Leadership Caffeine: Cultivating the Confidence to Act

Image of a coffee cupThe Leadership Caffeine series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

For leaders at all levels, there’s much to gain from James D. Murphy’s excellent book, Courage to Execute: What Elite U.S. Military Units Can Teach Business About Leadership and Team Performance.

In particular, Mr. Murphy’s emphasis on helping us understand the hard, deliberate and very structured work that goes into training and cultivating a team of professionals who are committed to the mission and who trust each other with their lives, is worth the price of admission. (As a side-note, it is hard to not read this book and recognize how far we fall short of when it comes to ensuring the training and development necessary for high performance in our organizations.)

Of the many quotable and thought-provoking items in the book, one that jumps out at me is Mr. Murphy’s perspective on courage. His words: “…but remember, courage is not bravado. Courage is the confidence to act that comes from preparation.”

It’s the lack of confidence to act that I observe as a derailment factor for so many teams from senior levels to functional or project groups. From decisions on strategy (what to do/what not to do?) to approach (how?) to key talent issues (who’s on/who’s off?) to structural, and accountability issues, the lack of proper preparation results in leaders and teams flailing, floundering, bickering or, simply staring at the headlights on key issues.

Effective leaders recognize their role in preparing teams to act, to learn and ultimately to succeed.

5 Things You Can Do with Your Team to Cultivate the Confidence to Act:

1. Strive for crystal clarity for the mission. Whether you are leading the senior management team as CEO or leading a project team, the mission and parameters must be crystal clear. The fuzzy nature of most strategies and the inability of individuals and their work groups to clearly connect their priorities and deliverables to the pursuit of mission objectives is deadly. You cannot over-communicate and you cannot over invest in clarifying the mission to the point of common understanding on your team. Strive to reduce the lofty picture goals to a size that is digestible and actionable at the level of your team.

2. Distill the mission down to navigable, actionable size for your team and be certain that people can talk about it clearly. Knowing the goal is to win the war or move to a new market is one thing, but understanding your role and your team’s role in this goal is essential. In high performing organizations and on high performing teams, the conversation goes like this:

Our team is accountable for producing this portion of our new offering. This new offering is one component of how we are pursuing our strategy to move into this segment of this market for these customers. Our individual responsibilities as team members are… . Our internal customers are department x and y, and we are accountable for these measures of timing, performance and quality to those customers.

Anything short of this level of specificity is just so much baloney. People and teams perform when they can connect their efforts to specific audiences and required outcomes.

3. Teach your team to talk. The collegial talk between most group members on teams is poison for performance. It feels good because it’s non-threatening, however, it skirts the real issues of execution and accountability. Learning to trust each other enough to tackle the hard topics of mission clarity, roles, performance and accountability, is not something that comes easy for any group. It’s also essential for high performance.

Effective team leaders understand the connection between the ability of team members to conduct robust dialog and the courage to take action and they refuse to settle for the happy talk that bedevils most teams.

4. Teach and constantly strive to strengthen decision-making processes and decision quality. Decisions are the precursors to actions for individuals and organizations. Without a decision, nothing happens or nothing changes. Decisions promote movement and importantly, they promote learning and continuous improvement. Effective leaders help team members learn how to frame issues, evaluate options, assess risks and then decide. They also teach their team members to review the outcomes of their decisions in pursuit of learning and improvement.

5. Know that team development is an every day activity and pursue it vigorously. Successful teams are made through the careful and deliberate work of the team leader. From mission clarity to member selection to promoting core values for performance and accountability, team development is THE purpose of the leader. High performance teams are products of hard work, constant scrutiny, continuous coaching and training and the never-ending pursuit of improvement.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Achieving the confidence to act is an outcome of the hard work of team building. Clarity for the mission, confidence and trust between team members and the ability to talk through and evaluate different options and scenarios and then decide, are all key factors. None of these occur naturally in the workplace. How hard are you working at cultivating the courage to act on your team?

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.


Leadership and Management Lessons from Chris

A Horse's RearLiving in Illinois, I typically don’t throw stones at other states for the misfires of their politicians. After all, serving as Governor in Illinois is one of the most likely positions to insure some quality time behind bars. However, the Chris Christie bridge scandal offers a few too many leadership and management lessons to pass up without a few observations. (I’ve got no candidate or party in this fight…just interested in the lessons we can draw upon here. )

At Least 7 Leadership and Management Lessons from the Bridge Scandal:

1. If you’re in charge, you are responsible. End of story.

2. “I didn’t know” just sounds weak in any circumstances. Even if it’s true.

3. Taking accountability by firing your Chief of Staff and then running the bus over her repeatedly in the national press doesn’t feel like taking accountability.

4. Every team takes cues on standards of behavior from the boss. You set the values, and apparently, it was deemed acceptable behavior to use political power to punish even minor enemies while putting the interests and even lives of your customers in danger.

5. Your reputation as an effective, hardline manager is shot right in the rear as soon as you have to spend hours back-pedaling on how people you trusted lied to you and you didn’t know.

6. As a manager, if you’re too stupid to select people who won’t put your entire career at risk in the name of some misguided show of force, you deserve all the grief you get.

7. What type of an employee is deluded into thinking he/she can operate with impunity, particularly when their boss is an elected official and a potential presidential candidate? See also the points on behaviors, talent selection, management and accountability.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

I’ll end where I started. If you are in charge, you are responsible. End of story.

A Leadership Lesson from Ebenezer Scrooge

A Christmas Carol: Mr. Fezziwig's BallEbenezer Scrooge offers a number of great lessons for all of us during his journey of reclamation through Christmases past, present and future in Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol.

In this particular exchange with the Spirit of Christmas Past, Scrooge remembers the kindness and humanity shown by his first boss, Fezziwig, and upon reflection, offers everyone responsible for supervising, managing or leading others some timeless and priceless advice:

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not! He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Use Scrooge’s reminder in good health and effective leadership during this and all seasons!

related post: Two Voices on The Words of a Leader (Art Petty and Mary Jo Asmus)

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.


Guest Post: Inside the Mind of an Ethical Leader

Linda Fisher ThorntonNote from Art: I am happy to share this guest post on an important topic, ethical competence, by Linda Fisher Thornton. Linda is the author of  7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership., and can be reached at Linda@LeadinginContext.com or on twitter at @leadingincontxt

Ethical expectations are continuing to increase as we know more about the impact of our choices on others and the planet. As leaders, we have to stay sharp, not just in terms of best leadership practices, but also in terms of our ethical competence.

Ethical competence includes the mindset and the ethical values that we bring to our choices, actions and decisions. It also includes our current knowledge of ethical expectations and industry trends, and our general moral awareness. It includes how we treat other people, and how we take responsibility as a member of our profession and as a citizen of the community.

When we demonstrate a high level of ethical competence we see ourselves as responsible for honoring multiple stakeholders in our daily decisions and actions. We care what happens to customers and employees, we find ways to contribute to the communities we serve, and we conserve resources to protect the planet.

There are many different levels of our ethical competence that we need to pay attention to, including these five – Personal, Interpersonal, Organizational, Professional and Societal.

5 Levels of Ethical Competence

  1. Personal – demonstrating personal congruence, moral awareness and character
  2. Interpersonal –treating people with respect, demonstrating care
  3. Organizational – following the ethics codes and expectations of our organizations
  4. Professional – following ethics codes of our chosen profession and staying current on industry news and staying within the boundaries of ethical behavior
  5. Societal – seeking mutually beneficial solutions, improving lives and communities, protecting the planet for future generations

Ethical competence will always be a moving target as the world changes. Because ethical expectations continually change, staying competent requires an Intentional, Open-Minded, Proactive and Constant quest for learning. Ethical leaders take an intentional approach when it comes to learning about ethical leadership, because the stakes are high.

Here is a glimpse of the mindset of the learning ethical leader:

Inside the Mind of an Ethical Leader

“I make decisions based on values, not money pressures.”

“I need to constantly learn in order to stay ethical.”

“I can learn something from you, even if we disagree.”

 “Leadership means creating value for others.”

“Understanding multiple perspectives helps us find mutually beneficial solutions.”

 “Respect is the minimum standard.”

One of the challenges we face on the journey to ethical leadership is staying focused on making intentional values-based choices while reacting to the chaos around us. It is easy to make decisions quickly when things are chaotic, but that doesn’t give us time to consider the ethical implications of our choices. Only when we consider the broader impact of our choices are we demonstrating proactive ethical leadership.

Another challenge is the temptation to use short-term thinking. If we make a decision that works in the short-term (over the next 3 months for example), that same decision may cause ethical problems later on.

Here is an example:

If I use a cheaper part in a medical device to increase profits in the next quarter, that cheaper part may lead to an increase in patient injuries or deaths, and may need to be recalled. This short-term decision based on profits could not only harm patients but also the company in the long run.

Making values-based choices and thinking long term take intention and practice. In The Leading in Context® Manifesto, a statement of belief in the positive power of ethical leadership, I wrote, “Ethical leadership is not something on our to do list that we can check off as completed. It is an ongoing individual and organizational journey. This learning journey will bring out the best in all of us.”

Linda Fisher Thornton is CEO of Leading in Context LLC and one of the 2013 Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behavior. She also teaches as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Leadership for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Her new book is 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership., Linda@LeadinginContext.com, @leadingincontxt

Decorum, Drinking and the Company Holiday Party

The Party's OverIt’s time for my annual Scrooge-like post on how a few drinks at the wrong time can damage credibility and derail your prospects.

This is a season filled with potential social traps and ripe with opportunites for awkward moments as we blend the ever-present and oft dreaded holiday event with the opportunity to drink with coworkers.

I wrote on this topic last year in what turned out to be a wildly popular post entitled, Why You Should Pass on the Happy Hour Invite from Your Team,” with most of the feedback supportive and some of the feedback insisting that I might be one of the bigger morons to ever put words on a blog. As I noted in the original post, I’ll gladly wear the label of Curmudgeon of the Year with honor if this fair warning can protect a few promotions and save a few position or career-derailing moments.

Let the record reflect, I enjoy a good drink or a great glass at the right, safe time…there’s no teetotalling and no intent to judge or moralize here. My focus is purely on the professional setting and your career circumstances. Please add to the record, that I’ve lived and worked long enough to have been around way too many otherwise solid professionals who have damaged their situations by not heeding this advice.

6 Big Reasons to Hold Back at the Company Holiday Party:

1. The stupidity factor. Yours. Once you crossover the line of one too many, you get stupid. You look stupid. You act stupid and everyone of any consequence will walk away with a lasting impression burned into their brain of just how stupid you acted.  Know that there’s a universal rule of corporate and organizational life that SOMEONE must select us for success. SOMEONE never promotes a person who they connect with the word stupid.

2. More stupidity. How many examples of harassment claims do you need to hear about that were created in an environment where coworkers and alcohol co-mingled? You don’t have enough time. The cost of that drunken maneuver is truly a high price that you can ill afford to pay.

3. Blown opportunities to connect and impress. The great thing about social settings with the senior managers is the opportunity to connect with them and their significant others in a more relaxed and upbeat atmosphere. You’ll likely have an opportunity to share a few words and even get into an extended conversation with someone of consequence. But remember, no one has ever been impressed by someone with their shirt hanging out, tie askew and an endless stream of slurred, “I love it here,” comments. While a forgiving boss might write it off to a good time, the significant other will not be impressed. The boss will hear about it. Missed or blown opportunities to connect and engage are costly to your career health.

 4. A drunk boss on Friday is a different boss on Monday. Sorry, no one of your team members who observed your antics will ever see you in quite the same light.  Since leadership is much about credibility and trust, why would you jeopardize one or both of those critical currencies? You can’t write it off to, “I was just letting my hair down and relaxing with the team.” As a boss, you’re never off the clock.

5. Loose lips and reduced inhibitions. There is no moratorium or timeout on decorum or common-sense. You might be tempted under the influence to tell that idiot in the next department what you really think of him. Bad move. You will be remembered for the wrong reason.

6. The company holiday party is NOT a time to blow off steam. I repeat, this is not the time to blow off steam.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Enjoy the holiday event! Have a lot of laughs with your coworkers. Shmooze the boss. Be polite and respectful and interesting to the boss’s significant others. Nod politely at your least favorite co-workers and be friendly to their significant others. Just don’t cross that line, even if everyone around you is too drunk to heed this advice.

More Professional Development Reads from Art Petty:book cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! Register here

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out Art’s latest book: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

Order one or both books for your team. Contact Art.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.