Situation-Based Leadership

By Lane Sloan, Silver Fox Advisors

Leadership does not have a simple formula for every situation.

A lot of the leadership theory comes from academicians studying a formulation of their leadership model from observing the real world.  They test the model with empirical research to determine results on performance. Then, the outcomes are put into a report or article. It’s the publish or perish phenomenon.

If we look at the chapter headings from a well-known college text by Northouse entitled Leadership: Theory and Practice, we find a long list of these type models as well as some more generalized topics:

Trait Approach, Skills Approach, Behavioral Approach, Situational Approach, Path-Goal Theory, Leader-Member Exchange Theory, Transformational Leadership, Authentic Leadership, Servant Leadership, Adaptive Leadership, Followership, Leadership Ethics, Team Leadership, Gender and Leadership, Culture and Leadership.

Wow, how do you sort out all these concepts?  And this is just a college textbook articulating all these different perspectives.  There are lots of other relevant authors, whether academicians or practitioners, not included in the chapters listed above such as Strength Based Leadership.

The point is there are many dimensions and factors that come into play when leading.  One facet is all about the leader.  Another dimension is the organization which includes followers, culture, and so forth.  Others are about the relationship of the leader and the follower.  Still other facets are about the broader environment. And so forth.  It is hard to mold all this into one single, grandiose model.

If that were not challenging enough, the overall environment is changing at a rapid pace as we discussed in my blog on leadership agility.

Ultimately, it all centers on the particular situation and how all the multiple dimensions line up.

Fortunately, many situations are comparable, and the response can be repeatable.  Many others will be unique in some fashion that will require you to adjust.  Like playing a game of golf, the better you are the more natural the adjustment.

Situational Leadership

One model by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard has been coined “Situational Leadership.”  The model has evolved over time, but the basics state the style of the leader changes depending on the situation and readiness level of the followers.

In a situation of low readiness such as a new employee, then the style is much more directive. You have to tell them what to do. As progress is made, the mode of the leader shifts to coaching with high on direction and supportive behavior.  Further progress by the employee suggests lower direction but still highly supportive behavior from the manager.  Finally, in the fourth stage with a matured employee performing their role, the leadership style shifts to delegating with low on the direction and relatively low on support.

Of course, this model is limited in that the focus is on only one dimension of the manager and employee’s relationship.  Nevertheless, it provided a significant breakthrough that no one leadership style fits every situation.  Moreover, it makes sense and can be applied rather easily.

Adaptive Leadership first described by Heifetz in Leadership Without Easy Answers back in 1994 also gets into the relationship of the leader and the follower based on the follower’s situation.  As the name implies, this model gets into adapting to change which has become more pronounced today.

What to Do?

First, do not think you have all the answers by learning one highly touted approach to leadership.  Rather think of the dimension it is adding to your leadership portfolio of knowledge. The critical point I have been trying to make is there is no one holistic model that prescribes what you should do in every situation.

Second, if you’re in the early stages of your leadership growth, do get several books to read. Take a leadership course or seminar. But also get advice from a leadership coach/mentor. Think of learning golf, a coach goes a long way.  If you are a CEO at a small company  that is growing, you should also consider joining a CEO Roundtable.

Third, once you have some leadership experience, do an assessment of yourself.  I would suggest you look at my Leadership Personal Profile blog of February 23, 2021. It will help you identify areas for improvement.

Fourth, I advise mentees do not get yourself in a “tizzy” on what to do. In leading, be engaged.  Get whatever input you feel is important, then, behave/decide what you think is best given all the circumstances and what you know at the time. In the case where action is needed, that can range from you making the decision, to a team participation, to a delegation and so forth.  In other words, all you can do is the best you can given where you are at in your leadership journey.

Fifth, whatever the leadership situation and the action has been taken, always be open to feedback from followers particularly with significant events or direction. Simultaneously, look at the impact on the performance of the business. Think of the feedback and results not as a critique but a new learning in your portfolio whether it’s good or bad.

Sixth, as your leadership matures, be flexible to the situation and not locked into you know the answer of what to do. Situations always evolve over time, and now they are evolving rapidly. In the maturing process of living systems, we naturally structure approaches to solve problems, issues, and opportunities. Many CEOs go through a pattern of first being incredibly open and inquisitive in their early days to eventually becoming rigid in their thinking to the detriment of the organization.

Seventh, insure you maintain your character and are true to your core values.  This builds trust with your followers.  They know they can count on you to do what is best given changing circumstances.  We will talk about that more in an upcoming blog entitled Character: A Learned Behavior.

Eighth, utilize a wise coach who can act as your alter ego to help you avoid these rigidities setting into your leadership while helping you maintain your authenticity.

Ninth, be sure you are coaching your leadership team and employees to become better leaders. This will be a huge help to them but also keep you fresh.

Lastly, if you want to be a great leader, then seek first to be a wise leader. Wisdom is knowing you need to know more.  Your rigidities will set in when you quit learning. A little humbleness on what you know goes a long way in your lifelong leadership journey.

How Do You Do What You Do?

Gaining Experience

From time to time, I have a mentee say “I am interested in doing what you do. Please tell me how to do that.”

Often I struggle with that ask, because if I was honest, I’d say “You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you know what I’ve been through to get here?”

John Maxwell said it much more eloquently. He said “OK. Let me ask you a question. Are you willing to do what I did to get to do the things I do?”

Do the Things I Did

Doing things in the past created the experience required to do today, what I do. Without living through the leadership crucibles I’ve lived, I’d not have any of the material I share with clients today. Starting as a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Army, I took on management roles.

Later, joining a regional bank, I was recruited there because senior leaders inside the bank were former military officers and knew the kind of experiences I had. They could relate to the experiences and had automatic confidence in knowing I could assume a management role there too.

After 20 years in banking with successive growth roles along the way, I took an early retirement from banking and started several businesses. I knew I loved entrepreneurship, so I took the knowledge I gained at the bank (watching and working with many many client companies) and applied it in those start-ups.

It was at times a painful learning experience. Until you lay awake at night sweating the ability to make your next payroll, you have no idea what it takes to run a business on your own.

Experience earned the hard way. Plain and simple.

The same is true in many other professions. Plumbers and electricians have job grades starting with apprentice roles. You watch the masters, observe what they do, learn about the finer points. Then, with time, you test for and achieve the higher grade status in the profession.

Doctors spend years of schooling and rotations to learn about practicing medicine. You wouldn’t want a first year MD doing your heart or brain surgery. Most people I know, when the need arises for surgery, they ask the doc how many of these have you done?

Experience is a Cruel Beast

Gaining experience is the big hurdle for young people entering the job market. There aren’t that many positions available to start at the ground floor and work your way up. Yes, larger companies create starter jobs and recruit the top of the class graduates to fill those roles. They might even have training programs to grow and nurture the less experienced to fill future job needs inside the company.

However, for many, finding those experience learning opportunities is tough. Couple that with a new found impatience about career advancement and you have a frustrating situation.

Yet, there is no denying the need for experience to do the right thing in later roles. ‘Do the things I did to get to do the things I do.’ I love that.

Tips to Achieve the Success You Want

So for those who are in the early years of your careers, here are some thoughts to follow.

Understand Your Purpose

First, work on the need to understand your purpose. You were put on the earth for a reason. It was not some happy accident. You are created, wired, and pre-disposed for a purpose. Identify what that might be, then create a roadmap for fulfilling that purpose.

It won’t happen overnight or in the next 24 months. It’s a life journey. You can learn more about writing your own personal purpose statement here.

Play the Long Game

Next, learn how to play the long game. Stop worrying about tomorrow and the next immediate thing. Try to envision the picture of your future state lloooooonnnngggggg down the road. Not just tonight or tomorrow. Search for opportunities that serve that plan.

As an example, if you really want to be a consultant, get some analysts jobs first. Learn how to run studies and surveys. Compile big reports and findings for customers. Do the heavy lifting on those kinds of jobs so that you build experience in the tools of the trade.

If you think you want to be a coach, get some ‘people’ jobs first. Work your way up to become a shift supervisor at a Burger King. Learn how to deal with all kinds of people, not just your circle of friends from school.

Find Mentors

Then find some mentors. Let them help you along the way. Don’t just ask for a 30-minute session then be done. You’re not done. You have lots to learn. Mentoring is a process that evolves over time.

You’ll notice I said mentors (plural). Find people who will help you in all areas of life, not just work things. If you’re starting out in married life, get a mentor. Need spiritual help? Find a mentor. If you have a hobby you’d like to improve on, get a mentor.

It’s not that hard to find mentors either. All of my friends are willingly helping people in all walks of life. They just need to be asked.

Schedule a complimentary call

Perpetual Learning

All of the best coaches and leaders I know are perpetual learners. They read, study, and research to keep their edge sharp. In addition, they attend workshops and participate in mastermind groups. They rely upon peer-to-peer advisory work. Lastly, they hire coaches. Similar to top tier professional athletes, great thinkers and leaders turn to coaches to help up their game.

It’s a layered effect. You achieve one level, then start working on the next level. That is true in experiential growth as well as job promotion.

Wrapping it Up

When you ask an older, more experienced person how to do what they do, you have to recognize they did what they did before, so they now can do what they do. You can’t skip the steps in between.

They wouldn’t be who they are, doing what they do today without having done what they did to get here.

I know those are tongue twisters, but you get meaning. Do the work, find the experience, then you can do the big thing you want to do, your life’s purpose.

Agree or disagree? Leave a comment. Click a share.

The Greatest Growth Lever – Trust

Trust concept with hand pressing social icons on blue world map background.

Part 1 – Why Leverage Trust?

Contributed by Andy Hass and Richard Bents

“Trust is the highest form of motivation. It brings out the very best in people.” Stephen R. Covey

Google conducted a massive research project to study what made their most successful teams and called it Project Aristotle. After studying 180 teams, using 250 variables and 32 statistical models, they found the absolute #1 variable by far in their highest performing teams was trust / psychological safety (we’ll explain similarities and differences in the two – in Part 2) – above intelligence, accountability, responsibility, diversity, strategy, process and everything else.

Neuroscientist / NeuroEconomist Paul Zak found high trust organizations had 50% higher productivity, 50% higher retention, 74% less stress, 76% more engagement, 106%, more energy, 17% more pay. Zak is also a researcher of the brain chemical Oxytocin which is released when we trust.

Professor Amy Edmondson from Harvard has studied and established best practices for effective teaming – across multiple industries, and the critical element of trust and psychological safety for team success.

In MIT’s Executive Education Course on Neuroscience for Leadership, one of the four areas of focus is “Creating the conditions for success in your organization by leading teams and shifting the culture from fear to trust.”

Trust is at the foundation of our own research, consulting, and collaboration with the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, the University of Wyoming and business partners across Europe. We seek to better understand trust levels over a period of time and the associated impact on organizational performance. We are also in the process of writing our I TRUST book.

grid for high trust v low trust

We like to approach individual, team, and organizational leadership developments like scientists by collecting and interpreting data. In a 360 review of a leader, we look at 22 aspects of management and leadership.

We take a holistic, systems-based approach to leadership, but if we could greatly emphasize just one aspect, we would frequently help a leader develop more trust – self-trust, trustworthiness, and a propensity to trust others. We’ll explain more on this in Part 2 of the Greatest Growth Lever.

Part 2 – What is Trust and How is it Measured?

“Trust is the conduit for influence; it’s the medium through which ideas travel.” Harvard Professor Amy Cuddy

Trust:

A belief in the reliability, goodness, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something; it is that in which we have faith or confidence. In this sense, trust is an emotion. In addition, trusting or placing trustworthiness includes a process of analysis, a cognitive, more objective thought process. Trust typically is earned or developed over time.

Some people like to understand the differences in Trust versus Psychological Safety.

Psychological Safety:

“A shared belief within a team that it is safe for interpersonal risk taking… and that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.” Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson.  It is the instantaneous feeling of safety that someone has to feel free to speak up.

We find it helpful to think about trust in 3 ways to leverage it to its full power. Self-Trust (how you view and trust yourself), trustworthiness (how others view and trust you), and propensity to trust (trusting others, looking for the good in others, seeing their strengths, and giving them autonomy to perform).

It is critical for the leader of a team to exhibit (or develop) sufficient self-trust (having self-confidence, self-esteem and self-acceptance), because without it, it is difficult to be seen as trustworthy by others (show integrity/responsibility, show benevolence/kindness, and show their abilities/competence) and for them to have a propensity to trust others.

In addition, the leader has to show enough benevolence (authentic concern for others) to be seen as trustworthy. “It’s not uncommon for people to overvalue the importance of demonstrating their competence and power, often at the expense of demonstrating their warmth.”  (Amy Cuddy).

Benevolence is critically important in psychological safety and is typically more important than the other two. Finally, your behaviors in your collaborations will influence your collective results with others.

We use a variety of assessments and instruments to measure various aspects of trust in our efforts to accelerate individual, team, and organizational trust and performance. It involves self-evaluation questions and team/group member questions.

We’ll share more about closing the trust gap between the desire for high trust relationships/teams/organizations, and the acceptance of what it takes to get there in Part 3 of the Greatest Growth Lever.

Part 3 – The Trust Gap –

Closing the gap in the Desire for Trust… and the Work it takes to Achieve Trust

We believe there is increasing awareness in the value of trust. We see organizations putting it in corporate Vision, Mission and Values statements.

It feels good to say trust is important in relationships and even with customers – and from Part 1 (Why Leverage Trust), we shared research where high trust organizations had 50% higher productivity, 50% higher retention, 74% less stress, 76% more engagement, 106%, more energy, and 17% more pay.

Unfortunately, awareness of the value of trust, or declaring you or your organization is all about trust, doesn’t always translate to a high-trust organization and the corresponding benefits.

Research Case Study 1:

We conducted a 2-hour awareness training along with measurement assessments on various aspects of trust with the senior executive team of a US-based company. At the time, they were completely aware of the benefits and elements of trust.

With this company, we did not do any coaching/consulting. A year later, when we did a post 1-year measurement assessment, there was no statistically significant change in levels of trust. The takeaway – awareness does not always lead to change and results.

We were later brought in to help the leadership team through a combination of 1:1 executive coaching and team development using our assessments, change process and coaching.

Case Study 2:

Another client, a large European Insurance company, faced a difficult future with declining sales and profitability in a competitive insurance market. In less than a year, they successfully reversed and transformed sales and profitability. 

The top 86 executives were assessed, then went through a 7-month program using our change process involving coaching and training. They exceeded their sales plans.  The post-assessments showed statistically significant increases in all levels of trust. The following year showed increased market share and increased profit.

“I am very confident of the next steps. I already know that management skills development is a long road requiring patience, willingness and determination, and of course measurement. People are understanding what is happening now because they started experiencing that behaving differently is possible and can be a source of success. As a ‘rational’ leader, we just have to admit that time to time it is worth investing much less in IT tools and process …and a bit or much more in human potential.”  – Yann Menetrier, CEO

Our “I TRUST” Change Process

One example of an assessment we use measures the character and emotional intelligence of a person. It has high correlation to how effective individuals and teams are in their ability to create a high-trust, high-performing team.

Our efforts are to move individuals into the transforming, WeGo, quadrant, where they exhibit behaviors, actions and characteristics of self-trust, trustworthiness and trusting others. When the vast majority of people in a team are in this quadrant, we often see breakthrough results (e.g. innovation, productivity, sales and profits).

What will you do to increase self-trust, your trustworthiness, and your trust in others to realize the benefits of the greatest growth lever?

Consider working with a trusted colleague, mentor or coach/advisor to improve:

  • Creating a safe environment for your team to speak up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes
  • Your showing vulnerability and stating you need the entire team for mutual success
  • Self-trust, insecurities, imposter syndrome, being authentic
  • A specific relationship
  • Your benevolence/kindness to others
  • Your solicitation and sincere listening to other points of view and new ideas
  • Results – shore up skills through self-learning/education and pay attention to results

If you want to learn more about building a high-performing team by increasing the trust within the team, learn more here. Visit Doug’s Team Trust Model.

Or if you’d rather just talk about your business, schedule a time with Doug Thorpe www.TalkwithDougT.com

A Thankful Heart – A Leader’s Blessing

thankful

This is going to be a detour from my usual teaching and coaching topics. It’s a day to focus on an important aspect of leadership. Being thankful.

Are you thankful today? Can you be thankful most days? Thankful for the job you have, the role you play? Are you thankful for family and friends? Or do you suffer from darkness in your view of the things that are happening?

Having a spirit of gratitude for the blessings that have been given to you can shape all other aspects of how you show up as a leader. It’s an important question to ask yourself. Am I thankful?

The Big Day

Today is a big day for me. I and my wife are celebrating 20 years of marriage. For some, that’s no big deal. For others, it is a very big deal.

Please allow me a moment to share some deeper thoughts about what this represents for me and why it makes me thankful. I think you will find a meaningful application for your life’s situation too.

I took too long to figure out how to be married and to whom I should be married. As an old friend once quipped “my picker was broken.”

But before the turn of this century, in the late 90’s I was single and searching. I wasn’t really searching for love, but for the right life partner. I was turning to my deep faith in God to guide me. There was a sense that I would remarry, but I didn’t know to whom or when. Despite having endured a painful divorce, I was growing more thankful every day.

I committed some time to chill after the divorce. See I had been divorced once before, making this one #2. If I learned anything from the first one, I learned to be slow about choices for the next one. I dedicated my free time to work at my church; playing basketball with the youth group, attending a men’s group, and volunteering for other activities.

I was not hot on the dating scene. There were contemplation, meditation, and prayer about my future, but the peace and thankfulness were growing. As part of my journey, I wrote a poem I dedicated to the person I thought I should find. No name, just a vision.

The Turning Point

Slowly, as my heart became whole again, I dipped my toes in the dating pool. I’m not going to bore you with any details of the process, but one day SHE arrived. The one. The right one. The very person to whom I had written a poem more than a year before. Her name was Susan.

We actually met online, which at that time, was a very weird place to be, especially for a 40-something guy and gal. But it clicked. We started merely emailing at first, then talking by phone. We were both in relationships when we first connected, but we each sensed the relationships we had were not going to last.

It took 6 months before we had our first date. I know that sounds very strange, but we had kids and other responsibilities to handle so we built the friendship before we decided to meet in person. There was no Zoom so, yes we hadn’t even seen each other except for pictures in our online profiles.

Once we met, we knew. We got married about 16 months after that first encounter. We were blessed with a deep friendship and trust in each other to be the foundation of our life together.

There are so many stories to tell, but today is year 20 and it’s impossible to believe it’s been that long. It just seems like yesterday. As a couple, we’ve been through a lot externally, but never anything hostile between us. It can be said to this day, we’ve never had a fight.

We don’t fight, we resolve. Susan and I harmonize as a couple. She has her responsibilities, I have mine. When our “stuff” overlaps, we discuss it. Susan calls it “negotiating.” But it works in a very good way.

Me being able to reflect on two failed marriages and comparing what I have today, I am way more than thankful. I am awed. It keeps me mindful of the blessings in my life.

When stress and pressure build, I can be thankful for the good things still present in my life.

Reflection is Key

11382616 – white car number plates spelling thank you on the white background

As I reflect on my situation today, I am thankful beyond measure. I have a great wife, a blessed life, a beautiful blended family of kids and grandkids, an awesome tribe of followers who enjoy my work, and a clear sense of purpose for what I do. That, my friend, is something to be very thankful for.

I don’t let a day go by that I don’t thank the good Lord for His blessing in my life. I tell Susan too. Now I’m telling you.

Thank you for being you. You bless my life. Tell someone you love that you are thankful for them. It’ll make their day and lift yours too.

A Mentor’s Greatest Lament

It’s easy to find a lot of talk about mentoring; being a mentor, using a mentor, and growing from mentorship. One of my most popular posts was about being a stepping stone. But what will you do about that?

Mentors come in many varieties. Anyone who’s been through some form of higher learning has probably been influenced by a teacher or professor. You may remember a magical mentor who inspired you to think differently or be different. To this day, I owe much of my passion for writing to my senior English teacher from high school, Mrs. Geneva Curry.

A Story

Dr. William Hendricks, a well-respected professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, was once asked what his greatest fear may be. His response shocked the audience. Again, keep in mind, he was one of the most highly regarded faculty members there.

His answer was “To present and teach my best material, but no one learns.” Let that sink in a minute.

Here’s a well-respected professor who had people clamoring to attend his lectures. His fear was teaching and no one learns.

What did he mean by that? He meant having an audience that was somehow closed to learning.

When I first heard this, I was struck by the significance of being a student or mentee and not being receptive to the teaching that is being offered.

Why would anyone do that? Well, it’s simple. There are those among us who go into a learning situation believing they already have all the answers. They are convinced there is nothing new to learn.

Whether it comes from pride or futility, the idea that you might sit with a mentor and ignore the teaching is insanity!

servant leader

The Smartest Guy in the Room

Have you ever known anyone like that? You know, someone who insists they know it all. They act like and truly believe they are the smartest guy in the room.

These folks just want to sit in the class or in the program because the completion certificate somehow elevates them to the next level. The mindset that you can pass a course without being impacted by it is just plain crazy. What a waste of everyone’s time and talent.

The best leaders I have ever known knew what it was to be a follower first. Once you master the following, then you are qualified to become a leader. This is a key concept that fails many would-be managers.

My freshman year in the Texas A&M University  Corps of Cadets taught me that. The entire purpose of the freshman or ‘fish’ experience in the Corps was to engrain the idea that to be a leader, you must first know how to be a follower.

During that year I was introduced to many examples of ‘leadership’ handed out by the upperclassmen. As you can imagine, some were great. Others not so much. But even from the bad examples, I learned what not to do.

Power of Position

There are those in management who get wrapped up in the power of the position. By definition, every management box on an org chart has a delegated authority about it. Guys who think they know it all can be fooled by this.

The lure of the power of the position trips them up. Rather than seeking more knowledge and better practices to follow, they immerse themselves in the role without ever learning what it may mean to be a leader.

Following the Call

I encourage you to find mentorship. Once the opportunity is open, dive in wholeheartedly. Absorb everything you can from the one who offers to mentor and coach you.

Don’t expect old habits to get you to higher achievement.

In the early days of NASA, the standard for astronaut selections usually involved some high level of pilot experience; fighter pilot, test pilot, etc. While that was a good baseline from which to start, there were new things that had to be taught.

Even astronauts at NASA must learn new and creative new technologies, practices, and principles to survive.

The same is true for leaders of today. The world is moving quickly. Some call it “VUCA” which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. Leaders trying to master such a blend of challenges simply must keep learning.

Through mentoring, you can find the resources you need to grow as a leader. Then and only then can you earn the title of manager and leader.

If you’d like to talk about ways you can be coached and mentored, click the button below. I’m offering a complimentary breakthrough session by zoom.

Here’s a recent comment by one of my clients.

I’m in the thick of leadership coaching with Doug and his insight and guidance are invaluable. Every time we talk, I leave with a new understanding, learning, or strategy to implement. Do this for yourself! ~Heather Plank

Finding a North Star in 2021

It seems the world is spinning out of control. But I choose not to believe that.

Rather, I believe we have temporarily lost our way. As someone who coaches, teaches, and writes about leadership, it is time to talk about one very vital aspect of what it means to be a leader.

While I spend a great deal of my time with clients and colleagues talking about casting a vision for their work, there is still one critical ingredient for determining the right vision. Just like in baking that delicious secret recipe your grandmother passed down, you cannot ignore critical ingredients. Otherwise, the cake will be a miserable failure.

The vitally important ingredient for leaders is their sense of True North, the “North Star.”

In the cosmos, the northern start stays almost constant while the rest of the night sky swirls around it. Ancient travelers in the northern hemisphere used this beacon to direct their travel.

north star
Time lapsed picture of stars swirling around North Star

Your Core Purpose Sets Your North Star

For leaders today, your sense of purpose becomes your North Star. If you don’t know why you are doing something or for what purpose your efforts are dedicated, you’ll live a groundhog’s day existence. Life will be about getting up and walk the same steps, doing the same things, day after day.

You can write great business plans and maybe even accomplish a few good things, but you will feel empty. You’ll have this nagging sense that there is more.

We have all been brought here for a purpose. You are no accident.

Your life is no accident, but the way you live it may be random.

Doug Thorpe

Finding and having a true sense of purpose becomes your North Star.

Lost Identity

In my book “STRIVE”, I share the experience of founding and running a career transition organization, coaching over 4,500 people through job search after the great recession of 2008.

In the early going, I discovered a deep need for people to reconnect with their sense of purpose. Losing a job for the first time in a career path of 10, 15 or 20 years, left people feeling lost.

When I really dug into that fact, I discovered the way out was to help people reconnect with their sense of purpose. Purpose has nothing to do with a job title or station at work. I began teaching people about ways to redefine who they were and what they were about.

THEN, they could think about targeting a new job. They were finding their North Star.

The same thing is being repeated today. People impacted by the COVID pandemic have lost their identities because the work they were doing has either shifted or been lost. The work should never be your True North. But your sense of purpose for the work you are doing is.

Managing a Team

Anyone in a position of responsibility, whether managing a team or owning a business, deals with not having a North Star. When you lose your purpose as a team, everything else in the circle of trust breaks down. (See more on that HERE)

Leaders need to have their own sense of True North and they should help their teams find and understand theirs.

Time and time again, I hear clients struggling with not knowing True North. They say things like “if only I knew true north…”

True North keeps us stabilized and centered. It helps us avoid wasted effort and meaningless pursuits.

Having the right sense of True North lets you go to bed a night with a feeling of accomplishing something because your day was focused on following that True North.

How Do You Know It’s Gone

How do you know for sure you’ve lost your North Star? Here are several key things to consider.

First, you feel very empty. You’re tired from all the effort, but there is no real sense of accomplishment. Trying to do more and be more just keeps you feeling that emptiness.

Next, people on your team may express their sense of being lost. They question everything. They challenge your authority. They’re not pointing the stick at you, but the chatter is about having no clarity. They no longer know what a ‘win’ looks like.

Finally, you feel like you’re in a fog. It’s hard to see things ahead of you. This actually happens literally out on the ocean. Ships trying to navigate by the stars lose all bearing when the sky is overcast of foggy. You lose the North Star so all other navigational effort is compromised.

Reconnect with Your North Star

If any of this sound familiar, it’s time to do the work to reconnect with your sense of purpose, your North Star. Strip away all of the distractions and re-center on who and what you think you are.

If you need help with this effort, I provide the whole second half of “STRIVE” to walk your through a personal purpose process. It’s a classic look at the areas of life that mean the most to you. It helps you chart personal values and aspirations into a clear, purposeful definition.

By having your personal purpose, you will be ready to cut through the clutter, the sense of being lost, and create more meaningful visions for your business, your family and your community.

We need leaders today who have this proper sense of purpose to guide and direct. I hope you’ll join me in becoming one of those kinds of leaders.

hire a coach
Hire a Coach

PS – In some of my seminars, I ask the audience to stand up, close their eyes, and point to North. Then I tell them to hold their point and open their eyes.

Everyone is pointing in different directions. There’s a chuckle.

As they sit down I tell them that finding True North is a bit like this for the individual. While magnetic north and the North Star are fixed, your personal sense of purpose is going to be unique.

Cover photo courtesy of Credit Union Times.

Just Ask for It

choices

Why do we agonize over things we want? I’m talking about those situations where there seems to be an opportunity, but we freeze before acting. We’ve all been in those situations; ones that require a simple ask. That new opportunity, that raise, that account, that job order.

It’s right there, but we stop short of taking action. Usually, we start over-thinking the ‘what-ifs’. What if they say no? What if they don’t like the idea? Fear takes over.

The simple answer is to “just ask.”

A Valuable Lesson

I learned a valuable lesson in high school. My senior year, the Homecoming Weekend was getting ready to happen. I needed a date for the big dance.

On a total whim, I decided to ask the prettiest, most popular girl on campus to be my date. We were in a couple of classes together so we knew each other only a little. I stress that because it was not like I was on her radar at all.

I picked my moment between classes and threw out the question. Would you like to go to Homecoming with me?

She said “Yes.” SHE SAID YES!!!!

I was more surprised than I should have been. But I had the prize! A Homecoming date with the prettiest girl in school. Well, word spread rapidly. The other guys couldn’t believe it.

The big day came and we had a nice time. It never turned into anything else, but I had achieved what I wanted to do.

Plus, I learned a very valuable lesson. You have to ask.

Current Story

I have a client who owns a multi-million dollar company. They’ve been in business for many years, but recent market shifts have required a total revamp of the business. Old product lines are obsolete and new technologies have taken front and center.

The team has done well making ‘pivots’ to support new products and services. The owner calls the business a “25-year-old start-up.”

At the core of the recent success and seismic shift in business has been the owner’s willingness to ‘just ask.’ If there’s a meeting with a new national distributor and some opportunity arises, just ask.

Or a meeting with new clients, just ask for the business. If they run into a problem with an order, just ask about the details.

‘Just ask’ has become their battle cry for newfound success.

And guess what. It’s working!

Roadblocks

Yet why is it so darn hard to just ask? I meet many clients who have opportunities, but they fail to make that one next step… asking.

procrastination

From my view, there are several key reasons why asking the big questions runs into roadblocks.

First, you can over-think the situation. Smart, well-educated people do this a lot. Their brain goes into high gear when a situation comes up. What about this? What about that? The list gets longer than the original idea.

Pretty soon you talk yourself out of the opportunity before you ever pursue it.

Next is perfectionism. I see this a lot. The person with a perfectionistic personality will over-analyze the idea. “If it can’t be perfect, I won’t do it.”

So many opportunities are missed because of perfectionism. Remember “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

There are some great moments that get lost because you think your involvement won’t be perfect. So you miss out entirely.

Then there is procrastination. Procrastinators bridge between perfectionism and just plain avoidance. I’ve seen procrastination play out in many forms.

Generally, the person who procrastinates usually has some deeper drivers at work. Since I’m not a psychologist, I can’t go into those details, but I know how debilitating they can be. I’ve watched it with far too many clients.

On the other hand, if you avoid delaying the ask, you might just strike the perfect timing. In high school, my timing for asking for the Homecoming date had to be spot on.

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Summary

These are the big three reasons people have trouble making the ask. If you suffer any or all of these, just try being bold for a short period of time. Stop over-thinking, quit being a perfectionist and don’t wait.

Just ASK! You might be pleasantly surprised at what it can do to your business, your relationship status, and your sense of well-being.

One last thought to share about asking for something.

I grew up being mentored by many people. I was an only child of a single Mom. She had wisdom beyond her years to go out and find willing individuals who would take me in and become my mentor.

They didn’t literally have me come live with them, but they made time to teach me things. Through the grace and strength of a long list of great men, I learned all the things a young boy should learn; how to hit a curveball, how to fish, how to do woodworking, repair things, play tennis, throw a spiral, build things, plus a few life lessons. (Like asking the prettiest girl to the dance.)

As I grew older, I still valued mentorship. So I asked for it. If I met someone who I learned to respect and admire, I’d ask for time to hear their views and learn how they got to where they were.

The point of this is, don’t be afraid to ask for mentorship. A lot of very skilled and talented people will be honored that you did ask. And they’ll be happy to come alongside to help.

Breaking Through the Invisible Wall

management and leadership

There is an invisible wall in the business world. It’s the wall between management and leadership; being a good manager and becoming a great leader.

People can spend an entire career and never break through that wall. The wall is not about equal opportunity, hiring practices, promotion or selection. Nor is it about gender or age.

No, this wall is about moving from Management to Leadership.

The Entrepreneur’s Conundrum

The easiest way to explain this wall is to start with an entrepreneur. A solo-preneur; the person who thinks he/she has an idea and wants to start a business.

choice vs chance

Let’s say our hero gets some funding and launches the business. In no time, the business starts to make sales and grow.

Pretty soon the owner needs to hire people to help fill all the orders, make more widgets, or whatever they are doing. They need more people.

Now they have a team running. The first experience is to manage the process. The owner has to show everyone how to do or make the things you meant to do in the business.

Your idea as the entrepreneur has to get communicated, trained and shared with others to let the business grow.

As the Manager, you track the numbers, make the deposits and pay for expenses.

Things seem to be going OK. You survived the start-up phase.

New Opportunities

As the business grows, you have to grow with it. More resources, bigger payrolls, larger space, etc.

But the owner seldom thinks about growing their own ability to manage the business. The thinking goes something like this.

“What I did before got us here, I’ll do more of that, and we’ll be fine.”

That works for a little while longer, but the business still keeps growing.

Now it’s become a full-sized enterprise with layers of management, division of teams for specialized skills, and other expanding roles.

The Thirst for Leadership

Somewhere in between that expansion phase and the enterprise phase, the Invisible Wall takes shape. As the company grows, so does the wall.

What used to be decent management starts to have problems. The old ways to push people and materials don’t work anymore.

It’s not the people or the business, it’s the owner’s capacity to lead that is crumbling.

This new entity that is the company is hungry for leadership. Not more management, but bona fide leadership.

Leadership has to step in and take over.

As Monte Pendleton, Silver Fox Advisor, and founding member states “There is no particular time table for these stages. But the ending of Stage 1 usually becomes apparent when the requisite managerial skills begin to change. The very personality, skills, and capabilities that allowed you to succeed as a Stage 1 entrepreneur or start-up owner/operator, now become detrimental to you in the latter stages.”

When the wall becomes apparent, you have some choices to consider.

First, you could decide to quit growing; stay the size you are, and keep doing the same things.

Or, you can choose to modify your management style and press on toward the next phase. Hire a coach or an advisor to guide you through the changes needed to break through the wall.

Lastly, you might choose to replace yourself with someone who has better leadership skills and experience, allowing you to revert to the core talent and gifts/specialties you started with.

If all else fails, sell the business at its then market value and go fishing. (I digress).

Bigger Enterprise

I dedicate my coaching practice to owners and executives who are right at the wall.

There are senior managers everywhere who still need to embrace the reality of the presence of the wall.

Believe it or not, a wall always exists between the stage of the business unit you run and your ability to lead.

a group of young people working in the office

I’ve said it many times before, a good manager can have a long and successful career never being more than a manager. Turn the screws, meet the deadlines, ship those deliverables and do it through strong management skills; these can be a nice career.

However, for the good of the growth of the enterprise, you need to become a leader. If you already know something about leadership, be a better leader.

Monte states “Leadership is the ability to cause others to take action even when the action is outside their comfort zone.”

Dave Guerra in his book “Superperforming” says “Management is about process and leadership is about people.”

I love that explanation. So true.

Think about your situation right now. It doesn’t matter whether you own the business or run a large team/division inside one. Ask yourself, “where is my wall?”

Question: Have you broken through the wall, realizing the need for leadership over management?

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When Things Stop Working

Here you are, rocking along, trying to make the best of tough situations; COVID lock downs, remote working, wearing masks, Zoom meetings Teams meetings…. the list goes on.

You think you and your team are making progress. Stakeholders and customers seem happy. Life is good.

Then BAM!

It happens. Someone in your network lights up and informs you that things are very wrong. There is a heated exchange with very clear expressions that feelings have been hurt.

Your leadership has been challenged. The cart is in the ditch. A valued professional relationship is in jeopardy.

You get presented with a long list of grievances, many of which were related to things from the past. And it is said that YOU were responsible for creating the whole mess.

You had no idea. What went wrong? How are your conflict resolution skills?

Serious Analysis to Fix Serious Problems

First, let me say feedback like this comes with the territory. You assume a role of leadership, people create their expectations. These expectations can be fair or not, most often not.

When expectations, false or otherwise, get denied, people’s feelings do get hurt. Maybe even anger enters the room. Hostility toward your leadership can fester.

What should you do?

First, you’ve got to stay calm about it. Don’t let the level of hostility coming at you churn you up. Are the allegations unfair? Do you disagree? Likely so. But responding with hostility only suggests lower emotional intelligence.

As the old saying goes, “Better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

A quick response fired off in retaliation only sets you up to lose. You need to apply a calm resolve to assess and prepare. Avoid escalation of the hostility.

Clearly you owe the wounded party a response, and respond you should. But what do you say?

The Thoughtful Response

Your response needs to be carefully crafted. Acknowledge the claims the other person made. You don’t have to accept them directly, but you need to empathetically ‘hear’ the other person.

By delivering a true sense of empathy, you can help diffuse the situation quickly so you can get down to resolving the differences.

balancing the scales

Find the common ground. If the person is a peer in your organization, meet them appropriately where they are coming from. Show a genuine recognition of their role too.

Ask yourself what you really know about the person. What are their skills, experiences, duties, and responsibilities? Are their grievances well-founded in the facts of their role? Or is this just a misunderstanding, a personality clash, or a serious breakdown?

Take Ownership

Conflict resolution taxes your grit. Take ownership of what is truly yours. The accusations might be spot on. If you failed to do something, left them out of communication, or didn’t seek their input before making a key decision that might involve their area, then you are culpable, plain, and clear. Say so. Admit it. Own it.

Begin laying out a detailed response. Think thoroughly and objectively about the issues being cited. Spell out your side of the story, but avoid argumentative tones.

You can still assert yourself appropriately, but don’t sound defensive. That implies embarrassment at being caught in the act. If there is an issue, resolve the issue.

Carefully Choose the Communication Vehicle

Too many careers have started and died on email. If issues need to be resolved, arrange an in-person event. If Zoom is your only tool, then use it. Don’t relegate important communication to text, voice mail, or email. Too much gets read into or ignored via email.

Arrange a meeting to have the right discussion. Prepare yourself in advance. Be ready but be calm. Remain confident in the tone you choose but never be overbearing, defensive or argumentative.

A good leader wants to influence thinking not demand outcomes.

If you have this meeting and tensions cannot be resolved, then others in the organization must be brought in to mediate. This is a ‘next level’ discussion. Not just a company hierarchy issue, but ‘next level’ of familiarity with the matters in question.

Stopping the domino effect concept for business solution, strategy and successful intervention

Above all, don’t let these kinds of surprises smolder. It can become a cancer in the company or the organization. If missed expectations are not resolved, attitudes about leadership will erode your effectiveness.

A leader cannot allow that to happen. And by ‘allow’, I mean ignore or deny the issues.

The Leadership Journey

Great leaders have their stories about resolving problems just like these. Getting them handled with solid, positive, resolution based outcomes are what makes the difference between managers and great leaders.

You can do this. You just need a dedicated, thoughtful effort to get there.

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The Problem Is Not the Problem, Part 2

Doug Thorpe blog post header

Many moons ago I wrote about a borrowed thought from another coaching friend. It was his quote:

The problem is not the problem.

Last week we had the ice storm from Hell; yes hell did freeze over here in Texas. For several days, vast areas were without power and water. Communities suffered from bone-chilling temperatures with little to no opportunity to thaw.

Temperatures dipped into single digits in many zip codes.

I realize some of you who read this will laugh. You routinely experience cold weather, ice, and snow every year. You have 4 distinct seasons where you live. But you have to understand, we here in Texas usually have just two seasons – mild and HOT.

Where I live, we lock down when the needle drops below 40 degrees. At 30, we board up the windows. At 20 we begin calling the priests for last rights. Ok just kidding, but it gets serious real fast the further the temperatures drop. Suffice it to say, we don’t know exactly what to do.

The News

The mainstream media is having a field day. One side is blasting the other for everything from bad designs and plans to poor leadership. In rebuttal, people are blaming the infrastructure for the fails.

Regardless it’s a big problem. But just what problem is it? That’s my point.

Right now, we don’t know nor will we know exactly what the problem is. On the surface, people lost power and water. THAT’S a problem, sure.

But is that really THE problem? I don’t think so. It’s just the manifestation of something else that happened. Yes, when a family loses power and water in their house for more than 50 hours, they have a problem. I’m not minimizing that.

As the after-action reporting and various investigations unfold, no doubt we will hear about this state agency or that one doing this and that wrong. People will get their names thrown around with severe connotations. As an old friend once said, “sternly worded memos will follow.”

But will we discover the real core of the problem? I hope so. But honestly, I doubt we will.

The Extreme Case

My story so far is an extreme case. But in business, problems arise every day. Things don’t go as planned. We try to dig into causes to determine why the problem is there, but often we miss the mark.

If we get too consumed on the solution, we might miss the root cause.

Once we err on finding the real problem, we are likely to repeat the situation.

The same can be said of the very thing that your business may be about. When you started your business, you had a vision. There was some product or service you wanted to deliver. Likely you firmly believed your ‘thing’ was going to solve everyone’s problems. Right?

As your business grew, did you focus more on your solution rather than the problem you were trying to fix?

If you lose sight of the original problem, you have a bigger problem. Your company may be headed for becoming irrelevant. If the market doesn’t have your kind of problem to fix, then your solution is meaningless.

You cannot survive by being the solution looking for a problem. You have to be solidly aligned with the problem you think you can fix. And the real problem must be very real.

The whole dot com bust was about solutions people created for problems that didn’t exist. I once saw an episode of Shark Tank where a young entrepreneur had created a phone app that showed you where things were in airport food courts.

If you’ve been to a food court lately at your local airport, things are pretty much right there. Having an extra app to map the booths and kiosks wouldn’t add much to the expereince.

This young man was crushed to find none of the sharks were interested. In fact, they got a little rude as he stressed the value (in his mind) of this app.

His app was a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist.

If your business is not producing the results you thought it should, maybe you are solving the wrong problems. Your creation may be wonderful, but if it doesn’t deliver the right value to solving a real problem, you are just fluff.

Fluff only sells for bedding and jackets, which we could have used more of here in Texas last week.

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