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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Engineering Effective Change

As a manager in an engineering firm, you’re a smart and practical problem solver who inspires trust in your team. All is going smoothly until one day you realize the need to promote or reassign a few team members. Or maybe it’s something more substantial like implementing a new information technology system. No problem. You will handle this like any other problem you face: acquiring data, analyzing options, designing solutions, and, finally, implementing the change. It all seems logical and you are confident the process will yield success! Then it doesn’t. In fact, you encounter stiff resistance as people drag their feet to adopt your change initiative. What went wrong here?

You might find it comforting to know that you are not alone, as more than 70% of all organizational change efforts fail. While these failures occur for many reasons, consistent themes include attempting to solve adaptive challenges through technical problem solving and the common assumption that change can be managed to fruition. Engineering professionals often embrace these conventions when attempting to manifest change as they tend to value linear and systematic processes that enable a sense of control. Yet, changing human systems is habitually messy and unpredictable by nature. Is it realistic to think that a formulaic change process might work? An analytically minded person myself, I have struggled with this question for years. My conclusion is that while a prescribed change framework might not be feasible, there are several key principles that every change agent should take into account. Specifically, one must be mindful of: 1. Preparing the system for change, 2. Initiating the change using “soft energy”, and 3. Sustaining the change through “hard energy.”

Preparing a system for change is an often overlooked but critical change principle. Before engaging in change, one needs to understand where the system is starting from. What is the current state? Who are the key stakeholders? How might cultural norms and belief systems impact a proposed change? What is the perceived sense of urgency for change? These are just a few of the questions – leaders must ask themselves. Yet, perhaps the most important preparatory question is “who stands to lose the most from this change?” People don’t resist change, they resist loss. In particular, those who believe they may lose power and influence are the ones most likely to resist. Having thought through these questions and developed a compelling case for change, the savvy change agent will then secure buy-in from the highest sources of power in the system. Executive support helps in generating key alliances and centers of power to move the system in the desired direction.

Now that you have organizational muscle behind you, do the unexpected. Rather than imposing your change plan on the system, initiate the change by using “soft energy.” Soft energy is about acknowledging the difficulty of change and disrupting compassionately. This is also the energy of possibilities and emergence. Start by inviting all the key stakeholders into the change conversation and give them a voice. This process is often messy and unscripted. Facilitate the conversation and avoid directing it, while allowing for needs and concerns to be heard. Control must be abandoned in favor of faith. The more the group owns the change process, the more likely they are to take action. Soft energy also means understanding that change creates anxiety in the system and your role as the change agent should be to transform that angst. This is often accomplished by helping the system transition from fear to curiosity. Once a plan for change is agreed upon, constant and transparent communication of the vision is imperative for transformation to occur. When people “see” where they are going, they feel more in control and less anxious.

Finally, soft energy is not enough, we also must implement a “hard energy” if we desire sustained change. Hard energy is challenging, focused, calculated, and persistent. This is the energy of driving towards closure. This does not mean that we forcefully coerce the system to change; rather this is about avoiding distractions and measuring performance. Organizations are what they measure and the same principle applies to a change initiative. Thus, identify the metrics associated with change success early and monitor progress. Challenge the system to meet goals and objectives while utilizing social pressure to pull the organization forward. Finally, reward early adopters accordingly and share examples of group success whenever possible.

While there may not be a way to truly “engineer” effective change, there are key principles that can increase your chances for change success. By first preparing the system for change, one ensures an understanding of the politics, potential losses, and centers of power needed to generate momentum. By initiating the change through use of soft energy, one disarms opponents with empathy and involves the system in determining its own solution. By using hard energy, one helps the group stay focused and on track as it embodies the change over time. As an engineering professional, I invite you to master these tools of organizational change and lead your team to new heights of achievement.

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(Originally featured in the July 14 issue of Professional Engineers Magazine PE Magazine-Engineering Effective Change-David Spungin)

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