Articles Tagged with: Leadership
Managing yourself

So much of leadership comes down to being able to manage yourself.

A number years ago I observed a person collapse under the stress of the leadership role he was in. You could tell when he was under stress. He would storm back and forth from the photocopier, muttering things under his breath as he went. He would express his views on the management of the organisation openly in his work area. He would be working late, but make it very clear that it was because the others weren’t carrying their weight.

It didn’t end well. He resigned, stating that it was all the organisation’s fault and the demands placed on him were unreasonable.

Why does it go well for some and not others? I reflected on this.

Leadership does place demands on you as a person. You are taking on extra responsibility. That isn’t easy. But you cannot begin to lead unless you know, and can manage yourself.

The best leaders never let on that they are stressed. They create a sense of calm that pervades the culture of the organisation. This helps people know that everything is, or will be ok, even in a crisis. Leaders who can do this well engender trust in them.

Great leaders are able to manage three areas of themselves:

  1. They can manage their emotions: Great leaders know themselves implicitly. They know what ‘pushes their buttons’ and how they respond in difficult situations. They have learnt to regulate their emotions like they can regulate their body temperature. They recognise when they are under stress, when they are not well, or are tired and have the wisdom to defer a decision, or empower someone else to step in if they are not at their peak.
  2. They manage their health (including sleep): Great leaders know that eating well, getting enough good sleep, and maintaining a good level of fitness helps in the management of stress. They know that a bit of time out exercising helps put things in perspective and creates some thinking and reflection time.
  3. They can manage their ego: Great leaders realise that leadership is not all about them; rather, it is about service. They know what they value and what their purpose in life is. They know that if those values and purpose are inward looking, i.e. all about ‘me’, they will never rise above mediocrity. Instead, if their values and purpose are based on a higher being, they will achieve greatness.

The last area, managing ego, is easier said than done. What does it mean to manage your ego? It means being willing to completely forgo the attention, the affirmation and the glory and readily offer it to another: true humility. In Jesus’ words, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

 

Toxic cultures

I heard a horrific story this morning. A fellow I was chatting to about leadership shared with me a story about his wife’s workplace. She works for a corporate in the city. Whenever a member of her team makes a mistake the boss emails all the staff highlighting the person’s error. This wasn’t a one off, but a regular practice of her leader.

Everyone who were listening to that small anecdote gasped. What is her boss trying to achieve by casting everyone’s glare on the one single person?

“So much for building trust,” muttered one person.

“It’s got to be all about control,” said another.

I was amazed, but not surprised. Poor leadership practices go unchecked because we are afraid to call them out for what they are: corrosive, soul destroying, all about the leader and his or her control and power.

There is another name for this type of behaviour: bullying.

I don’t doubt that there are plenty of other leadership practices that fall into this category, commonly used in workplaces because either the leader doesn’t know better; is under significant pressure themselves to achieve short-term targets; has been consumed with their own self-importance; and/or, doesn’t realise that to get the best out of people you have to trust them.

People suffer these practices in silence, frightened of the consequences if they do say something. In their minds the only solution is to either put up, or get out.

But if no one has the courage to call out leadership practices that are corrosive nothing will ever change. The leader will never have the opportunity to change their ways, to grow.

History, sadly, has plenty of examples of corrosive leadership practices that went unchecked and ended up with horrific consequences.

Just like our school days experiences, the bully continues bullying because we were too frightened to say something for fear of retaliation.

There is much at risk when it comes to calling out practices that go against every principle of good leadership, but in sharing experiences you can contribute to the learning of those wishing to be better.

I thanked the person for sharing his wife’s experience because it helped me check my own practice. When someone I lead does make a mistake, how to I handle it?

We can often learn more about leadership from bad examples than we do from people who are exemplary. Sadly, that’s because we take for granted those great at their job, but notice poor leadership like we notice foul air.

 

Parenting and leadership: interchangeable terms?

I have two grown up children, well, almost grown up. My son is 22 and my daughter is 20. Everyone said that they would grow up too quickly, and they did. I remember making my daughter promise that she would stop growing at age six, but she did anyway!

I look back on the early stages of their lives and wish I could relive it again. At the time I might not have thought so, but experience and hindsight are wonderful things.

Nobody gave us a handbook for parenting when our children were born; we kind of had to make it up as we went, remembering back to how our parents raised us and watching and learning from others more experienced.

As I reflect back on my last week as a leader I can see lots of similarities between being a good parent and a good leader. We can transfer many lessons between the two; for example:

It’s not all about you: your role as a parent is to raise an independent adult. Sometimes your child won’t like you. That’s ok. You are not their friend, you are their parent. A good parent knows it isn’t about your child liking you, and sometimes you won’t like them; but it is about you loving them regardless.

Good parents don’t play favourites: they are your children and you should never favour, or side with one over another. Your role is to show impartiality and wisdom when resolving issues between your children, helping them to grow and learn as a result of their conflict.

Great parents listen: they respect their children, valuing them as individuals, people who have a voice, ideas, passions and interests. Good parenting isn’t about creating a clone of you, but empowering them to live their own dreams.

Loving parents are willing to say sorry: It takes humility, but you have to be open to the possibility that on occasions your child may be right, and you’re the one in the wrong. Apologising isn’t a sign of weakness.

It’s about modelling: children learn far more from your actions than they do from your words. They see right through hypocrisy, but admire integrity.

Be the guide on the side: children don’t like being told what to do, particularly teenagers. They are quite capable, we don’t give them enough credit, and nine times out of ten they learn best from their mistakes. Failure is ok. Good parents are there not to judge, but to catch a child when they fall, helping them to bounce back and have another go.

And the most obvious, parents love each of their children: they know that their job is to care about every aspect of their children’s lives, not just their outward behaviour. They know that when their child is hurting they won’t be themselves in all other aspects of their life.

I hope I was a good parent to my children when they were growing up. I pray that the experience has made me a better leader to those entrusted to me now.

How does innovation occur?

When does innovation occur? Rarely, I would suggest. Most organisations don’t innovate unless they are threatened, out of necessity. If things are going along well why innovate?

The theory of the S Curve (or innovation curve) suggests that the performance of a product, or an organisation improves over time as you refine and get better at it. But then decay begins, followed by a rapid decline. We see examples of this all the time. Once great organisations disappear (think Kodak).

More often than not organisations fail to see the tipping point, the point at which their product reaches the end of its time in the spot light. Only when they realise that they are in decline (falling sales, falling enrolments, poor product reviews, etc.) do they realise that they have to innovate or perish.

The good organisations realise that they have to innovate before their current product reaches its pinnacle.

So how does innovation occur?

The secret is in your people.

When groups work well the result is usually a product of more than the sum of individual achievements.

Organisations that rely on the ‘hero’ CEO, or leader will only ever be as good as that single individual. The ideas that he/she generates will only be as great as that person’s imagination.

The role of the leader then, is not to generate the ideas, but to create the conditions for innovation to occur. Those conditions are simple. They have nothing to do with ‘innovation camps’, innovation hack-a-thons, programs or professional development, and everything to do with trust.

Humans are naturally creative beings. We all have imaginations. We love to dream. But when we come to work we leave the dreaming for lunchtime and get on with the business of our job. The boundaries for our work are put in place and reinforced with KPIs, accountability measures and deadlines (and for schools, league tables).

For innovation to occur the leader has to let go of control and allow people to dream, to ponder on the ‘what if’, and take risks with ideas that could at first glance, appear contrary to the organisation’s key objectives. Essentially, the leader has to create a culture of trust.

It is mind-blowing when the leader does this successfully. In high trust cultures people will willingly put in the extra effort. They will work harder. They will do their set job and generate new ideas and solutions. They do this because people love to create. They love to know that what they are doing is making a difference. They are naturally loyal, particularly to places that value and trust them.

How does innovation occur? It occurs when people are allowed to think, dream, take risks, try new things, collaborate and learn. When organisations realise that it is as simple as trusting their staff they will become amazing.

Is reputation everything?

When threatened our instinctive response is ‘fight or flight’. The emotion we experience is fear. This instinct not only kicks in when we are personally threatened, but when the organisation we work for is threatened.  The default position is to ‘protect reputation at all costs’. This is because we perceive reputation, both personal and organisational, to be our most important asset.

It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to destroy it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently. Warren Buffett

However, what happens if you are faced with a choice between protecting reputation or doing the right thing?

There are plenty of examples of the tension between doing the right thing and reputational protection. Volkswagen didn’t do the right thing when it made the conscious decision to cheat the emissions test on its diesel cars. Instead, it wanted to build its reputation as the world’s biggest car company.

Samsung is another example with its recent recall of the Galaxy 7 notebook. At enormous financial and perhaps reputational cost, they chose the right thing by recalling all the phones it had sold.

However, with the advent of social media companies are finding themselves forced to do the right thing. Would Samsung have recalled all those phones if there wasn’t such a public outcry? Up until the point of the recall a mere 35 phones out of the 1million+ sold had exploded into flames. Had they done sufficient testing to begin with, or were they, like Volkswagen, hoping to get away with it?

There are plenty of examples where people and organisations have done wrong and tried (successfully or otherwise) to ‘sweep it under the carpet’ in order to protect their reputation. This is done out of fear; fear that if they don’t protect reputation there will be loss of face, loss of business, and consequences that will have to be borne. In these instances protection of reputation more often than not involves deceit.

We have seen examples of this played out in the way institutions in Australia (and across the world) responded to allegations of sexual abuse towards children. When a young person did have the courage to speak out they were beaten into submission for the protection of the organisation’s reputation. The loss of an individual’s potential (and sometimes life) seemed inconsequential to those in leadership roles.

It takes enormous courage when faced with the choice between doing the right thing or protecting reputation, particularly if it means admitting that you were wrong. But great leaders are more interested in integrity than reputation. They are more interested in the other person than themselves.

Real integrity is doing the right thing, knowing that nobody’s going to know whether you did it or not. Oprah Winfrey

Nelson Mandela said, “I have learned that courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”.

When faced with the choice, to do the right thing or protect reputation, what would you do? Would you allow your natural fight or flight instinct to rule you, or will you conquer your fear and do the right thing, even if it may mean reputational damage? Great leaders hold integrity far above reputation.