Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

There is a practice on Twitter called #followfriday. The point is to share about who you are following that you think others might be interested in following as well. It is also an opportunity to appreciate people for their contribution to you. And it was a really great thing. At least it was for a while.

Unfortunately good ideas can be executed badly and/or misused to the point where their purpose gets lost and their value gets diminished. Seth Simonds suggests this is exactly what has happened to #followfriday in his post Out with #FollowFriday and In with Connected Communities.

I agree with him, although I am not ready to abandon it quite yet.

I think if those of us who believe in its original purpose provide some leadership it could once again be a valuable practice that can deliver on its promise to the twitter community. In fact I think some people have continued to operate true to the original intent.

Yet what is most compelling to me is that this is not just a twitter story.

We can learn a lot about leadership and organizational behavior from observing what has been happening here. In fact, I’ll suggest that what has happened with #followfriday is a common phenomenon in communities of all kinds.

All too often programs are initiated in the spirit of doing something meaningful and aspirational, yet degrade to the point of becoming meaningless and even fueling resignation and cynicism. And yes I would call #followfriday a program because, while it is not formally administered in any way, it is a structured approach to accomplishing a goal. The goal here, as I understand it, is to connect and appreciate people.

Programs for acknowledgment and appreciation are particularly common in formally organized communities. Employee of the Month, Sports Awards Events, and Character Counts Certificate Programs are examples. Some work well, even leading to desired and lasting changes in behavior, and some do not.

Just like #followfriday, programs usually start out with noble intentions.

Yet we have all seen at least some of them fail to live up to their initial promise: awards are given that end up being meaningless to the recipients, distrust can be fueled when people believe the “panel” chose their favorites over the people who were really deserving, we have to pinch ourselves just to stay awake at a supposed celebratory event, etc.

Here are three signs a program is failing to deliver on its promise, followed by 3 things we can do about it.

—3 SIGNS OF FAILURE—

1. We lose sight of why we started the program to begin with.

Our mood when engaging in anything to do with the program does not match the spirit of the program’s intent. Resignation replaces enthusiasm and a sense of doing something that really matters. As a result we go through the motions with little sense of satisfaction.

2. Expectations take the place of authenticity.

We start feeling obligated rather than motivated to participate. And we start making our choices based on our considerations (e.g. will someone feel left out) rather than our commitments (e.g., wanting to acknowledge someone who you really believe stands out).

3. Individuals figure out how to work the system for their own personal gain AND we let them take over.

People start trying out new ways to manipulate the system so they win. We start to behave in ways and/or see behavior that is inconsistent with the original intent. And more often than not we do not say a word. We wait and hope someone else will intervene, or people will see the error of their ways, or we start complaining about “them”. We may just abandon the program altogether or sit on the sidelines hoping it just goes away.

—3 THINGS WE CAN DO TO GET BACK ON TRACK—

1. We can wake people up. That includes ourselves! Until I read Seth’s post I continued to go along even though something did not seem quite right. I thank him for holding up the mirror so I could wake up to what this was really all about once again.

Waking people up to their commitments is an act of leadership. However, be forewarned that it can initially make them angry because it can feel like you just got hit with a cold bucket of water. But if they are truly committed they will thank you for it later!

2. We can take personal responsibility. That starts with owning our part in the breakdown. I clearly played a part in the degradation of a once fabulous practice called #followfriday. One example is that I got lazy by posting lists of names instead of taking the time to share why I though someone was worth following.

Responsibility is not about beating yourself up though. If you are human you will at least occasionally get caught in the drift. It is what you do once you are awake that really matters because that is when you can choose to do something different (or not).

3 questions to help you get back on track when you have list your way are: 1 – what am I committed to here?, 2 – what could I do?, and 3 – what will I do?

3. We can take action. Do something to put things back on track OR choose to stop. If it is worthwhile take the point of view that success or failure is up to you and take action accordingly. On the other hand, letting something that isn’t working continue on because no one wants to admit it is not working is exhausting for the people involved and potentially damaging to the organization. Choosing to end something or offering an alternative way to accomplish the same goal can be very empowering.

Our willingness to provide leadership to any program can make the difference in whether or not it will succeed. It does not matter whether we are “in charge” or not. Our leadership still matters.

EVERY PERSON IN A SYSTEM CAN CONTRIBUTE TO THE SUCCESS OR FAILURE OF ANY ENDEAVOR IN THAT SYSTEM THROUGH WHAT THEY SAY AND WHAT THEY DO.

Look around you. Are you part of a program that is not living up to its promise? If so, what are you going to do now?

As for me, I have not given up on #followfriday. As a start I am going to stop just listing names and start making meaningful recommendations once again.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

This morning I read a post by Jenny Flintoft in which she offers a great exercise for reflecting on what our heroes can teach us about our aspirations for ourselves. When doing Jenny’s exercise I immediately put Ada Mazza, my mother-in-law, on my list. Now I know a mother-in-law may seem like a rather unusual choice for a hero, but that would only because you don’t know mine.

Why Are Some Heroes “Hidden”?

If you asked her who the head of the family is she would unequivocally say, Sandy, her husband. He is the oldest living man in a family of Sicilian descent. He has clearly provided so much for the family on many levels so this is not to diminish his role in any way. Yet when we think of heroes, or leaders for that matter, we often think of the person who is out front “leading the charge” or the people with the “highest level” positions of authority.

The people who don’t necessarily show up on our radar are those who choose to stay in the background. Yet they lead and inspire us just the same. We sometimes call them the unsung heroes. I call them “hidden” because you would not see them from a surface level view. They are far too busy making everything else work and, in Ada’s case, everyone else’s life work.

More often that not they do not want to be in the spotlight. Yet they are heroes nonetheless and they provide a tremendous amount of leadership.

An Example of What Our Hidden Heroes Provide?

In Ada’s case she sets the tone for every family gathering and every happening. There is no drama around her, only love and gratitude for what we have. She is the most genuinely and consistently positive person I know. She has a level of energy that defies her years and a brightness of spirit that makes you feel instantly welcomed and known. Perhaps that is because she is truly grateful for every little thing in her life.

For the last 2 years she has been the caregiver to her husband who is now in the last stages of cancer. Every time I am alone with him he remarks on how amazing she is and how lucky he is to have her. She does not waver in her positive attitude and gratitude for every last minute she has and whatever help anyone can offer no matter how small.

At one point the only thing they could do together was watch football games. She went out and got “Football for Dummies” so she could enjoy the games with him. This is just one very small example of the way she thinks and approaches life. She is always at work on how to make the best of every situation and how to make every interaction the best for others. She is even now hard at work on a project to honor Sandy’s father by telling his story as an immigrant to this country.

Do you see that as leadership? I certainly do. She continually sets the example for us all through her words and actions.

Today I want to express my love, admiration and appreciation for Ada, my “hidden” hero. For even just one moment I hope that she can appreciate herself for being the leader that she is in our family.

Who is one of your hidden heroes? I’d love to hear about them. And make sure you tell them, too!

Read Full Post »

A few weeks ago I was talking with a dentist about the challenges of running an office. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you work in a huge company or a small office, wherever there are people trying to work together there is inevitably an issue I will call “whose job is it?”. The even more personal version of this issue is “but that’s not my job”. It arises when something isn’t getting done that everyone knows needs to be done.

In my conversation with the dentist we talked about the basics like “whose job is it to take out the garbage?”. He asked, “how does such a simple and easy thing get so complicated?” I’ll suggest it gets complicated the minute we think it’s supposed to be someone else’s job.

So whose job is it to take out the garbage? How about the person who sees that the garbage can is full?

Defining our job descriptions can certainly be helpful, but I think we have gone overboard. Trying to identify all the tasks that define our jobs these days is virtually impossible. And all too often it gets in the way of getting the job at hand done. In the case of my friend the dentist the buck always stops with him anyway. Every job is his job as long as it doesn’t get done by someone else.

Where does the buck stop where you work? What might be possible if we all started to think like we owned the place?

Read Full Post »

While on the way to catch my plane in San Francisco yesterday I realized I left my cell phone behind. After a moment (or two) of panic I realized this could actually be an interesting experiment. It was.

Throughout the day I noticed I was more interested in and observant of all that was going on around me. I interacted with people more and wondered how many times I have bumped into someone and not even noticed. I wasn’t busy rushing off to a corner to sneak in a quick call or check messages. It was actually a lot more relaxing. I didn’t sit waiting in anticipation during the last few minutes of the flight to turn my phone on the minute the wheels of the plane touched down. Instead I had a great conversation with the person 2 seats over with whom I had barely talked to during the 4 hour flight.

There are More Things to Distract us Now Than Ever Before

While the cell phone can be an incredible tool it is also a terrible distraction. It’s a distraction that can even be deadly. They issue tickets for “driving while distracted”: a poor consolation for the person who got hit. The cell phone is just one of so many distractions we have to deal with throughout the day. Many of us have had to learn to manage an expectation of 24/7 responsiveness. The tools we have to meet that challenge may help make us more efficient, but I am not convinced it makes us more effective.

I would venture to say that we try to do a lot more things while distracted than ever before. The cost in our day to day lives of multi-tasking may not be at the level of life or death. Yet I would like you to consider that the cost could be life or death of another sort. It can cost us the motivation of the people who look to us for leadership slowly blowing out the flame of their passion. It can also cost us mutual trust and respect in our relationships with the people who we count on and who count on us. If you invest just a little more time thinking about this you will likely see many more costs to consider.

5 Signs of Leading While Distracted

Do you or did you ever…

1. Engage in a conversation you have no bandwidth for or interest in at the moment.

2. Listen to the conversation in your head instead of what the other person is saying including that little voice that keeps repeating “I hope they will be done soon”.

3. Get on a conference call and answer e-mails or twitter thinking that since people can’t see you, they won’t know and that it doesn’t really matter anyway.

4. Schedule a meeting and show up unprepared or fail to prepare for someone else’s meeting and show up anyway. (NOTE: A really good reason is not a “free pass”)

5. Allowing a conversation to be interrupted by an electronic device (telephone, computer, blackberry, i-phone, tweetdeck, etc.)

There is No “Good” Excuse for Not Giving Someone Your Full Attention

We can justify these and other distracted behaviors with “well everyone else does it” or “there just aren’t enough hours in a day” or “I’m trying my best”. Those reasons may get us off the hook in our own minds, but there is still a cost to the person/people on the other end. We have all done something like the things in this list. If you are like me you have done every one of them at one time or another. The point is not that we should feel bad about it. We can, however, be more awake so we can be 100% responsible for the impact our actions have on others.

If you are thinking, but I’m not the leader or I hate it when my boss does those things, think again. Anytime people are counting on you is an opportunity to lead, even if it is simply by example. Furthermore, the extent to which we allow others to get away with these behaviors with us harms both our relationship with them and with ourselves. Consider whether the message you are sending through your actions or inaction is one you really want to send.

What is the Solution?

The solution falls into the category of “simple but not always easy”. It is to make a conscious choice to give whomever you are interacting with your full attention. (Hint: The grocery store clerk is NOT less important than your boss in this regard.) It is a choice you have to keep making over and over and in countless situations every day. The hard part can be coming to terms with the cost. The good news is we can definitely get better at it with practice. The better news is we are likely to be grateful for all the things we discover that we have been missing out on.

Perhaps the most significant gift we can give another person in this fast paced world full of distraction is our full attention. It can be just for a moment, but it can make THE difference in whether that interaction has a positive or a negative impact on your relationships and even your results.

What could we all do to get better at giving the gift of our attention?

Read Full Post »

When it comes to teaching people to communicate we have historically focused a lot more on effective speaking, writing and presenting than on effective listening. Yet what has you trust someone more: the ability to speak eloquently or the ability to listen so that people actually feel heard? Too much of the former and not enough of the latter is all too often what causes us to label someone that 10 letter word “politician”.

If you buy into the belief that successful leaders engender a high degree of trust, I would argue that listening is a critical skill. It may even be more important than speaking skills. I’ll even suggest that by learning to listen better you will actually become a better speaker, presenter and writer.

3 SIMPLE STEPS TO LISTENING BETTER

1. Prepare for What You Want to Learn, Not Just What You Want to Say

We spend a lot of time preparing for meetings by putting together speaking notes and PowerPoint presentations. Our focus is all too often entirely on us. Whether the meeting is small or very large it is as though we were preparing for a performance with our attention on what we want to say. Yet how many PowerPoint presentations have you fidgeted or even slept through? I don’t sit still well so these are particularly painful for me!

Whether you are preparing for a one on one meeting or a meeting of 100 I suggest you prepare for a conversation not a presentation.

Think first about your audience. What can you contribute to them? What are their burning questions? Then think about how to engage your audience not just talk at them. Consider what you want to learn from the conversation, not just what you want to communicate. Prepare a thought provoking question or two. Great questions have the power to turn a presentation into a great and memorable conversation. When people are engaged their energy rises and attention sharpens.

TIP: Make one of the goals of your next meeting to learn more than the person or people with whom you are speaking.

2. Ask Questions AND Give People Enough Time to Answer:

To be effective at asking questions we have to become comfortable with what I call the “pregnant pause”. When you are asking a question it can feel like an eternity waiting for someone to answer. The bigger the group the longer that pause can be. It is uncomfortable and our tendency is to want to jump in and fill the space.

Remember that people may need a few minutes to think about your question so they can formulate an answer. And as group size increases the discomfort for many people to actually answer your question also increases. They may need even a little more time to muster up the courage or to formulate their answer so they can speak confidently.

TIPS: Prepare a question other than “do you have any questions?” for the end of what you have to say or present.

Focus on taking 3-5 slow deep breaths after you ask a question (remember to keep eye contact though or you can get so relaxed people think you checked out!).

3. Ensure People Know You Heard Them (and that you hear more).

Nodding your head is a helpful way to let someone know you are listening, but unfortunately we can nod and not hear a thing they said. And they know it, or at least they feel it. You actually have to speak before someone really knows you were listening. You can do that with phrases like “I understand”, “uh huh”, etc. You know the drill. But if you really want someone to know you heard them, try giving them back what you heard.

This is not about being a parrot. It’s about saying in your own words what you got out of what they said, or what you will do as a result of what they said, or asking a relevant question. That is the only way we can ever be sure that we actually understood what was said.

Do we hear what people say or do we hear what we think they said?

We are interpretation machines. We listen through the filters of our personal beliefs, knowledge and experience. All too often we don’t hear what people have actually said, or tried to communicate anyway, even though we think we did. This is a significant cause of mis-communication. Practice this and not only will people feel heard by you, but you will actually start hearing more of what they are saying. I can guarantee you will have fewer communications breakdowns all around if you get really good at this.

TIP: If you don’t feel like you are being heard you are probably not listening.

Any questions?

,,,just kidding!

What else do you need to know or understand to feel confident that you can execute these steps?

Which one of these is the most challenging for you?

Read Full Post »

Four Chords to Innovation

Recently I read a post by Heather Fenoughty, an internationally respected film, tv and theatre composer and sound designer. She suggests that if you have writers block when trying to compose that you find a four chord progression and play with it to make it your own. Since you can’t copyright just four chords you can avoid “a crisis of conscience”. Apparently even Bach did this!

I have come to believe that there really is no such thing as original thought, only original expression. So when I read her post and watched the accompanying video what I saw was a perfect demonstration of this in action. Click here to go check it out. It plays a series of songs that are completely different yet use the same four chords.

A great way to develop your leadership is to train yourself to think in new and innovative ways.

But that does not have to mean coming up with a never conceived of before idea. Those are far and few between. What it does mean is bringing a new point of view to an existing problem or opportunity. Sometimes it is about connecting the dots just a little differently. Other times it involves introducing a new “dot” to consider. It can also help to draw ideas from an experience, or something you read that has nothing to do with your day to day work.

Consciously seek to look at your equivalent of the same four chords and ask yourself and/or your colleagues:

1. How could I//we look at this differently?
2, What new element could I/we introduce that could give us new options?
3. How might I/we reassemble the elements we have to create something new?
4. How could I/we use what I/we learned or observed from another experience to this situation?

Your view of any problem or opportunity is by it’s very nature unique. You are the only person with your life experience, knowledge and wisdom.

The question is are you leveraging your unique perspective or are you busy trying to think like everyone else?

Read Full Post »

…does not exist.

There is not one agreed upon definition in the world despite how much leadership has been studied and written about. As of today 316,641 results returned when searching Amazon for books on leadership. According to Warren Bennis in Leaders (1997) “academic analysis has given us more than 850 definitions of leadership”. I think it is fair to say that defining leadership will be studied and debated for a long time to come and it is likely we will never all agree on THE BEST definition.

Although that is the question I have been asked and challenged about the most.

A very good friend even wrote to me having spent a good deal of time reading what I wrote, thinking and searching the internet trying to help me do a better job of defining leadership. The definition I offered in one of my posts was “Translating vision into reality” by Warren Bennis. Yet she strongly believes that “Vision is not a catalyst for leadership.” Essentially the definition I had offered in her worldview was just wrong. Yet the most interesting thing of all was that everything she said to make her point completely validated what I was trying to say to begin with about leadership and leading.

Could a definition actually be getting in the way?

Perhaps offering a definition of leadership was a mistake. Not because I offered a “wrong” definition. Warren Bennis is well known as an expert in this field so it certainly wasn’t wrong. But because I tried to define something that perhaps cannot be adequately expressed with the simplicity and accuracy expected from the definition of anything.

So why do we keep trying to define it?

People expect you to be able to define the thing you are writing about or teaching. It is a valid expectation so naturally I have offered one. But definitions rarely help you understand and/or do the very thing you are trying to define. For example, I can define balance, but does that help me to achieve the balance necessary to ride a bicycle? In the case of leadership I have never seen a definition that has helped anyone instantly know how to lead.

What do we seek when we ask for a definition? I think we are seeking “the truth” about it. Yet trying to define leadership is a bit like trying to define beauty: it has many interpretations, although we know it when we see it. It is also said that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. In fact, beauty does not look the same in all cultures. And perhaps neither does leadership. This points to the power of context in shaping our interpretations of “truth” about anything, including leadership.

What could be more useful than a definition?

The notion of a “random act of leadership” is my attempt to take leadership out of the realm of theory and develop a rich context for leading that can give EVERYONE access to leading in their day to day work and lives. My purpose is not to define leadership. It is to empower more people to see and seize opportunities to lead more readily and more often in everyday work and life. My focus is on identifying the actions of leading so we can do it more and make a bigger difference ourselves rather than waiting for “the” leaders to make things happen.

So now what?

I say we create a context for leadership that helps us see opportunities to lead – to take actions that will make a difference in the things that matter to us. So I invite you to start thinking about and sharing your context for leadership. The question I’ll use to start the inquiry is this:

What does leadership look like? I look forward to learning from your responses!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »