Raising the level of your leadership

Bump, Bump, Bump…

On a recent road trip to Oklahoma, I was frequently annoyed by one of my pet peeves—concrete highways. They stink!

The very best case for concrete highways is thump, thump, thump…. After a few years, thump, thump, thump becomes bump, bump, bump…. Then inevitably, it is BUMP, BUMP, BUMP…. Eventually, weather and 18 wheelers take the road all the way to JAR, JAR, JAR…. When the road has been patched—as all concrete roads have been—the patches sing: shrrrrrrrp, shrrrrrrrp, shrrrrrrrp.… So, driving on concrete highways is a bump, bump, JAR, bump, BUMP, shrrrrrrp, bump…experience.

Driving through eastern Oklahoma, I was enjoying a bump, bump, JAR, bump, BUMP, shrrrrrrrp, bump…ride which was suddenly squeezed down to one lane because they were putting in an all new road. So now I was getting to enjoy this bump, bump, JAR, bump, BUMP, shrrrrrrrp, bump…at 40 miles per hour, but excited and hopeful that on my next trip the all new road would be smooooooooth.

Or would it? Unfortunately, the new road is being paved with—you guessed it—concrete. So while it will be smooooooooth for a year or two, it won’t be long before, like all concrete highways, it is back to bump, bump, JAR, bump, BUMP, shrrrrrrrp, bump…. The concrete companies and dentists (a teeth jarring ride is good for business) must have a strong lobby.

There is an old saying: If you do the same thing, the same way, you will get the same results. State highway commissioners must not be aware of this little kernel of truth. The question for you as a leader is: Are you aware of it?

If your organization (company, department, store, church, etc.) is caught in a bump, bump, JAR, bump, BUMP, shrrrrrrrp, bump…cycle, instead of trying to repair the concrete, maybe you should try something entirely new and different—like asphalt. If you are the leader, it has to start with you. Nobody else is going to tell the concrete companies and dentists to take a hike.

By the way, it is possible that the main thing that must be new and different is way you are leading. Just a thought.

Hazardous Cargo In The Office

Trucks carrying hazardous cargo are so commonplace on U.S. highways that most towns have road signs that prohibit the trucks from driving through the heart of the town—no hazardous cargo is permitted. Unfortunately, organizations of all types are full of different types of hazardous cargo.

In some organizations, the most hazardous cargo is the truth. It is routed around the corner office because the boss doesn’t want to hear it. And woe to the poor soul who dares to ignore the No HC Permitted sign on the door.

Rumors are a common form of highly toxic hazardous cargo. They move freely on the main communication highway of the office because the leaders operate with a “they don’t need to know” policy. If your followers don’t know what is going on, they’ll make something up.

Gossip is another form of hazardous cargo. It spills out in the hallways, contaminating everyone. The most destructive gossip originates in the corner office because it has the stamp of approval of the boss. But it’s still gossip.

Want to raise the level of your leadership? Get rid of the hazardous cargo in your organization. Find someone who will tell you the truth about yourself and the organization—even when it hurts. Communicate the truth so rumors can’t gain traction. And stamp out gossip—starting with any gossip that originates with you.

Love Your Turtles!

I was back on the Natchez Trace again (see last week’s post), but this time it was a turtle in the road. Not hurt in any way, just crossing the road very sloooooooooooowly—a target for the next car. Remembering my failure with the cardinal, I moved the turtle to the side of the road out of the danger zone—yeah, Dick!

As I continued my walk, I began to think of turtles as employees and how they contrast to race horses which are much faster and realized that some of my best employees have been turtles.

Race horses are fast, but have little endurance. Turtles are slow, but keep going all day.

Race horses are fragile. They break easily and need lots of attention. Turtles are hard-shelled and tough and prefer to be left alone to do turtle stuff.

Race horses are temperamental and have their feelings easily hurt. They have to rest for weeks between races. Turtles go about their business without much fuss and don’t need much couch time.

Race horses need private stalls, trainers, gourmet oats and bottled water—they’re spoiled. Turtles are happy with whatever comes their way–thankful for a good meal and a roof over their head (which they have all the time).

When race horses make their entrance, horns blow and people cheer. Then all but one of them lose. When turtles make their entrance…well actually, turtles don’t make an entrance.

Every organization needs both race horses and turtles. Race horses get all the press, but turtles are crucial to success too. Disagree with me? Fire all your turtles and see how you like working with nothing but race horses.

Time For The Wounded?

The Natchez Trace is a great place to walk/jog—lots of hills and beautiful scenery. I was only about 100 yards into my jog when I came across a bright red cardinal in the road. It watched me warily but did not move as I went past.

About ten yards later I realized something was wrong—the bird was stunned or hurt in some way. I paused, looked back, but then kept going. Another 50 yards and I looked back again—it was still in the middle of the road, a ready candidate to become road-kill. But, I kept going.

Every step become harder as my mind filled with images of a squashed bird and how Dottie was going to be mad at me for not helping it. Finally, at about two miles, I turned around and jogged back as fast as I could—dreading what I would find. Fortunately, it was gone. Either helped by someone else or recovered enough on its own to fly away.

Workplaces are full of wounded people. Wounded by abusive bully leaders, by gossip, by change that is leaving them behind, by personal issues that are spiraling out of control. You can see it in their faces, and you can see it in their performance.

One of the most difficult tasks for any leader is to take some time for the wounded. The leader can’t heal everyone, but it is amazing what a kind word, or cup of coffee, or a hug (appropriate hug), or a “why don’t you go home a little early today” will do to bring some relief to a wounded follower. Of course, if the leader is the one causing the wounds, only a permanent change in behavior combined with “I am so sorry” will help.

Look around at your followers today. Do you see someone that could use some encouragement and comfort? Do something. And don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t your job—it is!

By the way, I did better this morning. I was back on the Natchez Trace and there was a turtle…. (I’m getting ahead of myself; more about turtles in my next post.)

No Style Points For Leaders

In the world of competitive sports, “style points” are the difference between winning and losing in ice skating, gymnastics, diving and bull riding. Each of these has an element of “what you do” (degree of difficulty) and “how you look doing it” (style). So looking good is important.

However, in the world of leading organizations, style points aren’t worth much—especially in the long run. Substance, not style, is what matters for leaders.

What are the telltale signs of a “looking good” leader?

Charm: being charming is a great thing. Some people just have it. (I wish I had more of it.) Charm can carry a leader a long time with a large group that sees and hears but doesn’t really know the leader, but it will soon wear thin with those who know the leader best.

Charisma: Webster’s defines charisma as “personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm….” The definition tells all—magic isn’t real, it is an illusion—and leaders who rely on it aren’t real.

Chatter: don’t you get tired of leaders who always talk and never listen? All great leaders are great listeners and ask great questions. It is how they show respect for followers and how they learn (chatter leaders may think they know it all, but they don’t).

Cha-Cha: the Cha-Cha was a popular dance in the 50’s; disco was popular in the 70’s; the Macarena in the 90’s. Cha-Cha leaders always know the latest and most popular dance and they are good dancers. If leadership was a continuous big party, Cha-Cha leaders would be great leaders—but it’s not.

Chrome: chrome is on cars to make them look good—shiny, flashy, etc. But it is what’s underneath that really matters. Chrome can cover up corrosion, cracks and chipped paint. To repair a wrecked car, you start by pulling the chrome off. To repair a wrecked organization, you start by pulling the chrome off the leader.

“Looking good” may be half of the score in bull riding, but in leadership it’s not worth much at all.

Leaders Need Rebar Too

(Guest post by Carl Roberts, President, SW Business Resources)

Haiti’s devastating earthquake was a wakeup call throughout the world. But what I found interesting and frustrating was that a lot of the damage and destruction could have been avoided. Unfortunately, many buildings in Haiti were built without adequate reinforcement in the concrete walls. Translation: not enough or no rebar. Rebar is the iron rods that strengthens concrete and keeps concrete from crumbling like a cracker when outside forces hit.

We are like those structures. If we don’t have a solid infrastructure that is reinforced with the right character traits, then it becomes difficult to achieve our dreams and goals. Five traits critical to our success are:

Resiliency – Every person I have ever known or read about who has achieved something of importance in their lives has had to be resilient in overcoming obstacles or setbacks. Look around you and identify those in your circle of friends who have demonstrated this trait. Encourage them and learn from them.

Education – Another foundational trait. People who are high achievers and successful are constantly learning and helping others learn. They do this by reading, listening to peers and experts in their field, and electronic media such as CDs, DVDs and the internet. There are more ways for us to learn and glean information than ever before. Use all the resources available and don’t stop learning. It’s been said the books you read and people you know and associate with will impact your life greatly. Believe it.

Belief – Believe in what you do, who you are, and why your goals are worthy. Belief is the catalyst for change. The power of belief will open doors and windows for all types of opportunities.

Attitude – Many of the top motivational writers and speakers talk about the importance of attitude and how it is responsible for 80-90% of a person’s success. It is a lot easier to go through the day with a positive encouraging attitude than one filled with stinkin’ thinkin’. Develop a “can do” attitude. Remind yourself and others that they are fantastic and deserve the best life has to offer.

Reputation – Your integrity is critical in all areas of your life. Do not compromise your values and ethics. Stand for what’s right. By doing this, all your relationships will be stronger and the trust you and others have in each other will skyrocket.

These five traits are but a few that make a person strong and able to weather life’s storms. What are the others in your life?

Leader's FICO Score (#3 of 4)

Since credibility (credit-ability) is the most essential quality of leadership (essential meaning you can’t lead without it), it is crucial to know what it is and how to get it.

Credibility is that combination of trust and confidence that convinces people you can successfully lead them into the future. As a result, they voluntarily decide to follow you.

Trust is fragile—easily broken. Trust takes time to build, but can be torn down in a moment. Without trust, you can’t lead. You can herd, but you can’t lead.

Building trust starts with integrity. Integrity is simple. God gave us three integrity rules to live by:

  • Don’t cheat
  • Don’t steal
  • Don’t lie

The telling points of integrity are the little things like inflated expense accounts, taking office supplies home for personal use, business trips that are really vacations, and using organization credit cards for personal items. No matter how “small” your cheating, stealing or lying is, it is still cheating, stealing and lying, and your credibility will be destroyed by these things.

Dependability is also simple. It is always doing what you say you will do and always being consistent. Few things destroy trust faster than unfilled promises. And, few things create anxiety more than inconsistent behavior. Make sure that “my word is my bond” is actually true for you, and make sure that people know what to expect from you, especially in stressful situations.

Another important part of building trust is humility. Simply put, leading a team is not about you, it’s about the team. People trust you because they believe that you have their interests at heart, not just your own.

Every now and then look over your shoulder. If fewer and fewer people are following, it may be because they don’t trust you. So, what are you going to do about it? Do you have anyone who will tell you the truth about yourself? If not, find someone.

Leader’s FICO Score (#2 of 4)

Leaders have a credit score. It is their “credit-ability” which we call credibility. How important is credibility?

“The most essential quality for leadership is…credibility.” — Rick Warren

Since it is the most essential quality (essential meaning we can’t lead without it), we need to know what it is and how we get it.

Credibility is that combination of trust and confidence that convinces people you can successfully lead them into the future. As a result, they voluntarily decide to follow you.

Trust is about the heart. People trust you because they believe that you have their interests at heart, not just your own. The building blocks of trust are integrity, dependability and humility. Trust is hard to gain, easy to lose. Want to raise your Leadership FICO score? Start by building trust. (Leader’s FICO Score #3 will identify ways you can build trust.)

Confidence is about the future. It is people deciding to follow you because they have confidence you can get them to the finish line. The building blocks of confidence are relationships, courage and a track record of successfully leading. People may trust you, but if they don’t have confidence in you they will not follow. (Leader’s FICO Score #4 will identify ways you can build confidence.)

Credibility has to be earned. You do not have credibility just because you are in a position of leadership. People may follow you because they have to, but they will not follow you because they want to until you have a high Leadership FICO score with them.

Decide today: “I am going to raise my Leadership FICO score by building trust and confidence in my leadership.”

I'm All Ears!

Great leaders are always great listeners!

…listening is probably our greatest opportunity to give attention to others on a daily basis and convey how much we value them. — James C. Hunter

There are four reasons why listening is so important.

First, listening shows respect. When eye-to-eye with no distractions, it is one of the best gifts you can give to a team member, or your spouse. (Dottie made it clear to me that I could improve on this.)

Second, listening reveals humility. Especially in the work environment, it lets your team know you don’t think you have all the answers.

Third, listening promotes involvement. Giving everyone a voice gets more ideas on the table—some may be the breakthrough ideas you need.

Finally, listening is smart. After all, you might learn something.

Of course, I’m talking about genuine listening, not just letting people talk to make a show of it.

Need to raise the level of your leadership? (For all of us the answer is “yes.”) Become a great listener.

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  • On Leading Well…

    "The best way to lead people into the future is to connect with them deeply in the present."

    Kouzes & Posner


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