Archives For character

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During my family’s first winter in Alaska, we went to the town of Willow to watch the official start of the Iditarod, the world famous sled dog race, which lasts nine to fifteen days, covering over a thousand miles from Willow to Nome. Teams consisting of one man and up to 16 dogs endure whiteout conditions, sub-zero temperatures and gale force winds. Wind chill temperatures can get as low as -100 degrees F.

The marshaling area where mushers get their teams prepared before their turn to start the race is one of the most noisy, chaotic places I’ve ever seen. As the dogs are getting clipped in to their lines, waiting for their turn to start the race, they are fussing, howling, jumping, and nipping at each other constantly. It’s as if they can’t stand holding still.

We walked a little down the trail to see the dog teams pass by as they were on their way. The contrast was striking. The dogs were silent, focused on the mission they had trained for, tongues flailing, pulling with all their might.

I couldn’t help but notice the difference between the teams standing around before the race and the teams on the trail focused on their mission. The only sound from the teams on the trail was the occasional command of their musher.

We’ve been addressing in previous blogs what it takes for great leaders to earn the right to lead. They must commit to investing in more leaders, not to just having more followers. They must be accessible role models, inviting others to get close to them. And they must simplify what they do so that others can imitate them.

But all of these strategies for being highly follow-able are not ends in themselves. They are a means to an important end. That is to accomplish the mission that the team was built for.

It’s been proven over and over that teams are most engaged in and fulfilled by their work when they are led by a trusted leader on a mission that challenges them to be and do more than they thought they could.

People often criticize the Iditarod for being cruel to the dogs. But it’s been proven repeatedly that the dogs absolutely love to run this race despite the harsh conditions. We sometimes mistakenly think that we must make people’s work as easy as possible for them if we are to expect good results. Nothing could be further from the truth. Great leaders challenge their followers to become more than they thought they could be. That’s key to a leader’s role of making more leaders. That’s why great leaders spend so much energy earning their teams trust.

One thing that’s true of every champion dog musher is they LOVE their dogs, and their dogs know it! If our followers know how much we care about them and trust our leadership, then they are ready to go with us on the toughest missions.

So set challenging goals for your team. If you’ve given them a lot of yourself, then ask for a lot in return. Make increasing their skills, responsibilities and authorities part of your business growth strategy. Most of your team will rise to the challenge, and your whole team will be stronger.

A legendary Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi was a noble man and gifted in the ways of the Force. He trained Anakin Skywalker, served as a general in the Republic Army during the Clone Wars, and guided Luke Skywalker as a mentor.

Here’s an important paradigm to start the new year: Great leaders are intentionally unimpressive.

In much of my military officer experience, leadership was a competitive sport. Officers had to compete against each other for promotion, assignments and other opportunities. As a result, officers spent considerable amount of effort trying to be more impressive than their peers. The temptation was to over-inflate our competencies while hiding our weaknesses.

But here’s the irony. No one respected their bosses for being good at that game. In fact, we often resented them for their inauthenticity. That was the way the game was played. That was how one climbed the ladder of SUCCESS.

This is an important area where the path to SUCCESS and the path to GREATNESS part ways dramatically. Striving for success means demonstrating that we’re “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” The organization would most certainly fail without us.

But great leaders are coaches, seizing opportunities to multiply their character and competencies in others. They seek to make others better, not to be seen as better than others. Consequently, they make every organization, every family and every community they touch better.

When giving a presentation, for example, a SUCCESSFUL leader leaves the audience saying, “Wow! He’s so good at that. I could never be that good. What would we do without him?”

But a GREAT leader leaves the audience saying, “Oh, that looks easy. I think I could do that.” Then the great leader says, “Yes, you can. Let me show you.”

Now let me ask you: Which of those two leaders do you think really has more value?

Here’s the hard truth: If your people are so impressed by you and your talents that they think they can’t make it without you, you might be exactly what your company says they need, and you might be considered a huge success. But as a leader of your people, you have failed.

And here’s an even harder truth: If you’re known for your supposedly indispensable talent, you’re actually on your way to being forgotten. Because in today’s economy, extremely talented people are a dime a dozen. And you can always be replaced with someone a little more talented than you. And if talent is your organization’s currency, that’s probably what will eventually happen.

This is one area where it’s hard for success and greatness to co-exist, because being impressive and being imitate-able are so diametrically opposed. So we’re faced with a choice. Do we continue to strive to be the most impressive person in the room, playing the role of talent rather than leadership? Or do we lead in such a way that our people can learn from us and grow alongside us, becoming greater leaders themselves?

Discussion questions:

  1. In what ways do your impressive performances make your skills seemingly out of reach of others?
  1. Do you do things in such a way as to show others how to do them, or do you keep your skills as trade secrets?
  1. How can you simplify your practices so that others feel more comfortable imitating them?

 

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Why do you suppose, with the thousands of leadership books available, that there is such a deficit of great leaders today? It’s not that people don’t read leadership books. Many of those books are best sellers.

Leadership books are great, and leaders should read them. I’ve read lots of them. They can be very helpful. But they alone are entirely insufficient to see people grow into great leaders.

It would be nice if we could just buy someone the right book, tell them to read it, and just sit back and watch them do all the things they read about. But important skills aren’t developed that way.

Think about it. Would you trust a doctor who earned his credentials only from reading books or blogs, going to conferences or watching videos? How about a pilot? How about an electrician? All of those learning tools are good. But they are all insufficient.

Relationship is indispensable to great leadership development. Entering critical roles requires apprenticing from someone who is what the follower wants to become. We must be shown, not just taught. This is why pilots, doctors and most tradesmen go through extensive, personal apprenticeship before they are given the responsibility that goes with the job title. People are trusting them to get it right.

Effective leadership development is apprenticeship. If a leader is going to make more leaders, they must be willing to play the role of coach.

And effective coaching relationships require proximity. Future leaders must be invited into a close enough relationship with their leader that they can see their leader in action and imitate his actions. As my friend, Jo Saxton, often says, “They can’t BE what they can’t SEE.” If you’re not willing to let people close enough to see you wrestle with conflict and hard decisions, don’t expect them to see you as their coach. They will find someone else. Believe me. And if you give people leadership responsibilities in your organization without coaching them to succeed, then don’t expect great results.

Making more leaders also requires transparency and vulnerability. It does not require you to model perfect execution of every leadership task. In fact, your people learn a TON from watching how you handle making mistakes.

My friend, Mike Breen, taught me that people don’t need me to be a perfect example, just a living one. That means a leader who is authentic, not pretending to have it all together (because everyone already knows you don’t). That’s what it means to be worth imitating. If you’re living transparently and working hard at becoming a great leader, admitting that you have not yet arrived, you will find lots of people wanting to follow you on that journey and learn from you. But if you feel you must impress them in order to lead them, you will most certainly lose them.

I’m not condoning managers and supervisors being incompetent. I’m assuming you’re already a good manager. Remember, here we’re talking about what’s below the surface in the lives of great leaders.

In coming weeks, we’ll discuss HOW to have coaching relationships with employees that are productive, transparent, authentic, appropriate, professional, and not exhausting.

Discussion questions:

1. Are you trying to impress those you lead or coach them? Are you willing to let them learn from your mistakes?

2. Are you a leader who has kept your employees at arm’s length? If so, can you explain why?

3. Are you willing to make time for your people and give them access to your real life as a leader?

 

Make a lasting investment in your organization’s leaders in 2016. Check out my upcoming Leadership Excellence Courses in Seattle, Vancouver, B.C., and Anchorage, Alaska here.

Great Leaders Create Culture

December 14, 2015 — 2 Comments

The best way for leaders to make more leaders is to create a culture where potential leaders can thrive!

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The number one job of great leaders is to make more leaders. This is how great leaders leave a legacy for every organization, every family, and every community they touch.

This may be different than how many leaders would define success. But remember, we’re not talking about success. We’re talking about greatness. If a leader has a well-written job description, it defines what the leader needs to do for the organization to be SUCCESSFUL. And that’s important! I don’t mean to marginalize this.

But I do want to call leaders to something higher than just running a successful organization. Let’s talk about making your organization great!

A great organization is one where leaders coach their followers to become great leaders themselves. This doesn’t happen automatically. It begins with great leaders who have certain character and skills. Let’s talk about character first.

Character:

Leaders who make more leaders are selfless. They put the needs of their followers, and of their organizations, ahead of their own. They make time (the most precious commodity they have) for others. They help others grow as they are pursuing their own growth. So they are inviting others into their worlds when it would likely be easier not to.

Leaders who make more leaders must be intentional. A leader who prioritizes time for investing in junior leaders is sacrificing something else less important intentionally. Investing in people requires a much bigger investment of time and emotional energy than is required to just perform normal work tasks. But great leaders understand that investing in more leaders is one of an organizations highest payoff activities over the long run.

Organizations that make more leaders are led by confident leaders. Insecure leaders will never make more leaders. The best they will do is make more followers. Insecure leaders are afraid to give away leadership to others. What if they actually make leaders who are better than they are? What if junior leaders stop depending on them and start thinking for themselves? What if junior leaders get promoted ahead of them? Insecure leaders hold junior leaders back because of their own fear.

But let’s think about this logically for a minute. Do you think that a leader who excels at bringing the best out of his team and makes more leaders is more valuable to her organization, or less valuable? Great leaders know that making more leaders creates value for their organization, and makes them more valuable in their boss’s eyes, not less valuable.

More importantly, great leaders see the leadership vacuum in our world, our communities, and our families, and they will step up and do their best to do something about it. And great leaders don’t compromise their values to get ahead of others.

Next time, we’ll talk about specific leadership skills necessary for making more leaders.

Discussion questions:

  1. How are you scheduling time to invest in the leaders you’re responsible for?
  1. What are some methods you use to grow the character and skills of other leaders?
  1. How are you setting an example of professional development for those who follow you?

 


Who is on the top of your list of great leaders?
What great leaders have had a personal impact on your life? Think of great leaders from history. Now think of great leaders who you’ve personally known. What made them great in your eyes?

This blog is for those of us who want to make an impact as great leaders.

Before we begin our discussion of great leaders, we should agree on a definition.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s just say a leader is someone who gets things done by influencing others.

So what makes a leader “great?” The big point I want to make is that greatness is not the same as success, so a great leader is not the same as a successful leader.

I’m not saying that greatness and success are opposites, or that they’re even mutually exclusive. If they were, there would be no leaders who were both great and successful. But it’s important to note that there are great leaders who we would not think of as successful. Likewise, there are successful leaders who we would not consider great.

Here’s the big difference. We consider a leader successful because of high achievement. We measure them based on their accomplishments. And that’s a good and important thing.

But we consider a leader great because of the positive influence they’ve had on the lives of others. We measure them based on their character and care for others.

In Alaska, we’re accustomed to seeing icebergs from time to time, near our many glaciers. Icebergs are majestic and powerful floating structures. They can be the size of buildings! What some people don’t know is, 83 per cent of a floating iceberg is unseen, below the surface of the water. But what’s below the surface buoy’s up and supports the 17 per cent that is seen. iceberg

The life of a leader is much like the iceberg. Business and operational successes are easily seen, and get most of our attention as a result. But 83 per cent of great leadership is largely overlooked, because it is not readily seen without going deeper.

Like the iceberg, it’s the 83 per cent of the life of a leader that’s unseen which allows the 17 per cent that is seen to either “sink or swim.” Focusing on the 17 per cent above the surface can help you achieve success, which is important in any organization. But getting below the surface, focusing on the 83 per cent is how a leader begins the journey to greatness.

The world is in desperate need of great leaders of character; leaders who give more to their world than they take; leaders who care about investing in the next generation of leaders.

There are plenty of people offering advice on how to become more successful. Every five minutes there’s a new tweet in my Twitter feed telling me what successful people do. (Many of the articles contradict each other.) I read and apply some of them because I want to be more successful, as every leader should.

But I want to go beyond just being successful. I want to be a great leader. I hope you do too. But it doesn’t happen by accident. Going for greatness requires thinking differently than striving for success. That’s the conversation I want to create with the Great Leaders Blog- a conversation about what’s below the surface.

Until next time, here’s a paradigm to chew on. If we set our minds on being successful, we may or may not ever become great leaders. But if we set our minds on becoming great leaders, our definition of success may change, and we may find ourselves being more successful at what really matters than we ever dreamed.

For discussion:

  1. Think of a great leader who impacted your life. Tell someone about that impact, and why it makes that person great in your eyes.

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