Archives For April 2016

statue-1139894_1920

 

When I first began leading a big change initiative in my organization, I made plenty of mistakes. The most significant mistake was in how I communicated our need to change.

Looking back, my words and actions implied that the organization and its leaders had been doing everything wrong (though I don’t think I ever used those words). I had discovered the “right way,” which we were all now going to follow.

While it was true that the organization needed to change, my approach was offensive to some people who had been working really hard with the best of intentions for a long time. Was I saying that all of their years of effort were wasted?

The truth is there were a lot of people doing a lot of good things. But often the biggest enemy of doing what’s best is an exhausting list of other noble things to do. What do you do when everyone’s so busy doing good things that there seems to be no effort going toward doing the necessary things? There’s only so much capital (money, time, personnel) to go around, so if we’re going to focus on the most important things, we often need to stop resourcing some good things.

How do you tell people they need to stop doing good things so that the organization can start doing the necessary things? What if some of those good things have become “sacred cows” to people who will naturally be offended when they hear that what they’re doing isn’t valued anymore?

The important lesson that I took too long to learn is this: Leaders lead people, not just ideas. And people follow GOOD leaders, not just RIGHT leaders. Every leader should make sure they and their people are focused on the right things and rejecting the wrong things. But the language we communicate with is critical. Rather than talk about what people are doing in terms of right and wrong, we must acknowledge and appreciate what people are doing that is good and challenge them to move toward what is best.

We have a lot easier time asking people to change if we first acknowledge and appreciate their virtues, treating them with respect and dignity, not condescension. One of my favorite leaders today, author and apologists Ravi Zacharias, frequently reminds his readers to win people, not arguments.

Yes, leaders must sometimes fight for what is right. But it’s rarely necessary to sacrifice being good to be right. Sacrificing good to be right is the fast track to losing credibility. Trust me, I’ve been there.

People will remember how you treated them long after they have forgotten what you were right about. So let’s consider whether we can lead by putting away our swords rather than falling on them.

For discussion:

  1. How have you challenged people to change while preserving their dignity and encouraging them to improve?

 

Bring your team on the Leadership Learning Adventure of a Lifetime this summer with Alaska Leadership Adventures.

Yodalukedagobah

It was the oddest phone call I think I’ve ever received, one of those moments that you remember exactly where you were sitting. It was my friend, Sean. He had recently been elected Lieutenant Governor of Alaska, running mate with Sarah Palin.

“I’d like you to pray about something for me,” he said. “I’d like you to pray about joining me as my Deputy Chief of Staff.” I thought he must have me confused with someone else. I couldn’t think of a more unlikely person to consider for such a role. “Sean, I don’t know much about Alaska state government. Are you sure I’d be a good choice for that role?”

“All of that can be learned,” he said, “and that’s not why I’m asking you. I need a partner of your character in my office. You’ll travel with me and join me in all of my meetings. You’ll hold me accountable and be my advisor. I’ll teach you everything else you need to know.”

That was the first of a few conversations that compelled me to make a major career change for the opportunity to go on a learning adventure with a great leader. And it turned out to be the most educational job opportunity I’ve ever had.

This was my most vivid experience of a critical paradigm for great leaders: Character trumps competency, not just sometimes, every time. I’m not saying that being good at our jobs isn’t important. But taking short cuts on character can be disastrous. Here’s why.

When it comes to character and competency there are only four kinds of people, which are combinations of good or bad character and high or low competency. What we discover through this lens is very interesting.

First are people with good character and high competency. This is the obvious choice of who to choose for your team. A combination of high character and high competency promises unlimited potential for good.

Second are people of good character but low competency. This combination promises limited potential for good. Not as good as option one, but better than the next two options.

Third are people of bad character and low competency. These are not desirable folks to have on your team. This combination promises limited potential for harm.

The fourth kind of person is the worst to have in your organization, the person with high competency and bad character. They can be disastrous to have on your team, because this combination promises unlimited potential for harm.

Shortage of competency can often be overcome in people of strong character, because people of strong character are humble and teachable. And if you, the leader, have developed your own capacity to train people, you can recruit people of great character and grow their competency. It’s almost impossible to reverse bad character in highly competent people.

So surround yourself with humble, teachable people with great character, and grow your own capacity to coach them in their competencies. And before you know it you will have built an amazing team.

Discussion:

  1. Have you overlooked bad character on your team in the past? What has been the result? What will you do differently in the future?
  1. Are you investing in your own capacity to train people? Catapult Leadership was started to help you grow leaders in their character and skills. Click here to see how Catapult can help you.

Laserfun

On our honeymoon in Hawaii in 1989, I did something pretty foolish. I thought I would take a sailing lesson in a laser from the recreation staff at the Air Force resort where we were staying. A laser is the smallest sailboat you could imagine, barely big enough for two people to sit on. The lesson actually went well. The foolish part was thinking it was a good idea for me to take my new bride for a ride the next day out in the open ocean, on a windy day, after having only one lesson. My impending disaster was compounded by the fact that the teenagers I rented the laser from didn’t attach the mast to the boat correctly. To make a long, embarrassing story short, we found ourselves stranded too far out to sea, sitting on the bottom-side of our overturned laser with a broken mast, waving our arms and yelling for help, hoping someone on shore would notice. You can just imagine how impressed my new bride must have been with my newfound sailing skills.

After frighteningly too long, as our little boat crested the big waves, we saw a figure of a person splashing toward us from the shore. As he got closer, we could see he was paddling on a surfboard. Soon we could see that he was a young lifeguard. When he reached us, I could see he was the same teenager who had put together our laser incorrectly.

But the most perplexing thing was that, while I appreciated his effort to paddle all the way out to us and make sure we were safe, he had no idea how he was going to rescue us with only a surfboard. We were safer staying on our capsized boat than going with him on his surfboard. He meant well, but he just didn’t have the capacity to help us get our broken boat back to shore. So he joined us and our capsized laser with his little surfboard, bobbing in the ocean, hoping for rescue.

After some more time passed, a small motorboat approached. It was driven by the young lifeguard’s boss, who promptly gave the despondent young man an impressive butt chewing. “How the *^”:+@ do you think you’re going to rescue two people and a laser with a surfboard?”

While he was still scolding his young employee, some Marines came by on a large catamaran and offered to take Sonia and me back to shore while the manager and his young apprentice towed our crippled boat back to the dock.

Here’s the point for us as leaders: If we want to be effective leaders for others, we need to invest in continually growing our own leadership capacity. If our leadership capital is the equivalent of that surfboard, we’re ill equipped to lead or grow the leadership capacity of our people. Investing in the leadership skills of our people is very important for us as leaders, but we can’t neglect continuing to grow our own leadership capital as well. A great mentor many years ago used to remind me, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” And a friend of mine reminded me just this week that the greatest gift we can give to those we lead is our own personal development, so that we are leaders worth imitating. So let’s build leadership catamarans for ourselves, not just surf boards.

For Discussion:

  1. In what ways are you investing in your own health and development so that you can give your best to your people?
  1. In what ways are you neglecting your own health and development? What do you think will be the long-term impact on your capacity to lead and develop others?