Finding Your Leadership Fit in a VUCA World

Years ago, I was working in a small ad-hoc group of peers on a project. We were tasked with collaborating to brainstorm ideas and present them to an approval authority. Gathering in a small windowless room for our first session, things quickly got painful. We were floundering, paralyzed by a lack of direction and process! There was uncertainty and ambiguity around who was in charge as we attempted to tackle a complex problem. Then, I mistakenly added volatility to the already fragile situation by attempting to lead the group. Understand, I was mostly a “heroic style” leader at the time, and having successfully led teams my whole life, felt it was my duty to sweep in and save this gaggle from itself!

The challenge was…this was predominantly a group of women, of various ethnicities and backgrounds very different from my own, and more importantly, many of whom were far more competent than me on the topic. Within minutes of my attempt to “provide leadership,” it dawned on me—this group is not interested in me leading it! More notably, I was not the right person to lead this group to begin with. To be absolutely clear. That’s not to say that a white man can’t or shouldn’t lead diverse groups of women, (or vice versa)! Only that, there were several others who were more qualified and passionate about the topic. Others who had invested in key relationships and who had far greater influence based on this group’s dynamics. In stepping aside and becoming a role player, I became more effective, and helped the group to be more effective as it eventually sorted out how we would work together.

This experience was insightful and liberating. We are taught that leadership is good…We should be doing more of it! Yet, not every situation is a good fit for you to lead. There are situations where you are uniquely more qualified to lead more so than others. Key to your success, especially in a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and Complexity (VUCA), is to identify your leadership skills which align with your environment. So, how does one understand where they could, and should provide leadership in the world?

In my previous articles on the VUCA Proof© leader, I offered that leaders exist to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. To be effective towards this purpose in a VUCA world, leaders must overcome their learned tendency to display heroic leadership, and instead focus on being more passionatebold, and mindful. Once you’ve built a strong foundation in these behaviors at the individual level, you can apply them at the team and organizational level. That’s because these behaviors intersect with one another to form three critical practices for effective leadership in a VUCA environment: Alignment, Activation, and Attunement.

Thus, critical to understanding your leadership fitis being more mindful and passionate as a leader. Yet, being different is pointless if we don’t do things differently as well. We must merry up our thoughts and our actions. Specifically, there are three key activities you can do to practice Aligned leadership.

The process of alignment starts with assessing the environment around you for real and perceived gaps in performance/results. This will require you to pick your head up from the day-to-day grind and do some strategic reflection. What problems gain and hold your attention? Our VUCA world changes often, where can you anticipate future challenges? Where does change need to happen? Just brainstorm at this point and get all your ideas out on the table.

Next, determine where you are the best fit to provide leadership. Narrow down your potential ideas to those that really fire you up. When things get tough, and they always do in our VUCA world, where will you be a source of boundless energy for others to feed off of? Now, why are you the right person to be of service to others? Passion alone is not enough; what skills, experience, and insight do you bring to the table? Competency is the price of admission to be a leader. How will you prove you are worthy to lead and why should followers trust you?

Finally, it’s time to take action and take a stand in the world. Getting noticed in a VUCA world can be difficult and you need to find a way to rise above the noise/distractions. Yet, as Loa Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” You need to attract a small core following and then build momentum. Perhaps you start by making a formal request to a Sr. Manager (a potential ally) to take on a new initiative for your organization. Or maybe, you volunteer to take on a more active role in your community. Whatever you goal, you need to secure a credible platform from which to exude influence.

Assessing, Fitting, and Committing are the activities that ensure we are practicing Aligned leadership. In my next few articles, I will address how we can practice both Activated and Attuned leadership as well, all of which are essential to moving away from a heroic leadership style, and towards a more effective VUCA Proof© style.

Would you like to learn more? You can download my whitepaper here. Interested in training your executive team to adopt a more VUCA Proof© leadership style? Download the VUCA Proof© 1-day Executive Workshop Brochure here.

Example_15.png(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. Get a copy of his new book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

*All Rights Reserved. Reproduction, publication, and all other use of any and all this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

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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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The Leadership Equation

Part of West Point’s academic curriculum requires every cadet to study the natural sciences, advanced mathematics classes, and an engineering discipline of choice. While I often struggled in these challenging courses as a cadet, it was likely here that I developed my fondness for logic and healthy respect for a sound equation. A well proven equation really is a thing of beauty. In a concise set of symbols, one can communicate volumes of information and help to explain the world around us. For example, Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation (E=mc2) is considered pure genius because it unlocked one of the greatest mysteries of the universe in just five simple characters. I share this with you because equations can similarly help us to explain the inner workings of organizational life and help develop us as leaders.

In fact, there is one equation in particular that continuously guides me as a leadership development professional. It stems from the work of organizational development scholar & practitioner Kurt Lewin and is as relevant today as when he first theorized it back in 1943. While not an actual mathematical equation representing quantifiable relationships, it is a heuristic formula that accurately explains one of the biggest challenges of leadership and it’s as simple as this:

Lewin’s formula states that behavior (B) is a function of the person (P) and his or her environment (E). Thus, if you are seeking to change an individual’s behavior, you must influence one of two variables (or preferably both for maximum effect). Leadership, at its heart, is often about moving individuals and organizations through change and Lewin’s formula gives us a practical way of organizing our efforts. Looking at your own team as an example, perhaps there are behavioral tendencies that are negatively impacting performance and you would like to see change for the better. Let’s first work with the idea of shifting behavior by focusing on the individual person.

It’s important to note that you can never really change another person, they have to change themselves. Attempting to force behavioral change on another individual is likely to incite resistance and is ultimately unsustainable. Yet, often this is the norm as managers leverage their proverbial carrots and sticks to shape organizational outcomes. The real leadership challenge at hand is how does one inspire an individual to want to learn to behave differently and better align with the team’s goals? Well, much of that inspirational ability stems from your own behavior and example as a leader. Are you a person of character, competence, and credibility? Are you demonstrating an authentic empathy with those you are leading? Do you own your vulnerabilities and have you established a track record of personal accountability? These are just some of the leadership behaviors that are a prerequisite for inspiring another person to change their behavior. It comes down to this — do followers admire and respect you enough as a leader to make the difficult process of changing themselves an imperative.

Now let’s look at how the environment impacts behavior and performance outcomes. Are your team’s behavioral challenges isolated to a few individuals or is there evidence of a systemic issue? If the latter is true, exercising leadership now becomes more about addressing environmental factors like values, mission, vision, structure, relationships, technologies, and reward mechanisms that are not producing the desired behavior. Perhaps your organization’s structure is fostering competition over collaboration and promoting selfishness. Or maybe there is a values disconnect between what executives are communicating as the priority and what front line workers are expected to deliver on. Whatever the environmental challenge, the savvy leader understands that changing the organization’s environment is a much larger undertaking and should be approached with caution. There is risk in championing change to the organizational environment as every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it gets. There will undoubtedly be stakeholders that have a vested interest in keeping things exactly how they are. One will need to build a strong case for change and create alliances with organizational authority that can help generate movement.

In summary, the B=ƒ(P,E) formula gives us a simple yet powerful way to determine things we can do to improve individual, team and organizational performance. Leadership is about facilitating change and behavior is how we can tangibly interpret progress towards desired change. When seeking to move the needle in a positive direction, a leader can look to influence the individual directly and/or seek to shift environmental factors that are impacting outcomes. Regardless of the point of influence you choose, it’s essential that you are personally practicing the leadership behaviors you are seeking from others. No individual or system will adopt your vision for change if they do not see you first being the example.

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8 Songs That Can Teach You Leadership

Playing-Acoustic-Guitar-Wallpaper

Have you ever wondered why you can easily remember the lyrics to a catchy song from years ago, yet find it hard to recall what you ate just yesterday for breakfast? Music has an uncanny ability to circumvent our logical brains and instead lives deeply within our emotional bodies. When we resonate with a powerful tune or are inspired by a musician’s message, we can instantly recall how it made us feel. This has me thinking about the real power of music and what this medium might offer in terms of learning leadership. Curious as to what lessons my own meager collection (about 5K tracks on my iTunes) might ascertain, I recently re-listened to a few favorites but with my leadership headphones on….this is what I heard:

1. Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson

“I’m Starting With The Man In The Mirror
I’m Asking Him To Change His Ways
And No Message Could Have Been Any Clearer
If You Want Make The World A Better Place
Take A Look At Yourself, And Then Make A Change”

The King of Pop was on to something here. Every leader must learn to lead themselves first. This often means having the courage to realize when you’re ineffective and what adjustments you might need to make. As leaders we are always changing, as are the environments in which we lead. Constant self-assessment and feedback are critical to understanding that man (or woman) in the mirror. The best leaders make this a consistent practice in their lives.

2. I’m Not Afraid by Eminem

Eminem”I’m not afraid
To take a stand
Everybody
Come take my hand
We’ll walk this road together, through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just letting you know that you’re not alone
Holler if you feel like you’ve been down the same road”

While Eminem might be far from your idea of a model leader, in “I’m Not Afraid,” a more mature voice emerges as he raps about the struggles of overcoming drug/alcohol addiction and fully owning his responsibilities as a parent. The main chorus in particular elicits a theme that is reoccurring in many of his songs — I understand your pain, I am willing to sacrifice for you, join me and together we shall overcome. This is the same call to action that every leader must make if they are to recruit and maintain followers. Great leaders communicate their empathy for follower’s needs, embody a philosophy of selfless-service, and align the team in a common purpose.

3. Imagine by John Lennon

Lennon“Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world”

In this celebrated song, John Lennon asks the listener to imagine a world freed from class, religious, or political boundaries. He also encourages people to focus less on material possessions. Ultimately, the song is a passionate call for world peace. Could there be a better example of how to create and express a vision? Lennon does a masterful job of understanding the current situation (written in 1971 during the Vietnam War), envisioning a different future, and communicating a path in a succinct and powerful way that challenges others to act. The real testament to his genius is that his call for more tolerance and equality is no less relevant today.

4. This is not a Song it’s an Outburst: The Establishment Blues by Rodriguez

Rodriquez
“This system’s gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune
And that’s a concrete cold fact”

If you don’t yet know the story of Rodriquez, I highly recommend you watch this amazing 60 minutes special on his music and life story (http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/rodriguez-the-rock-icon-who-didnt-know-it/). “This is not a Song it’s an Outburst: The Establishment Blues” was a call to action that no one heard in the US. It sold very little copies and Rodriguez’s career essentially flopped. Yet years later, the song became an anthem for South Africans to rise up against the evil of Apartheid and sold millions of records. The leadership message is clear. Not everyone is fit to lead in every environment. Hone your abilities, hold to your values, and practice authentically bringing your leadership gifts to the world. Ultimately, with enough patience, those who you need your leadership most will find you.

5. Get Up Stand Up by Bob Marley

Bob Marley“Get up, stand up, stand up for your right
Get up, stand up, don’t give up the fight
Get up, stand up. Life is your right
So we can’t give up the fight”

This iconic reggae song was conceived while Marley was touring Haiti. He was so extremely moved both by the lives of the Haitians and the extreme poverty they faced; that he called for all to “Get Up Stand Up” and fight for greater equality in the world. Leadership is often about fighting the status quo and sustaining yourself in such battles requires tremendous energy. This can be difficult to sustain over time. A leader who cannot passionately advocate for a mission will never attract and retain followers. Thus, wise leaders prudently take on the issues that give them a strongest sense of meaning and purpose. Figure out what makes you “Get Up Stand Up” and lead the change you most desire.

6. Tough by Craig Morgan

Craig Morgan“She’s strong, pushes on, can’t slow her down
She can take anything life dishes out
There was a time
Back before she was mine
When I thought I was tough”

In Western corporate culture, there can be a tendency to overly value the warrior/hero archetype of leadership and then falsely attribute those qualities more frequently to men. Craig Morgan’s country hit “Tough” reminds us that real toughness, like leadership, can come from anywhere. The warrior/hero in this song is his wife who manages the challenges of their day-to day lives with ease. Then when she struggles through a bout with cancer, he marvels at her will and resiliency. Leaders should be mindful of their own assessments of what a leader is and isn’t. Know that leadership can come from anyone in your organization and make a point to recognize the often overlooked leadership that is being exhibited all around you.

7. Blue Train by John Coltrane

ColtraneNo Lyrics…All instrumental bliss.

Pretty much any classic jazz track would suffice here, I chose Coltrane’s “Blue Train” for its mix of catchy riffs and universal appeal. Rather than providing a message that relates to leadership, performing Jazz in itself is an act of leadership. In fact, leadership guru Max DePree wrote a book about the links between jazz and leadership called “Leadership Jazz” back in 1993 (http://www.amazon.com/Leadership-Jazz-Essential-Elements-Leader/dp/0440505186). In essence, DePree writes that leaders, like jazz musicians, must stay attuned to the needs and ideas of their followers and even step aside at times to be followers themselves. Listen to “Blue Train” and you can hear this philosophy come to light. Coltrane asserts himself when appropriate while also bringing out the best in those around him. It’s masterful.

8. Staying Alive by The Bee Gees

John Travlota
“Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother,
You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’,
And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive.”

What could the Bee Gees possibly teach us about leadership you might ask? While their 1977 Grammy award winning hit might not have been intended to have anything to do with leadership — it might as well be every true leader’s personal anthem. Whenever you choose to exhibit leadership, you are moving against a norm and often against authority whose job it is to maintain those norms. Move too fast or without proper support and your’e likely to experience what Harvard Leadership professors Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky call “getting assassinated” (a.k.a. getting fired or marginalized to the extent where you are no longer effective) Surfacing conflict and challenging the status quo will cause people to experience pain. Savvy leaders understand this and raise and lower the heat accordingly, moving the needle while simultaneously keeping themselves in the game. Leadership is risky business and it’s all about staying alive!

So there you have it. Eight songs that will hopefully inspire you to think about your own leadership and how you can be more effective as a leader. I also realize this list is far from all-encompassing so if you have a favorite to add, I’d love to hear from you!

1. Heifetz, R., & Linsky, M. (2002). Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading Boston: Harvard Business Review Press.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. He a 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 Fortune 500 companies internationally. Learn more at http://www.leadergrowthgroup.com)

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What If We Have This Whole Leadership Thing All Wrong?

Upsidedown Eagle

Imagine that you just read an article on how your competition is steadily stealing your market share. This is nothing new to you, they have been out innovating you for some time now and it’s now apparent that your current products or services are inferior. Slowly you’ve seen your talent leave for greener pastures as rumors of downsizing abound. There is a fear permeating the organization as people wonder what the future holds. What’s needed is a real leader! Someone who can come in and make things right again. We’ve seen this scenario play out time and again. The Board will likely remove the C-Suite and bring in a leadership savior. Yet, what if we have got this whole leadership thing all wrong? What if the very essence of how we define leadership is no longer serving us?

We can’t really fault why we seek a leadership savior in these scenarios. It’s engrained in our DNA! The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World (Heifetz, Grashow, & Linsky, 2009) explains that since the dawn of time we have engaged in a social contract within groups. Essentially when a group member emerged to offer us much needed direction, protection and order, we in turn granted them authority over us. As long as this person kept their side of the bargain, we continue to reward them with increased power. At some point we started calling this authority figure our Leader, Chief, or King which anointed them with title and elevated social status as well. The key distinction to make here is that we started associating the exercising of authority with leadership. This is a huge mistake as leadership is totally different.

Given the above scenario, direction, protection and order is exactly what we crave. We want a new direction and our new leadership should have the ability to see what we cannot. We require protection from our competitors and the threat they present. We desire order as a power vacuum emerges from the loss of key talent. Yet, what if instead of providing the direction we need to go, leadership helped us to figure out where we collectively want to go together? What if instead of sheltering us from our competitor’s threats, leadership exposed the reality that we faced and challenged us to be more? What if instead of returning us to a calm and comfortable place, leadership taught us to embrace the chaos of change and to value living on the edge of constant learning? In short, what might happen if instead of exercising authority, our leadership actually led us?

Intuitively, we get this. While management is an important aspect of a productive society, deep down inside we all want to be led more so than managed. When we experience true leadership we feel empowered to grow to our full potential. Outside of experiencing love, there is perhaps no greater feeling than pushing yourself to be more than you thought you could be. Yet, with the pleasure of growth we often experience loss and pain. We have to let go of a part of ourselves and learn to be something new. Learning then becomes a series of failures until we ultimately get it right. This can be a very disappointing and humbling process. Thus, true leadership requires us to disappoint our followers at a rate that they can tolerate.

This is the very reason why we see more authority rather than leadership being exercised in our world. There is a real art to establishing enough trust with followers so that they allow you to disappoint them. Disappoint them too much and you will soon be looking for a new job. Yet, it’s important to note that if you disappoint them too little, as when exercising pure authority, and you will also be looking for a new job! Exercising authority will not promote the learning needed for organizational growth, and thus results will be the same over time. With consistently poor to average results, you will eventually be replaced as your organization seeks out new “leadership.” Thus, the next time you feel the pull to provide direction, protection and order to your team, take a step back and try to recognize what is really needed in this moment. Start practicing leadership rather than authority and watch your organization begin to flourish.

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