Growth requires humility…

“No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.”

Jim Yong Kim

Discounting and ignoring feedback from others because you don’t agree with it or don’t see it the same way they do is incredibly flawed.  ‘In the mind of the perceiver the perception is a fact.’  

Feedback is a gift.  Because somewhere in there is a kernel of truth you might not want to recognize or address.  There is a root cause for a perception and if you want to grow, if you want to serve others, you MUST look inside yourself and at YOUR behaviors to figure out how to improve.  You have to learn and grow and have humility to understand that you don’t know everything.

Keep seeking feedback!  And if you don’t get it from one person, ask someone else.  When you receive it don’t defend yourself, seek first to understand and then get to work with humility and grace and find a way to change so you can improve in your ability to serve others.  

 

Why limit yourself?

“If you don’t have the information you need to make wise choices, find someone who does.”

Lori Hil

“Why” is the most powerful word in the English language.  Well, I guess that is a fairly broad statement, but I will certainly make the statement that “why” is the most important word in English as it regards to leadership.  What on earth does that have to do with today’s quote?  Glad you asked. 

Far too often we bog down and spend so much of our time talking about “what” we are going to do without understanding “why” something has happened.  Digging deeply into the why, and getting input and perspective from others, is critical to making good decisions in life and leadership.  To seek information, to make good choices, to lead, one must understand whatever situation or challenge is in front of you.  To be able to do this you either must have all the information yourself, or you have to go out and get it.  If you don’t have all the information, and who ever really does, you have to be willing to admit that fact and actively seek to gain it from others. 

So why don’t people do this more often?  Why is this such a challenge in life and leadership?  Asking for input and perspective from others takes self-awareness.  It takes humility.  It means understanding that you don’t have all the information, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t have all the knowledge.  Asking “why” takes courage and a willingness to learn without having a bias towards your own self-beliefs.  In today’s world admitting that you don’t know something is challenging for many people and leaders.  Of course the flip side side far worse, if you don’t seek perspective then you are stuck with whatever you have been able to learn on your own.  The more we rely on what we already know, the less likely we are to make wise choices.  Find someone who knows more than you do, and ask lots of questions.  Why limit yourself to only what you already know?

Too much of a good thing…

“The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.”

Norman Vincent Peale

Praise feels good and at the right moment can be just the thing you need to hear to persevere in a challenging situation.  It can be the catalyst to help launch you to new heights.  Taken too far, it drives the ego and becomes the reason for doing something instead of being recognition for hard work and effort.  

Criticism doesn’t always feel good but it is the most impactful message (for me anyway) that helps one grow and develop.  I know that I have made vast improvements (with tons of opportunity for more growth) based on receiving open and honest criticism.  The key is to have trust in the messenger and know they are relaying the criticism in an effort to help, not harm you.  

When looked at through the lens of leadership it works the same way.   Praise is fun to deliver, criticism isn’t always the same way.  Here again the key is trust.  Do our team members trust that we are delivering both praise and criticism to help them grow and prosper?

As William Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It,” there can be “too much of a good thing.”  Feedback that is all praise fuels the ego, if it is all criticism it destroys the passion.  The key is to find the right balance and not shy away from one or the other.

 

Threat level zero?

“If you are humble, if you make people realize that you are no threat to them, then they will embrace you.”

Nelson Mandela

I really like the way Mandela framed this in that it is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that those you wish to lead know that you are not a threat to them. I would go so far as to say that the minute one positions yourself as a threat to another person you have lost any semblance of humility.  To make yourself a threat to others is to position yourself ahead of them, higher than them, more valuable or worthy than they are. 

I’ve often heard that to be humble is “not to think less of yourself, but to think of yourself less.” I’ve long believed that if you talk about having humility, you don’t. I think I am going to add “ensuring that people realize you aren’t a threat” to the list of requirements for humility and servant leadership.  

 

The challenge of being real…

“You cannot talk about grit—you have to embody it. You cannot talk about faith—you have to live it. You cannot talk about the desert—you have to cross it.”

Dr. Dragos Bratasanu

When I read this quote the very first thing that popped into my head was one of my favorite sayings of all times, “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching” by St. Francis Assisi.  This is leadership by example in a nutshell.

Then I thought of how dissimilar this perspective is in today’s social media driven “look at me” culture. The comparison and envy that is created by showing “perfect” pictures of someones life.  Instead of “leadership by example” it creates “envy by example.” It is a focus on living life outwardly, based on what you want other people to think, as opposed to focusing inwardly on your personal values and the decisions that you make that aree manifested in action, not in words.  

Living a life of actions and behaviors that are 100% consistent with your words and beliefs is hard. I am very thankful to have a few incredible people in my life that will help hold me accountable when my words might outpace my actions or my choices.  We might not be able to talk about the desert, but we don’t have to cross it alone…

Be water, my friend…

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Bruce Lee

Over, under, around or through…  Water always adjusts to its environment. It’s too bad it isn’t as easy for us humans.  When I first read this quote I admit that I thought it was a cool one because it was Bruce Lee. But then I really started to think about each sentence and what it can mean from a life and leadership perspective.  The more I reflected, the more I realized that the wisdom expressed here is simply incredible.

How much time and energy do we waste trying to get the world to conform to us, to our wants and needs?  Why is it often so hard to sit back, surrender our ego and simply be as water? The learning and knowledge that dances just out of reach until we humble ourselves and adjust to the world and become aware of the outward things that disclose themselves to us. You can learn so much when you sit back and observe, when you take the time to “Empty your mind, be formless.”

The lesson I take today is just how important it is to just let go of your ego, be humble, be willing to adjust and learn and always flexible in your approach.  Look what grand things happen when the way of water is followed…

arizona canyon deserted geological

 

Who do you serve?

“If you can’t serve, you can’t lead.”

Unknown

I was blessed very early in my work life to have been mentored by some incredible people.  Several amazing people took me under their wings and taught me some of most important lessons I have ever learned in my life.  One of those folks introduced me to the concept and philosophy of Servant Leadership. This resonated deeply with me and learning how to become a better servant leader has been my  lifelong quest.  

Col. Greg Camp was that mentor and is a person to whom I owe so very much.  Greg had retired from the Army a year or two before I met him after an exceptional career.  He  was working at Columbus Bank & Trust when I joined the company back in 1997.  Greg was one of those people who was an exceptional teacher and had a knack for pulling out a persons hidden talents and gifts.  From day one I knew he was different because he told me that “his job was to ensure that I had everything that I needed to be successful and that when I was successful, that we as a team, division and company would be successful.  That in no uncertain terms he worked for me.” (Reflecting back on what I learned from Greg I realize that I could write countess posts about his leadership influence and impact.  Maybe I’ll do that one day in other relevant messages.)

One of the practices that Greg introduced to me was the idea of having a “leadership book club” at work so that we could learn and grow from each other.  We would become much better leaders by having heard what others think about particular topics. This practice is something I still use today for the very same reason.

I vividly remember our first “book club” meeting even though it was well over 20 years ago now.  Those meetings were held once a week before work, at “0-dark-thirty,” or to be more precise, at 6:30 AM on Friday mornings.  I was very excited to be part of the leadership team and to learn from some truly amazing and very seasoned team members.  The book we started with that morning was Leadership By The Book (which is still a personal favorite) and it opened my eyes to the philosophy of leading others by first serving them.  

Servant Leadership requires inverting the traditional hierarchal leadership pyramid and understanding that in order to create success one must first serve those you work with and ensure that they have the things that they need to be successful.  It requires a willingness to really lean in and understand your team and ensure that you are giving them the vision, direction, skills, talents, resources, accountability, etc that they need to excel at their jobs.  It requires that you are continually focused on having the right people on the team and in the right seats on the bus (to borrow from Jim Collins).  The team must know that you serve them in their success AND that they OWN the results of their efforts.  A very wise person once told me that “servant leadership is like being a great parent, it comes from your servant heart and you have to know when to praise and know when to spank, and your team has to know that you serve them by doing both.” 

I can’t possibly begin to explain all the nuances and impacts of servant leadership.  Many great books have already done this but the bottom line for me is this.  Over twenty years ago I was given one of my greatest gifts of my life when I learned that “leadership is not about self, but it is instead about those whom you serve.”

 

The ripple effect…

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”

Nelson Mandela

close up water drop photography

Life (and leadership) is like tossing a pebble into a pond.  A big splash and then nothing remains on the surface.  

Except that’s not really true is it?  There are always ripples leading away from where your toss landed.  

It’s interesting that when you toss a pebble the ripples have to move away from the point of impact.  No matter how much we want to make life about ourselves, or try to focus on our own wants and needs, our behaviors and actions send waves out that intersect with others and impact their lives, for positive or negative effect.  

What is the impact that you want to happen today based on the pebbles you toss?  Are you tossing pebbles without thinking of the effect beyond yourself?  Are you living a life that will impact others and that they will say was significant?  

 

 

Though I Walk Through the Valley…

“Mountaintops inspire leaders but valleys mature them.”

Winston Churchill

This quote made me sit back and think and ask myself some tough questions.  Would I rather be on the mountain or in the valley?  Where am I now?  Which experiences have given me the greatest growth?  Well the obvious answer is that I want to be ON the mountain.  I mean we all would right?  But that is surface level and as I really challenged myself to think through this and what the implications were for me personally I realized that the pursuit of the mountain, while motivational and inspiring, haven’t been as personally or professionally impactful on me as my times in the valley.  I need the valley to push me out of my comfort zones, to get real and raw with myself and make the necessary changes to grow as a leader.

But the valley experience alone doesn’t create growth or maturity.  Upon more reflection  it dawned on me that even during tough times, even during periods of real challenge it is so important to always keep an eye on the horizon to the mountain in the distance.  It might seem so far away but it is critical to look up, check that it is still there and remind yourself of why you are pushing through the hard stuff to get out of the valley.

Rick Warren has one of my favorite quotes regarding overcoming pain (the valley).  In it he says “Your greatest ministry will likely come from your deepest pain.”  This strikes a chord for me on many levels.  Ultimately it is about how you can anchor your vision on  the mountain, your ministry, the future impact that you want to have on others, and then lean forward to embrace the suck and seek to wring every drop of learning from the experience of being in the valley.  I wouldn’t trade away a single valley experience.  They are just too important for growth.  “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil…”

Right between the eyes…

“No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better.” 

Jim Yong Kim

Someone once told me that as soon as soon as you profess “I am humble” you have ceased to be so in any way.  Humility is hard.  We all want to be good.  Heck with that, we want to be great!  But what does it mean to be great?  Is it all about doing it for me?  For I?  For the ego?  The self?  The pursuit of selfish endeavors or selfish gains?  That is the opposite of humility!  For me humility is the recognition that I still yet have a lot to learn.  That I will always have more to learn and that everyone can teach me something.

My Dad (who by the way is one of the greatest influences in my life from both a leadership and human character perspective) taught me when I was very young that the value of a person wasn’t measured in the car that they drove or the clothes that they wore.  Instead, the value of another man was measured entirely in how they treated other people.  Interesting right?!  The value of a human being measured not in what they have, but in what they give.  Respect.  Honor.  Dignity.  Compassion.  Service.  These are just some of the gifts that the greats give, regardless of the size of their bank account or their station in life.

So, for today’s quote this is one lesson that I hope I never forget.  Ask for feedback.  LISTEN to the response.  Get better.  Period.  The day you think you have arrived your journey has ended.  Leadership is learning and growing.  I am a better leader today than I was one year ago and I hope that what I am today is a pale shadow compared to what I have become a year from now based on really listening, learning, and growing.

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