fbpx

The Keys to Becoming a Great Leader

Today it seems everybody knows something about leadership. 

But when I taught strategic leadership courses to MBA students at the University of Houston, in the beginning, my first question to the students was “who wanted to be a leader and a great one at that?”

There was always this look of bewilderment on their faces not knowing how to answer. 

Leadership can be puzzling and seems like a lofty aspiration as many times leaders are put on a pedestal.

Leadership does make a significant difference in the performance of an organization. Jim Collins demonstrated that in his well-researched book Good to Great. 

Normally, when people begin to talk about leadership, they start rattling off a long list of characteristics.

Well, I am not going to tell you my top ten characteristics of being a great leader as many articles do. 

But in my opinion, listing attributes is coming from the wrong starting place.

If you begin with characteristics and try to figure out who is great, you enter into a mindset of rating one leader against another based on the characteristics they possess.

The focus is all on the leader trying to find that special one. It’s grading on the curve.  You are better than that guy, but this other bloke is better than you.

When the conversation begins with the leader and their characteristics, it leaves out the other half of the equation.

What is really fundamental about leadership is that there are followers. There is no leadership without followers. You can be a great solo performer, but that is not leadership. Leadership requires followers. 

Think of the Other Person First

But why do people follow? 

They follow you because their needs are being fulfilled in some meaningful way.

In effect, the leader must provide a value proposition that fulfills follower’s needs as discussed in my other leadership blogs. 

This is the first key to becoming a great leader, you must start with the needs of the follower by developing a value proposition that motivates them to follow you.

That is what a company does with customers.  It provides a value proposition that causes people to buy. 

You must have a value proposition that potential followers can buy into.

What about the natural-born leader? Don’t people just want to follow them naturally regardless?

Sorry, it doesn’t work that way. You shouldn’t rely on whether you got that special leadership gene. 

In fact, most serious leadership authors advocate that leadership can be learned and dismiss this great man theory from days of yore.

Develop the We Mindset

Unfortunately, we grow up being graded solely on ourselves.  It begins in grade school right on through to high school, and then on to college.  It is all about me.

When I worked for Shell, there was a lot of emphasis on the qualities the leader possessed. I always felt under the microscope to be this superhuman leader with all these wonderful characteristics. 

I knew an awful lot about leadership theories, but it wasn’t until my later years in senior management that the second key came to light. 

A lot of my conversation had too much I.

To be a great leader you must shift your mindset from me to “we”, which is the second key to becoming a great leader.

That requires going out talking to people finding out what really drives them. Thinking in a “we” mindset opens them up to describing their needs.  People truly love to talk about themselves.

Leadership and Planning Go Together

Leadership is not a random hit or miss process. How do you figure out a value proposition that motivates people to follow you? This requires planning. 

What big thing have you ever accomplished without a plan?  Planning sets a direction. 

Thus, the third key to leadership is planning and setting a motivating direction.

Execution is the Fourth Key

Planning by itself is not enough, even though it does set the stage. The plan must be executed achieving the desired results. People follow successful performance. 

Therefore, the way to measure a great leader is to look at the absolute results. 

If you want to be an effective leader, YOU must focus on results.

That is the mindset shift that makes all the difference. Look at the results, but what results are we talking about?

A leader has various stakeholders with different needs as set out in the first key. Targeting these needs means forming value propositions for each key stakeholder, and since every leader has multiple stakeholders, that means multiple value propositions. 

Great results come from satisfying these different value propositions that cause your stakeholders to follow you. 

Moreover, if you judge leadership on the basis of absolute results, it’s absolutely possible for everyone to become a great leader.  

Leadership Maturity develops a Situational Style

People have different needs; situations require different leadership, and things change over time. 

There is no cookie-cutter approach to being a great leader.

Thus, the fifth key is to recognize that leadership is situational depending on the world you and your followers face.

Look to Other’s Strengths

Next, you win by utilizing your and other’s strengths.

That is what companies do with their value propositions.  They capitalize on their strengths. 

 Great leadership is all about building a winning team, where people step up with their greatest strengths.  That is the sixth key.

You build a game plan that leverages and synergizes on these strengths.

Develop Specific Actions

Many plans fail for lack of execution as set out in the Fourth Key.

The plans must have executable components with specific actions and be constantly reviewed and revised as results dictate. 

Leadership is not about how many initiatives you can create.  It’s about how well did you deliver on your value propositions by taking well-defined actions. 

Thus, the seventh key to leadership is delivering on your value propositions with specific targeted actions.  

That creates authenticity.  Doing what you say you are going to do.

Those are my seven keys to becoming a great leader.

Develop your Leadership Plan

This is a prelude to my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader that recognizes that your personal planning is the key catalyst for greatness.

Typically planning is done from the business perspective, at the corporate or business unit levels on what the company is going to do.

The leader needs to figure out how to integrate into these business plans with his or her leadership actions. Some of the leader’s value propositions to key stakeholders will be integral in the business plans. 

Other elements require the leader to formulate more specifically a leadership plan to fulfill those people’s value propositions. In developing these leadership plans, the focus can then turn to what strengths the leader needs to develop and what fatal flaws to correct. 

That requires the leader to fully assess his/her inner profile. 

What is your leadership style?  Which are your proficiencies, things you are really good at?  What are your values, beliefs, and character?  And fundamentally, what is your purpose in life? What legacy do you want to leave?

Weaving together the “outer” world of a leader’s work environment with their “inner” world of character, style, strength, and purpose brings a practical focus to leadership development efforts.

Inner Self

The leader can then reflect on those aspects of the inner self that more directly impact the outer world and pursue improvement in the areas that will make a significant performance difference, and much sooner.

In doing this, the chances of becoming a great leader go up significantly because there is a targeted focus on your actions and behaviors that will make a real difference in achieving great results.

That is the whole concept that led to my book Develop a Leadership Plan Become a Great Leader. 

The quest for great results doesn’t end with one great achievement. It’s not one and done; it’s a marathon. 

People will follow the leader who consistently produces great results.  And when these great results occur, that is a great leader.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was contributed by Lane Sloan, former CFO at Shell Oil. Lane is semi-retired but teaches, coaches and provides business advisory services to small and mid-cap business.

Trust at Work

The great Resignation is fully underway. Companies of all sizes are experiencing employee exits at all job levels. Owners and executives simply wonder why?

There are great theories about work-life balance value shifts, government intervention, and ‘disincentives’ among many other plausible ideas.

Yet one area remains a big contributor. That area is TRUST.

There is a basic loss of trust in the workplace. Employees are feeling disenfranchised. They watch as CEO pay and other external factors impact their way of working. Decisions get made by the bosses, but little if any trust is displayed in the worker.

Why should they be the ones expected to remain loyal? And now, with the pandemic opening of Pandoras’ box about work-life balance, employees are leaving corporate America by the millions. Yes, millions, not just thousands.

Employers need to ramp up the game when it comes to building trust at work. There are proven, tangible ways to increase the levels of trust across your work team, but it takes leadership focus and energy to get there.

However, rather than delve into that alone, why not find a blueprint? One that has been used for decades with great success.

The Program is Now

My colleague, Roger Ferguson, and I have teamed up to present you with the full program for building trust at work. In fact, our book is titled just that “Trust at Work.

buy the book

In this book, we introduce you to the Team Trust Model, a six-step outline of key essentials for understanding where and how to address the main concerns your employees have. Face it. Employees show up every day with questions. Questions like ‘Do I even want to be here?’, ‘what’s the point?’, ‘What’s the plan?’ and many more.

In other words, Leaders who create clarity for each of these key questions will see trust building inside the team. More and more, employees will learn to trust the boss and the team.

It’s not easy, but it is achievable. Buy the book. Or subscribe to my newsletter. Better still, if you’d like to start immediately to explore ways your team can build trust, schedule a chat.

You can become a leader who builds trust.

trust at work

The Truth Is in the Middle

Conflict resolution is a natural part of running a business; any business. Conflicts happen with customers, colleagues, and employees. In your personal life, you see conflict popping up at home with your spouse or your kids. Family dynamics can be a big source of conflict. Simply said, conflict is eveywhere.

As a coach, I get asked about dealing with conflict on a regular basis. My first answer is an old saying I was taught many years ago.

“The truth is in the middle.”

Seldom are you perfectly right or wrong. It is not very often that you are completely spot on with a solution. Instead there are always other considerations to weigh.

When two opposing ideas collide, the moment can be emotionally charged. One side can feel indignant if the other has dared to oppose the idea. The situation becomes a fight to the death.

It simply doesn’t have to be that way.

Emotionally mature leaders learn to look at conflict more objectively. Rather than jump immediately to one side or the other, the smart leader hears the arguments, then weighs the merits of each before making a decision.

Really great leaders seek the truth in the middle first. But if a settlement is still not there, you can move to this next idea.

The Marriage Bed

No relationship in life can be more complex than the marriage of a couple. Two otherwise independent souls agree to join together to become one couple.

On one hand it’s the definition of compromise. I give something up and you give something up so we can be together. Said outloud it sounds very unworkable.

However, to better understand the ways to solve conflict at work, I am going to borrow a guide from the Gottman Institute, an organization dedicated to helping marriages and families.

Drs. John and Julie Gottman present this exercise will help partners to make headway into the perpetually gridlocked problems you face in your relationship. It requires compromise.

Therefore the real question is about how can we reach a compromise?

The Art of Compromise

Step 1: Consider an area of conflict where you and your partner are stuck in perpetual gridlock. Draw two ovals, one within the other. The one on the inside is your Inflexible Area and the one on the outside is your Flexible Area.

Step 2: Think of the inside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values you absolutely cannot compromise on, and the outside oval containing the ideas, needs, and values that you feel more flexible with in this area. Make two lists.

Step 3: Discuss the following questions with your partner that feels most comfortable and natural for the two of you:

  • Can you help me to understand why your “inflexible” needs or values are so important to you?
  • What are your guiding feelings here?
  • What feelings and goals do we have in common? How might these goals be accomplished?
  • Help me to understand your flexible areas. Let’s see which ones we have in common.
  • How can I help you to meet your core needs?
  • What temporary compromise can we reach on this problem?

Applying these principles to a business situation may take some other thinking.

From a career standpoint, compromise is something that one must become comfortable with, particularly in leadership roles. Whether it’s negotiating a new contract with a vendor, discussing a potential new business venture, resolving a complaint or trying to reach an important business decision, mastering the art of compromise is key.

Compromise 6

Here’s how to do so effectively without giving up too much or putting yourself in a bad position.

First understand what is at stake. Prioritize the key issues in your own mind. Evaluate the real significance of the issue first.

Next, determine the potential outcomes. What will ultimately happen if you give in or stand your ground? How much of an impact would compromising have on your business? In many cases, you’ll likely find that giving in won’t have many repercussions at all.

Draw a mental line in the sand. Know your limits, focus on what is key to your longer term goals and vision.

Next, Genuinely listen. Stephen R. Covey encouraged seeking the win-win position. You have to listen carefully to find the opportunities for the win for each party.

Then, give something worthwhile. Recognize that the other party is also going to need to compromise to some degree. To reach that middle ground, you’ll need to be willing to give your opponent something worthwhile.

Finally, always be professional. When it comes to compromise, there’s always going to be those situations in which the results aren’t as favorable as you’d have liked. Regardless of outcome, it’s imperative that you maintain the utmost professionalism at all times.

Leadership Values

Becoming a leader who is effective at managing conflict and achieving compromise is easier than you think. However, it takes intentional effort, focused on facts not emotions. Other articles in my blog address these topics too.

Be a leader who is dedicated to delivering value. Value your people. Provide them with value day by day. Enrich and influence the lives of those around you. Lead your people to overcome the conflicts. That will become your legacy as a leader.

Leading From the Front … or Not

Being an effective leader requires a keen awareness of the situation. One size never fits all. Among the many choices leaders have to make, a very pivotal one involves what leadership position to take. Therefore, today we explore the question of whether to lead from the front or lead from the rear.

To set our footing, let me define the two options.

Leading from the Front

This brand of leadership is the kind we see often depicted in movies. Mel Gibson, in The Patriot, grabs the flag and rallies the troops when there is a break in the front lines. He’s right up there, standing tall, waving the flag, yelling “follow me!!!”

In business, the follow-me style leadership is usually found in organizatinal cultures where there is a large dose of command and control thinking. Employees are programmed to wait for direction. There is very little empowerment. Seldom does anyone ‘step out’ to take a chance.

Often these cultures are found in large scale engineering or manufacturing environments. On one hand it makes sense. You wouldn’t want employees being creative at the controls of a refining process. Things need to be prescriptive for everything to operate smoothly and efficiently, not to mention safely. Plans and specs need to be followed or severe consequences may happen.

Leading from the Rear

This style of leadership is not really opposite in thinking, just different. Leading from the rear represents the situation where the workteam is fully capable, empowered, and somewhat autonomous in how things need to happen.

One exmaple might be a large regional sales force. Sales reps need to be out in the field making calls and meeting prospects and clients. They should know the guiderails, but are expected to operate with a degree of independence, only checking back in when a truly unique special request comes up.

The sales executive can lead from the rear, providing the guiderails and encouragment, but otherwise staying handsoff on the effort.

Where Things Get Tough

In larger companies, managers usually get assigned to lead roles. They get placed into teams that are already operating together. Sometimes there are company reorganizations where teams get scrambled, but even then, managers haven’t really picked their teams.

What this means is, you as the leader must evaluate what your team needs. Do you need to lead from the front or from the rear? Figuring out the best approach helps solidify your role and your effectiveness as the leader.

Executives who join a new company (new to them) must navigate this landscape too. Missing the mark can seriously delay your progress.

Here’s How It Plays Out

If your leadership style is to empower and naturally lead from behind, applying that to a team who craves leadership from the front can cause fear and doubt in your team. If they are waiting on being told what to do, your expectation that they figure it out only causes confusion.

The more you encourage them to choose their own path, the more likely they are to withdraw and shrink away from the work. If they want to do the right hing, but you’re not telling them what that might be via speciifc assigned tasks, they will freeze.

On the other hand, if you are more likely to opeprate with a command and control approach, leading from the front, independent thinkers and doers will balk at your authority. They will object to being told what to do.

It becomes a balancing act. Good leaders adjust their style to the situation. If your team needs speciifc direction (you leading from the front) but you’d prefer them to be more empowered, then you have to coach them there. You have to coax them into understanding being empowered.

There needs to be a demonstration of good permission and protection. The leader gives permission to try things new while offering protection if things don’t work out just right. That way, the employee is not penalized for agreeing to step out and try something foreign to them.

Choosing Right

In most cases the need to lead from the front or from the rear can be figured out by simply asking the team about how they like to operate. If however, the team is new (due to a reorg), they likely have not found their identity yet.

The leader can help cast that vision and purpose. Then the pieces may come together naturally. If however, it is not yet clear, then the leader must dig deeper into the talent they have around them. By having one on one sessions you can glean the best ideas for structuring the team, leveraging the expereince and motivation each member brings.

The core message here is to be nimble as the leader. Don’t force your will on the team either way. If you prefer leading one way, but they want something else, be agreeable to make that pivot. You can begin shaping them to go the other way in time. Take advantage of the growth opportunity in yourself.

Use the situation as a personal stretch goal. You might just realize you like the view.

trust at work

PS – My new book “Trust at Work” is available a popular retailers in print and online. In the book, Roger Ferguson (co-author) and I explore the Team Trust Model. We explain the model and share examples of when and how it can work. Plus there are over 30 tools manaegrs can use to help gain trust with your team.

Lessons in Leadership: Soaring with the Winds of Life

windsock

 

In learning how to fly an airplane, one of the first lessons has to do with understanding winds. Winds come in basically three types;

  • Head winds – those hit you right in the face
  • Tail winds – those from behind
  • Cross winds – those at angles from the side

I believe the challenges we face in life and in business model these three types of wind as well. If we consider all the forms of challenge we face, we can boil it down into these three categories. However, it might be interesting to compare the pilot’s concern with each of these winds as we think about our daily responses to life’s winds…..

Head Wind

First, the head winds. Too often we might be prone to think of these negatively. As wind hits us in the face, it slows us down, forces us to press harder against the wind. Bob Seger wrote a great ballad titled “Against the Wind…stronger now still just running…against the wind”.

When a pilot encounters head wind during flight it can be a challenge. Fuel consumption is increased as air speed decreases. The time it takes to reach a destination increases. Stress and fatigue can set in. But did you know it is preferable to take off and land “against the wind”? Why? Because the increased force of that head wind causes “lift” on the wings which is the force that makes planes fly.

A good steady head wind actually makes take-offs and landings easier, more comfortable and effective. So the next time you sense a head wind in life, ask yourself whether it has been provided to allow more lift for a better take off to a new place in life or whether it is there to afford a safer, smoother landing from where you have just come.

Tail Wind

Next let’s talk about tail wind. This is just the opposite from a head wind. We tend to think of tail wind as favorable. During flight that might be true. It can serve to push us forward, reduce effort and speed the time towards the destination.

But did you know it is the most difficult force with which to reckon during take off and landing? At those times, it actually impairs control, reduces efficiency and creates danger.

Maybe in life we need to be cautious of the perceived tail winds. Rather than gliding along with them, we need to watching for hindrances to gaining new achievement or resolving old challenges.

Cross Wind

The final force is cross wind. All things considered, crosswind is the most challenging of all flying situations. That is true in life and business too.

Crosswind means what it implies… a force crossing you at an angle to the direction you intend to fly. During flight, a cross wind will blow you “off course”. A constant watch must be given to direction and compass heading while flying in crosswinds. There is no cruising during crosswind conditions. It is a constant battle.

doug flying
Me piloting a cross country to Shreveport LA

Take off and landing is even more severe. Very special techniques are required to manage a crosswind situation. This is why you see planes doing a crab landing, angling sideways right before touchdown. In some situations the crosswind can be so severe that its force exceeds the designed strength of the air frame on the airplane, which makes the good pilot seek an alternative landing site, one where the winds are more favorable.

Life has crosswind too. It is the skill and grace with which we handle life’s crosswinds that determines our ultimate success. Failure to recognize and manage a crosswind can cause certain disaster. Either we ignore the presence of that crosswind or we acknowledge it but underestimate the consequences. Forging ahead means grave results.

So next time you feel a certain extraordinary force influencing your life, consider the pilot. Is the wind you feel one of these? If so, which one and how will you choose to handle it?

If you need help discerning the winds in your path right now or want to find better ways to navigate those winds, schedule a time for a free consultation.

Copy These 5 Communication Skills From Top Leaders

Do you struggle with communicating effectively? Communication is a key part of success at work or in other parts of your life. Top leaders have practiced and mastered the skills that enable them to communicate so well. Luckily, you too can learn these same skills!

Follow these strategies to practice essential communication skills:

Learn to Listen

Top leaders know that listening is a crucial part of communication. Learn to love listening and engage in the stories of others.

Try to really pay attention during a conversation instead of being distracted by your phone or another device. Have one conversation at a time to give each person your full attention. 

Practice retelling the person’s story in your mind to get better at listening.

Everyone wants to be heard. Others will notice that you’re listening to them and will go away from your conversations thinking what a great communicator you are when all you did was listen.

Avoid Slang and Informalities

It’s normal to use slang or other types of informal language while talking to friends or family. However, business usually requires a more formal language set. Pay attention to who you’re talking to and make the necessary adjustments.

Slang, acronyms, and informalities can also make some people feel uncomfortable, especially if they’re not familiar with them.

Focus on Being Brief

Top leaders know that you don’t have to make a long speech to be effective.

Practice being brief and getting your point across with fewer words and less time. People appreciate brief conversations and respect others who don’t go off on tangents.

However, ensure you’re still providing enough information while you talk. You don’t want to be vague or miss important details.

This skill may take time to develop, so practice it often. The next time you have a conversation, try to get your point across with less talking. Try to summarize the important parts and only focus on them while you talk. 

Pay Attention to Other’s Emotions

When you talk, take note of how the other person is reacting. Words are powerful, and communication can affect people in many different ways.

You may want to learn psychology to understand emotions better.

Show sympathy and empathy when it’s appropriate during a conversation.

Look at things from the other person’s point of view without criticism or judgment.

Be Charismatic

Communication is easier for charismatic people, but you can learn this skill.

One of the most important aspects of charisma is confidence, but not arrogance or self-righteousness. Confident communicators know their value and worth, but they’re also respectful of others.

Another facet of charisma is optimism, and it’s also a big part of communication. Even if you’re having a difficult conversation, focus on something positive. Top leaders are good at finding the silver lining.

Charismatic communicators are interesting, but they also share interesting information with others.They focus on innovation and new ideas that give people a spark.

Summary

You can learn to communicate more effectively by following these tips from top leaders. Practice these skills as often as possible. You’ll have many opportunities each day. Every time you have a conversation with anyone is an opportunity to practice a little more. And as you know, practice makes perfect!

Vision, Purpose, and Swimming with Dolphins

Leaders are supposed to provide vision, right? But if you’re in a senior manager role does that apply to you? You might say, “No, that’s the CEO’s job.”

I disagree. If you’ve been put in a leadership role, YOU, my friend, must cast the vision. Don’t wait on anyone else around you to do it.

For all the years I’ve been doing executive coaching, I still remain amazed at the frequency by which I find people with good job titles failing to have their own vision for things.

It’s Your Show

When you get selected or elected to a senior management role, the job is yours. With it comes the total responsibility for the success and outcome of your work team. People want vision. They need purpose.

It’s just not enough for people to show up to work each day. They come with questions about why. Specifically, why is my team here? What is this unit about? What does this department do? Can I get excited about our cause?

These questions become the leader’s responsibility to answer and answer well. If your team doubts any of this, they will refuse to buy-in. Their trust for you and the company will languish in the weeds. Soon they will start acting disenfranchised and unengaged with the work. They will just be going thru the motions.

On the other hand, if you can articulate a clear and concise story about the purpose for the team, then you’ll get much better buy-in. By casting a clear vision for the work and purpose, you will go much further to engage and inspire your team.

It’s not enough to say we’re here because…

You have to show them the landscape. Paint a beautiful picture of the possibilities and purpose. Give them their individual views.

Your vision becomes the rally point where the team can center their energy. Create a clear statement of the vision. Be sure the whole team knows what that might be. Don’t leave the understanding of the vision to chance.

Above all, don’t wait on leaders above you to cast the vision. Sure, you should take your vision and get alignment and approval from upper management, but don’t wait on that. Be bold!

The Entrepreneur’s Version

Small business needs the same inspiration from its owner/founder. It’s almost a given that a startup will have a vision. It makes perfect sense otherwise why startup?

Yet the original vision can suffer over time. As things progress, even owners can forget their original ideas. You get caught up in the day-to-day, making adjustments all the time. Then one day you wake up and the idea you had, the vision, is not there anymore. Your little baby has become something else.

If you own your business, take time to refresh and revisit your vision. Stuff does happen. You might have to adjust. But don’t lose sight of why you started what you started.

What do Dolphins Have to Do With This?

Nothing really. I just think they’re pretty cool.

Two dolphins happily swimming in the ocean. Digital illustration

Motivation Secrets of Great Leaders

business leader

Great leaders know how to motivate others. Since the amount you can accomplish on your own is limited, it’s necessary to have the assistance of others.

Someone who can motivate others to do their best has an incredibly valuable talent.

When you can inspire others, you can accomplish much more.

Motivate others to do their best:

Be emotionally supportive. To help others shine, removing the fear of failing or looking foolish is critical. Most people are frozen by fear and prefer to remain comfortable. When fear is greater than motivation, nothing happens. Removing fear can be just as effective as instilling additional motivation.

Provide additional support. Ask what resources are required. Does your employee require additional help or funds to get a project off the ground? Perhaps your child needs a tutor or assistance with creating a resume. Determine what resources are required for success and provide them.

Support is not limited to financial or physical resources. Support means standing alongside; proving you have their back.

Follow up regularly. Show that you care by monitoring their progress. It’s enough to ask and then listen. Asking questions will also help to keep them on track.

Don’t micromanage. Hold people accountable for measurable and attainable goals. Think about Goldilocks – ‘not too big, not too small, but just right.’ That’s the way to set expectations.

Be publically supportive. It’s one thing to support an employee in the privacy of your office. It’s quite another to be supportive in front of his/her co-workers. Parents are guilty of this, too. Avoid only supporting your children around the dinner table. Support them in public also.

Acknowledge and reward. Acknowledge progress and effort regularly. Everyone needs a little boost now and then. Ideally, give acknowledgment publically. Conversely, your disgruntlement and any discipline should be handled privately. It’s as simple as handling praise and reprimands most effectively.

Still More to Think About

Ask for ideas. You might hear a few ideas that are better than your own. It’s easier for others to get excited about their own ideas than to get excited about yours. Using ideas from your team will create a sense of purpose and involvement.

There’s a keen focus on empowerment and inclusion in today’s business. Executives are talking about collaboration too. It all goes together very well toward creating a collaborative environment where people’s ideas are welcome.

Be clear. Vagueness breeds confusion. Confusion saps enthusiasm. It is said ‘a confused mind says NO.’ Leaders need to create clarity.

When the objective and the necessary steps are clear, motivation is easier to generate. Ensure that everyone is clear on their roles.

Set a good example. If it’s important to you, it will be important to your employees, spouse, or children. Don’t just tell them it’s important, but show them by your behavior. Make the objective a priority in your own life.

Create a vision. Paint a picture of the end results in the minds of those involved. The work is not always enjoyable, but it’s the end result that matters. Then keep reminding everyone of how great things will be when it’s over. The work is the path to reach that endpoint.

Deal swiftly with dissenters. It only takes one dissenting, charismatic employee to bring the whole thing crashing down. There’s often one complainer that tries to undermine the enthusiasm of everyone else. Don’t underestimate the damage this one person can do. Have a heart-to-heart conversation with them or move them out of the group.

Play the Whole Game

Motivation isn’t just about adding positive energy. It’s also about removing obstacles. Dissenters are obstacles.

Encourage the sharing of opinions. However, once a decision has been made, expect cooperation.

Encourage others to do their best work or to follow their dreams. Motivating others is a skill that anyone can develop. You can only be as successful as your team. Avoid the belief that you can do it all alone. You can’t.

Great leaders inspire others to be overachievers. It’s a challenging task, but if you’re good at motivating others, you’ll always be one of the most important people around.

Real Leaders Don’t Lose the ‘Person’ in Personality

Whether you own a business or run one for a bigger company, your role as manager/leader is in the spotlight. When people start searching for leadership development tools or management training, you often run into a large segment of the market focused on Personality.

The logic says ‘if I understand my personality, and the personalities of those around me, I can be better leader. Why? Because I can learn to meet them where they are, etc.’

Logic like that is like a 3-year strategic plan. It looks great on paper, it’s a cool workshop to sit in, but what do you really do with the information? Too often it gets implemented poorly and soon forgotten. (I happen to hold a strong bias on the use of common personality tools. Email me and I’ll share that discussion.)

For now I want to challenge you to think about something else.

What’s at the Core

Throughout my coaching career I have often found executives and business owners who struggle with their personality defining the person they think they need to be. Or vice versa. The person they believe they are does not show up when the work gets going. Instead, some different personality appears.

My challenge to you is to consider separating your thinking about the person you want to be from the personality that actually shows up.

Getting a solid grip on the person you want to be has nothing to do with title, role, and financial status. But it has everything to do with the kind of friend, neighbor, and fellow human being you believe you are. It’s about core values, principles, and beliefs. Most leaders, when asked, have a good list defining those things in their personhood.

And, ok, I’m going to say it….

There are some solid jerks in the world (keeping it PG-13). For me, the good news is, I just don’t get many of those folks reading my articles or asking me for coaching. And I’ll never take one as a client.

Instead, I talk with people who are already successful at some level and they want to do more, be more.

The Derailers

First, let’s talk about some common contributors for why personality may interrupt personhood. In the Hogan world we call these ‘derailers.’

One issue that appears most often is the idea that a strength used in excess becomes a derailer. For example, if you are naturally empathetic, you might not drive your team hard enough. Your personality shows up ‘friendly’ and well-intended, but when the going gets tough, people want direction and drive from their boss.

Next, you might be covering something. I don’t mean in a criminal way, but rather in a defensive way. If you are uncertain about a subject, your personality may be too comical, trying to laugh off the tension in the moment. This usually shows up as the boss who cracks jokes at inappropriate times, taking serious discussions off track.

Also, people with highly focused technical ability may come across as too robotic, not enough ‘people’ skill when interacting. Their personality is plastic. Yet when you peel the onion, you find a wonderfully motivated mind wanting to do great things.

The Options

While doing a ‘post-game interview’ wondering what went wrong with a particular situation, you likely may be thinking “I know what I wanted to say or do, but somehow it never came out that way.”

If that is you, then you, my friend, may be suffering from the conflict between person and personality.

First, doing the post-mortem on a meeting or a one-on-one interview can help tremendously to isolate the areas where you are disconnecting person and personality. Do your own analysis.

If it is possible, ask for feedback. Ask for specifics like “When I said ‘X’, how did that strike you?” When you think your personality usurped your personhood, then you have an opportunity to fix it.

When feedback highlights specific gaps, check first to see if the gap is properly covered by those core beliefs and key principles you claim. Not the other way around. Then search for reasons your personality may have thrown up a different solution in the moment. Here are some of those situations.

  • You cracked a joke when you should be serious.
  • You got technical when empathy would have been better.
  • You quoted company policy when a warmer more collaborative idea could have been put to play.
  • You genuinely love your team, but you go to performance issues too often when talking to them.

Ask a mentor or a coach to help you make the distinction between the person you believe you are and the personality that often shows up instead.

Don’t lose the person in personality.

Leave a comment or share this post.

Leave It Better Than You Found It

hiking and camping

Many years ago, when I was a boy Scout, my Scoutmaster had a mantra. Wherever we went camping, we were supposed to leave the surroundings better than we found it. That meant that before we left the area, we had to do a thorough cleanup, pick-up, and canvas of the area.

If there were rocks lining the paths, every rock had to be properly in line whether we had disrupted them or not. If there were trash cans in the area, each one had to have the lid properly secured. Any litter that was found had to be picked up, again whether we had created or not. As we left, we even brushed the pathways behind us, erasing our footprints in the dirt. A little extreme? Perhaps. But the teaching stuck.

Later, as I apprenticed with a master woodworker/craftsman, he too had a similar mantra about borrowing tools and equipment. If he borrowed something from someone, it had to be returned in better condition than it was first received. That meant cleaned, lubricated, polished or dusted off. This too was a further reminder of the basic teaching. The mindset got fixed in my brain.

tools in a box in a garage for repair work

We don’t hear that principle shared much anymore these days. Yet there is so much that can be learned from it. The concept applies to leadership in its highest form.

If you are selected to lead a team or organization, why not leave it better than you received it? Leaders are supposed to accomplish things, right? But what about truly trying to leave things better off than they were before you started.

Before we get into more details, there’s one other key element here we should discuss. If you know you’re going to be doing a big clean-up at the end, you are more likely to take care of things during the stay rather than have to do a big bunch of work at the end.

The same is true about leadership dedicated to this kind of mantra. Do little things daily to create the end result that is better than before. That way you don’t have to make a big push at the end to accomplish the same result.

The Leadership Influence

Choosing to apply this ‘leave it better than before’ principle to your leadership mindset will build a lasting legacy with those around you. If you become the leader that strives to make everything better, you will create a memorable impression that won’t go away.

Sadly, the opposite is equally true. How many of us have worked for bosses who left scorched earth behind their reign? You were happy to see them leave.

But the boss or mentor who looked out for your well being and helped you grow in your career or skill set will long be remembered.

Ways to Leave It Better

What are the ways a leader can make things better? Here are a few I’ve benefitted from.

First, genuinely learn who your people are and what they know how to do. Get into the details of their experience and skill set. Let them know you care about their ability to contribute. If you see gaps, encourage them to grow. Give them tips and ideas on ways to expand their tool kit of abilities.

Be a mentor. Be ready and willing to come alongside your people to show them ways to grow.

Help people with networking inside and outside. This is a tricky one. In today’s complex business world, people are feeling overwhelmed with knowing they need to be able to network more, but they are either afraid of doing it or don’t know how.

Stop solving all the problems. Nurture the growth in your team by using key questions when they bring you problems. Encourage them to propose a solution to every problem before they merely lay the problem on your desk. Then share with them the logical process you use to get to a good answer.

Model the right behaviors. Whenever and wherever you show up as a leader, people are watching. Even the most subtle behaviors can become big influencers for those who are following you.

You likely will never win 100% of the time. Accept the 84% rule. A local Texas politician shared this one with me. He had won his election for Mayor by an 84% popular vote. While that is huge by today’s standard for electoral margin, he decided to not alienate the 16% that didn’t vote for him. Instead he started to earnestly reach out to them and include their views in decisions facing the city.

Give people some slack or you might call it grace. People will make mistakes. The way you as a leader respond to those moments is what will make the difference.

Decide to break old habits. If the bosses you worked for modeled bad habits, don’t let those be yours to keep. A company’s culture evolves in time. The patterns of employee/employer relationships are what really define a culture, not some poster on the wall.

Handing it down

The Conclusion

I once coached a senior executive who was responsible for a national network of high-dollar manufacturing facilities. There was big machinery operating under high pressure with potentially toxic environments. People could get hurt or killed. In the day when he was rising up the organization, being a site manager and having to report a problem to the big boss meant getting a chewing out before you got to talk about the details. It was automatic.

I asked this exec about that dynamic. He sheepishly admitted he tended to do the same thing to his people. I asked if it made any difference. He said no. He knew they felt bad and were already dealing with the disappointment. His adding to the dogpile didn’t help. So he agreed to stop doing that.

Things still happened in the plants, but the team culture changed. Site managers realized the big boss was there for them, not a voice to condemn what had happened. They needed his wisdom to orchestrate the resolution. He began focusing on administering those coaching and mentoring moments to help them grow rather than berating and belittling them.

His decision as a leader to show up differently, and make things better than before, broke a legacy of old-school management practice that had lived for decades. In one turn in the leader’s seat, he engrained a newer, more positive mindset in the hearts of the various site managers who would one day be the big boss themselves.

That, my friend, is how you can make a difference, leaving things better than they were before you got there.