Understanding our differences is a key step to see and take into consideration other individuals’ life history and experience as we work together. If you feel this is an area in which you need to (or want to) grow, there are some practical steps you can take. First, remember the saying, attributed to Native Americans, “To understand a man, you must walk a mile in his moccasins.” While most of us can intellectually try to think what a situation is like from another person’s perspective, actually experiencing what they experience on a day-to-day basis is when we really learn the lesson. This is actually the wisdom behind the popular television series Undercover Boss, where the president or CEO of a company goes and works in a front-line employee position for a week. Time and time again, you see the lights come on in the leader’s eyes—gaining a true understanding of the challenges experienced by his or her employees.
How many of you were enthralled by watching the Summer Olympics in 2012? I know I am. It was thrilling to watch the Fab Five win the gold in gymnastics, Michael Phelps winning gold and then losing gold by centiseconds in two of his individual events, and who didn’t fall in love with Missy Franklin, the swimming sensation and sweetheart from Colorado? Despite all of their natural ability they worked hard to hone their craft. I wonder what kind of leaders we would be, if we devoted as much time and energy to grow as these Olympians did?
As I prepared to attend a recent leadership summit, I thought about why I carve out time to hone my craft. Growing as a leader does the following:
- It raises my game. There is nothing like the stress of working hard to break through a plateau and reaching a higher level of performance. Several years ago I could barely bike 20 miles at any one time. Today I’ve completed several century rides and think nothing of going out for a 50-mile bike ride. Certainly part of this improvement was achieved by practicing, but I also needed to learn more about pedal stroke efficiency, interval training, heart rate training and the things I needed to do off the bike to become a stronger and better rider. The same is true of leadership – we practice every day, but what are we doing to improve our game?
- It motivates others to follow me. People are not interested in following leaders who are stagnant. They are much more interested in following leaders who are energized and have great ideas and vision that expands over time. Certainly character and competence are prerequisites if we expect others to follow us, but if we’re not growing, the people we lead will soon become disinterested in following.
- It helps me identify my blind spots. We all have blind spots. The other day I was talking to my coach about an area of improvement I saw in someone else. As we processed the issue, it became clear that I had a blind spot that was preventing me from addressing the issue in a timely manner. It reminded me again that leadership is not a solo sport; we need other people to help us identify what we can’t see in ourselves. Input from others helps me see things from a different perspective.
- It helps me reach my God-given potential. Don’t we all long to be all that God created us to be? Part of this includes being intentional about our growth and seek opportunities for growth. There is a 2012 60-Minutes interview with Michael Phelps. After the 2008 Olympics, he spent little time in the pool. He didn’t practice to to point where his coach didn’t know if he was going to make it to the Olympics despite his natural talent. Michael’s challenge was to learn to grow beyond the accolades and medals he previously won.
Being a great leader takes discipline and diligence, even in the face of success. You can be good at what you do, but you can never be all that God intended until you cooperate with His purposes and are intentional about your growth and development.
Share Your Thoughts: What types of things do you do to develop your leadership and your character?
Both are powerful, but only one will help you build a great life.
There are really only two fundamental driving forces in life. One of them can be helpful, but is short lived. The other one can make you very successful.
1) Running away from something (survival) 2) Running toward something (your Big Why—purpose)
Only the second one creates lasting success. The first one might even create failure.
Moving away from something is a survival tactic. Survival is a very strong instinct, but the negative nature of it will not help you get to great places. It will only help you escape unhelpful ones. Running from something gets tiring.
There are legitimate reasons to run from something—a bear in the woods, a mudslide, that guy who won’t stop talking. Many people look for a new job or start a businesses because they are fed up with the boss or the company they work for. Others do it because they were let go and didn’t want to ever be that vulnerable again. All of these are legitimate reasons to run from something unhelpful.
A negative driving force can be a good incentive to get something started. But the problem with running from things is that it isn’t sustainable. The gravitational pull of that thing chasing you, will eventually slow you down and wear you out. We aren’t built to find long term sustainable motivation from running away from things, but by running toward them.
When you find something to run toward you’re much more likely to create a sustainable motivation and succeed. A positive driving force is something that you don’t have, but it has you. It grips you and compels you forward—you can’t help but go in that direction because the gravitation pull in front of you is strong and always getting stronger as you get closer to it.
What drives your life? What compels you to get up in the morning even when you’re not making money and when you’re tired of the struggle? What helps you see the struggle as the road to success rather than the road to nowhere? I call that my Big Why—the big reason to be in business or in life that is so much bigger than just the trivial need to make some money.
If you have a Big Why, a positive driving force that is compelling you forward, you are unlikely to wear out, slow down or give up.
The Paralyzing Middle—Neutral
But there is one other condition that won’t get us anywhere, and is paralyzing—living in neutral. When we’re living in neutral, we’re neither moving away from something or toward something, but simply not going anywhere—dead in the water of life—just treading to keep our head above it all. People who live in neutral many times have reasonably safe, comfortable and predictable lives, but rarely have a story to tell. Movement of some kind is critical. Moving away from the earth might help us eventually find the gravitational pull of the moon. Running away can help us find something to run toward, but neutral doesn’t help us find anything.
Get A Big Why—Your Blue Flame
Get out of neutral if you’re in it—wake up, get a Big Why and run toward it. We call it the blue flame that drives you forward, like the afterburner of a fighter jet.
Do you have a blue flame coming out your back side that is driving you forward? It’s the best way to ensure you’ll build a life you’ll love.
Some day your life may flash before you. If it does, make sure it’s worth watching.
Carpe freaking diem, already.
Imagine dog sledding in Canada for the very first time. You're holding onto the back of your sled for dear life as you whip around steep curves at lightning speed. Up ahead of you is a sharp turn and you notice that your sled is teetering on the edge of the mountain. You are riding the thin line between falling off the mountain and creating momentum behind your dogs. This was my wife and my experience when we went to Canmore, Canada a few years ago. We had a dog sledding adventure—a first for both of us. (I highly recommend the experience.)
Dog sledding in Canada taught us so many things about leadership, teamwork, and strengths. On our trip, we met a young man named Jereme, who I call “the dog whisperer” because of his expert knowledge of his dogs and how to communicate with them. He was our guide and he took the time to teach my wife and I all about his team.
During our dog sledding adventure with Jereme, I couldn't help but think about the four domains of leadership, each containing a sampling of the thirty four talent themes as outlined in Gallup's Strengths Based Leadership book.
Lead Dogs – Executing - Work Harder
“Follow me, Brent.” He said commandingly and Rhonda and I did just that as Jereme led us to meet the first two dogs on the team.
“These are my lead dogs,” he explained to us, “Lead dogs are not necessarily the smartest, and they're not necessarily the fastest, but they're the best listeners, and they follow commands well.”
Jereme emphasized that it was important to know your lead dogs names so you could communicate with them frequently. After all, they are the leaders of their team. The other dogs respect them and follow them because of their leadership strength.
Lead dogs in dog sledding are not so different from what Gallup calls executing leaders. These domain of strengths are all about production and working harder.
A leader with Arranger – Achiever may work tirelessly to create the perfect configuration of systems.
Point Dogs – Strategic - Think Smarter
Jereme pointed to the next two dogs directly behind the lead dogs. “These are the point dogs. They have vision and help navigate the direction of the team towards the destination.” These dogs apply just enough pressure to steer the lead dogs.
Point dogs, like those of us in positions of strategic leadership, are the thinkers, the heady intellectuals who tend to strategize and point us towards the future. They help the team to think smarter.
Leaders with Context – Strategic talents are exceptional at reviewing the past and finding the best route to grow their organization.
Swing Dogs – Influencing - Motivate Faster
“It's very interesting,” Jereme said about the next two dogs. “You take an old dog and a young dog, pair them together, and you have swing dogs.” The older dogs have been around the mountains for many years, trekked endless trails, and accrued their share of bumps and bruises along the way. Of course, they have lost a bit of their zest, their energy, their pep.
But then you pair this older dog with a younger dog who has loads of enthusiasm, energy, and ability but lacks experience and wisdom and they influence and bring out the best in each other so that the team accomplishes its goal. This pair of dogs helps the team handle change and sharp turns.
The swing dogs fall into the influencing domain. These are the leaders who use their strengths to influence, sell and motivate others faster.
An influencing leader may shine with Communication – WOO drawing in new clients with likeable entertaining stories.
Wheel Dogs – Relationship - Care Better
“These are the strongest dogs and biggest hearted dogs,” Jereme pointed, “and they're called wheel dogs.” The wheels dogs just want to please the driver. Easily the strongest dogs on the team, they love to pull, they love to work, and they love to do their job usually with very little recognition.
The wheel dogs have relationship strengths. They are the people adept at social - emotional intelligence, relating with others, and showing empathy and love. They help teams care better.
Leaders are like stars. The have unique edgy points that make them standout differently than anyone else. Teams need to be well rounded. Incorporating all types of talent and strengths for greater effectiveness.
Dominant relationship oriented leaders with Relator – Developer will build long term loyalty and mentorship.
Would you and your organization like to better understand your strengths based leadership styles?
Bring GALLUP Certified Strengths Coach and Convene Resource Specialist, Brent O’Bannon to your Forum Day or organization. Learn more at http://brentobannon.com/strengthsfinder-keynote-and-workshops/
John Smith started a company 30 years ago and during that time it experienced significant growth and enjoyed respect in its industry. Recently John has considered scaling back and enjoying more of the fruits of his labor. He also wants to expand his ministry involvement and have a more meaningful engagement outside his business. The only problem is that John’s assumed successor, his daughter Karen, may not be ready to take over the business. How does John let go and move on with grace while positioning his business to thrive in the future?
Here are three keys necessary to effectively pass the baton to a successor.
- Prepare yourself.
“It’s easy to fall in love with the baton of leadership,” says thought leader, Marshall Goldsmith. Business provides people with intangible benefits of challenge, contribution and context or meaning. In addition, there are the tangible benefits of wealth, status, power and perks. Many business owners are stuck because they don’t know how they will get from where they are to a future life of contribution and meaning after departing the company. To make a successful transition, it’s important to build a bridge from one’s current role to a future life.
In order to bridge the gap, John needs to envision a future and develop a plan with key milestones on what it will take to build his future before leaving his company. If not, he may find reasons to stay longer than he should.
What will provide you the challenge, contribution and meaning that you experienced at work? How will you feel about letting go of the status, power and perks you’ve come to enjoy?
- Prepare your successor.
- Evaluate capabilities.
John needs to consider his successor’s strengths and challenges. Often the challenges are behavioral in nature. If these challenges are persistent, it may require an outside coach to work on the behavioral issues. Two of the biggest behavioral issues most leaders face are communicating effectively and listening to and seeking input from others.
- Provide development opportunities.
A key for John is to provide opportunities for Karen to lead different departments and key projects in order to round out her skill set. In addition, he needs to provide consistent coaching and feedback. Developing a plan with Karen, with key goals and milestones, would help chart progress. At some point, John may need to consider an outside coach that has the expertise in the areas needed to help Karen.
- Assess motivation for lasting change.
All of John’s coaching and feedback may be futile if Karen does not see a need for change. Assessing her motivation along the way will help accelerate this process.
Reflection Questions: What opportunities can better prepare my successor to assume leadership? How receptive is my successor to coaching and feedback from others and from me?
- Make a graceful exit.
Once Karen has assumed control of the company, it’s time for John to leave. Assuming he’s done the appropriate work up-front to prepare, it’s now time for him to pass the baton and allow Karen to assert her leadership without being under his shadow.
Many family-owned businesses have difficulty passing the baton because they are not intentional about one or more of the three keys to successful transition.
Reflection Question: Do I have the three keys in place to effectively pass the baton, leave with grace and ensure a thriving future for my business?
Written by Kathy Woodliff: Woodliff Global Consulting