How to Lead When There is No Crisis

This will likely be my last blog post that has anything to do with challenging times, new normals, old normals, viruses, leading in times of crisis or any other current events you might be seeing in the news.

There’s two reasons for that. One, I’m just tired of the virus. I’m tired of what might happen stealing the joy out of what is happening. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in on the social distancing guidelines and washing my hands until the skin falls off. I will be responsible and respectful to all my fellow humans on the planet. So I intend to wear a mask when I’m around other people, not for me but for them.

But all those things will be “additive” to the things I normally do. I’ll stop doing only the things that conflict with keeping other people safe. As it turns out, that is likely the very best way to keep myself safe as well.

So, what about all this “leading in challenging times” and “leading in times of crisis” stuff that’s currently flooding blogs and podcasts? (Yep, I’ve written a couple too) My thinking on this has evolved.

It’s evolved because I’ve come to the realization that if you were a poor leader when there was no crisis you will be a poor leader when there is a crisis. If you were an effective leader when there was no crisis then you will be an effective leader when there is a crisis.

That’s because leadership is about people. People’s basic need for leadership does not change one iota in times of crisis. Authentic Leaders may be a bit more intentional with their leadership in times of crisis but the fundamental characteristics of leadership remain the same.

Poor leaders will not suddenly develop leadership skills when circumstances attempt to force the need to truly lead upon them. Contrary to what many people want to believe a crisis doesn’t turn a non-leader or terrible leader into some kind of Churchill.

In difficult times great leadership becomes more visible. That’s only because Authentic Leaders lead almost exclusively from the front in times of crisis. In times with less headwinds they will sometimes lead form the middle of the pack or even the back of it. The fact that some people might not have recognized their leadership skills does not mean that they were not present.

The leadership characteristics that Authentic Leaders possess every day become more apparent when they move themselves to lead from out front. They will make some adjustments like communicating more frequently. They make themselves more accessible to their people in order to coach and counsel. The fact that those characteristics are more exposed in difficult times does not mean that they didn’t exist in the absence of challenges.

People who believe leading in difficult times is vastly different are trying to wrestle with “unknowns.” That is completely unnecessary so long as you’re a leader who is willing to dance your very best dance with the “knowns” of difficult times.

The value of Authentic Leadership is more appreciated in tough times…and that is a shame. It should be valued in both good times and bad. If you are fortunate enough to experience Authentic Leadership be it in good times or bad, let that leader know you recognize their efforts. Let them you you appreciate them for taking the lead.

They deserve your support and will welcome your recognition.

The Importance of Conflict Resolution Skills

Most people would tell you that conflict resolution skills are essential for all leaders. I absolutely agree with that. Authentic Leaders meet conflicts head on. They don’t avoid them, they work through them to build consensus in a way that is people valuing and face-saving.

For those Authentic Leaders conflict resolution skills are vital.

But most people in leadership positions are not Authentic Leaders. They count on their title and position to do the heavy lifting of leadership for them. Many of them remain in leadership positions for years never learning what Authentic Leadership looks like.

For those leaders few things are less important than conflict resolution skills. That’s because they avoid conflicts like the plague.

Most of those leaders would say they avoid conflict because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. They would say their relationship with their people is more important than dealing with conflicts. Some would say they do indeed deal with conflict but only when “the time is right.” The problem for those leaders is that they never find the right time.

What those leaders won’t tell you is that one big reason they refuse to engage in a conflict is because they lack the courage and the compassion to do so. Another reason is that they believe that have only two choices when it comes to conflict. Those choices are fight or flight.

Nearly 100% of the time they choose flight. The see any conflict as a potential fight and they want none of it. What these weaker leaders need to understand is that an Authentic Leader does not allow a conflict to become a fight. So they have no need for flight.

Authentic Leaders dislike conflict as much as anyone. That’s precisely the reason they meet the challenge of conflict head on… so that they can get rid of it. So that they and their people can learn from it. So that they and their people can grow closer because of it. So that it doesn’t simmer under the surface and undermine the morale of the conflicted parties and of all the people around them as well.

The reality is that no one actually avoids conflicts, but some people do attempt to live with them. But left unsettled conflict is an untreated cancer on both organizations and relationships.

If you’re serious about resolving conflicts you will listen far more than you talk. If your responses include any variation “yes but” it may indicate that you’re being defensive. We don’t listen very well when our defenses are up. So check yourself to be certain you’re willing to have your opinion changed. Authentic Leaders know that they can be wrong about pretty much anything, just like everyone else.

To effectively resolve any conflict leave your “blame game” at home. The original cause of a conflict is less important than the lasting resolution. When you place blame on people you cause them to disengage. All parties to a conflict MUST be part of the solution. Before you engage in conflict resolution ask yourself what your goal is… do you want to place blame or do you want to resolve the conflict.

It goes without saying that only one of those goals is productive. Authentic Leaders know which one.

Authentic Leaders are willing to compromise to find lasting solutions to conflicts. They demonstrate that while they may be passionate about their own point of view they value workable resolutions over “winning.” They in fact understand that “winning” requires all sides be able to resolve the conflict with their self-respect intact.

Authentic Leaders with excellent conflict resolution skills do not forget the importance of relationships. They realize that how they make the other people feel is just as important as the eventual resolution. That “feeling” will likely outlast the resolution. It will also impact, either positively and negatively, any attempts to resolve future conflicts.

No matter how fast and far you run you should know that the conflict you’re running from will be waiting for you when you get there. So don’t run. The sooner you deal with the conflict the sooner you can return to building healthy and productive relationships with your people.

That makes the effort required to successfully resolve conflicts well worth it.

The Goal of Accountability

I’ve met a few people who said they enjoyed being held accountable. To say I’m a bit skeptical about anyone truly enjoying accountability would be an understatement. I don’t believe anyone really likes it.

But here’s something else I believe about accountability… every single person I’ve ever met performs at a higher level when they are accountable to someone or something.

Leaders who truly care for their people hold them accountable. They hold them accountable to help them reach their potential. They key word in that previous sentence is “help.” The goal of accountability is to help people. To help them grow. To help protect them from the destructive pressure of procrastination by replacing it with the constructive pressure of accountability.

If you’re a leader who feels it is more important to be liked by the people you lead then it is to hold them accountable, then you’re a leader who has a fatal flaw. You may care about your people but you’re not demonstrating that you care for them. It is likely that you are attempting to manage your people rather than lead them. That too is a fatal flaw, in fact, it is the most fatal of all leadership flaws.

All leaders care about their people. They want them to show up for work, they want them to follow directions and they want them to accomplish whatever tasks are in their job descriptions.

Authentic leaders care for their people. They show it by helping them become all that they can. They show it by believing in their people even when their people might not believe in themselves.

Lessor leaders see holding people accountable as something you do TO them. Authentic Leaders know holding people accountable is something you do FOR them.

If you’re a leader who is allowing your people to produce mediocre results then that’s all you will get from your people. If you’re a leader and the people you lead are producing mediocre results then it’s overwhelmingly likely that you are a mediocre leader…or worse.

The good news is, you, and your people, can grow out of mediocrity.

Great leaders all know that holding their people accountable to accomplish ALL that they can is one of the kindest and most leader like things they can do. Their people may not understand that as they are being held accountable but when they look back on their success they quickly figure it out. Even if they don’t want to admit it.

If you have the audacity to call or even think of yourself as leader then you must help your people achieve all that they possibly can. You don’t do that by being buddies or besties, you do that by believing in them and by helping them believe in themselves.

That’s the goal of accountability!

Proven Leadership Truths

Many years ago I worked for a fantastic organization called Dale Carnegie Training. I began as a sales rep selling their courses to businesses and individuals. One of the key selling points we were taught to use was the many benefits of being effective at speaking in front of groups.

I told many many people of the career advantages of being able to deliver an impactful message to an audience either large or small. I said the advantages were huge.

I learned an enormous amount about sales, leadership, and people in general while I was with the Dale Carnegie Organization. But after a bunch of successful years I wanted even more of a challenge so I moved into Corporate America.

After telling people for years what an advantage it was to be able to comfortably and effectively present in front of groups I was still amazed at what a huge advantage it actually was. It is not an absolute “must have” skill for advancement but if you do have it you will move up faster and have much greater impact on those around you.

Communication skills like presenting to groups are especially critical in difficult times. If there was any doubt about that those doubts are quickly being erased. We are discovering how important all communication skills are in times of trouble.

But many other “truths” of leadership are also being proven true in our current environment. Here’s a few of those.

As a leader you really really do set the tone for your team. If you’re convinced “it” can’t be done then rest assured it won’t be done…no matter what you say to your people. You can be the Rah-Rah guy in front of your people but if you don’t believe what you’re saying they will see right through you.

You must understand this pure fact. Your people’s attitude will NOT be better than yours. If you can’t be sincerely positive around your people then do your people a favor and don’t be around them.

Your people, with rare exceptions, will not out perform you. As a leader YOU are the model for successful behavior. If you’re putting out a 50% effort then don’t expect your people to put out a 51% effort.

If you’re blessed as a leader you may have the occasional superstar who is upwardly mobile and willing to outwork you. But for the most part your people will follow your example in all things, including how much effort any task or assignment is worth. If you have the audacity to call yourself a leader then you must authentically lead. That means demonstrating exceptional effort in everything you do.

You can be assured that if your effort is mediocre the effort of your people will be mediocre too.

Leaders who vision cast effectively have a higher percentage of engaged followers. “Leading” isn’t a title or position. “Leading” is a set of activities and characteristics. People will only follow someone if they have some idea where that person is leading them to.

Do you have a vision of where you’re leading your people to? Can you communicate or “cast” that vision out to your people? Is it a vision that includes them and somehow rewards them for helping to achieve that vision?

People will not follow you to Nowheresville. People don’t only want to know where they are following you to, they NEED to know. Which brings us right back to effective communication skills.

Have you shared your vision for the future with your people. Many many people are both wondering what they future holds and worried if they have a place in that future. DO NOT let them worry and wonder.

You’re most expensive employee is not the person you pay the most. Your most expensive employee it the one who is least engaged. Give all of your people a vision of the future that they will want to engage with.

Communication, modeling successful behavior and demonstrating the power of positive attitudes are characteristics of successful leaders. That is being proven out every hour of every day during these challenging times.

Are you a leader who is up for the challenge?

Slowing Down

Ever heard of the saying “speed kills?” It is kind of a given that doing most anything too fast is not a good idea.

What isn’t mentioned often enough however is that going too slow can be just as bad.

I wanted to point that out because I’ve seen some slowing down of late. Many leaders and organizations entered into the current crisis doing a lot of the right things at just the right speed.

They made the proper efforts to keep their people engaged. They communicated appropriate information and didn’t over or under communicate.

I was also impressed with many of the individual efforts I’ve seen. From salespeople reaching out to try and help customers to moms and dads working together to school their kids at home. I was especially impressed with the effort I saw and heard about regarding people making sure to stay in touch with family and friends while pretty much stuck at home.

There have been many good things that have come about as a result of the situation we all find ourselves in. I hope at least some of those things outlast the current situation.

But I kinda feel like many of those efforts are already slowing down. Collectively we are taking our feet off the gas and beginning to drift.

Don’t drift!

Stay focused on how you began dealing with this situation. The things that worked well will work even better when this mess is over and life begins returning to something that feels normal.

Think of it this way… there is a reason the people say “speed up” and a reason they say “slow down.”

Slow apparently has do to with going down. I don’t want to go in that direction. I don’t want my success to go in that direction. I don’t want people thinking my effort, the quality of my work or the amount I care is going in that direction either. I also don’t think you want that.

Intentionally slowing down with a purpose in mind can be good. Allowing slowing down to unintentionally creep into your day is not so good.

Discipline and focus serve you well in good times and bad. Maintain the focus and discipline you had at the beginning of our unusual times. That will give you the opportunity to exit the unusual times better, faster, stronger and more prepared to succeed than when this whole thing started.

Lots of people start strong. The most successful people finish strong as well. Which one are you?

Cry or Try, The Choice is Yours

This is a bit of a challenging post to write. It will also perhaps be a challenging post for some people to read. It is a challenge in both directions because without seeing my facial expressions and hearing my tone of voice some people will think this post is uncaring.

My intent however is the absolute opposite of uncaring.

I’m writing this specifically for people who feel like crying during difficult circumstances. Notice I didn’t say I am writing this TO you, I am writing this FOR you. This is a message you need to hear.

In every difficult circumstance there are two kinds of people. Those who cry over their circumstances and those who try to improve them. Even people who cry about their circumstances know that the people who try to improve their circumstances have a much better chance to succeed.

But they don’t believe they can do anything about their own circumstances. The crying group wears the mantle of victimhood like a $5000 suit or a custom made ball gown. It is a very comfortable fit.

Even with a life full of far more comfortable options they have convinced themselves that they have nothing else to wear.

The trying group on the other hand will wear anything. They don’t care if their plaid pants don’t go with their striped shirt. They will try anything. They know that no matter how poorly their attempt might turn out the only way they can truly fail is to not continue trying.

The trying group believes in themselves. They trust themselves. They know they have what it takes to succeed.

That belief and trust in themselves is all that is separating them from the crying group. The trying group does not have vastly greater skills than the crying group, they just make a choice to use whatever they have.

Trying is hard work. Crying is just hard. Trying gets you somewhere. Crying traps you right where you are. Trying creates hope. Crying creates more crying.

The good news is that the price for moving from the crying group into the trying group is low.

All you need to do is to make a choice. A choice that says I’d rather try and fail 1000 times than to sit here and cry with no chance to improve my situation.

A choice that says I may or may not have what it takes to succeed but I’m going to use everything I do have and see where it leads.

My mom used to tell me to not cry over spilt milk. Yet I spilt my milk all the time and would invariably cry over it. Until I decided that crying wasn’t going to solve my spilling problem. I decided on the solution right then and there…. I haven’t had a glass of milk since.

In any circumstance you can choose an attitude of “Woe is me” or you can chose an attitude of “Wow is me.” Which one you choose sets your life on either a path of success or a path with puddles of spilt milk.

Choose wisely.

A Self Leadership Checkup

Everybody says we need Authentic Leadership right now, perhaps more than ever before. Well it must be true since everybody can’t be wrong. But it seems to me most people talking and writing about leadership these days are missing an important point.

Before you can lead others authentically you must effectively lead yourself.

If you’re an Authentic Leader then you know the people you lead really need you now. That’s because especially in challenging times people need to be led, not managed. But you’re people too. You need leadership as much as anyone. The difference is you may well have to lead yourself.

So let’s do a quick checkup on your self-leadership skills.

You know that your people need some extra inspiration right now. They look to their leaders to provide it. But it’s pretty tough to inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself. In those quiet moments (perhaps few and far between right now) how are you staying inspired? What does your “self-talk” sound like? Are you aggressively looking for positives to keep your mindset where it needs to be.

It’s as easy for a leader’s attitude to go south as it is for anyone else. If you’re going to keep other people’s spirits up them you’ll have to keep yours up first. Find the possibilities in every challenge. Problems are an opportunity to learn and grow. They provide the chance to become better and more nimble.

Coach yourself to see obstacles as growth opportunities. Remember, your people will do what you do far faster than they will do what you say. Model the attitude and mindset that you want your people to possess.

You are the master of your emotions, no one else. If you do not make the conscious choice of a positive attitude every single day then a subconscious choice will be made for you by events and circumstances. It will not be a choice that serves you well.

Positive attitudes do not happen by chance, they happen by choice.

How are you doing with time management? If you’re suddenly finding yourself leading from home you may find that you don’t have the same level of discipline that comes with working in an office environment.

Setting daily goals can help with this. Goals create discipline. Discipline is simply choosing between what you want now and what you want most. Your goals should be what you want most. Holding yourself accountable to do the same amount of work at home that you would do in the office requires that you keep in mind what you want most.

The “work things” that you may be less accountable to accomplish right now are the means to the things you want most. When my daily work goals are achieved I allow myself what I want most. That would be ice cream! If the work isn’t crossed off my list then the ice cream doesn’t cross my lips.

It is important to remember that no one on earth has more time than you do. No matter how pressured you may feel you do not, I repeat, you do not have a shortage of time. What you most likely do have is a lack of prioritization skills.

Pursue those daily goals with the zeal of a crazy person and you’ll discover you have all the time you need to accomplish every one of your goals.

Are you carefully choosing your words? A leader’s words carry more weight. In challenging times they weigh even more. Choose your words to convey the exact message you’re trying to get across. Remember how you say something can be even more important than the something you say. Are you being mindful of your tone? It is likely you’re doing more communication over the phone than normal. People can’t read your body language so they use the tone of your voice to decipher the meaning of what they are hearing.

It is your responsibility to make sure they are hearing what you intend for them to hear.

Leading others begins with leading yourself exceptionally well. These three areas are not the only leadership skills to focus on for exceptional self-leadership but they will get you on the right path to being a leader who is prepared to lead others in turbulent times.