Leadership Caffeine™—The Alchemy of Great Leadership

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

Alchemy, according to Malouin in the Encyclopedia of Diderot, is the chemistry of the subtlest kind which allows one to observe extraordinary chemical operations at a more rapid pace-ones that require a long time for nature to produce.

Newsflash, there are no shortcuts to great leadership. Much like the failure to change nature’s principles in search of longevity or turning lead into gold, one’s ability lead develops slowly over time and with much strain.

10 Lessons Learned in Search of Success as a Leader:

 1. You’re always an apprentice. If you think you’ve mastered this, you’re failing. Approach each day eager to learn another lesson, and you will. Approach each day assuming you’ve got this role licked, and you’ll get clobbered when you least expect it.

2. Great leaders require great missions. It’s the humdrum of the mundane of the status quo that squashes the spirits of leaders and the people around them. If you’re not on a mission, create one. If you’re leading others, know that your job is to define the mission. Not the mission statement…the mission.

 3. The only job harder than leading is likely being a mother. Scratch that…mothers are the original leaders.

 4. What you did yesterday doesn’t count. What you’ll do tomorrow doesn’t count. Lead today…it’s the only day that counts.

5. You’re supposed to be uncomfortable. That’s the job. Get over it. Get used to it. Revel in it. Or, get another job.

6. No one does anything for you…they do it for themselves.

7. Sometimes you have to push the ones with the greatest potential out of the nest. Your instinct says to do everything possible to retain them. The right thing to do is to help them find the best opportunities to grow. Even if that means shoving them on their way.

 8. Enjoy the burn. It’s the tough days and tough issues, especially your failures that mold you into a better leader.

9. Hire people who’ve struggled and persevered. I’ll take the person who held down three jobs to pay for college while caring for the sick relative any day of the week.

10. Pedigree is interesting, but character counts. When hiring, hire for character first and the rest will follow.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are no shortcuts when it comes to learning to lead effectively. Get on with it, you’ve got some mistakes to make…just make them faster to succeed sooner.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) 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: 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 Caffeine™—The Inner Game of Leading

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

“This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, self-doubt and self condemnation.”

–Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis

Other than the missing obstacle of hubris, Gallwey might as well have been writing about the challenges in the mind of the leader in this mid-70’s and now classic coaching book.

Leadership is played on an open court in the workplace for all to see, yet, I submit that the game is won or lost in the mind of the individual as he/she pushes self-doubt and hubris back into their respective corners.

It’s in her mind where a great battle rages filled with conflicting demands over right, wrong, who, next, when and how. The noise from decision-choices on direction, talent, strategy, goals and targets can be deafening, and the daily drill resembles for many in leadership roles, a pell-mell race through obstacles seen and unseen. It takes remarkable mental strength and agility to filter the noise and concentrate on the right issue at the right time.

Some leaders cover the court with grace and speed, yet fail to win the game. Their firms struggle to escape from the shackles of past greatness or, they play somewhere in the middle of the pack with competitors, surviving on almost respectable outcomes…always with the promise of better, bigger, faster, stronger in sight, but never quite reaching those levels. These are often the poseurs as leaders who like the outward facing game…who revel in the roar of the crowd and the momentary accolades of adoring fans surrounding the court.

The ones who master the inner game move deliberately through their days leaving a wake of clarity in their trail. They give others confidence that the way path forward is the right one and that the journey will be difficult but achievable. Strategies are selected and the goals and actions embedded in the minds (and actions) of the broader organizational population. Critical decisions are vetted and made, with emphasis on the most difficult and painful of the decisions…talent choices…always tackled first. The noise of the crowd isn’t the objective and the leader who masters the inner game gives no concern for accolades. The emphasis is on helping others win the key points and games in what is a marathon, not a sprint.

These leaders who master the inner game fight their own demons…particularly self-doubt and hubris. Every successful leader I know has no qualms indicating there are moments where doubt about self…Am I up to this? and It’s possible we and I might fail, rent space in their minds. They recognize the sobering truth…they are no better, smarter or different than many others, yet they are charged with getting it right. Sometimes the self-doubt is so strong it is nearly crippling. Nearly, but not completely.

Leaders who master the inner game fight this demon of self-doubt at night, staring at the ceiling in lieu of sleeping. They fight it, and then they push it into a box and move forward. While painful and difficult to deal with, the presence of self-doubt underscores how much the individual cares. After all, more than the next quarter’s results are at stake. It’s about the lives, careers and well-being of the families of the people who trust them to lead.

Hubris is another distraction…a very distant cousin of self-doubt. Success opens the mind to momentarily letting down its defenses. It tells you, it’s working…you figured it out and you deserve to let it play out and let others do the heavy lifting. It’s wrong. 

Once hubris sneaks through the crack in the leader’s defenses, the outer game suffers…succumbing to the toxic temptations of this false inner voice that suggests he/she can do no wrong. Soon, the entire game is a mess. Athletes might call the outcome a slump. For a leader, the consequences are amplified by the impact on the constituents.

Effective leaders build strong defenses against hubris. They learn to take satisfaction in the success and joy of others, not their own accomplishments. And they learn to recognize and blunt the incessant machinations and manipulations of hubris as it attempts to gain entrance to the host.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Mastering the inner game of leading is a never-ending task to know oneself and to cultivate the discipline necessary to cut through the noise and to focus on what counts for everyone else and for the group at large. It’s the hardest work most of us will ever do. It starts with staring in the mirror and acknowledging the truth about yourself. Many are afraid to do just this. They shouldn’t lead.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) 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: 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 Caffeine—Becoming Agile and Adaptable is THE Leadership Issue

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

What if everything that used to work for your business no longer did?

The business challenge of this era for long established firms is much about escaping the powerful pull of the past. Approaches that worked so well for so long are rendered impotent by shifting technologies, new forms of competition armed with different business models and disruptive offerings, and by customers whose needs are changing as they struggle with the same macro challenges you are.

Historically, we built our organizations for efficiency and our leadership and management approaches reflected this purpose. We built tall organizations with distinct silos surrounded by moats and supported by the defenses of the silo executive. While the vestiges of those castles and moats still survive in many organizations, they (and their senior leaders) are increasingly out of place…out of context with the realities of the day. They are organizational and leadership anachronisms.

Adaptability is key, yet many leaders struggle to understand what to do to create it. Their words say “speed and agility,” but their measurements and compensation systems scream “efficiency.

When cheerleading and half-baked attempts at styles that feel agile and adaptable fail, the poor outcomes are rationalized as reasons to revert to the old and “normal.” New investments in new markets that are held accountable to the same measures as the core business fail, because you cannot measure and manage new start-ups the same way as long established businesses in old markets. People and groups that operate with a well-baked set of logic about the business are leveraged to build a new set of logic. Failure is predictable. It is self-fulfilling.

Success in building the adaptable organization (e.g. McChrystal’s Team of Teams) is the obligation, responsibility and requirement of leadership. It’s not 50% a leadership challenge or 80% a leadership challenge. It’s THE leadership challenge. Yet too many in leadership sit in wide-eyed wonder as the world changes and their business decays, decrying the failure of the team to adapt. They fiddle while their businesses burn.

Success with this difficult dilemma requires senior leaders to re-think their points-of-view on everything, with emphasis on the role of the leader, the development of true teams and their viewpoint on navigating uncertainty and risk.

The nature of leadership hasn’t fundamentally changed, but the focus has and must. Today’s leader is demanding…of his/her team and of himself/herself, yet the focus is on forming and framing the environment for success. This leader exists to bring the team to life…and to allow team members to become their best…as individuals and as a group. This leader serves…more than commands.

Instead of efficiency, adaptability is the focal point. Learning to leverage new technologies…the weapons of business is essential. Enabling groups to sense and respond…to learn and refine…to experiment, fail and then succeed is the work of the leader. It’s about adaptability.

Risk and uncertainty are now invited to the party. Instead of resolving to the status quo in the face of uncertainty, there’s a need to run at the unknown and figure it out as you learn. Risk isn’t something to be avoided at all costs…it’s on your team and part of learning.

Teams offer remarkable potential, yet we all know that mostly, they fail in our organizations, not because the concept is flawed, but because we are flawed in our structure, support and leadership of these teams. Moving beyond the lipservice most leaders give about teams to enabling true team development is essential.

Once again, Walt Kelly was right. “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

The Bottom-Line for Now:

While we are bombarded with facts about the obvious…that things are different today in our world, we’re stubborn in our willingness to let go of dated thinking and obsolete approaches to leading and managing. It’s time for all of us to re-think how to reapply the tools of management and leadership to a world that isn’t going to revert to what used to work. Let’s get on with it leaders!

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) 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: 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 Caffeine™—Ask, “How Can I Help?”

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward.

One of the more powerful leadership learning moments in my career occurred when I was part of project team that was struggling to find traction around an important and complicated strategic initiative.

The team was flailing. The first leader, an autocratic, my-way or the highway type, had been replaced with a committee of three senior executives as co-leaders. After all, this was important and what could possibly go wrong with a group of senior executives leading the charge?

That failed. It turns out putting everyone in charge isn’t a great game-plan.

Following a contentious project review meeting the sponsor suggested a well-regarded mid-level manager as a solution to the project leadership challenge. While some voiced concern over her lack of title and senior level heft, the sponsor suggested the core team members meet with her one-on-one before making a decision. It would be their choice.

Her reputation was great. She was respected for her ability to work with others and she had helped groups navigate some sticky topics on numerous occasions. After the “interviews,” the core team members agreed unanimously that she was the right person for the role.

The time for her first official meeting with the extended team arrived and within the first 10 seconds, we all knew this was different and that it would work. She led the meeting off with two powerful sentences: “I’m here to work for you,” and, “What do you need from me to help you succeed?”

After a few seconds of silence from the extended team members who likely were expecting the “here’s how we’re going to do this…” speech, the suggestions started flowing.

She listened carefully, took notes, asked clarifying questions and after a few minutes of “what not to do,” the comments turned constructive. The next day she came back with what she described as her Leadership Charter. It was, she offered, “her new job description.”

  • Regularly remind us of the true purpose of our project.
  • Respect us by holding us accountable to our best work.
  • Demand that we operate as a true team.
  • Protect us from distractions.
  • Support our learning and development.
  • Hold us accountable to making decisions and correcting mistaken decisions.
  • Keep us from beating ourselves.

Powerful words…yes, but it was what she did next that brought them to life.

She established a series of check-points where she requested the team provide input to keep her focused and help her improve. The every-other-week status meeting would include 10 minutes to discuss her leadership effectiveness. Input was to be frank and constructive. Additionally, she issued a monthly blind survey seeking anonymous input and she reviewed the input in the next status meeting. It took just one cycle through the status meetings and survey reviews for everyone to understand she was serious about serving the team and constantly searching for input on improving her own performance.

This leader served and the team prospered. She was demanding…after all, you cannot hold people accountable to being their best and not be demanding. She made mistakes as all leaders do and when told of them, she quickly apologized and redoubled her efforts to improve.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The team won. The initiative succeeded. This wonderful professional is now leading a successful start-up as CEO. She taught all of us what it means to lead by simply asking, “How can I help?” And then doing something about it.

Starting today, instead of telling, try asking.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) 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: 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 Caffeine™—Letting Go of Your Need to Be the Smartest Person in the Room

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward. Thanks for being along for the journey!

One of the most common and damaging of a leader’s blind-spots is the compulsion to regularly provide evidence that he/she is the smartest person in the room.

Many well-intentioned leaders are adversely impacted by this bad habit without realizing it. The impact of what is often not much more than one or more behavioral tics includes stifling creativity and innovation and derailing any hopes of developing a high performance environment.

The challenge is to learn to recognize your own smartest person in the room behaviors and to replace them with a few simple but not simplistic habits that focus on drawing input from team members instead of stifling input. While blind-spots are by definition difficult to see, I’ll make a reasonable assumption that your desire to improve your effectiveness as a leader can help you both self-diagnose and take some simple but powerful corrective actions. (For those too smart to spend time thinking and working on their own performance and behaviors, now would be the time to write a comment suggesting why you’re right.)

3 Common Smartest Person in the Room Behaviors:

Do any of these feel familiar?

  • The Final Word Habit. Leaders who struggle with smartest person in the room syndrome often operate with a false belief that being in charge means always having the answer. This drives the individual to assert his/her opinion as the final word or last word and it teaches people to suppress their own ideas and wait for solutions from the person in charge. If you’re frustrated with your team’s lack of creativity or active discussion about ideas, you might be someone who has taught them to wait for the last word.
  • The Eyes…and Face and Voice Say it All! Some leaders telegraph their smartest person in the room persona through their verbal and non-verbal responses to the commentary or ideas of others. I’ve observed senior managers who portray what is perceived as disinterest or disdain for the commentary of team members by interrupting them in mid-sentence or maintaining a facial expression that seems to ask: “Why are you using up my valuable oxygen with this stupid idea?” Of course, the leader may not be intending to communicate disregard or disdain however, we impute this less than noble intent based on our interpretation of the visible and audible cues. If your team members are less than enthusiastic about sharing new ideas and approaches, perhaps you’ve inadvertently shot them down too many times.
  • I’ll See You and Raise You. A closely related cousin to the behaviors above is the leader who listens to the input of his team but fails to acknowledge good ideas or threads of their good ideas. One top leader had the unique habit of responding to input with his own input in a seeming point/counter-point battle that was interpreted as either arguing or trumping the ideas. In reality, she was using an unrecognizable form of active listening to translate what she was hearing into her own words, however, it was interpreted very differently.

3 Approaches to Combat Your Own Smartest Person in the Room Syndrome:

1. Ask More than Tell. Questions are powerful leadership tools…much more effective than orders in most circumstances. Train yourself to respond to ideas with questions to help you and others better develop their ideas. Strive to understand before offering your own perspective.

2. Cultivate the Courage to Shut-Up and Let Others Decide. While you never have to cede your right to veto an idea or an approach, use this veto power sparingly. Most of the time through questioning and the technique of “building upon the ideas of others,” you can promote a modification or adaptation of someone else’s approach without throwing your weight around. If you must, use the “line item” veto

3. Work Hard to Look for the Beauty in Ideas, Not the Flaws. Some people look at a scene and see the beauty in it and others find the gaps…the faults. Frankly, those who see the flaws are significantly less interesting and enjoyable to be around. A micro-managing boss sees the flaws and hammers people for changes to minutiae. The effective manager acknowledges the beauty inherent in ideas and focuses questions and efforts on realizing that beauty. Discussions about flaws can be isolated to a simple discussion around risks.

And a Few Ideas If It’s Your Boss Who Doesn’t Recognize Her Case of Smartest Person in the Room Syndrome?

If you are working for someone suffering from this syndrome, you have a number of options…all with pros and cons.

1. Resist the Urge to Argue. It’s tempting…it’s one of my own challenges and it is often wrong. Take a deep breath…close your lips and think. If you must talk, ask clarifying questions. It never hurts anyone to seek first to understand.

2. Manage Upside Down. If your boss is generally well-intended and receptive to input from team members, construct an effective feedback discussion with behavioral examples. Indicate the business or performance consequences of the smartest person behaviors and offer one or more of the techniques above as suggestions. Offer to observe and look for opportunities to apply the techniques. Agree on a mechanism to signal an improper behavior and suggest a different course on the fly. It takes your own personal courage to offer feedback to your boss. Remember, my operating assumption is that your read on him/her is that they are interested in strengthening performance and growing as a leader. There are some who will not take kindly to your feedback. Tread softly and if the ice is firm, proceed. If not, move to number 3.

3. If the Boss Isn’t Approachable, Use Judo on the Situation. Reinforce the ideas from the boss as positive and suggest approaches to strengthening those ideas. Of course, the approaches match your original suggestions, however, you’ve re-framed the idea as his/hers. A little bit of child psychology can go a long way with a difficult boss.

4. Facilitate His/Her Idea Development and Proactively Raise the Risk Discussion. Your calm facilitation of the discussion will allow you to both ask clarifying questions and at the appropriate time, suggest that you explore the risks. List them on a board or flip-chart. The act of highlighting risks may be enough to gain cooperation from a boss who views himself as always right.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are a number of powerful internal drivers that push some people to assert their opinion as the right one. From compensating for a lack of self-confidence to falsely believing that being in charge means being right, this need to assert is a performance and environment killing habit. Learn to recognize your tendency to do this and use discipline to resist the temptation. Like reaching for the donut instead of the handful of almonds on the snack table, it’s difficult to do at first. If you work for the smartest person in the room, strive to be just a little smarter…by managing the psychology and resisting the urge to argue. In all cases, the effort is worth the potential improvement.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) 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: 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.