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Hi, friends.

One thing we all need to pay attention to in 2017 is how we are going to grow our organizations- financially, intellectually, physically, relationally, and strategically. Even in a tough economy (and ESPECIALLY in a tough economy), we must invest wisely WITH the capital we have IN the capital we have. Wise executives remember that the most strategic capital we have is our LEADERSHIP capital. It’s hard to replace if it leaves, and it’s hard to recover after it’s been neglected.

In tough economic times, one of the first things to go is investment in people. But we all know that’s foolish and short-sighted. One of the most high payoff investments you can make while you’re waiting for economic recovery is consistent, regular investment in growing your LEADERSHIP capital. Better leadership skills means better communication, less conflict, more motivation and employee engagement, better time management and less stress. All of those together mean maximum productivity with your limited resources, and an edge on your competition.

I’m investing heavily in the best resources available to provide your organization with the maximum value for your leadership development dollars. Times are tough, and I’m carrying my share of the burden by making leadership capital investment financially feasible for your organization.

Bottom line: Consistent investment in your leaders costs you a lot less than the outcomes of neglecting your leadership development.

Let me show you how economical it can be to get the most out of your organization’s leadership capital. Call or email me to set up a free consultation, and let’s discuss partnering together to meet your leadership development needs.

Here’s to a very productive 2017!

Jay Pullins

Great leaders know themselves well enough to know, and have the humility to admit, that they don’t have all of the skills they need to be at their best for those they lead, and they care enough to make the effort to improve.

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Great Leaders Stand

September 20, 2016 — 5 Comments

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It’s concerning to watch the trend among football players who feel it’s appropriate to take a knee in protest when our National Anthem is played before their sporting events. This week I was discouraged to see in the news that a few high school football players in my city decided to follow the example of the athletes they look up to.

I’ll be the first to defend their right to do this. Many of my friends, relatives and I spent careers and beyond sacrificing so that they could have that right.

I’m not even concerned about the slap in the face that these protests represent to those who defended these so-called “professional” athletes’ freedom. The warriors who fought for those rights can take the slap in the face.

But I wouldn’t blame these athletes’ bosses for exercising their freedom to fire them for demonstrating toxic leadership and pathetic sportsmanship. And I wouldn’t blame their fans for exercising their freedom to find a different team to support that models character, sportsmanship, and courageous leadership.

For 26 years, I put on my own team’s uniform and stepped onto the field in the company of heroes. We stood at attention and saluted our flag with pride. We weren’t naive about the problems in our country, and they were many. And we didn’t always agree with our country’s policies. Why did we do this? Because our country needs leaders who will defend what’s good, leaders who unify rather than divide, leaders who model for others what is admirable. We didn’t think about how we could bring attention to ourselves. We asked how we could unify and encourage our team, and make our families proud of us. That’s what great leaders do.

I understand that these athletes believe they are creating awareness of an important problem in our country. But they are actually drawing more attention to themselves than to a cause, exactly the opposite of what a sportsman should be focused on before a game.

Awareness of the problems in our country is not what is lacking. We all know that the problem of a few bad apples in the police force is one piece of a very complex problem in our country. But the same could be said for some bad apples in the Air Force and in the NFL. The problem is a lack of personal responsibility for modeling the character we want to see in others. And taking a knee in disrespect for our country is not helping anyone. To leaders who choose disrespect as their solution, I ask: Is this really the way you want to lead the young people who look up to you? Do you really want to be remembered for your role in chipping away at the already eroding unity we’re experiencing in this country?

OK, that was a lot of challenge. Let me offer some encouragement. Great leaders wake up in the morning asking how they can help others today, how they can unify and encourage their teams and those who look up to them, and how they can model the good they want to see in others.

In contrast to passive aggressive, toxic leadership behavior, check out this news story about a Michigan high school football team who suited up their water boy who has Down Syndrome and set him up to score a touchdown during their game. (Caution: It may choke you up.)

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In my years in the military I’ve had friends who were members of elite fighting forces, like Navy Seals and Para-Rescue Jumpers. They were members of small elite groups that very few people could qualify to be a part of. They had specialized skills and an incredible level of commitment to their specialties. Very few of us could keep up with them if we had to. The demands of their job required that only the most capable could be part of their group. I’ve known really great people who tried to join them but just did not make the cut.

I’ve also known commanders of very large Air Force and Army units. Their organizations were made up of people at various levels of proficiency. They commanded organizations that were designed for almost everyone, not just for the elite. So their leadership style had to be quite different. They had to figure out the proper pace to move the organization so that everyone could keep up. The motto was often, “No man (or woman) left behind.” In my opinion, this is the greater of the two leadership challenges, and requires a more people-savvy leader.

While some organizations require leadership of extremely talented specialists, most of our organizations require us to lead a variety of everyday people and grow their skills on the job. And most leaders must learn to bring everyone along with them (with the exception of an occasional person who just needs to be let go). They learn the art of moving at a pace where teams can stay together and everyone can keep up.

Here are some advantages of an inclusive style of leadership.

First, great leaders consider how they can leverage their leadership to develop more leaders. Inclusive leaders help others reach their full potential and maximize their contribution to the organization. Besides just being a good way to treat people, it has very practical benefits.

Inclusive leadership builds engagement and loyalty to the leader and to the organization. And employee engagement and loyalty are proven to result in increased productivity and profitability. Our people want to be developed and grow in their capacity. That won’t happen if they’re left behind in our dust.

Inclusive leadership helps retain our best employees and grow our organizations’ leadership bench, giving us more options for promotions and succession planning. It also reduces the high cost of unnecessary employee turnover.

Inclusive leaders also make a greater contribution to society by producing more leaders and a more capable workforce. A stronger workforce is great for our economy, and producing better leaders is good for marriages, families, communities and our country.

Let’s improve our own capacities as leaders to set a challenging but reasonable pace for our organizations, learn to train and coach our people and increase their capacity, motivate people to excel at what they bring to the table, and celebrate and reward accomplishment of clear, reasonable goals.

For discussion:

  1. Are your people able to keep up with the demands of your organization? Are they able to maintain healthy work habits while still being held accountable to meeting organizational goals?
  1. Do you model a healthy pace for those you lead?

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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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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.