About David Spungin

David understands how effective leadership generates success. He holds a degree in Leadership Development from the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Master of Science in Organization Development from American University. A combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he now consults to primarily Fortune 500 companies and has worked with clients that include Google, U.S. Marine Corps, Schlumberger, and Facebook. He is recognized for his ability to quickly assess an organization's culture, develop creative learning designs, and facilitate highly engaging training events. David holds expertise in the EQ-i 2.0, MBTI, DiSC, and PMAI behavioral assessments, as well as in non-verbal (somatic) communication. Additionally, he is a graduate of the Executive Coaching program offered through Newfield Network and an International Coaching Federation (ICF) certified coach.

“Soft Power” – Leading Without Authority

Bear FaceHave you ever tried leading a person or a group without any formal authority to fall back on? For many, this is one of the greatest leadership challenges we might face. Without the traditional “carrot or stick” to help get things done, we can feel powerless and limited in our ability to influence. Yet, some people seem to thrive in these situations and we admire their ability to still get things accomplished. I call this demonstration of applied emotional intelligence—leveraging “soft power.” So what are the secrets of “soft power” and how can we use it to accomplish both individual and team objectives? Here are three ideas to consider.

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  1. Give Power to Others. When working in groups where the formal power dynamics are flat, it is important to recognize that everyone is subconsciously “racking and stacking” one another and creating their own personal hierarchy. This evolutionary process is deeply ingrained within all humans and allowed us to organize ourselves for survival. Expect that there will be power plays as group members test to see where they fit in the group. Instead of allowing these dynamics to naturally unfold, tactfully intervene and try to facilitate a space where everyone’s voice gets heard. Rather than leading with your opinion, ask for input from others and encourage quieter voices to speak up. Insist on mutual respect for all team members. In creating a space for power to be shared, others will trust in you more and naturally give you an informal leadership role.

Create Space to Listen Deeply

2. Actively Listen. When we hold formal authority, we are frequently directing and telling others what needs to be done in order for the team to be successful. Thus, managers tend to get really good with their directing skills, often to the neglect of practicing their listening skills. In a power flat relationship, it is the better listener who will assume leadership. Use techniques like mirroring back what you heard and asking meaningful questions to gain further clarification. When others feel you are a great listener, they are more likely to trust you and hence give you referent power, which is the highest base of power a leader can access.

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3. Serve & Synergize. In power flat relationships, the synergistic details that lead to better teamwork can often be neglected as everyone stays in their personal lanes of responsibility. To be seen as a leader in a team, hunt down the resources that everyone knowingly needs, but no one finds the courage or the time to make a priority. Or perhaps you might seek out the management/stakeholder feedback needed to make the team work better, and then act as a liaison in making the team more aware. Make it your priority to help others succeed. These small acts of service will increase your value to the team and others will intuitively begin to seek out your leadership.

Leading a team without formal authority can often feel like a daunting challenge. Yet, when we smartly recognize the group dynamics at play and practice the use of “soft power,” we provide the leadership necessary to achieve results. The next time you are leading without formal authority, try using some of the above ideas to influence others… you might be surprised at how persuasive you can become!

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

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3 Leadership Lessons from Dr. Seuss

Many of you may not know this about me, but I have four young kids ranging from one to ten years old. As a family, we enjoy reading a lot of children’s books together and over the years, we’ve determined a few favorites. At the top of our list are several books written by Dr. Seuss. His rhymes are fun to read, and the brightly colored illustrations capture their imagination. I’ve also noticed that some of his stories carry a wonderful leadership message within them. A message that many adults could stand to revisit. Here are three of my favorites:

1.      Yertle the Turtle – These are King Yertle’s famous last words. Just a few pages later, we find him falling from his great height, face first in the mud, never to rule again. How did the once proud and mighty king end up like this? Well, he wasn’t grateful for the wonderful kingdom he already had and became overly ambitious. Leveraging his positional power for his personal benefit, he literally walks on the backs of his subordinates to make himself more magnificent. Meanwhile, he treats his people with great disrespect. If you’ve been in the workforce for more than a day, you have probably met your own personal Yertle somewhere in your career. Leadership lesson…don’t be King Yertle! Instead, embrace humility as a leader and use your power to serve, rather than exploit, others.

2.      The Sneetches – Oh those silly Sneetches! Always trying to outdo one another and put down those that are not like them. There are several solid lessons here. In the formation of all groups, a natural phenomenon unfolds where “racking and stacking” takes place. We are unconsciously determining the social pecking order, and this often results with an “in-group” and an “out-group.” When this occurs, unspoken jealousy and resentment can plague a team’s dynamics and effectiveness. Leadership lesson…no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches! All team members have unique value. Leaders must be aware of where unhealthy dynamics are festering in their team and learn to unleash the often repressed value that the “out-group” brings through their diversity.

3.      The Zax – This one is my favorite! It’s a short tale of two prideful and stubborn Zax who find themselves at a crossroads, unable to compromise on a solution (great metaphor for the current state of American politics, anyone?). Instead of exercising empathy and compassion, the two Zax angrily argue their individual viewpoints. The result—zero progress and personal irrelevance as the world passes them by. Leadership lesson…learn to notice your inner Zax and manage it accordingly. Leaders should be principled and passionate, however, not to where they are getting in their own way.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my new children’s book, “The Legend of Stinky Toes McGee.” Inspired by Dr. Seuss, it’s intended to teach kids that some problems cannot be solved with our heads, but rather, they can only be solved with our hearts.

You can pick up a paperback or digital copy exclusively on Amazon by following this link:“The Legend of Stinky Toes McGee”

David Spungin is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Follow him on LinkedIn , Twitter, and Facebook to see more of his articles.

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Leaders…Go Bold or Go Home!

Do you consider yourself a bold person? For some, a certain pride comes with identifying themselves as “being bold.” Boldness is different, it’s daring, and it requires courage. For similar reasons, others purposely shy away from self-identifying as a bold person. To them, boldness is unnecessarily “rocking the boat,” it’s risky, and it lacks humility. Before we go on, I invite you take a moment to assess your level of boldness. Where might you place yourself on a continuum of boldness?

Now, I have another question for you….what level of boldness is appropriate for practicing effective leadership?

Many people will say, “that’s situationally dependent, because in certain cases, a leader needs to be bolder than in others.” To which I would offer a bold (albeit respectful), “Bullcrap!”

We are talking about exercising leadership here! You may recall, from my previous article, where I described how the purpose of leadership is to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. Such an undertaking, regardless of the situation, requires unprecedented boldness. This is especially pertinent to today’s business environment of Volatility, Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and Complexity (VUCA). Consider the following:

  • It’s a Matter of Risk – There is always a risk in championing change, as every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it is experiencing. There will always be stakeholders that have a vested interest in keeping things exactly how they are. Yet, our VUCA world guarantees change is eminent; whether leadership is proactive about it or not is the only question. A lack of bold leadership ensures the forces of mediocrity will prevail until change eventually consumes and overwhelms us.
  • It’s a Matter of Visibility – Like getting caught in a storm while at sea, finding your way through our noisy, cluttered, and chaotic world can be challenging. The timid leader’s small ideas and objectives similarly get lost in disorder. Conversely, a bold leader’s ideas act as a lighthouse, cutting through the storm and getting noticed by those seeking shelter. Without first gaining their followers’ attention, there will be no leadership.
  • It’s a Matter of Motivation – Followers won’t buy into half-hearted visions that fail to challenge and inspire. We all want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. This is especially true in our VUCA world, which exacerbates feelings of inadequate purpose and meaning. Followers need a bold leader who pushes them to bring forth their potential in a significant way.

Yet, boldness does not just happen to us one day; it’s a behavior that must be practiced and embodied over time. To be a bold leader, here are a few daily practices to keep top of mind:

  1. Know Thyself – Most people will only “stick their neck out” when they are reasonably confident it won’t get chopped off. Thus, leaders are well served in continuously reassessing their individual gifts and personal challenges. It’s far easier to be bold when playing to our strengths, and consciously mitigating our known weaknesses.
  2. Speak Your Truth – Bold leaders aren’t overly worried about how they may be judged, and they don’t withhold their opinions because they “might piss some people off.” However, this doesn’t mean they overpower with opinionated impudence. Instead, it means bringing their voice into the room with a respectful yet assertive poise.
  3. Embrace Vulnerability – Let’s face it, with bold action, there will always be a risk of failure. Learn first to accept this fact—then embrace it. By embrace it, I mean actively lean into it. Make it a part of your journey every time to push yourself and others to new heights. Know that setbacks are inevitable and celebrate the learning opportunity that results. When we adopt a mantra of “Fail Fast, Fail Forward,” we are more apt to exercise bold leadership.

 

I invite you to bring more boldness to your leadership. In doing so, you’ll be setting yourself up for greater success and moving toward what I call a VUCA Proof© leadership style. Interested in learning more about what it means to be a VUCA Proof© leader? You can download my whitepaper here. Interested in training your executive team to adopt a bolder, more VUCA Proof©, leadership style? Simply download the VUCA Proof© 1-Day Executive Workshop Brochure here.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

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Are You a “VUCA Proof” Leader?

Attention all leaders out there. It’s a new year and I imagine you have some audacious goals already lined up for you and your team. You probably have a strategic plan by now, and you intuitively know that exercising leadership will be imperative to getting things accomplished. In this light, I have an important question to ask you….

After 20+ years of studying leadership, personally leading teams, and helping Fortune 500 leaders to effectively do the same, I’ve come to a few of my own conclusions that I’d like to share with you.

First, I should highlight that the words management and leadership often are conflated together. The purpose of management is clear, to increase efficiency through enhancing control over one’s environment. The purpose of leadership, however, is more up for debate. I believe leadership exists to disrupt one’s environment for the better. In this regard, the purpose of leadership then is to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results.

Yet, given this purpose, there has never been a more difficult time to be a leader. Today’s executives must learn to compassionately disrupt in an already highly Volatile, Complex, Uncertain, and Ambiguous (VUCA) business environment. We’re talking about leading change in a world where predictability and control are limited. Pushing individuals outside their comfort zones and taking them to their edge when they are already overwhelmed, stressed, and anxious. Leaders today must learn to challenge followers to the highest levels of performance without breaking them (or being broken by them). For many years now, we’ve relied on a heroic leadership model to do this work, yet times are clearly changing.

So how should one adapt to effectively lead today? While no one approach works for every leader in every environment, there’s been a shift in the last several decades from heroic, authoritative, command and control approaches to more collaborative and adaptive methods. This hasn’t been some egalitarian impulse by leaders to more fully empower their people as some might argue, but rather a product of necessity. To be effective today, leaders realize that they need to be more strategic, flexible, and balanced. In essence, they’re learning to VUCA Proof© their leadership style.

What then does it take to VUCA Proof© one’s leadership style? It starts with critically looking at yourself and then building greater individual capacity in three critical behaviors: being more passionate, bold, and mindful.

1.      Be Passionate – Inspiring change requires a transfer of energy, and if one is to transfer inspirational energy to others, they must be inspired themselves. The more passionate the leader, the more inspirational they become to others who share similar ideals.

2.      Be Bold – As Nelson Mandela once said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” Leadership requires us to boldly challenge followers by walking with them to edge of possibility, and acknowledging our own vulnerabilities along the way.

3.      Be Mindful – Most people practicing leadership are in positions of authority, and with authority one can easily become self-absorbed. Effective leaders today must practice empathy and compassion to a greater extent than in the past, constantly seeking out ways to serve others before self.

Once you’ve built a strong foundation in these behaviors, then you can apply them at the team and organizational level. Importantly, these behaviors intersect with one another, to form three critical competencies for effective leadership in a VUCA environment: Alignment, Activation, and Attunement.

1.      Passion + Mindfulness = Alignment – An Aligned leader understands themselves and how they may best serve their environment. By being aware of what they stand for, what their value is, and where they fit in the world, they are more prepared to communicate their vision and make decisions in a turbulent VUCA world.

2.      Passion + Boldness = Activation – In a constantly changing VUCA world, being too comfortable can lead to a rapid demise (here’s 30 examples of companies struggling with VUCA who may disappear in 2017). An Activated leader abhors mediocrity, avoids safety, and inspires others with challenges. They know what it will take to achieve their leadership purpose, and they help others to boldly push beyond the boundaries of what is possible.

3.      Mindfulness + Boldness = Attunement – Perhaps the biggest shift leaders must make from a heroic leadership style is towards greater attunement. An Attuned leader recognizes the emotional impact of new initiatives on followers and others. They “feel” where there are pain points and opportunities to strengthen relationships. Most importantly, they care enough to make bold acts of compassion that keep people motivated during adversity.

So the question now becomes…how VUCA Proof© are you? Truth be told, when I first started leading, it was mostly a command and control world and I was a heroic style leader. My own transformation to a more VUCA Proof© style was born out of necessity, in order to meet the needs of the changing world around me. If you or your team is interested in walking a similar path, contact me directly at dspungin@leadergrowthgroup.com to learn more about VUCA Proof© team training and personal coaching programs.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

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How to Inspire Others by Finding Your Passion

Inspiration.

This seemingly benign word has confounded me for over a decade now. Long ago, I intuitively understood it to be the “secret sauce” of leadership. Yet, figuring out how one becomes more inspirational was not an easy task. For years I focused on accentuating certain behaviors like credibility, accountability and self-less service. I then concentrated on building skills like emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and executive presence. Though I still believe these are important factors in inspiring followers, I now consider one factor to be above all others. At its core, inspiration is a transfer of energy, and if one is to transfer inspirational energy to others, they must be inspired themselves.

The question then becomes “how does a person find their own inspiration?” I think the answer lies deeper, as inspiration stems from one’s passion. Now I am not talking about a having a passion for woodworking or knitting, I’m referring to the internal energy that drives all acts of leadership in the world. We all have beliefs of what is right, good and fair. When we observe the world around us and see various disconnects, we experience a tension between what is and what should be. Leaders are the rare individuals who feel passionate about closing those gaps and are compelled to act. The more passionate the leader, the more inspirational they become to others who share similar ideals.

Think of your passion, as a leader, as something acting like a virus does in the human body. It’s infectious and contagious. Either you are contaminating others with low energy that brings them down, or you are infecting them with a healthy dose of passion, which inspires them to be more and do more. Moreover, the impact of your passion is far reaching. Once your immediate circles become exposed, they spread your level of passion to others (for better or for worse).

In his book, “Subtle Energy: Awakening the unseen forces of our lives,” Dr. William Collinge describes how people can feel your energy as much as three feet apart from one another. We’ve all felt this before. We walk into a formal meeting, feel the anxiety or fear present, and we personally become guarded. Or we begin to interact with an optimistic colleague whose smile and enthusiasm causes us to have a little extra bounce in our step for the rest of the day. Leaders should understand that the energy that we bring to our environment is often returned back to us.

One of my favorite examples of this phenomena in action occurred during Game 7 of the 2016 National Basketball Association Finals. With the series tied at three games apiece and the final minutes winding down, Lebron James’ will to win made the difference. In what’s now known as “the block that saved Cleveland,” James covered 88 feet at a speed of 20 mph, and then elevates 11.5 feet in the air to stop an easy layup for Golden State. His passion was undeniable, and it inspired his team to another level of effort that changed the course of the game and ultimately secured the championship for the Cavaliers.

If it is passion that inspires, what then are you personally passionate about? I offer a few thoughts below on how you can find your passion and exhibit more leadership.

  1. Know Your Values – Clarification of your values enables you to take a stand in the world. Yet, as an Executive Coach, I am amazed how many times I come across seasoned leaders who have little conscious awareness as to what they value. If you can’t name your top three personal values right now, I offer you invest 5 minutes in this free assessment to gain some insight (Barrett Values Centre Personal Values Assessment)
  2. Find Your Fire – There’s a reason passion is associated with romance. Passion exists first where there is a spark with someone else. After a few dates, that spark might ignite a flame of desire. Given the right conditions, that flame becomes a raging fire, and causes sustained drive to be with that person for a long-term relationship. Pay attention to your sparks. When do you feel that flame ignite in your belly? Perhaps you read an article and realize “this is a cause I care deeply about!” Or maybe you notice a problem at work and say to yourself “this isn’t right, we need to fix it!” Once you find your fire, you can burn brightly in the world.
  3. Inventory Peak Moments – We all come to this world with unique gifts. Sometimes we find ourselves leveraging those gifts to our highest potential, what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls a state of “Flow.”  When we find this intersection of natural talent and enjoyment from the challenge of getting better at a skill, we feel alive, energized, and inspired. To take inventory of your peak moments, think about the last task you performed, where you lost track of time. When you became so consumed by it that you forgot to eat or voluntarily gave up sleep to accomplish it. Then reflect on why you were experiencing these feelings. The intent is to bring awareness to where else we find this energy in our lives.

To sum up, the world needs your leadership! My hope is that you find your passion, take the lead, and inspire action in making the world a better place.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Contact David directly at dspungin@leadergrowthgroup.com to learn more about how LGG’s practical training and coaching solutions help transform managers into highly impactful leaders.)

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Sometimes Followership “Trumps” Leadership

trump

Can I follow President Elect Donald Trump? This question has been a part of my inner dialogue ever since witnessing the shocking U.S. Presidential election results. Many of you (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike) may be wondering the same at this time when prominent leaders from both major parties are calling for Americans to put aside their differences and bridge the deep divides created by this election cycle. Love him or hate him, our democratic process has empowered him. Now he must lead…and we Americans should do our best to follow. Yet, how do you follow a leader you do not love? I offer a few thoughts on followership for you to consider in regards to this election, and potentially apply to your workplace as well.

1.      “Follower” is not a bad word – People love leadership. We often attribute positive results to “strong leadership” and we aspire to be leaders ourselves. Yet, followers tend to be those people who are, well, not leaders. They are sometimes considered second class citizens in our social hierarchy. Cast aside such beliefs! To lead, one must first be able to follow. Furthermore, every leader, even the President, answers to stakeholders and must follow at times. Once we recognize value in good followership, we can begin to practice it.

2.      Find some faith – Good followers adopt the belief that “no one shows up to work to suck.” That is, leaders are doing their very best in any given moment. If we don’t believe intentions are well meaning, it’s hard to trust and support. Mr. Trump has the very difficult challenge of making upcoming decisions where some 50% of his constituency will likely disapprove to some extent. Good followership in these moments is having faith that he and his advisors have diligently thought through their positions and acted on what they thought was best for most Americans (given no decision is perfect nor can all stakeholder needs ever be met). Likewise, leaders in your organization are probably doing the best they can…extending faith their way enables them to better serve you.

3.      Exhibit loyalty – Leaders are often working against the status quo. In doing so, they are sticking their necks out. Leaders need to know their followers have their backs through thick and thin. Mr. Trump’s campaign inspired a loyal base, and it also alienated many. He will need to work hard to repair trust with many Americans and inspire new loyalties. Good followership under these circumstances might start with simply not being outright disloyal. Then, if sincerity, courage, humility, and competence exists, one can extend loyalty gradually. In the workplace, it’s no different. Good followership is wholeheartedly extending loyalty to leaders when it has been rightly earned, regardless if we love them or not.

4.      Appropriately Dissent – All leaders are fallible. Part of good followership is respectfully pointing out our leader’s mistakes and challenging questionable decision-making. Undoubtedly, even The Donald will make some mistakes along the way. Americans must do their best to share the negative impacts of any newly enacted policy in a productive way. The emphasis being on productive! The same goes in the workplace. Leaders need your feedback to get better. However, be tactful and exercise political savvy when challenging authority.

5.      Take action – Implementation and execution are the bread and butter of good followership. Leaders depend on the hard work of followers to make their visions a reality. President Elect Trump, like President Obama, will be challenged in getting congress’ support for his initiatives. Will enough healthy compromise take place for Democrats to exhibit good followership and support? Or will we see more obstruction and polarization? In regards to our own organizations, we have similar choices. Good followership is having a bias for action, proactively taking on the tough assignments, and ensuring removal of obstacles versus acting as one.

Only time will tell if President Trump turns out to be a good leader. One thing is certain. The burden of leadership is great and a leader’s success largely encompasses follower support. In both our personal and professional lives, we should be mindful to exhibit good followership—even in circumstances we find less than ideal. Besides…your next leadership opportunity may be right around the corner, and how you handled yourself in challenging times may prove to be your “Trump” card towards seizing it!

Note: The intent of this article is to use current events to examine good followership, not to provide a forum to debate politics. Please be respectful of this in your comments.

Can a Llama Teach You Leadership?

Having finished cinching down the buckles of our llama’s saddle, my tent mates and I took turns loading our gear on the animal for the first time. It was a hot day and we were sweating greatly, yet as my eyes shifted to the trail ahead, it was clear the snow-capped peaks in the distance would offer something quite different. I am part of a National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) expedition where a group of thirteen senior executives are practicing the art of leadership by exploring the Wyoming backcountry together. We will navigate many miles of increasing elevation daily. We will learn new outdoor skills and how to care for the environment. Yet, most importantly, we will learn to behave in ways that inspire deep trust with one another.

A core part of the learning comes from the llamas themselves. Magnificently agile animals, they can leap over three feet high logs, with 70 pounds on their backs, and calmly stick the landing on the side of a wet cliff. It’s an amazing sight to behold. Much like humans, they also have different personalities, varying moods and preferences. Some are more dominant than others and “act up” if placed in the back of the pack. Others are almost cliquey in nature, and will only move efficiently when placed next to their best bud.

Similar to leading with a team of direct reports toward a goal, our group had to learn how the llamas wanted to be managed! We had to uncover the pack’s dynamics, assess their personal needs, and then adjust our management style to meet those needs. For instance, we quickly learned that a command and control style would often backfire immediately (as it does in most modern organizations). In fact, push too hard, and you just might get spit on in retaliation! However (unless you speak llama) it’s rather hard to communicate a vision and then empower a llama to drive results. The llamas needed a balanced approach to leadership; not only one that took into account the environmental pressures being placed on us to accomplish the day’s mission, but also brought them into the decision-making process. Over the course of seven days together, here’s what a bunch of llamas taught us:

1. Know when to give ‘em more lead, and when to reel ‘em in

We all took turns as a llama handler as we trekked across the remote and sometimes dangerous terrain. When guiding your animal, you hold onto what’s called a lead, which attaches to their bridle and gives you about 6 feet of rope to work with. Mastering how much of that lead you hold in your hands is an art and it’s constantly changing. When navigating tight areas, you might shorten it to just a foot or two so you maintain strong control. When crossing a fast moving creek, you might release all of the length, giving your llama the freedom to cross the danger as he sees best. The parallels to leading a direct report are clear. Sometimes they “don’t know what they don’t know,” and you need to provide strong direction and guidance to best help them. Other times, strong guidance works against you as a manager, and reports need space to find their own solutions. A great manager does not adopt a single style of leadership,  rather applies the right style based on the individual’s need and the task at hand.

2. Listen to your llama, sometimes they know best

On day five, we began our descent from roughly 11,500 feet. The terrain was steep, rocky, and the riskiest part of the week’s expedition. As we descended, it was unclear as to where a proper trail was at times. At one point we attempted to lead our llamas down a particularly steep part of the trail. We knew it wasn’t a great route, but it looked doable and appeared to be our only option. Then our lead llama just stopped in his tracks. “Not going that way” he communicated to us by digging his heels in and refusing to budge another step. At first we tried pulling harder, then we tried a gentle smack to the animal’s rear. Usually this would get your llama moving again but this time was different. He just sat there, looking at us like we were crazy. Then it occurred to us, maybe he knows something we don’t and we started searching harder for an alternate route. Lo and behold, there was a much better trail about 20 feet to our left! The llamas then followed us down safely. The lesson was clear, sometimes as a leader you must get out of your own way. There will be times when your followers know best. Perhaps it’s the front line manager who knows your customer’s needs better than you do. Or maybe it’s the brilliant middle manager who just needs space to voice  that next best idea to the company. The best managers know when to lead and when to follow.

3. Love your llama, and your llama will love you back

Finally, the llamas helped ground the importance of being a servant leader. When you are deep in the backcountry, you quickly realize how important the llamas really are. If one were to get injured or developed a saddle sore, we as a team would be carrying an additional 70 pounds between us. As such, we used an old cavalry saying to help guide our priorities of work each day; “First, take care of the horse, then the saddle, then the man.” This translated to first feeding and watering your llama, then setting up your group’s tent and collective responsibilities, then tending to all your personal needs. Repeating this process multiple times a day emphasized where a leader needs to be dedicating his or her valuable time. You simply won’t meet your goals without your follower’s dedication and team’s support. Yet, when your actions consistently demonstrate a willingness to put other’s needs above your own, you cannot fail to inspire respect, admiration and loyalty.

So yes, I believe that you can learn much about leadership from a llama. In fact, the greatest lessons often came from allowing a llama to lead you. Yet, like all successful relationships, it is a reciprocal dance of give and take. The llamas would be lost without us, wandering aimlessly without purpose, and we lost without them, struggling mightily under the limits of our human capacities. I offer that you go find those llamas in your life that need your leadership, then practice working the lead, listening deeply when challenged, and serving them every day. Do so, and you are destined to climb some impressive mountains together.

If you are adventurous business executive who enjoyed this post, I invite you to “follow” this blog or connect with me directly at  dspungin@allamericanleaders.com  so I can share with you upcoming NOLS/AAL expeditions that you may want to take part in.