August 2016

You Can't Bully your Way into Leadership

We all knew them growing up. Bullies. Whether they were forcing their opinions on us in the classroom or they were telling us how to enjoy the playground, these people felt that they had somehow been divinely appointed as "in charge." They developed core belief structures that told them if they handled a situation heavy-handed enough, they would prevail. These same people carried these cognitive models into adulthood and use them daily at work. Some of you may be coping with them at this very moment. Just because they are louder, more opinionated, and sometimes down right mean, doesn't make these people leaders. A good leader doesn't have to beat you over the head with their title or their position. Good leaders are a combination of several things — talent and skill, context, and most of all opportunity. They can't just profess it and someone can't just bestow it upon them.

Leadership talent and skill are those qualities that so many people like to profess that they have. The talent to lead is innate. Some of us are just born with the ability to be what is needed in the moment (more about that later). The skill comes in developing that talent. Talented leaders develop a keen sense of awareness about themselves, how they affect those around them, and they develop a keen awareness of their environment. All of these things work to make them a good leader. This heightened awareness allows them to inspire, to motivate, and to serve those who need them.

Context is the circumstance in which leaders find themselves. There is a need for someone to lead. Even great leaders are sidelined when the context calls for autonomous groups and individual leadership is unnecessary. People need to want to be led because of some difficulty of situation. Perhaps a project is behind or over budget. There may be highly talented people who want someone to pull things together and help them find their best. There may even be those who can't see beyond the next few weeks and they need someone to give them a vision of what the future looks like beyond that horizon. All of these situations, and many others, are the context in which a good leader can develop.

Finally, good leaders know when the opportunity to lead presents itself. They are aware of the context, they are aware of what's needed, and they're ready to provide that. They seize the opportunity to share their vision for the future, to motivate others to find their greatest potential, and to inspire team members to work together to achieve a common goal. The term, "Leader," has become ubiquitous. People use that term to describe someone who's actually in charge of a process. If one is just ticking the boxes — one is just in charge and not necessarily leading. When we see talent and skill, context, and opportunity all come together, that's when we see great leaders arise.

So leadership is not something bestowed or even forced. It's when talented people answer the call of opportunity within the right context. It allows us all to be inspired to our personal best. Don't let the bullies get you down. Take a minute to know who's actually leading. It may not be about their title or their position, it may just be about how they treat others when given the opportunity to help. Great leaders will always know when the opportunity calls. Don't let anyone bully you into believing something else.

Little Beginnings

There is a certain excitement in the air this week. It's back to school time! Even if you don't have children or your children are gown and have flown the nest, you can't help but see the flurry of activity around getting back to school — even if it's punctuated by brake lights on your way to work. There is so much anticipation built up around this time. Some little ones will be starting school for the very first time and others will be heading back to a familiar routine. New beginnings are a great time to take stock of how we plan to approach things. Perhaps the approach we used in the past stopped working for us and we're ready to try something new. Any time there is a stark demarkation in time, it's easier to let things go and pick up something new and fresh. But what if we didn't need grand beginnings? Perhaps it only takes a little beginning — a little shift — to make successful changes in our lives and the way we work. These little beginnings are delivered to us each and every morning.

Whether its over coffee, on your commute, or just in your favorite chair, use your morning time to acknowledge and accept these little beginnings and use them as a chance to change your perspective or to create an idea that is totally new. We can all be stuck in our favorite approaches to doing things. I would venture to say they even get more sticky as we get older. So many of us like things "just so." But sometimes "just so" doesn't really work anymore. Sometimes the approach you've taken time and time again fails and you're left wondering why it didn't work. On occasion you're even a bit bitter because you think it
should work. So you try and try again. The world may have shifted while you weren't looking and the rules of engagement have changed.

Little beginnings are a chance to let go of outmoded thinking. In our quiet time we can release those thoughts and habits that are no longer working for us and embrace something new. At times they may be too complex or too difficult to let go of alone, so a coach may be necessary to help us through. Nonetheless, the little beginnings are there every morning. Challenge yourself to see things differently. Change your perspective. Decide that you'll invite collaboration. Keep in mind that even new approaches may not always work. Sometimes residual thinking gets in the way. Just remember that tomorrow holds a new little beginning. Adapt. Embrace change so that you can engage life in the most positive of ways.

Every evening reminds us that the day is done. Our choices have been made. As we reflect on them and celebrate the choices that gave us joy, we should also take stock of the choices that didn't. We should take stock of those choices that brought us anxiety, disappointment, or even sadness. Those choices are ripe for a little beginning. With each sunrise we are delivered an amazing gift — to live and to lead differently than we did the day before.

Workin' a Half-Day!

I've always had a very strong work ethic. If you've ever met my parents or any of my grandparents when they were alive, you'd understand why. I come from a long line of people who like to get things done and who believe that any job worth doing is worth doing well. I also grew up with a strong sense of needing to take care of myself so that I could focus on the work at hand. Whether this meant taking time away from work to go to the doctor, or just taking a day to stay home and recover from a nasty bug, I always tried to make sure I stayed at my best. Early in my career when I was working at one of Austin's many tech companies, I came across someone who really opened my eyes to how so many people work. She was my first experience with what I call "list bloat." She was very busy doing many things that were of little consequence yet highly visible. She may have been productive — but not truly producing the right work. I've seen this over and over again in my career. She kept adding to her to-do list and checking off lots of un-important things. For her, a long to-do list was a badge of honor.

This particular person had an office just down the hall from me. The break area was across the hall from both of us. One afternoon I was putting some dishes away in the dishwasher and had my laptop bag ready to head out for the day. It was right at 5 o'clock. She looked at me and half-jokingly said, "Working a half-day are ya?" I just stared blankly at her. "I'll be here another three hours. So much to get done. It must be nice to head out early," she added.

What she didn't know was that I had been there since 6 a.m. for a conference call with our EMEA offices. I had put in a full day paying attention those things that were important like expanding our sales offices in that region. I've always prioritized my work using an Eisenhower Box. I felt good about my day because I had spent most of it in the top left box — those things that are both urgent and important. I would find out later that those three hours she was about to add to her day would be doing work from what I would have put in the lower right hand box — neither urgent nor important. For her, it was all about optics. There was no extra money for her staying late, just the ability to tell us all how many extra hours she worked all the time. It became her mantra and consequently because of her relationship with the VP, became the yard stick by which we were all judged. Ultimately it didn't matter how significant the work was that one did, it only mattered how much time one spent doing it.

As leaders, this is something to which we need to be very attuned. We need to acknowledge and support boundaries in those who work with us. Good leaders of professionals (in general — I realize that the model has to flex for other job types,) manage to the work and not to the time. A good, clear job description is the foundation and helps to define what is expected. The salary that a company pays is really for the work as outlined in the job description — the results. Time and time again I've coached managers on how to manage based on results and not on time in the office. Granted, time in the office is a fallback because it is easy to measure and judge. If you're managing correctly, you'll know what the results should be and when you're getting your money's worth. This type of management is key to the success of any program that allows staff to work from anywhere, allows for open PTO plans, and allows for true time away as a new parent. Knowing what you expect from a role can allow for boundaries while a staff member is taking leave. They deserve protection from assignments and general organization chatter while they're taking their leave.

How do you prioritize work as a leader? Do you have a handle on what is or what is not productive? Have you ever used the term, "Working a half-day?" These are all questions to work through when trying to understand the boundaries that we need to support as leaders. We need to understand what our specific work expectations are — not how many hours we'd like to see people in the office. People have to feel comfortable having time to themselves. When all is said and done the question should never be, "How much extra time did you give?" But instead the question should be, "What are the important things that got done?"

A Solid Foundation

We spend so much of our time looking outward. By that, I mean that we see the world more than we see ourselves. We look after others, manage teams, and delver work for our boss. By getting caught up in all of this, we miss out on one of the most important things that should be in our focus — ourselves. There is nothing more important than ensuring the foundations we stand upon are strong and caring for ourselves. We cannot give unless we give from a place of abundance.

We often forget to really see ourselves. We allow others to project on us their idea of who we should be. At times we fail to take a stand against our own behaviors that can be detrimental to us or erode our ability to be successful. We put up with bad habits that have become so ingrained that we fear we cannot leave them behind. All of these things can come together and prevent us from looking inward. These things prevent us from taking stock and understanding what our firm-footing really is. Without really looking at ourselves, we begin to believe what we see in the shadows we cast. We become limited in what we understand and believe about ourselves. We allow people to diminish us and to cause us to feel less than we really are.

So how do we begin to lay a proper foundation? It starts with understanding our own values and what we want from this life. By clearly understanding our values, we can then begin to understand what we're allowing to happen in our lives that we shouldn't. Those little things that creep in, rob our energy, and wear down our self-confidence. Being in touch with our values helps us start to set boundaries. Boundaries are so very important. They keep the energy drains at bay. Boundaries prevent others from diminishing us and pulling us down. Boundaries protect us from ourselves and foolish behaviors we've allowed to go unchecked.

Standing on a firm foundation allows us to begin to really care for ourselves. We can see what we need and nurture our souls. A well cared for soul is a grateful soul and a soul in abundance. When we have our needs met, we can then work to meet the needs of others and give freely of that which overflows within us.

What does any of this have to do with work or leadership you may ask? Everything. When we lead, we have to lead from a firm foundation. We have to lead by really understanding ourselves so that we can understand others. Leadership requires not only understanding, but patience, an open mind, and wisdom. How does your foundation look?