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Leadership Runs Downhill

I am sometimes asked for my opinion on someone’s leadership ability. I usually qualify my answer by reminding the person asking that it really is just an opinion. I can make a highly educated guess but unless I am very familiar with the people the individual leads it really is just a guess. 

I can only provide a truly qualified answer if I understand the level and quality of influence the leader has on their people. Because more than anything else, leadership, at least Authentic Servant Leadership, is about people. 

I can observe a person’s judgment to provide insight into their leadership ability. I can listen to them as they talk about their vision for the organization and that also helps understand how they might lead. 

I can even watch as they interact with those that they lead to determine the level of interest they actually have in helping their people succeed. But without really knowing what difference they have made in the lives of those they lead, I can’t, and neither can anyone else, really form a complete opinion. 

To receive high “marks” as a leader they must have helped at least one of their people become a leader. No matter what else a leader has accomplished they have not completely succeeded as a leader unless they have built more leaders. Their leadership should run downhill to those they lead. They must transfer part of themselves into and onto their people to help them grow as leaders.

To determine the true effectiveness of a leader don’t look at the leader, look at the people they lead. That’s where you’ll discover all you need to know.

 
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Don’t Worry About Mistakes and Problems

Mistakes and problems have much in common. One (mistakes) will very often cause the other (problems). No one likes either, we complain about problems and we dislike mistakes, so much so that we often refuse to admit making one. 

The other thing that mistakes and problems have in common is that less successful people seem to dwell on them. They linger much longer than is required to learn from a problem and sometimes they hang onto a mistake (usually someone else’s) as if it were a treasured heirloom. 

Successful people learn from their mistakes. The most successful people learn from the mistakes of others. Successful people see a problem as something to be tackled and overcome. The most successful people see a problem for what it is, an opportunity to come out of a situation better than they went into it.

Some people worry about problems, successful people worry about how to solve them. The most successful people don’t worry….. they know mistakes and problems will happen and they develop plans, in advance, to correct and overcome them.

The most successful people also know this simple fact: you are unlikely to ever fix a mistake you won’t admit was made and you’ll never overcome a problem you refuse to acknowledge exists. 

Dale Carnegie said that when we make a mistake we should admit it “quickly and emphatically.” Denying your mistake is another mistake; it makes it hard for others to help you. When we accept our part in a mistake and acknowledge it then others can be more willing to help us fix it. 

That means that the first step in fixing a mistake is admitting it. Acknowledge it, be specific, be honest and straightforward. Be brief as well, you’re admitting a mistake not making a speech. There is no need to make the mistake bigger than it is as a show of contrition. Accept your responsibility, apologize if an apology is called for and move on.

Problems for the most part are dealt with “automatically.” You see a problem, something doesn’t work right, you either fix it or get it fixed. You run out of something around the house you go and get more.  Most people deal with problems all the time, the little ones we don’t even really call a problem. By the way, if you have a solution it is in fact NOT a real problem.

What are real problems however are the situations that we don’t know how to deal with. Problems may also be something we do know how to deal with but it’s too unpleasant or uncomfortable for us to tackle. So we avoid it. 

There are lots of good problem solving strategies to be found on the web but let me offer you the most important one here.

Do not ignore any problem hoping it with go away on it’s own. Do not hope “no one notices” or “no one finds out.” Somebody will notice and somebody will find out. Big problems were once just little problems that were ignored or hidden. Problems do not normally fix themselves. Problems do not magically disappear and they do not typically grow smaller. 

Delay and procrastination are the fertilizers that little problems need to grow into big ones. Solve the problem the moment you know how to solve the problem, once you have a solution there is no logical reason to delay.

The most successful people don’t fertilize their problems, they eradicate them! How about you?

 
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The Truth About Multitasking

Most everyone agrees that focus is a major key to success. The ability to block out distractions and hone in on the task required for success is often what separates the most successful people from the merely successful people.

Multitasking is nearly the exact opposite of focus. 

As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. But researchers say it’s still a myth and they have the data to prove it.

“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.

What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.

“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”

In reality, multitasking slows your thinking. A brain attempting to perform two tasks simultaneously will, because of all the back-and-forth stress, exhibit a substantial lag in information processing. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.

Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.

The research just goes on and on regarding how multitasking is ineffective. There is no research that shows multitasking to be effective.

Now I know that a substantial number of people reading this will disagree. They will say THEY are excellent at multitasking and that they are accomplishing more than they ever could without it. Please reread professor Miller’s comments again… you’re deluding yourself. 

Some people are indeed better at multitasking than others but no one is truly “good” at multitasking.

The truth is, and always has been, that focus, singular focus, is a key to success. Multi-tasking is a key to failure. 

Just another reason why the difference between success and failure is often in the choices we make.

Choose focus! 

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How Leaders Think

First a couple of qualifiers: not all leaders think the same and not all leaders are always thinking about the things discussed in this post. But generally speaking, all successful leaders think in these terms and while they have many other thoughts, at one time or another these things are top of mind. So here we go….

Great leaders focus on the mission. Leaders are frequently pulled toward unusual and urgent events that force them in different directions. While these often require the attention of the leader they don’t lose sight of the higher intent of the organization. When the challenge has been dealt with they return their focus to the mission and purpose of the organization. They know where they need to go and they have an actionable plan to get there. They think mission first!

Great leaders are great coaches. They actively look for opportunities to coach their people with the goal of growing more leaders. They coach for corrective action and they coach for positive reinforcement. They delegate to grow their people knowing full well that mistakes might be made. Great leaders also know that those mistakes provide highly valued learning opportunities. Great leaders think coaching, coaching, coaching. 

Great leaders are great examples. They know that people will do what they see their leaders doing. They know that they are the example of successful behavior for their people. They understand that they set the example of good character, knowing their job and doing what matters. They preform as they would have their people perform and they do not expect more from their people then they expect of themselves. Great leaders know the way, go the way and lead the way. Great leaders think in terms of setting an example as much or more than they think of anything else.

Great leaders value and leverage diversity. They know that true diversity goes beyond Equal Employment and Affirmative Action laws. True diversity is understanding, valuing, and leveraging the differences in every person. They seek out differing opinions from people with different backgrounds and demonstrate that people are valued for their uniqueness. Great leaders know that to continue their personal growth they must interact with people who have opinions different from their own and who feel empowered to express them. Great leaders think about broadening the diversity of their organizations. 

Great leaders accept risk. They accept well considered, well calculated risks. They don’t act with reckless abandon, they gather facts, they measure, they ask for advice and then they decide. They decide. They decide, that means that they make a decision. Great leaders know that all the facts, all the advice and all the opinions in the world don’t amount to much if a decision is never made. They think risk and they think about when and why to take them.

The simple truth is that leaders think differently than followers. Leaders see a bigger picture and they see farther into the future. Leadership is as much about mindset as it is anything, if you want to lead then start thinking (and acting) like a leader. 

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Let Them Be Wrong

I watched a colleague make a mistake the other day. I knew it was a mistake right away but he doesn’t know it was a mistake yet. It’s not a big mistake, it’s not going to be a hugely expensive mistake and though it may be a bit of a hassle, it can be fixed. 

My instincts as a person told me to “help” him by pointing out why it was a mistake. My instincts as a leader said to let him be wrong. Admittedly the two instincts have caused a bit of an internal battle for me but I’m going to take the long-term view and let him be wrong. I’ll find out more about his leadership ability by letting him be wrong than I could have ever found out by “saving” him from making the mistake.

I’ll learn how long it takes him to discover the mistake and I’ll see how long it takes him to correct it. I’ll know how willing he is to admit the mistake and whether or not he is willing to ask for help. I’ll see how he fixes it and whether or not he can think “out of the box” and come up with an innovative solution or just put “it” back to where it was. 

If the mistake turns out to cause more problems than I anticipated I can always get myself more involved and (hopefully) help solve it quickly. There is some small risk but the potential “reward” is well worth it.

A far bigger mistake would be to never let people make a mistake of their own. 

You can learn a lot about leadership by reading books. You can learn a lot about leadership by watching how other leaders lead. You can learn a lot about leadership from a good coach or mentor but the only way to truly learn how to lead is by leading. 

Leaders will make mistakes and the only way to remain a leader is to also know how to fix them. 

If you’re a leader hoping to grow future leaders then let them try out their leadership wings and understand that trying out those wings includes letting them crash now and then. You don’t need to let them crash hard and from a high distance, but let them crash just the same. 

If you see a big, expensive, and hard to fix mistake coming then by all means figure out a way to inject yourself into the decision making to avoid the mistake. Try NOT to just take it away from your future leader and embarrass them in the process. Coach them to another decision that allows them to save face and feel as if they were a part of the decision making process.

If it’s not an expensive and hugely time consuming mistake then let them fall. Be there to help them up and offer any insights requested or needed. If they learn from their mistake and fix it quickly, you may actually have a future leader on your team.

 
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Hate Isn’t Helpful

So…. I sent out a tweet a few days ago about hate. It said basically that you don’t gain anything by hating and that the “hater” loses more than the “hated.” That’s it, it didn’t say anything about who hated, why anyone would hate, it mentioned no name, no race, no sexual preference, no political affiliations, nothing.

Immediately after sending it out, and I mean immediately, I started getting replies about how stupid liberal democrats are and how republicans make it hard not to hate. In short, I received a bunch of hate-filled replies agreeing that hate was terrible but blaming either democrats or republicans for making it impossible not to hate.

I’m going to guess here but I’m betting it was Republicans blaming Democrats and Democrats blaming Republicans.

Other people blamed gays for hate, or Muslims, or TV news, or cops, or blacks, or whites, it went on and on and on. Thankfully, there were some people who simply agreed with me. (There is hope!)

Really people! Really!

Has it come to that? Have we come to the point that the only way to deal with someone who has  views different from our own is to hate them?

Exhibit A (exhibit A is so strong that I won’t even present an exhibit B) is President Obama’s new Twitter account. He owned the record for gaining 1,000,000 followers faster than anyone else, at least until Caitlyn came along. That’s an official statistic, here’s a less official stat… his Twitter account also instantly became filled with more hate than any Twitter account in the history of Twitter.   

People actually tweeted stuff that immediately earned them a visit from the Secret Service. These people just couldn’t control their hate for the President long enough to restrain themselves from publicly displaying their bigotry. 

Now just so we are clear, I proudly voted AGAINST President Obama twice. Admittedly I pressed the pencil against the paper ballot a little harder the second time. I almost completely disagree with his policies and beliefs. I think he is taking the country in the wrong direction. 

But hating him for it is just backwards thinking. It’s also counterproductive. It accomplishes nothing. It does no more good to hate him than it does to hate anyone. As a person he seems like a guy who would be a lot of fun to hang out with. I’d bet he enjoys debating and justifying his positions. He just seems like a nice guy, a nice guy who is wrong (yes, I’ve considered the possibility that it could be me who is wrong but I got over that pretty quickly 😉) about a bunch of stuff but a nice guy just the same. I don’t like his positions and thinking but I kinda like him as a person.

There used to be a time when people, even good friends, could disagree and still remain friendly. The world was better then, the world made more sense. People could agree to disagree and go have a beer.

Today we seem to hate for the sake of hating, there is no middle ground, we either agree with someone or we hate them. We hate because of race, financial status, religious beliefs, nationality, the sports teams we cheer for, you name it, we can hate because of it. Folks, when a guy can nearly be beaten to death for cheering for the “wrong” team at a baseball game while dozens of other “fans” watch, we have a problem.

It’s just plain wrong. No one in the world gains a thing from hating another person. We are losing our humanity because of hate. We now seem to be blaming the people that we hate for causing us to hate. We accept no responsibility for hating, instead we place the blame on the hated. 

Now I know that not everyone hates and I don’t mean to say they do but these days more people than not seem to hate. That is not a good thing. That is most definitely not a good thing.

The great President Abraham Lincoln once said “I don’t like that man. I most get to know him better.”

Can you do what President Lincoln suggested? Can you postpone hatred long enough to give a person different from yourself a chance to prove their life, and viewpoint, matters too? Do you think it’s possible that we could ever return to the days when we “allowed” people who think differently than we do to exist without being hated. I realize hate has and always will exist but it’s really getting out of control. It affects every aspect of life. 

Hate is not sustainable, it will either destroy the hated or more likely, it will destroy the hater, but hate always eventually destroys. 

Hate is a choice, you can choose not to let it in your life or you can choose to embrace it and accept the consequences. Whichever you choose understand this fact; your responsible for your own hate, not the person you chose to hate. 

Maybe understanding that will make it just a bit harder to hate… maybe.

 
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When to Hold Your People to Account

Most people preform better when they are held accountable for their effort and results. Unfortunately the term “accountability” carries with it a negative connotation. It is assumed that we hold someone “accountable” for their mistakes or actions. While that is true we can also hold people “accountable” for the things they do right.

Accountability is not about blaming or judging someone. It is absolutely not about punishing someone for a mistake or lack of effort. True accountability is about coaching. 

Accountability can fail for a variety of reasons, the most common is that for many leaders accountability is just an off the cuff hallway conversation about “doing better” or “getting on the ball.” 

Effective accountability requires a bit of planning and strategy to ensure that the “accountable person” understands what they are accountable for. 

Accountability coaching must be clear and concise. An accountability discussion must be just the facts, certainly no exaggeration should be included. The discussion must include exactly what is expected of the person being held to account. It must include exactly when it is expected as well. 

As a leader it is your responsibility to help your people succeed. If they don’t have what they need to succeed then all the coaching in the world won’t make a difference. You must ensure that they have the required training, resources and feedback required to succeed. If you can’t, or won’t, provide the tools they need to succeed then you can’t ethically hold them accountable either. 

As a leader you should remember that you are their “model” for success.If you’re trying to hold them accountable to a standard that you fail to meet you’re just wasting their time and yours. 

You cannot let your emotions disrupt the accountability discussion. The more emotion you display the more emotion the recipient of your coaching will display. When emotions become involved things tend to slide downhill quickly. Deliver your comments in a caring, empathetic way, but keep your emotions in check.

If you’re coaching for improvement then address the issue early, waiting almost always allows the issue to grow. It’s easy to just “let it go” when it’s small but ignoring problems seldom accomplishes anything. 

Above all remember to also coach for positive reinforcement. Hold people to account for the good things they do, let them know they have been “caught” performing well and that their efforts are appreciated. 

If you coach only for improvement you’re likely negatively affecting the morale of your team. They will get the feeling that they can’t do anything right and soon enough that will be the case. Accountability coaching will require an investment of time on the part of the leader but it is an incredible tool for building future leaders when it’s done well. 

 

Do it well!