Discretionary effort…

“Accept the fact that we have to treat almost anybody as a volunteer.”

Peter Drucker

This is such a simple and yet such a powerful statement. We as leaders must understand that our role isn’t just to manage the outputs of others but it is instead to lead and influence in a way that those we serve give voluntarily of their time and energy. We must focus on engaging with our team so that they are willing to volunteer their discretionary effort. I define this as the effort of work that goes above and beyond what is required by the job.

Think about the things that you do as a volunteer whether it is in your church, your community, etc. You do so willingly, giving from the margin of your life in order to make a difference for and with someone else.

We as leaders should look at everyone that we engage with as a volunteer and seek to enlist the energy that comes when a person gives freely of themselves in order to impact the lives of others. To do this we must serve. We must move from simply directing effort and outputs and instead harness the exponential energy that is released when people passionately and purposefully engage in their work. That is the secret sauce…

Leadership is…

“Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

Colin Powell

This is one of, if not my absolute, favorite leadership quotes of all time. It is definitely in my top 5 list. I know that I have used it in my daily quotes before, probably several times in the now 22 years that I have been sending out a daily message, but I looked and I haven’t used it over the past two years. So what better time than now to bring out an old favorite?

There is so much richness and wisdom in this message. To me it isn’t about the fact that people are bringing you their problems, in fact that might not be a good thing at all…

It is about whether or not your team views you through the lens of being able to help and add value to them and bring perspective and insight that would help them be more effective in solving their problems.

It is about whether or not you as a leader have created a culture and atmosphere where those that you lead and influence know that you care, deeply care, about them as a person and about their problems, challenges and successes.

To be able to lead you must be deeply introspective and self-aware if you want to grow in influence and as John Maxwell states, “Leadership is influence” (also one of my top 5 quotes of all time).

It makes me think of a number of questions that are needed to get to the heart of what is at play for anyone that is in a leadership role, whether officially designated or not. Here are some of the questions that come to mind.

Are people bringing me their challenges? Why or why not?

Am I growing, intentionally growing, my skills and talents so that I can be additive to those that I serve? Do I understand what they need from me as a leader and am I going out and purposefully growing my expertise in order to best serve them?

Have I made it safe as a leader for those I influence not to have all the answers? How or how not? Is it safe for them to bring me their problems or challenges, not because I can provide all the answers but because I can help them think through the best solution and help them guard against any blind spots?

Do I actively listen and pay attention to see if those I lead and influence are coming to me seeking input and advice? Am I constantly and continually scanning my environment to see if I am providing value to them and helping them? If no one is seeking then do I know it and am I working to find out why not?

Does my team know that I genuinely care about them as individuals, about their problems, about their challenges, about their opportunities? Not in a “I hope they know I care” kind of way but in an explicitly stated and reinforced through actions kind of way. Am I walking the talk on a daily basis that perpetuates my care and concern and when I fail, and I will fail, am I addressing that head on with them?

These questions help me to continually refine my leadership as I seek to expand my skills and capabilities. They also address another John Maxwell axiom that is a favorite of mine, “Are you really leading, or are you just taking a walk?” (I have included a link to John’s Blog here as it has such beautifully rich content and perspective).

As mentioned above “Leadership is influence.” The essential meaning of this quote is wrapping up the “how” that influence is built and delivered…

Take off the brakes…

“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

Bill Gates

What is empowerment? The technical definition from dictionary.com is below and the word that stands out most to me is “enable.” When you think about the role of leadership it is to enable those whom you serve to perform and achieve their goals and objectives. Those who aren’t enabled haven’t been given the authority or power to make decisions.

Leadership without empowerment is simply a dictatorship. It breeds a culture of complacency and indecision. In today’s world life is moving to fast to have an artificial brake on decision making. Empowerment is the key to removing the brakes on effective leadership…

It’s a gift, give it…

“If you aren’t gonna say exactly how and what you feel, you might as well not say anything at all.”

Johnny Cash

There is such incredible value in having the awareness to understand what you feel and why, AND the courage to communicate it to others in a way that serves to enhance the relationship, not shut it down.

To know something, and bottle it up, might rob those around you of incredible insight and knowledge. It might diminish your standing and ability to get really important things done.

Having something to say, and not saying it, is like getting someone a gift and not giving it…

Lead yourself first…

“The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.”

John Wooden

Leadership doesn’t have anything to do with roles, titles, jobs, etc. If a person is inspiring another to do something different because of their own actions or behaviors, that is leadership. As John Maxwell states, “Leadership is influence.”

Yesterday I wrote about about Catherine and the incredible experience that she created for me through her actions. She was leading through her personal example. I have had a constant stream of thoughts in my mind about her actions and that has influenced me and what I doing and saying to others.

All too often it is easy to get wrapped up in the titles and roles and forget that the most effective, yet basic and simple demonstration of leadership comes through your own actions and behaviors. These actions are rooted in your thoughts so the place to start, if you want to lead by example, is to focus on leading yourself. Set the standard for yourself, and hold yourself accountable to that standard. That becomes leadership for others, regardless of what your title is…

Catherine, thank you for going the extra mile…

“Do more than is required. What is the distance between someone who achieves their goals consistently and those who spend their lives and careers merely following? The extra mile.”

Gary Ryan Blair

Yesterday was one of those days that will eventually happen to everyone if you spend a lot of time on airplanes. But my story today isn’t simply about flight delays and cancelled flights. It is about the extraordinary and unexpected customer experience I received from one American Airlines team member. So please indulge me a little bit with the length of this post as I set up the story…

I was in Tampa, Florida for a meeting and was booked on a flight home to Charlotte, NC that was supposed to leave at 3:56 PM. Unfortunately there were severe storms in Charlotte that brought tornadoes, hail, significant flooding, and heavy winds. The Charlotte airport was closed for several hours and all flights in and out of the region were grounded. Naturally my flight was canceled and I was re-booked for a flight that was to head out later in the evening.

Myself and my colleagues headed to the airport to wait for our flights and see if perhaps we could get out on an earlier flight if at all possible. Given the situation back home, and the damage and loss of life that had occurred due to the storms, it was very easy to keep everything in perspective and just be grateful that my friends and family were safe.

During our wait I had my first interaction with Catherine, the heroine of this story who is one of the exceptional team members at the American Airlines Admirals Club in Tampa, Florida. She assisted my and my colleagues in finding seats on an earlier flight and we all headed to the gate for our ride home. Unfortunately the weather conditions had created such a backlog of traffic into Charlotte that our new flight ended up being canceled after we had boarded the plane. We made our way back to the lounge and I found myself yet again in Catherine’s line. Just as before she was incredibly gracious and re-booked myself and one of my colleagues on a flight for the next morning as our other team member was still going to try get home on a late night flight. We left and started making plans to find a hotel and a spot for dinner.

As we were walking out of the airport I received a text message from American Airlines that our newly re-booked flight for the next morning had just been canceled! At this point the situation was laughable and we both just chuckled and proceeded to the ticket counter to start working on our next flight options.

Now enters the part of the story where I was just blown away. While we were standing there in line my phone rings and it was a call from a Tampa phone number. I answered quickly thinking it was very likely the hotel where I had just booked a room calling to verify some information. To my great surprise and delight the voice on the other end of the line was Catherine, our exceptional customer experience agent from the AA lounge. She said, “Mr. Holcomb I saw that the flight I just re-booked for you was canceled so I went ahead and booked you on the very next flight tomorrow morning. I have also taken care of your colleague and re-booked him as well. I’m sorry this has been such a crazy day but we appreciate your loyalty and business.”

I was literally speechless and quite blown away that she took note of our flights, noticed that it was cancelled, and then took the initiative to re-book the flights for us. As crazy as our day had been, hers was even crazier. She was doing exactly the same thing she had done for me for many many others who were in a similar situation with canceled and delayed flights. It would have been so easy for her to simply go about the business of her day, focus on the next transaction and I would have never know the difference…

I didn‘t have any expectation that she would go the extra mile. I had no expectation that she, or anyone else would be demonstrating exceptional care and attention. After all, there were hundreds if not thousands of passengers who were experiencing exactly the same thing. But that didn’t matter, not to Catherine. She put forth the discretionary effort to ensure that I was taken care of. She demonstrated through her initiative an incredible commitment to delivering an exceptional service experience. I had no expectations at all, and I was blown away by the service I received. As a person who’s professional life has been focused on leadership, and delivering service experiences that matter, I am highly attuned to both good and bad experiences and this one was truly exceptional.

Catherine, thank you for going the extra mile and showing what a difference it can make when one person takes the initiative to truly care about the relationship a customer has with an organization and does so much more than what is simply required as part of her job. I will tell this story for years and my hat is off to you and to American Airlines for both hiring you and empowering you to go the extra mile. You have created an exceptional brand experience for myself and my colleagues. THANK YOU!

The chicken or the egg?

“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.”

Stephen R. Covey

Which comes first? Leadership or Management? Neither. Discipline is the key to both leadership AND management. Without discipline you cannot become an effective leader. Discipline is what allows you to put the time and energy into determining what is most important. Discipline is what determines your ability to prioritize and define what is most important. Discipline is then the trait that allows you to carry out that vision.

If you desire to lead, you must start with self. You must learn to put in the hard work that then allows you to put the first things first. One can’t be an effective leader of others if you can’t and won’t put forth the effort to lead yourself first. You have to have the discipline to manage yourself if you desire to lead others. That’s the key. That’s what comes first…

Living for others…

“Don’t just count your blessings. Be the blessing other people count on.”

Anonymous

I had the amazing opportunity this past weekend to spend a couple days in Cuba and see a part of the world that is so different than the one that I live and work in each and every day. In a word it was INCREDIBLE, and not just because of the beauty and uniqueness of the place. What made it particularly impactful was the pride, friendliness and and authenticity of the people that we met.

Everyone we encountered wanted to share themselves and their country. I left so impressed with the people and our experiences. I left wanting to go again and do more for others who, while not having so many of the the things that we (and I) take for granted, lived life with great joy and pride. Cuba wasn’t just a county with really cool old cars, incredible architecture and landscapes. It was a country of people who have the same hopes, dreams, and desires that each of us have for our lives.

It really is amazing, when you see others who have a smile on their face, even when they have nothing compared to all the luxuries that we take for granted, it really puts things into perspective. We are so blessed. We have so many gifts and treasures that we can’t possibly count them all. I was reflecting on our trip during the flight home and I was thinking about the many blessings that I have been given in life. I realized how much more powerful it is to focus on being a blessing to another person instead of simply accounting for all that we have been given. Living your life as a blessing to and for others, not simply as an accountant for all the blessings we have received. That is truly living…

What is your life’s OS Version?

“You make decisions, take actions, affect the world, receive feedback from the world, incorporate it into yourself, then the updated ‘you’ makes more decisions, and so forth, ’round and ’round.”

Douglas Hofstadter

Rather than think of yourself as a finished product it is easier and better to think of oneself as a “continually updating” application. Everything you see, do learn, experience becomes the next “X” in the 1.X version of yourself.

When you acquire a new degree, take on a new role or have a significant life change that is when you have a major system upgrade, the first number changes, and you go from “2.X to 3.0.” But in the meantime all that really matters is the next minor “.X” upgrade. These are the ones that build and create a new and better self so that when the time comes and you are “1.9” you are ready for the new 2.0 version.

Thinking of life in this way can change the way you perceive things. Instead of failures or setbacks you simply have opportunities to upgrade your operating system and build a better and stronger self.

As for myself I am at least on major Operating System (OS) # 25 and heck I probably moved up to 25.5 or 25.6 just from today’s experiences and feedback. The good news is that there are unlimited future versions available, you just have to choose to download the upgrade…

Right + Sacrifice = Victory

“For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote really raises a number of questions that I want to think through. What exactly is “right?” What is it that you are willing to sacrifice for? Is it your principles? Perhaps your values? Maybe its family? Just how far are you willing to go achieve victory?

It seems clear to me that once you know the answers to these questions and have a well defined definition of what victory is, you have by design said that there is no stopping point. Do you have that clear vision of what is right in your mind? Without that how will you ever keep going when the challenges inevitably raise up? How can you ever muscle through if you don’t have a clearly defined “right?”

It doesn’t have to be something that changes the world the way that Dr. King’s did, it can be enough to simply change your world, and the world of those that love you…

Just ask…

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”

John Crosby

Yesterday morning I had a most unique mentoring experience. I was hiking a trail with a new colleague and we were discussing a variety of topics. I bounced an idea off of him that I have been working through in my mind and received the most valuable and insightful input. It completely changed my thinking on a particular subject. It was some of the best mentoring I could have asked for and at just the right time. The quote above describes my experience yesterday in a perfect and beautiful way.

Throughout my life I have been blessed to have several powerful mentors who have been powerful influences and sounding boards as I navigate life and leadership. Unfortunately I have long thought of mentors as a “formal” relationships that I defined as “wise and sage counsel imparting knowledge.” This isn’t the case at all. Mentoring can happen between anyone, at any time, if you are simply willing to ask and listen. You just have to ask the questions…

Leadership is influence…

“Leadership is not about titles, positions, or flow charts; it is about one life influencing another.”

John C. Maxwell

The most important thing is how you treat people. It is all about you treat others. Leadership is about influence. Period.

The minute you depend on title, position, or flow chart, you have lost real leadership influence. At the end of the day it is more than just the output of the effort that matters. It is about helping others find success…

Unlock greatness…

“The greatest leaders are not necessarily the ones who do the greatest things. They are the ones that inspire others to do great things.”

Ronald Reagan

An important aspect of leadership is the unlocking of the hidden and untapped talents in others. No one person can do everything or be the source of all great things. Inspiring others is an incredible multiplier that makes the impossible possible. Focus on helping others find their potential and you will help unlock greatness.

Three things…

“I have three precious things which I hold fast and prize. The first is gentleness; the second frugality; the third is humility, which keeps me from putting myself before others. Be gentle and you can be bold; be frugal and you can be liberal; avoid putting yourself before others and you can become a leader among men.”

Laozi

Yesterday I wrote about the power of understanding your values and letting them determine you thoughts, words, actions, & habits. I chose this quote because I think it captures elegantly three values that are hard for me to argue with in any way.

Admittedly I don’t always do a good doing these but I need to hold myself accountable to creating thoughts, words, actions and habits that reflect the transformative power gentleness, frugality and humility can have on lives, both yourself and others…

Willing to fail…

“There is no innovation and creativity without failure. Period.”

Brene Brown

Steve Jobs is the first person that comes to mind for me as a great innovator and creator. But he had many many failures along the way, and learned from each of them. Those failures are what allowed him to become great.

The great innovators are willing to take risks because they know they will learn from both failure and success. Not everything they attempt will work, but they are willing to fail.

Are you willing to fail? Are you willing to fall short and then figure out why? Are you able to set aside ego and fear long enough to stretch outside your comfort zone? Are you willing to fail in order to learn?

If you aren’t willing then you won’t stretch, you won’t grow, you won’t create. If you want to innovate you have to be willing to fail because failure will happen and that is when the real magic can occur.

Thinking before speaking…

“Sometimes when I’m talking, my words can’t keep up with my thoughts. I wonder why we think faster than we speak. Probably so we can think twice.”

Bill Watterson

There is nothing better than a few moments of silence before one responds and commits to words what are often half-baked thoughts. I am a person who “thinks out loud” and that can often lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication.

The best advice I was ever given regarding thinking before speaking came from a class I took through Ty Boyd called the Executive Speaking Institute. During this class, which I took almost ten years ago, I learned that the moments I paused before responding to a question didn’t feel nearly as long or painful to the audience as they did in my head. That was a profound lesson for me. What I thought was a strength, being quick on my feet and having answers at the tip of my tongue, came across as a weakness because I would answer questions in a rambling or long-winded fashion.

Taking a moment to pause, frame the my response in my head and then answering the question conveyed to the audience that I was carefully considering the question, that it was meaningful and valuable, and it gave me the time to not let my words get ahead of my mind. This was incredible perspective and applies to so many areas of life.

The moral of the story here is that the moments that you take to think before you speak don’t feel nearly as long to the person that you are speaking with as they do to you. And those precious moments allow you to (hopefully) think through your response before you commit to words a thought that is only half baked.

Leadership presence…

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”

Sheryl Sandberg

My very first boss and mentor once told me that it is the number one responsibility of a leader to ensure that they never need to be indispensable in order for the team to be successful.

In fact, a leader should do everything they can to coach, train, and empower those that they serve so that their individual presence isn’t a requirement for operational success but is instead an additive factor for strategic success.

How do you know if you are delivering on this key leadership premise?

I have found that the types of questions you ask, and that your team members ask you, to be an excellent barometer of success for a leader.

First, are the questions you are asking meant to direct or manage the operational efforts of your team members or are they meant to help them grow in their capabilities? Do you ask more open-ended questions or closed yes/no questions?

Second, Are the questions your team members are asking seeking permission or insight? Are they asking questions on what or how to do something or are they asking for perspective and input on their own thoughts and ideas? If they are asking permission based questions then your presence will be required for ongoing success and that is a recipe for leadership failure.

If you are leading effectively, then you don’t need to be physically present all the time for the right things to happen and for the right decisions to be made. Your leadership influence is presence enough…

Take good risks…

“There’s no such thing as ‘zero risk’.”

William Driver

Nothing in life is risk free. There is no “sure thing.” There is an opportunity cost for every choice that we make. We can work throughout our lives to have as little risk as possible, that is always a strategy one can follow. Or, you can make smart choices, that carry with them some risks, and achieve amazing returns for the risks that you take..

Risk exists, manage it well, make choices to embrace the right risks and if you make a bad choice, make another one.

Who knows, you might see some amazing views along the way.

Catalina Protest March – Barcelona, Spain

The aim is to live…

“The person who journeys aimlessly will have labored in vain.”

Mark The Monk

The journey IS the destination so it makes sense that there should be an aim or a goal. One has to have some idea of where you are going. However the goal or aim shouldn’t be the entire focus. Otherwise you will miss this special and wonderful days that seem to add all the flavor and spice to life.

Sometimes you need to have a few days of unscheduled time to let life just happen. It is amazing how beautiful and special those days can be. The aim on those days is simple, be alive and filled with joy…

The gift that keeps on giving…

“The greatest gift of leadership is a boss who wants you to be successful.”

Jon Taffer

The dictionary defines “gift” as “something given voluntarily without payment in return, as to show favor toward someone, honor an occasion, or make a gesture of assistance; present.”

Or

“As something bestowed or acquired without any particular effort by the recipient or without its being earned.”

How do you wrap this present for those that you serve? How do you ensure that you put your leadership effort and energy INTO others, not for your sake, not for your own selfish needs, but truly into others. Because that is the definition of being a good boss, a good leader. You have to be a person that gives this gift voluntarily.

Is this a gift you give as willingly as you receive it? How can you tell when you are blessed with the gift of having a boss who truly wants you to be successful? Do you model these behaviors back to those that you lead? If you don’t have a boss like this, do you model the behaviors you want anyway?

Get out a sheet of paper. Write down three specific ways or behaviors that this leadership gift would manifest if you were to receive it from a boss. Then draw a line across the page. Under that line write down three specific ways or behaviors that would send you the opposite message. These are the things that you wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of from your boss. The top of the page is your leadership gift “to do” list. The bottom of the page is your “never do” list.

Study this list regularly and hold yourself accountable to actively and intentionally doing the top of the page items. Ensure that you do the first three things regardless of whether or not you receive them. Guard against the bottom three items in your own leadership of others.

Be the greatest leadership gift another person can ever receive. Be the leader that helps someone be successful. It can truly be the gift that keeps on giving…

Questions are the barometer of leadership effectiveness…

“Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”

Pierre Marc-Gaston

The types of questions that one asks, as are asked, serve as a barometer of leadership effectiveness and capability. You can break this up into two broad categories.

First, the questions one asks indicate a desire to understand. Habit number six of the Stephen Covey “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” I love this particular habit and it is one of my absolute favorites. The quality of the questions you ask sends a strong message to the person you are engaged with. It lets them know that you care, that you are deeply interested in what they have to say, that you are prioritizing THEM at that moment in your relationship. Demonstrating an ability to ask good questions that provoke deep thought AND communicate genuine care and concern is a critical element of effective leadership.

Second, as a leader the questions that others ask you serves as an incredible feedback mechanism on your ability to communicate with clarity as well as the overall effectiveness of your leadership and the culture you have created.

By paying attention to the specific content contained within the questions you are asked one can get immediate feedback on your ability to communicate and create understanding. The burden of communication is on the sender of the message and by listening to the questions not just to provide an answer, but to measure one’s effectiveness as a communicator one can refine and improve the message that is being delivered.

The types of questions that are asked provides a strong message about the culture of leadership you are creating. Are people willing to ask deep questions that challenge your thinking or position on a topic you are discussing? If so, then you have created a positive leadership environment that values doing what is right over being right. But if the questions being asked dance around the tough topics or, perhaps more importantly, they aren’t asked at all, then as a leader you are getting incredibly valuable feedback on the culture that you have created.

Pay close attention to the questions being asked. They can tell a very compelling story…

To go the distance, don’t go it alone…

“If you want to walk fast, go alone.  If you want to walk far, go together.”

Anonymous

There are days where walking alone might be preferable. Those are the days when a single focus on accomplishing one specific task or thing might be exactly what needs to happen, at that specific moment, in order for the task to be born out with speed and agility.

However, that is not every day. We are all better as humans when we work with and learn to rely on each other. As I meditate on this I am reminded of this verse from Ecclesiastes:

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

Find the right team, the right people who share your purpose, your vision, your beliefs; join together with them and you can go so much further than any one person can alone…


Quietly bold…

“Boldness doesn’t mean rude, obnoxious, loud, or disrespectful. Being bold is being firm, sure, confident, fearless, daring, strong, resilient, and not easily intimidated. It means you’re willing to go where you’ve never been, willing to try what you’ve never tried, and willing to trust what you’ve never trusted. Boldness is quiet, not noisy.”

Mike Yaconelli

It is interesting to me that so many associate the description of someone with “boldness” with the negative terms described above. I might argue that doing any of the things listed early in the quote changes the label to “arrogant, egotistical or narcissistic.”

If you are bold, it is because you believe in something yet unseen and have the willingness, the passion, the desire, to take the risks to bring that vision to life.

Where have you been bold in your life? Where do you wish that you had been? What does “quiet boldness” look like for you?

It’s not about you…

“Leadership is all about people.  It is not about organizations.  It is not about plans.  It is not about strategies.  It is all about people-motivating people to get the job done.  You have to be people-centered.”

Colin Powell

The best leaders I have worked with understood this principle fully. The worst saw people as a necessary evil to achieving their goals and objectives.

As a leader how well do you know what motivates your people? And by “people” I don’t mean at an aggregate level, but individually? What motives, inspires, and drives the folks that you serve? How much of your time and effort are you investing in making those things come true for them?

Are you genuinely interested in the hopes, dreams and desires of your people? If you aren’t, trust me, they already know…

Decision filters…

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Philippians 2:3-4

I have used this verse as the daily quote before, in fact I used it earlier this year and you can read that blog post here. In that post I wrote about the impact of looking at your day and your life through the lens of answering questions on whether or not you served others and that being the ultimate measure of your success in life.

I chose this verse today thinking about it more as a compass and a guide to start and use throughout the day, not from the perspective as a rear-view mirror. Both viewpoints are important, but in order to measure progress you must first have a clear vision of where you are going.

How effective are you at living a life that is true to this verse on a daily basis? Regardless of your religious beliefs the wisdom here is so incredibly impactful when you apply it to your life and how you live and serve. If you were to truly gauge each decision you make, each action you take, by thinking about this verse before the choice, before the action, would you still take the same course of action?

My challenge to you to day is to pause with each decision you make today and ask yourself who you are serving with the action you are about to take? Be brutally honest with yourself. See if you still like the decision after running it through this filter. You might surprise yourself…

Recognize and act…

“One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”

Arnold Glasgow

Why do problems become emergencies? Is it because no one recognized that the problem was there? That is certainly a possibility and at times this certainly happens. But the far more likely, and damning , reason is that no one did anything about the problem when they recognized it.

This is the mark of true leadership in my mind, doing something about the problem once you become aware of it. You can’t put Pandora back in the box. Why ignore the problem? It won’t go away by itself and there is no one to blame but yourself if it turns into an emergency.

Myself or others?

“Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about looking after those in our charge.”

Simon Sinek

What percentage of your time do you spending looking at leadership through this lens? How of much of your energy and effort is focused on delivering on this principle?

Generally speaking we are naturally wired to focus on self before others. Overcoming this tendency is a critical step towards becoming an authentic and true leader.

“No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:24

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Philippians 2:3-4

Think of the leaders you have worked for and with. Did they demonstrate these principles? If yes, then what is your perception of, and attitude towards, their leadership? If no, then the same question applies. Which one did you respect more? Which one motivated you as a person? Whom do you want to emulate?

Reflect on and answer this simple question for yourself today. “Who am I focused on taking care of, myself or others?”

Advise vs. compel…

“To advise is not to compel.”

Anton Chekhov

When someone asks you for advice are you focused on giving them your perspective or your permission? If you are offering advice in a “tell people what to do” manner then you are creating and reinforcing a hierarchal culture that seeks permission before acting. So be very careful that when you offer advice isn’t seen as a directive.

If you cross the line and deliver a message that is focused on compelling others to do things your way, and only your way, you are killing creativity, innovation, engagement and discretionary effort. There is a time and a place for issuing a mandate, but by and large it isn’t when people are seeking advice or perspective.

Do you lead yourself first?

“Great leaders last because they lead themselves first.”

Andy Stanley

Self-leadership is the most important component of becoming a successful leader. How can you expect anyone else to follow you if you don’t set the example and demonstrate that you can lead yourself?

So what does this mean? It carries much more meaning than simply leading by example. It requires tremendous self-awareness and the ability to get outside of your own head to see yourself, and your behavior, and then determine what changes need to be made to become the leader you know you are capable of becoming.

The model of leadership effectiveness that I personally use follows these core principles: (see previous post here)

  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Coach and train to the expectations
  3. Evaluate performance against the expectations
  4. Hold accountable to the expectation

The real self-leadership question is whether you are holding yourself accountable to following these same principles? If the answer is no, then you have work to do because you aren’t leading yourself first…

More than a job…

“Leadership contains certain elements of good management, but it requires that you inspire, that you build durable trust. For an organization to be not just good but to win, leadership means evoking participation larger than the job description, commitment deeper than any job contract’s wording.”

Stanley A. McChrystal

Who are the leaders that have inspired you to go further than the description or the definition of what is required from your role? The best leaders I have ever worked with are exceptional at inspiring because they were incredible at building trust. I knew that they had my back no matter what and were genuinely interested in me as both an employee and a person. Once you have experienced that type of leadership, nothing else quite measures up…

Extreme discontent…

“The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.”

Warren Bennis

“That’s the way we have always done it” is a sentiment that makes my skin crawl. There can be lots of good reasons for doing something a certain way, but just because you have always done it that way isn’t one of them.

Embrace an attitude of “extreme discontent with the status quo.” Everything can be improved upon or made better, but only if you are actively looking for a reason to do so. If you have a perspective of “extreme discontent” then you are constantly and continually seeking improvement. Only then do you get to solve the more important leadership question, should you change something…

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