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Dean Harbry’s Leadership Influence Blog

Balanced Leaders

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

In history we highlight leaders that were effective, and therefore we admire them. But the real question is how did their followers see them? Getting things done as a single measure is no sign of success if dead bodies are left trailing behind the one who led them. But, does it have to be one way or the other? Can we focus on relationships and get the needed results? The data suggests that a relational protocol, and a coach approach to managerial leadership, is quite effective in getting the best of results.

I’ve long maintained that there are two aspects of leadership: visionary and managerial. The suggestion that leader and manager fit into two separate categories is simply a convenient way to explain away executive shortcoming. It’s true that individuals will tilt either one way or the other, but this should only direct us to the place where we need to work on ourselves, to be a true, rounded professional. It is very possible to develop the missing element in one’s leadership style. This is what Jim Collins calls the “Level 5 Leader.”

Visionary leaders focus on the big picture, while managerial leaders focus on people. Strong visionary leaders who lack managerial skill will create a lot of enthusiasm, but will fall short when addressing human need through proper incentives and delegation. Strong managerial leaders who lack visionary qualities will organize the work well, but for what purpose? People need a strong connection to something bigger to have a sense of purpose. This is how humans are made and as such we must meet those needs to be an effective organizational leader. Food without water or water without food doesn’t suffice to nourish the human body—the same principle is true for the human soul.

To be a balanced leader with the right mixture of results and relationships, we must have:

1- Discipline. When I was in High School, I was strong in math and not in English, so I had to work hard to gain what was lacking to make a good grade average. If you have a particularly strong bent at one aspect of leadership and not at the other, effort must be applied to gain and incorporate what’s missing. We understand and address shortfalls in all other parts of life.

2- Accountability. It’s not enough to be a self-study in this area. Developing balance oftentimes requires outside help, and there are a number of effective options. Some choose to establish a feedback council of peers and direct reports, or engage a coach to receive the needed feedback. Without other’s perspectives to provide objectivity we’ll acquire what Daniel Goleman calls “CEO Disease.”

3- Input. If you think you’ve “arrived” you are dead in the water, no matter how long you’ve been a leader. There is always more to learn, and more effective ways to gain leverage and influence. We should always have a mentor and be well read. All professional athletes have coaches. Jeff Immelt, CEO of GE once said, “leadership is an intense journey into yourself. It’s a commitment and an intense journey into your soul.” He’s right.

Pride is the only thing that prevents us from seeing ourselves as we ought. Humility, on the other hand, helps us to understand our own shortcomings and is by far the biggest factor in becoming a balanced leader. If we’ve learned the secret of how to get things done through the active support of others, we are on our way to being a true professional leader.

Coaching questions: What’s your leadership style, results or relationships? What steps can you take to round out the weaker competency and become a more effective leader? Write your answers in your journal.

Practice Healthy Detachment

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

In today’s society there are as many opportunities to spend emotional energy as there are to spend money. And, like money, we typically have a limited budget. What’s different is that when we need more in the immediate, we don’t have the option to charge it on a credit card and borrow from someplace else. This emphasizes the need to spend emotional resources much more wisely. And, to the degree we get hooked emotionally by everyday circumstances, we drain ourselves and throw this precious resource down a rat hole. If we truly have the ability to maintain composure during difficult times, we are growing in executive presence. And, just for the record, quiet people with no visible evidence of anger or frustration are just as prone to this trap, as it all just happens on the inside.

A true professional understands this need to maintain composure and does his or her best to apply the principles of healthy detachment, which defined is the ability to stand back, see circumstances more objectively, and suspend judgment until all other possibilities have been considered. My wife and I bought a house recently, and as we walked through our new place, just hours before the closing, we noticed that some work was not complete according to the contract. Our realtor was visibly upset and I wanted to get mad too. I caught myself just in time and out of sheer choice said, “There may be a reason why.” It turned out the work was scheduled for that day and all was complete by the time we moved in. I saved myself the embarrassment of a false accusation by giving the benefit of the doubt (this time, at least).

How does this principle apply at work? Since, as organizational leaders, we are expected to have good judgment in decision-making, we are therefore surprisingly accustomed to being “the judge” and making fast decisions. The problem with this tendency is that using judgment in business decision-making is quite different than judging in personal circumstances. The first is objective, the second is subjective, and they must not be confused. No-one knows the heart and intents of other people, which creates the wildcard. If we are quick to judge other’s intentions and actions, by making assumptions without pausing to consider the possibilities, we’ll either repeatedly offer apologies to those around us, or leave the perception that we are severe, unapproachable people. In both cases we lose the active support of those around us–our influence wanes.

Here are some tips to maintain healthy detachment when circumstances tempt us:

1- Suspend judgment. Whenever we make a judgment, we rule out all other possibilities. Oftentimes snap judgments are rooted in difficult emotions. The antidote for being judgmental is to choose to be curious. Curiosity has the quality of being amused by the unknown, certain that there is always something to be learned. The absence of judgment creates an opportunity to explore and expand our personal insights. It helps us to maintain emotional balance.

2- Consider the possibilities. Ask yourself the coaching question, “What are the possibilities?” Think hard about the answers to this question. Your summary should include both good reasons and bad ones to be fair and thorough. This exercise tends to create clarity of mind and will give you the opportunity to show grace. Rarely do we make good judgments, and therefore decisions, when affected by negative emotions–this process puts difficult emotions at bay, temporarily.

3- Make the best informed decision. Having set emotion aside and now able to see the bigger picture, choose an option that makes the most sense, but one that is seasoned with grace. Personally, I would rather be wrong by giving grace and adjust accordingly than to be judgmental and miss the mark most of the time. It conserves emotional energy, and shows the benefit of the doubt.

Know that healthy detachment is a major component of executive presence, and improves a person’s judgment, therefore his or her decision-making. As a side note, this same principle works just as well in the home with spouses, teenagers and neighbors.

Coaching questions: When are you tempted most to make snap judgments? How can you convert those instances into opportunities to practice healthy detachment? Write your answers in your journal.

True Leaders

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

What are the beliefs and the behaviors of true leaders? With so many people articulating different views, it’s hard to decipher a universal model upon which everyone would agree. Some people believe in the “end-justifies-the-means” approach suggested by the likes of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of “The Prince,” while others relate to the more servant-leader approach articulated by Jim Collins’ in his book, “Good to Great.” We could easily move to a debate about what’s ethical versus effective, and totally miss the fact that all leaders work with human beings who possess the facilities of mind, will and emotions, rather than the hoped-for robots that respond to commands with precise execution and blind obedience.

The bottom line is this: those leaders who focus on winning the active support of those they lead, utilizing wholesome influence skills, historically have better results than those who use the coercive, stern discipline approach, supported by shame and humiliation, to get people to act. Anyone I know, if asked to choose between William Wallace and Adolph Hitler to be their leader, would align with William Wallace based on his ability to lead from the front and inspire his people, and, whose dedication and love for his men were clearly known and demonstrated. So what guidance does this provide for us in our quest to become true leaders?

True and good leaders are those who have the ability and energy to sacrifice for a cause greater than themselves, while focusing on the welfare of those under their charge, leaving their own personal concerns and desires for last. This choice and lifestyle is professional behavior, and not something one arrives at easily—anything less than this is something other than true leadership. If our motive for becoming a leader is rooted in a desire for power and/or money (cast as “career growth”), we will likely harm our people and the overall cause, doing ourselves no good in the end. The proper motivation for leadership is rooted in the discipline of service. And, while we may fool ourselves regarding our true motives and desires, they will be crystal clear to everyone else.

Here is a good prescription to follow, to make sure we are walking down the right path.

1- Do justice. Do right by the company and its clients, as well as your staff. When there are tensions between any of these constituencies, ask yourself the question: What creates a fair, win-win for all concerned? Don’t be satisfied with anything less. If someone is misbehaving in some way, violating the principle of justice, move toward them in a spirit of wholesome conflict and stand strong. Follow the principles of justice and fairness.

2- Love mercy. The way to get people to act as a volunteers, and serve with a whole heart, is to adopt a development mindset and avoid being accusational or judgmental. Being judgmental harms people, regardless of your intention. Most people are eager to learn when given a true opportunity in a safe environment. Just because someone can’t read your mind doesn’t mean they are intentionally trying to make your life hard.

3- Walk humbly. The egotistical leader is a total turnoff to almost all followers. For those who embrace the narcissistic model, people will bemoan their leadership. Don’t assume that you are exempt from this pitfall. We can’t see pride in the mirror. If you’ve made it about you (put yourself in the center) and fail to truly serve your people with whatever degree of power you have, you’ll never have the respect and therefore the sacrificial volunteerism of your people. If you make it about them, versus making it about you, they’ll follow you forever.

Coaching questions: Where might you need to grow in your own motivations and therefore in your leadership skill? Who can help you to manage that growth and provide accountabilities for your success? Write your answers in your journal.

Good Leadership, Bad Leadership: What’s the Difference?

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

In today’s world we look to people who have been successful for leadership insights. We inherently want to know what will make us successful, believing that good leadership is the key ingredient. Yet, this assumption can lead us astray if we are not discerning about the quality of one’s character and the application of wholesome leadership principles. After all, rather infamous people in history have been successful, and yet as history reveals, were very dark and ruthless in their practices, using people more like utilities than seeing them as individuals with families and a life of their own.

Good leadership can be measured by the quality of the followers we attract, and their overall disposition and personal states. If we think we are good leaders, yet those who report to us curse us when removed from our presence, then we are mistaken. This is why 360 assessments and Feedback Councils can help us to know where we stand, as we can receive direct feedback from others and avoid what Daniel Goleman calls “CEO disease,” in his book, “Primal Leadership.”

These are the foundational principles of good leadership:

1- Humility: making it about others and not ourselves. Having the charity of heart to make corporate goals and other’s success first before our own needs, wants and reputation.

2- Care and Concern: leaders have the fearful accountability to do right by other human beings. If we are more takers than givers in a leader/manager relationship, we’ve placed ourselves first and have limited our ability to provide care and concern for our staff. Leadership means sacrifice, putting others first. Watch any old war movie for clarity on this concept.

3- Matched Presence: this is another way of saying integrity, but without the hackneyed and shallow understanding of the word. Matched presence means that our personal presence and our professional presence are the same, in other words, the way we behave in private and the way we act in public are identical, creating authentic, transparent people; ones with integrity.

The biggest barrier to becoming good leaders is the belief that we are good leaders. When we surround ourselves with others who will only give us the good news (usually because we make it unsafe to do otherwise), and we fail to look inward at our own internal inconsistencies and injustices, or treat the people who are closest to us with the least respect, these are all indicators that something is awry.

Becoming a good leader is a lifelong quest, but the journey only begins when we are ready to be honest with ourselves, and with others, and recognize that we are a long way off from being who we should be. The road to being a good leader is indeed a lifelong journey, with many hazards and constant course corrections along the way. There is no other true path.

Coaching questions: Where in your self evaluation have you not been so honest with yourself about your need to grow and develop as a professional leader? What steps can you take to get candid input about the quality of your leadership, including your areas of need?

Team Performance

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

In the process of doing business, we need people to perform their jobs in skillful ways and within specific timeframes. At the same time many of the deadlines we face, combined with increasing workload, puts timely execution at risk due to human limitations. Amateur manager types ignore these tensions by simply saying “yes” to more work and then by making more demands of his people without respect to human resource needs. We all face times of stress and pressure, yet a lack of proper planning and knowledge of human limits will create morale issues and undermine execution. To develop high performing teams, as professional managers, we must build trust and earn the respect of our workforce by carefully balancing human effort and corporate initiatives. When stretch assignments surface, we have the opportunity to either inspire or coerce our staff to go the extra mile. Inspiration uses encouragement as a foundation, while coercion uses shame as a motivator. When inspired and supported by their leaders, people have the ability to achieve surprising results. Coaching questions: How do you balance corporate needs with available staff resources? What steps can you take to build trust and respect with your team, and inspire performance?

Succession

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

At work we all like to be seen as the knowledge expert and a key contributor, which is an important motivation as we grow in our own vocational skill. But, once we arrive at the executive ranks, we need to think about and plan for our eventual exit to address corporate sustainability needs. True professionals have the insight to see that business continuity is much more essential to corporate health than being the daily genius-at-work and command-and-control leader. Its relevance is tantamount to preparing a will that guides a family when one is incapacitated or reposed. Attention to succession issues affirms an abundance mindset but more importantly demonstrates a commitment to fiduciary responsibilities. The primary job of a leader is to work his way out of a job. Professional behavior dictates that we groom others and offer them opportunities to learn and excel. At the height of his career Jack Welch said, “From now on, choosing my successor is the most important decision I’ll make. It occupies a considerable amount of thought almost every day,” and this, many years before his departure. Coaching questions: Have you adequately prepared for your succession? How can you effectively replicate yourself in others?

Curiosity

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

The stronger and deeper we build relationships, the more able we become to achieve great works. To create such bonds requires empathy—the ability to vicariously experience the thoughts and feelings of others, using that information to prime our questioning and conversational exchange with others. Add compassion to empathy and intimacy results, whether in romantic or mentoring relationships. The way we build empathy is by choosing to be curious and allowing curiosity to become our framework for learning. Curiosity is the state of mind where no judgment exists but contains intrigue, experimentation and the absence of fear. The age-old anecdote states that “curiosity killed the cat,” however, this characteristic is why we have affection for kittens. Curiosity is both amusing and life-giving when we see it in others, yet there is one more saving quality about curiosity—it’s the antidote for being judgmental. When we make judgments about others or circumstances, we rule out all other possibilities. Curiosity is what aids us to suspend judgment, consider possibilities, and arrive at a more reasonable conclusion. Curiosity makes a person pleasant and more trustworthy. Coaching questions: Do you allow curiosity to guide you? What steps can you take to be more curious?

Inspiration

Tuesday, December 4th, 2012

Changing one’s mind can be a sign of indecision, but this process is also the foundation for human change. Converting firm hardships into challenging opportunities helps our staff to “see it differently” and produces different behaviors in them. If we perceive our job as merely telling our employees what to do and then expect them to take initiative, we take them for granted and fail to provide internal motivation created by inspiration. We undermine our own success. When we choose to be inspirational leaders, our workers become conscripted volunteers in a march against mediocrity, willing to go the extra mile. Only then can we hope to be a high performing team. In the absence of inspiration our staff will be deprived of emotional energy, the fuel of the human soul. If you were preparing for your first jump as a fledgling skydiver, what would you want the door man to say to you as you take that final step? Our words matter. And, our staff’s level of emotional energy is directly tied to the amount of inspiration we provide for them. Coaching questions: What grade would you give yourself as an inspirational leader? What steps can you take to improve?

Wounds

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

There are both good and bad wounds. To remove a tumor a surgeon must first incise his patient to reach the foreign tissue. He wounds in order to heal. On the other hand the careless use of knives creates injuries that are harmful and unnecessary. Similarly, our communications with others are like sharp scalpels that have the capacity to heal or harm based on our intent and skill in delivery. The words, gestures and actions of authority figures are particularly powerful, which is why management responsibilities should only be given to those who understand and properly use wholesome human incentives. Whatever happens at work, people take home—like pollen on a bee, employees will transmit either healing or harm to their families. Over time, skilled professional managers will deliberately wound their staff, providing direct feedback and speaking the truth in love, to help them gain awareness and grow as professionals. It’s healing. However, any display of negative emotions including anger, frustration or intimidation will actually harm others, requiring them to muster emotional strength to counter its affects. Coaching questions: Do your words, gestures and actions produce healing or harm in others? How can you be more intentional to ensure healing?

Declare Intentions

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

We can say just about anything we want to another person if we do it the right way. Choosing our words carefully is important because method trumps message 100% of the time. Our ability to say more, and convey deeper thoughts and feelings, is a function of our influence skills. Being vulnerable, having the right motives, and removing barrier-producing inhibitions create deeper, more transparent relationships. To the degree we are not able to say what we feel means we are limited in our ability to be intimate and to participate in discussion. Speaking the truth in love is evidence of true commitment. If we seek to be understood, others will need to know why we are saying what we are saying. When we convey sensitive information or difficult feedback, we need to be clear about our motives by declaring our intentions so that others are not left to guess. As the old saying goes, “In the absence of information, people make it up.” Leaving others to guess is a sure way to create misunderstandings. Coaching questions: Do you hold back from saying what you feel because you fear you’ll be misunderstood? What steps can you take to clarify your intentions?

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