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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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.

8 Beliefs That Increase Your Leadership Potential (Part 2)

8 Beliefs That Increase Your Leadership Potential (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post, we explored how our values, beliefs, and personal stories drive our behavior through the road trip story. After running out of gas, each team member played a pivotal role in getting them back on the road. The story demonstrated how certain beliefs open up possibilities, ensure priorities are maintained, and invite greatness.

The next four beliefs presented should further enhance your leadership potential. As you read through them, I offer that you check in with yourself and ask if they are congruent with your own system of beliefs. If you assess these beliefs as your own, to what extent are you living them in your day-to-day actions?

1. With issues of integrity, there is a clear right and wrong path – A leader’s reputation is intimately linked with his or her decision-making ability. Yet, in our often fast-paced and volatile world, making good decisions has become more complex. As a result, today’s leaders are becoming more comfortable with making decisions in “gray areas,” where there is no clear right answer. However, when it comes to issues of integrity, there are no “gray areas,” there is simply right and wrong. The basics of integrity may seem overly fundamental…of course leaders shouldn’t lie, cheat, or steal! Yet, if you inventory the greatest leadership failures in recent memory, they almost always are a failure of character. In the U.S. alone, we can look at Bernie Madoff, Bill Clinton, Mark Hurd, or Joe Paterno as prime examples. All were clearly competent in their leadership positions and very successful before they started to make small choices that ultimately led them down a dangerous path of self-delusion. As William James once said, “It’s the small choices that bear us irresistibly towards our destiny.” Leaders know their values, exercise self-control, and choose the harder right—every time, all the time.

2. A leader’s primary role is to manage culture – When you think of a great leader, what comes to mind? For many, this question conjures up images of the visionary who sees what we cannot, and then sets the strategy to get there. For others, they respect the tactical genius who gets things done where others cannot, the one who enables flawless execution and delivers results. Yet, the best leaders believe their most important role is not to set the strategy or even sustain execution, but to manage the organization’s culture. Why? Strategy can shift with the wind. Execution, while undoubtedly important, is likely already the primary focus of the entire management team. Yet, who is looking after the culture? Whose job is it to communicate the values? Who will teach us the rituals, share stories and legends, hold ceremonies, and shape our daily operating assumptions? All of which will determine how well we execute on our strategy! Who will answer this call? Leaders will.

3. Sometimes great leadership is being a good follower – Those who are in positions of organizational authority are also the ones we expect to most often exercise leadership. Thus, one of the most difficult things for a manager to do is to simply get out of the way. Just because one may have power, title, or positional authority does not mean they are the most qualified to lead every time. Perhaps there are team members with expert knowledge or experiences which make them better suited to determine a path or outcome. Or maybe, there are team members that need to grow, and the manager’s leadership is stifling that growth. For example, when I’m training a large group of equally amazing leaders in a workshop and they embark on a team challenge together, not everyone can be a leader. In these scenarios, great leadership is often recognizing when one is hindering the process rather than adding value to it. I find it inspiring to watch an often dominant and influential leader recognize this truth, and then step aside to make space for others. For an experienced manager, it may not be easy to let others take the lead. Yet, ironically, it can also be masterful leadership.

4. 80% of success is simply showing up – You’ve probably heard it before as this is a staple comment of most sales training programs. Yet, when it comes to leadership, your presence cannot be underestimated. Like the back of a raffle ticket, you must be present to win! Your physical presence as a leader is a service to those you lead as it enables accessibility and facilitates critical communication. More importantly, how you spend your time is the single greatest indicator of what is important to you. If you are constantly buried in the office because those emails must be answered, you are telling followers that is what you most care about. You are communicating, my needs come first. Yet, every time you make a consistent effort to check in with your people, ask what their challenges are, what resources they need, and how you may be of service, you are demonstrating a commitment to putting your follower’s needs first. People understand that managers get really busy, and that’s exactly why making a deliberate effort to create a more human connection with your presence will inspire greater loyalty and motivation.

Hopefully, these beliefs personally resonate with you and your leadership experiences. If so, you are likely already fulfilling much of your leadership potential. If not, remember that our beliefs, values, and personal stories are not fixed, we can change them. While not a simple undertaking, it is always a worthwhile endeavor to strive for greater leadership capacity. The world needs your leadership. Choose to reach your full potential.

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