most, then to write down the leadership quality that was most admirable about that leader.
In a very brave technology moment for me, I had the 300 or so participants text the leadership quality that they admired most about the leader they were thinking of to my PollEverywhere account. The results of their work were shown instantly on the screen.
Here is the actual result of that poll:
Nowhere on this list of most admirable qualities is: Smartest in the room, Most Experienced, Can’t fail, All-powerfull.
As I studied the graphic, I found almost the exact opposite:
If we asked those who follow you to name the one attribute they admire most about your leadership, what word would they pick? What would your word cloud look like that would describe your leadership?
Spend some time in reflection on the last time you were with your team. Ask yourself, did you listen to them more than you tried to position your agenda? Did you really care what they had to say or did you just hold the time until you could exert your power? Were you able to remain positive even in the face of adversity? What does it mean for you to be humble and how does this attribute affect your leadership?
I recently had a conversation with a good friend of mine, Drew Wilkerson, on some interesting leadership ideas. I was excited because since Drew was my last call of the day and it was Tuesday, which meant Taco Tuesday at the Livingston home. My wife, Kim, and I were getting out all the ingredients so we could assemble our own tacos: tortillas, ground beef, cheese, lettuce, sour cream, etc. I noticed my wife, Kim, struggling to take the lid off of the salsa jar, so I gently gestured for her to give me the jar and proudly assumed the position to heroically twist the lid off the jar. It wouldn't budge. I put forth a little more effort, twisting harder this time. Nothing. I resorted to running it under hot water for a while, then took a towel to dry it before I tried again. Sure enough, the lid finally gave way and the jar was open for salsa to be enjoyed that evening.
Then it hit me. Drew and I had been talking about leadership LIDS as a part of our time together. During our conversation, the idea of the lid intrigued me. Yes, the lid is there as a cover or protection for what's inside, but could it also be a cover or barrier keeping you from what needs to be shared or utilized? Many times it's our own emotions and mentality that is holding us back.
In this blog, we are going to focus on four of these potential barriers: Loneliness, Indecisiveness, Defensiveness, and Selfishness.
Let's define the LIDS and consider how we remove them. As you read, think about your own leadership and which LIDS you need to take off of yourself. Which of these LIDS is holding you back from sharing what you have to offer?
Loneliness This could be something you are experiencing in the work place or in your personal life. It can creep up when you've physically spent too much time on your own or you feel as if no one can relate to what you are going through or processing. Feeling alone is difficult, and doing alone is even more challenging. As humans, we are meant for relationships. Although alone time can be rejuvenating, we aren't meant to remain there in order to progress or thrive.
Remove this lid: Invite people into your world. Whether it's including them on a project you are working on or asking someone to get coffee. If the loneliness doesn't subside and you are having trouble processing or expressing your thoughts, consider talking to a mentor, counselor, or coach that can help you.
Indecisiveness You may say that being indecisive comes from the inability to make a decision either because there's seems to be no wrong or right way to go. While that's true, I also see a lot of fear behind decision making. What if the decision I make is the wrong one? Yet making a decision is going to keep you moving while indecisiveness keeps you stagnant. How can you lead people if you aren't really going anywhere yourself?
Remove this Lid: Make a decision. As the familiar Nike brand claims, "Just Do It." Don't let the fear of failure keep you from moving forward. Making a mistake or taking a wrong turn doesn't mean you failed, instead, it's an opportunity to learn and grow.
Defensiveness In the great American sport of football, the defensive line has a responsibility to keep the other team's offense and quarterback from advancing the field with the ball. They push. They fight. This creates struggle and tension, not to mention it is exhausting as they keep it up until the other team scores or it is their turn to play offense. I bring up this example because we tend to think of defense as protecting, yet the defensive line isn't protecting anything. They are pushing back and preventing advancement. We can be defensive in our own lives thinking we are protecting something. This could be our job, our reputation, or more often than not, our pride. In this case, protection is a fallacy and our defensiveness creates a barrier and tension that prevents the advancement of our goals or our team.
Remove this lid: It takes some intentional awareness of your emotions to see when you may be acting defensively. Your heart might start beating faster, your body temperature rises, and you may feel your lips tighten or unconsciously cross your arms. Try to identify what happens when you start to feel defensive, why you are feeling it, and what you might think you're "protecting." How is your defensiveness hold your own team back?
Selfishness Putting your needs and desires before others is the easiest way to explain selfishness. It's even easier, unfortunately, to get caught up in selfishness if we don't stop to think about what we are doing or behaving. Consider what your priorities are right now. Are you focusing on your own advancements and needs? What about those of your team and followers? Don't get me wrong, self-care is important, as long as it's not at the expense of another person.
Remove this lid: Think about your goals, priorities, and needs. What would it look like if you included your team in those goals, changing "I" statements to "we." Even call on your team and followers to find our what their goals and priorities are, then think about how you can help them achieve their goals. Practice humility by stepping back, letting them take lead on a project, and praising them for a job well done publicly. Trust me, their success will be your success.
There may be other things you struggle with as a leader besides these four. I would love to hear from you and to have you describe your struggle. I promise two things: not to name you in any posting without permission, and to provide some perspective on overcoming your struggle in a subsequent post. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but as a community, I know we can all be better when we lean on each other.
Homework: Think about our LIDS analogy above and identify one of them that you need to remove. What action steps or conversations do you need to have in order to remove them? What benefits will come to you and your followers when you remove the lid?
A new trend in performance management is changing the landscape in the relationship between leaders and followers. In a recent article (At Kimberly-Clark, ‘Dead Wood’ Workers Have Nowhere to Hide) the Wall Street Journal reported on how organizations like Coca-Cola, GE, and Accenture are moving away from traditional yearly performance reviews to more real-time coaching and feedback. Top performers in all the generations, from millennials to baby boomers, are applauding this shift. Those who desire feedback to grow and improve are ready to get more frequent, relevant, and actionable input on their performance.
The Story: A Tale Of Two Perspectives
Remmy had worked with Shelia as a market analyst for 18 months. While Shelia considered Remmy a solid performer, her perspective is that he is not anywhere near ready for the promotion he asked for at his year-end review 6 months ago.
Shelia's Perspective Remmy has a solid development plan that was put in place 6 months ago. We reviewed the plan at our monthly one-on-one meeting, and for every two steps forward Remmy takes another one backward. He has done a much better job of partnering with his marketing and training colleagues. Remmy just doesn't seem to hear the coaching and feedback I am giving him on being more assertive in sharing the data he collects.
Remmy's Perspective I have learned everything I need to take the next step in my career. I have done all of the items on my development plan but I don't know how Shelia would know. When we meet it is always her agenda and some new fire that needs put out. "Be more assertive," she says. But really what she wants is for me to just be more like her. We never seem to have time to review how projects have gone or even use 10 minutes of our monthly one-on one time for me to get any feedback besides be more assertive. Shelia is so busy and I feel like if I am proactive with her about my development she will just give me some line about millennials all being alike. "Impatient" is the label she uses most. I heard a podcast recently that said if you want to get ahead you had to switch companies. I like it here, but maybe the reality is I need to move on.
What Shelia is Missing
Emotional Intelligence is being aware of your emotions and those around you. Self Awareness is where this discipline begins. Part of this self-awareness is recognizing your perspectives and biases as a leader. Another important part is being able to express them.
I want to acknowledge that there is a lot going on in the case study above. There are many twists and turns it could take.
The aspect I want to focus on is Shelia's perspective. This is what needs to change. I would argue that Shelia has all the skill she needs. She is most likely transfixed on a perspective that has served her well in the past. The question is, does this perspective still serve her today?
Shelia observed at some point that Remmy could be more assertive. Point taken. Is she self-aware enough to know her investment in Remmy has been less than adequate? Is she aware that Remmy has developed, but that what is stuck is her perspective?
There are three dimensions she needs to consider improving in executing her role as the leader of her team and individuals like Remmy. Using a leadership model like emotional intelligence can give Shelia the real-time implementable change she needs to coach Remmy to higher levels of performance.
The days of leaders being able to interact infrequently and provide feedback on irregular intervals are in the past. Shelia could consider her:
- Emotional Self-Awareness - Is she aware of the impact her emotion is having on the situation? Are her emotions clouding her thinking?
- Interpersonal Relationships - Has she taken the time for the relationship to be mutually satisfying? Does she realize she is reaping the reward of her investment ?
Relevant coaching and feedback means that you have the other person's best interest in mind and that what is being coached can actually be observed and has context for the improvement.
- Self-Regard - Having enough confidence in herself and her expectations. Not only stating what can change but why this change gets the person being coached where they want to be.
- Reality Testing - Ensuring she has all of the assumptions she needs to make accurate decisions. What data could she be missing? Is she seeing everything as it really is?
- Emotional Expression - Is she being honest with Remmy about how she is feeling or is she defaulting to biases and generalizations?
- Assertiveness - Can she be assertive and compassionate at the same time?
Emotional Intelligence is a powerful lens for leaders to reflect, examine, and develop their leadership abilities. As expectations for leaders continue to change, what preferences and perspectives are you using that need to be reexamined? Could emotional intelligence be a valuable lens for your self-examination?
What one change do you need to make in your approach to development discussions? Perhaps you see individual development as a long-term process and you are thinking about repositioning this into short-term events. Thinking about development as taking bites of a meal rather than dinner itself. How could focusing on developing your emotional intelligence help you make this change that is rooted in preference?
Sometimes I like to dig deep into data or theory to find answers to questions I am asking. Other times simple truth is enough for me. Today is a simple truth kind of day. Today is a simple truth kind of day.
A few weeks ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an article where the author was touting the benefits of UBI (Universal Basic Income). Without getting into all the details of UBI, it is being pitched as a replacement for the welfare state that has been created in this country. If you want to learn more about UBI you can click here. I have to admit, that the idea has some interesting merit in my mind.
Rather than go deep into UBI theory, I want to focus on a “letter to the editor" that was written in response to the article.
M.R.Ward, Sr. from Garland, Texas wrote the following:
"There are three types of people: frugals, who produce more than they consume; prodigals, who by choice produce less than they consume; and the disabled, who physically can’t produce as much as they consume. A country’s success depends on fair treatment of all three groups. America today unfortunately treats prodigals the same as the disabled."
Brilliant, right? At the end of the day, you are either producing more that you take in, consuming more than you produce, or you are on the sideline for some reason. I actually think Mr. Ward is right. We are treating those, who by their own choice and volition choose not to produce, just like we treat those who can’t produce.
Where I disagree with Mr. Ward is that each needs fair treatment. I would argue that each needs to be treated justly.
The idea of fairness says everyone gets treated the same, regardless of circumstance. The idea of "everyone gets a trophy at the end of the season." The idea of justice says you get what you deserve. Our country’s entire legal system is built on justice, not fairness.
The Link To Leadership
My wife and I got to spend some time a few weeks ago in the John Muir National Forest just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. What a beautiful piece of the world! If you have not been, please put it on your bucket list.
As we were walking by some of the beautiful trees, I stopped to read one of the signs posted along the way. You can read the sign for yourself below:
The thought then hit me! The original tree did not die. It had developed such a strong root system that it survived disaster and grew new life. From this one tree came five or six more.
The question I am asking myself is this: What do the redwoods know about survival that those of us who work in organizations are missing?
What would Mr. Ward say about this? Well, since I don’t know him personally and can't ask him, I thought I might take a guess...
“There are three types of leaders in this world. Investors, who develop others and multiply themselves. Croupier’s, who rake in everything for themselves, and the Inert, those who lead but are not worth following.”
I would argue that an organization's success is dependent on rewarding investors.
Unfortunately, in the work I do, I hear far too many stories of the croupier getting far too many accolades. These folks are very different from the inert. The croupier’s are working and getting things done. However, they tend to be selfish, credit grabbers.
In too many organizations these folks get away with extremely poor behavior in the name of performance. It sounds like this:
“Well you know that is just Neutron Bob, he destroys the people in his organization but boy can he get projects done!”
So we let Bob the Croupier get away with poor behavior. That is, until he doesn’t perform. The first quarter that Bob doesn’t hit his goals, he is shuffled out the door.
Before we get too critical of the for profit business sector, which is probably where your mind goes when a story like this is related, let me say that I see this type of behavior in ALL organizations I work with. From for profit, to nonprofit, to government. This type of leadership is even prevalent in places you think it would not exist, like in local churches and ministry organizations.
Time for a Change
Perhaps it is time that we begin looking at performance in a different way.
Perhaps in addition to performance metrics and goals, we start rewarding and encouraging those leaders who invest in and develop others.
Perhaps we start giving public recognition to those who really do care enough about the mission and vision of the organization to invest in others.
Performance is a key ingredient, no doubt. But so is the growth of young leaders for the survival of your mission.
Identify 5 leaders in your organization and really invest in them. Show them that you care by spending time with them. A very good client of mine who is an expert in training and development says 70% of an employee’s development comes from on the job training. Why not become an active part of that 70%? Help them learn, help them grow. Give them a strong root system so that when you are no longer there the organization lives on. Learn from the Redwoods!
There are times when I want to start new things but hesitate because I am afraid I won’t know what to do. I felt this way for a long time with Facebook and LinkedIn. Everyone was doing it, it seemed simple and fun, but I didn’t want to look silly if I couldn't figure it out. I didn't know what to do, so I sat on the sideline and watched rather than jumping in and learning. I felt with same way with this blog. For over a year, I wrestled with the idea. Should I start blogging? What would I say? What would other people think about what I had to say? All this negativity swirled around in my mind.
Then one day I listened to a podcast by Michael Hyatt. I remember Michael saying something like, “Stop thinking about it and start doing it." He gave 5 simple steps that I followed to start my blog. And shazam! Here we are today. Those steps gave me the confidence I needed to start something I wanted to do.
This got me thinking; There are probably people out there that have this similar problem. Maybe there are people hesitant to coach others simply because they don’t know where to start. Maybe this is you! If only you had an outline of steps to take that would give you the confidence you need to do it.
This led me to reflect on what I do when I get a coaching client for the first time and outline the major ingredients that go into every coaching engagement that I do. Please enjoy my recipe for a successful coaching engagement in 7 simple steps below and try putting them to practice.
(I think this model is transferable. So if you are a professional coach, a supervisor of employees, or a Mom or Dad coaching a youth soccer team, following these 7 steps can mean the difference for your outcome being successful!)
7 Steps To Successful Coaching
- Begin With an Open Mind Coaching never begins in a vacuum. We all come into coaching relationships with biases. Coaches must come to clients with an open mind. The client must be seen as being a whole and healthy person. While there are times when you will have received information from others, focus on what the client is saying to you.
- Get to Know Your Client It is hard to coach without knowing more information about your client. Find out more about who they are, what they do, their life story, and what they hope to accomplish. Consider putting together a series of questions that could apply to any client you serve. Personally, I use multiple types of assessments with my clients.
- Confirm With the Client It is always important that you validate the collected data with the client. You want the client to be confident that you understand their perspective on what is happening, why the did what they did, or what is the genesis of how they are thinking or feeling.
- Compare the Data to a Standard Once the client agrees with the collected data, you'll compare it to an acceptable standard. The client must agree that the standard is acceptable. If they do not, then the data may become meaningless because the objective of what the data revealed could become irrelevant. For example, I had a client who gave the appearance of being arrogant. The data we collected from others in the organization said this person’s primary objective was to get their own way all the time. This behavior is the polar opposite of what is expected in the organization: being collaborative. Before I can coach the person to a more collaborative style, they have to agree that collaboration is the right standard. Once this happens we can begin work on the arrogance. If collaboration isn’t the mutually agreed upon goal then it is tough to improve the behavior.
- Identify Gaps Gaps are the space that exist between the client's current behavior and the agreed upon standard. They are the difference between where the client is now and where they would like to be in the future.It is useful to talk these gaps out and to get examples of where they have taken place. Coaches should always be looking for gaps between current and expected performance.
- Set a Plan to Close the Gaps
When planning with your clients, develop a simple plan that is laser focused on one or two items. When we give people too much we lose focus and the person runs the risk of being overwhelmed. When examining the performance standard I use the Stop/Start/Continue model. Here's how it works:
- What behaviors do they need to stop?
- What behaviors do they need to start?
- What behaviors need to continue?
- Do not short change the "continue" aspect. Often by stopping and starting a few simple things, people will see dramatic change. Most of the time they are doing a lot of things right, which you want to encourage to continue.
- Establish a Date to Follow-Up It is my opinion that this step is where most coaching fails. There is no date set to follow-up, no check-in’s to see how the person is doing, and little to no interaction at all once a plan is put in place. Follow-up with those you coach is the most important part of the coaching relationship! I recommend scheduling all follow-up meetings with your client at the end of your sessions together. This will enforce some accountability on their end and help you maintain the relationship.
Coaching is a valuable skill for helping others become the best person they desire to become. Coaching skills are important tools that anyone in a leadership position needs to possess. Whether you have employees on your team or you are responsible for a group of 8-year-old girls on a soccer field, coaching is the transportation vehicle you use to help an idea become a behavior.
Identify a person in your life who needs your coaching, or better yet someone who is already getting your coaching. Think about whether you have followed all 7 steps to successful coaching within that relationship. Is there any step that you have missed? How can you use these 7 steps to coach yourself to improve your own coaching outcomes? We would love to hear from you regarding what you think about this process. Leave us a comment below!
A lifeline is defined as "a rope or line used for life-saving, typically one thrown to rescue someone in difficulties in water or one used by sailors to secure themselves to a boat." Things can happen to us in our lives that give us a similar feeling of sinking or being stuck. If we don’t have some help to secure us, we can begin to feel alone and hopeless.
From time to time, we all need a lifeline thrown to us by others who are showing care and compassion.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have spent most of my time taking a much-needed vacation. In addition to this down time, I scheduled some time for writing and research for a couple of new courses I am teaching. During this time, my interaction with my coaching and training clients is limited to text and phone conversations.
About 10 days into this period, I noticed something quite odd.
I was starting to get a little down. Not an all out depression, but I was noticing something declining in my overall mood. The feeling was like I was sinking. There wasn’t anything bad that had happened to me. In fact, I had just come off a very restful vacation! I had plenty of things that needed to get done.
Nonetheless, there it was. The feeling of not having enough of the connections that are the reason that I love the work I do.
Basic Human Psychology
It is fairly common knowledge amongst psychologists that the feeling of isolation can be a key determinant for a wide range of human ailments, from depression all the way through to premature death!
I know I wasn't totally isolated during that time, but as I sit back and reflect, I sure was feeling lonely.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that there are very few public health initiatives to combat loneliness, even though this state of being is riskier to “health and survival than cigarette smoking or obesity.”
Loneliness a bigger health risk than smoking or being overweight?
I was floored by that! Here is why. My personal physician, in my opinion, is the best in the world.
Seriously, he is an amazing clinician! He is constantly asking about my smoking habits (which I don’t), how much alcohol I am drinking, and how much red meat I am eating. He takes my blood, weighs me on a scale (which is always 3 pounds heavier than any other scale I ever get on), takes my blood pressure, and once a year hooks me up to an EKG. I do routine sonograms of my kidney because 3 years ago I had a small tumor removed. As part of his practice, I even have access to a dietician and an exercise physiologist. He spends no less than 40 minutes with me on every visit. I mean the dude has it going on. I love him!
In spite of all this great care I get, I don’t ever recall being asked about my social life, work life, or my important relationships! Perhaps my physician is assessing all of this without my knowledge by how I present in the office.
My point is not to question how to practice medicine. Rather, my point is that if loneliness is really a bigger health risk than cigarette smoking and obesity, then perhaps it is something that we as leaders should pay closer attention to. Are there people in our sphere of influence that need a lifeline from time to time?
Impact on Leadership
According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry February 2015 issue, the economic burden of depression, including workplace costs, direct costs, and suicide-related costs, was estimated to be $210.5 billion in 2010.
Major depression, the disease of dark thoughts, hits 16% of all Americans, who are twice as likely to be diagnosed with it during their lifetimes as they are to be diagnosed with cancer.
So this state of loneliness, which can lead to or be a part of a clinical depression, has an economic business impact, and must not just be seen as a social issue.
A very insightful study was published last October in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Researchers wanted to know the impacts and categories of social contact, or lack of it, that might predict clinical depression. In studying over 11 thousand people over the age of 50 the scientists found that only face-to-face interaction forestalled depression in older adults. Phone calls made a difference to people with a history of mood disorders but not to anyone else. Email and texts had no impact at all.
The lifeline that people need, according to this study, is face-to-face interaction
How often people got together with friends and family—or didn’t—turned out to be key. What’s more, the researchers discovered that the more in-person contact there was in the present, the less likely that depression may occur in the future. Participants who had minimal social contacts had the highest depressive symptom rate, while those who connected with people in person at least three times a week had the lowest.
It would seem that the more people got together in person, the better off they were!
What could we as leaders do to become part of the solution?
I can stop that feeling…Or can I?
Mayoclinic.org has some very simple steps for preventing depression. The 5 I thought most relevant to our discussion are:
- Control your stress
- Increase your resilience
- Boost your self-esteem
- Reach out to family and friends (i.e.. grab a lifeline)
- Get help fast
As leaders, I think we can be intentional with those under our responsibility. Here is how I would adapt the above list for leader-follower interactions.
- Become attuned to what stress looks like for people on your team.
- Meet regularly with followers at least every week to two weeks.
- Prioritize these meetings.
- Spend most of your time listening and asking questions, rather than being in "solve mode."
- Meet in person if at all possible. If not, use video chat like FaceTime or Zoom.
- Give them some assurances that you believe in them.
- Establish a culture that encourages learning from mistakes.
- Do spot check-ins in times of high stress.
- If a teammate seems down, ask about it early.
- Consider frequent mini-sabbaticals as a way to rejuvenate.
How often are you connecting with those you lead? How intentional are you in making connections? Who on your team seems a little down and needs to know you believe in them? Why not become more intentional in reaching out and touching someone? Who knows, that might just be what is needed to help your team reach peak performance.