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It’s been fascinating, particularly lately, watching how Americans react to legislation and policies enacted on behalf of groups who want to protect their right to not be bothered, insulted, ridiculed or otherwise treated poorly.

We want the right to deny service to someone if we don’t agree with their life choices. We want the right to demand services from people even if it makes them uncomfortable. We want the right to keep someone out of a public restroom if we don’t trust them. We demand the right to share public restrooms with people even if it makes them uncomfortable. We want to deny people the right to say or write bad things about us. And we want the right to say or write anything we want about those we don’t like.

It seems to me, at the end of the day, we’re fighting for the right to be treated with kindness, dignity and respect, but only if it’s not mandated that we must do the same for others.

Just today I read an article that was going viral on social media. A gentleman was making a case that certain legislation was necessary because he and people like himself were being ridiculed for their life choices. He was absolutely right that the way he and others had been treated was horrible. What he was really wanting was kindness, and he deserves it, as we all do. The problem is no government or business can mandate kindness, short of rescinding most of our human rights.

To make the idea of a kindness mandate more absurd, many people are responding to one group or another’s unkind words and actions with hate mail and death threats. Just read the comments section at the end of most online news articles today. And even more absurd still, who are we demanding mandates for kind behavior from? Politicians! Not exactly known as beacons of dignity and respect (though I know many who are).

Friends, character cannot be mandated, but it can be taught. But it is taught by modeling it for others. In fact, the only way cultures of dignity, kindness and respect are going to be cultivated around us is if leaders model it for others.

If we expect to be treated with dignity, kindness and respect in our culture, here are some things we must NOT do:

We must not refuse to serve people just because we disagree with them. Why? Because that’s unkind.

We must not demand that people serve us if it makes them uncomfortable. Why? Because that’s unkind too.

We must not write slanderous or condescending things about people on the Internet. Why? Because that’s unkind.

We must not demand that people give in to our every whim for convenience, in the name of defending our rights. Why? Because that would be unkind.

We must not boycott or picket places that don’t share our values. Why? Because it’s unkind.

We must not respond to cruelty with cruelty, insult with insult. Guess why.

If you’re doing those things, thankfully you still have every right to. But the truth is, you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem, regardless of your religion, race, or orientation.

I’m not saying we should not stand up for our rights. I am saying we don’t need to hurt others or sacrifice character to do it. Remember, leaders create culture. So if we want to create a culture of dignity, kindness and respect, we’re first going to have to learn to turn the other cheek, repaying rudeness with kindness. There are always going to be cruel people on the Internet, in public restrooms, and in picket lines. Just don’t be one of them. Let’s be leaders who are kinder than that. Let’s stop demanding character from people who don’t have it to give. Just demonstrate character every day, and eventually we’ll find it drawn to us.

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

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“No excuse, sir!”

For my entire first year at the U.S. Air Force Academy, those were the three words that came out of my mouth probably more than any other. For a Fourth Class Cadet (freshman), it was the expected answer to any question that began with a “Why.” Even if we knew the answer, the lesson was to never make excuses, never point the finger somewhere else, and to always take personal responsibility.

“Pullins, why is your shirt wrinkled?”

“No excuse, sir!”

“Pullins, why was your classmate late?”

“No excuse, sir!”

“Pullins, why is the sky blue?”

“No excuse, sir!”

It seemed ridiculous sometimes, when there was a perfectly good reason for something, to respond with, “No excuse, sir!” Sometimes it definitely wasn’t fair to have to respond that way, like when something wasn’t my fault. But the point was, it didn’t matter whose fault it was, I was going to take responsibility for fixing it.

It’s natural, isn’t it, to want to fix blame somewhere else when there’s a problem? Especially when we honestly believe that the blame for a problem lies with someone else, that someone else should be held accountable, not us, right?

Our competitive business culture seems to breed the idea that the way to get ahead of the competition, even our peers, is take credit for the good and shift blame for the bad. I used to be fascinated by the first few years of Donald Trump’s “reality” TV show, The Apprentice (when it still featured competition between “real” young business professionals, rather than washed-up celebrities). It was interesting to watch these young go-getters throw each other under the bus in the boardroom, so that someone else would hear the words, “You’re fired,” rather than themselves.

Fast forward to the political debates we’re watching this year, and it feels the same. No one seems to want to claim responsibility for the problems we’re facing as a country. Candidates shift blame to someone else. It’s no wonder leaders who take responsibility and galvanize people to move forward and solve problems together seem hard to find.

Here are some key reasons why it’s crucial that leaders step up and take responsibility, rather than shift the blame, regardless of who is actually at fault.

First, the longer we dwell on who was at fault (no matter how true it is), the longer others will spend defending themselves from accusation and following our lead of finger pointing. I heard a marriage counselor say once, “Husbands, always be the first to say you’re sorry.” I wish I could say that I’ve always practiced that in my own marriage, but I can say that I regret every time I didn’t. My pride got in the way, and instead I drug the person I promised to always love and cherish into a needless battle of wills.

Second, the more time is spent finger pointing, the longer the delay in taking positive action to solve problems and the longer team productivity is lost. Dwelling on the past delays all progress toward a brighter future.

Third, blaming others erodes trust quickly. And trust takes a lot more effort and time to restore than it does to erode. Not only does blame shifting erode trust from our peers and our employees, it also erodes trust from above. How funny it is to think that what our boss really wants to hear is our shifting the blame so that they won’t be upset with us. Do we honestly believe they’d rather hear that than hear us accept responsibility, apologize and start moving ahead and fixing problems? Do we honestly think we make ourselves look god by making others look bad?

Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hold our people accountable when they are truly responsible for mistakes or poor performance. But it’s very difficult to get them to willingly own their mistakes when we, their leaders, haven’t modeled that ourselves.

Remember, leaders create culture. Not with lofty vision statements, but by their everyday actions. The opposite of a culture of finger pointing is a culture of accountability. And a leader who won’t take responsibility for outcomes, bad ones as well as good ones, cannot create a culture of accountability. That culture can only for because of the leader, not despite them. If we model for others the courage to take full responsibility, we can create a culture where it’s normative for everyone to have the courage do so.

For discussion:

  • When something goes wrong, do you worry about being blamed or welcome the opportunity to take responsibility and fix the problem?

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The question keeps senior leaders awake at night. “Where are we going to get the next generation of leaders who will confidently take this organization into the future?” We look around at our prospects, and it’s scary. It’s scary because we haven’t been investing in the leaders we’re going to need to grow our organization.

There are only two ways to get the leaders we’re going to need in the future. We can try and hire them from outside, or we can grow our own leaders from within. Obviously, growing leaders within the organization has the best chance of getting the results we need. Hiring from outside is risky, for lots of reasons. It’s very hard in any hiring process to judge whether someone has the character and chemistry to be a great fit in our organization, no matter how well they interview.

But the thought of developing a successful system for grooming and growing our own leaders seems daunting. Who has the time and energy to pour into that, on top of everything else going on? And so the same cycle of leadership problems repeats year after year. We also assume that an effective strategy for developing leaders is going to be expensive. But the truth is, it’s a lot less expensive than all the hidden costs of NOT investing in effective leadership training.

The one organization that has done an amazing job of growing its own leaders decade after decade with fantastic results is the U.S. Military. They get their general officers from among the ranks of their field grade officers, field grade officers from their company grade officers, etc. But they dedicate vast resources to doing this. How can a medium-sized company have a strategy comparable to that?

After 26 years of training leaders in the U.S. Air Force, NATO, and the Alaska National Guard, I joined Academy Leadership, LLC and started Catapult Leadership Solutions because I want you to have a great system for raising up the leaders in your organization, like the system used by the U.S. Military, at a very reasonable cost. Our Leadership Boot Camp, Leadership Excellence Course, Advanced Leadership Course, and Executive Leadership Course are the foundation of your leadership pipeline, from new supervisors to senior execs.

I don’t just teach theory about leadership. I expect results because you need results. That’s why every course culminates in an actionable plan, followed by 90 days of personal coaching, so that leaders put new skills and plans into practice in cooperation with their supervisor.

Our specialized workshops and modular Leadership Development Program can be customized to meet the specific needs of your organization with over 30 different leadership skills modules to choose from. You can have all of this for a fraction of the cost of creating a leadership development department in your company.

Our organizational and personal leadership assessment tools can help you determine exactly what are your most urgent leadership development needs.

Where do you start? Just contact me for a free initial consultation to discuss your organizations’ leadership development needs.

I look forward to working with you!

Best regards,

Jay Pullins

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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.

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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.

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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?

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A desire for personal growth and improvement is important for all leaders. Not just desire, but a plan to grow our leadership capital and capacity. When we improve, our organizations improve, and that’s important.

But for great leaders personal improvement is not enough. Great leaders see their job as helping everyone in the organization get better at what they do, especially leaders. Great leaders see themselves as not just leaders of people, but also leaders of leaders. They invest in more than their own capacity to lead. They invest in the leadership capital of those they lead, and train those they lead to invest in the leadership capital of those THEY lead.

Let me give an example of what it looks like to think exponentially and have exponential leadership impact. Let’s say Sue recognizes that improving her communication skills will help her to be a better leader. So Sue invests in the training to make her a better communicator. As a result, her team experiences more clarity and less confusion, they begin to perform together at a higher level, and her department’s productivity increases significantly. That’s good! If every leader just made that much investment, we’d all experience the benefits.

But Sue thinks exponentially. She thinks to herself, “If I can learn to be a better leader by improving my communication skills, so can others. Why not help others learn to do what I learned to do.” Sue decides she would like to train Brian, Gwen and Adam, three of her direct reports, to do the things that now make her a better communicator.

Sue also recognizes that doing something well and training others to do it well are different things and require different sets of skills. So Sue invests in the training she needs to become good at training others. Now she has not only grown her own leadership capacity and the productivity of her department, she now has the skills to grow the leadership capacity of more people. This is where Sue’s leadership capital begins to grow exponentially.

Now Sue trains Brian, Gwen and Adam to be better communicators, exponentially improving clarity and productivity and decreasing confusion in her department. And that’s just the beginning. Sue now has the skills to continue training others to improve various leadership skills for the rest of her career.

Here’s where Sue’s leadership capital goes parabolic, creating the opportunity to leave a lasting leadership legacy: Sue thinks to herself, “If I can learn the skills to train others to improve their leadership skills, then other leaders can learn those skills too. What if I learned to train people to train people?” So again Sue invests her own leadership capacity with the intention of using her new skills to train leaders who will train more leaders to grow the leadership capital of others. Now she can not only train people to improve their leadership skills, she can also train people to train more people to grow THEIR leadership skills, and so on. Eventually Sue creates a culture in her organization that holds leadership development as one of its key values, and her organization earns a reputation as the place to be if you want to be developed as a leader.

This is the essence of “Catapult Leadership.” It’s a selfless commitment to seeing our organizations and ourselves as multipliers of great leaders, for the sake of our departments, our whole organizations, our families, our communities and our world. Because better leadership really is key to better, more effective organizations and communities.

If you share my vision of not only being a better leader, but also being a better leader of better leaders, then consider joining my Catapult Community. Read here for more info.