“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.)

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

Feedback + Coaching = Higher Performance

Feedback + Coaching = Higher Performance

What do you believe most contributes to missed performance expectations in the workplace? Too lofty of goals to begin with? Not enough talent in place to do the work? Insufficient effort or a lack of incentives to properly motivate? Perhaps.  Yet, my experience is that the more significant culprit is one of two things: 1) a leader’s failure to clearly communicate expectations upfront or 2) a leader’s failure to provide proper feedback and coaching. This is not too surprising as these are challenging skill-sets to learn and can take a lifetime to master (effective coaching in particular).

There are a few key ingredients to demonstrating good coaching as a leader. First, coaching begins with practicing curiosity and a leader will benefit from adopting a coaching style that values inquiry more so than advocacy. This is unnatural for most managers who like to speak from their experience and advocate solutions based on their personal expertise. Yet, if leaders place a premium on listening before speaking, they are more likely to build trust with their coachees and help them develop their own solutions to challenges. Perhaps this highlights one of the greatest differences between management and leadership. Managers seek to control outcomes by problem solving and offering solutions to their people. A leader realizes his or her ultimate goal is to create more leaders. Thus, he or she ask questions that inspire and challenge. Leaders seek to build capacity in the coachee and lessen dependency on the coach’s expertise.

Indeed, if a leader must do one thing exceptionally well to be effective, it’s coach! Yet, because this is such a huge topic of discussion, we cannot possibly cover all that I would like to share with you in a short article. Thus, I am going to focus on one of the most difficult coaching conversations that managers seem to get wrong more often than they get right; delivering constructive feedback and then coaching towards improvement.

Oh the agony we feel when preparing for this coaching conversation! Do
we directly deliver the feedback and simply hope that they take it well? Or perhaps we should indirectly address the feedback, which will likely lower their defensiveness? No wait! Of course. We’ll go with the “feedback sandwich” and deliver a compliment, followed by the criticism, and finally, another compliment to keep their spirits high and save the relationship! While it must be noted that most everyone likes to receive feedback differently, I believe there is a universal approach that can set you up for success. One that reduces anxiety for the feedback giver, lowers defensiveness in the receiver, and ultimately inspires change. I call this framework: The Five Pillars of Constructive Feedback.

1. Create the right mindset

Why is it so unpleasant when we have to give constructive feedback to others? All that anxiety we often experience has to do with our own ego and how we might be perceived. Will they think I am a nitpicking idiot? Will they think I am just a clueless leader who isn’t seeing the whole story? Or maybe, I’ll be seen as the a’hole manager who is a demanding tyrant! Remember that providing constructive feedback to another has nothing to do with you, and it’s not about “fixing” the other person. Constructive feedback is a service and you are engaging in a conversation to help the other person reach his or her potential. If your mindset is to “fix” everything, your voice will communicate judgement and trigger defensiveness. Yet, if your mindset is to “serve,” that will also show up throughout the conversation and create trust. Nothing opens persons (coachees) quicker to your feedback than when they sense you genuinely care about them. To help promote this mindset when delivering constructive feedback, remember without humility, expect futility.

2. Ask permission

“May I give you some feedback?” It’s a simple question, but how often do we jump straight to the assumption that the other person is both ready and willing to hear us out. After all, you are there to “serve” them and you care about their performance. Why wouldn’t they want to listen to what you have to say? Yet, maybe the other person is not in the right frame of mind. Perhaps they are having a really bad day and no matter what you say to them, they will see your feedback as an attack. If you ask the question upfront, you are giving them power and they must choose to give it back to you. In that seemingly insignificant exchange, you have already established a mutual respect that will make the feedback recipient more receptive to you.

3. Remember SBI

This is a tried and true process that works like magic when done right. SBI stands for Situation/Behavior/Impact, and I find it incredibly useful in helping me to remember what’s most important when giving feedback.

 

(S) ituation – This is when you anchor feedback in time, place, and circumstances and it helps the receiver understand the context of your feedback. For example, “remember yesterday afternoon in the staff call, about halfway through the meeting, Bill asked me for my thoughts on our financial outlook.”

(B) ehavior – This is when you are specific to the behavior or non-performance you would like to see changed (again, so the other person may meet their full potential). Think of it like replaying a movie for the other person. For example, “As I began to communicate the importance of adhering to the monthly budget, I noticed you rolled your eyes slightly and then began to check your phone.”

(I) mpact – This is the key to your success. If you just focus on their behavior, expect defensiveness to ensue. Yet, if you speak to the impact on you or the team, you are creating space for a more empathetic conversation. Most people care about whether or not they are disappointing others. If you speak to how the behavior made you feel, you move the other person out of their head and into their heart. For example “This embarrassed me, as I feel it made us look disjointed in front of the team. Others picked up on the tension and I felt as if I was scrambling to regain credibility with them.”

4. Get curious and create spaciousness

Now is the point in the conversation where you might transition from advocacy to inquiry and facilitation. You have delivered your feedback, now give them a voice! How did they view the situation? How might have you contributed to their reaction? Are their deeper concerns that need to be addressed? Know that this is a tender moment for many, and you can possibly expect some level of defensiveness to ensue. Give them space to be heard and acknowledge their point of view. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with them, only that you empathize with their feelings, while respecting their point of view. Note that a common diversionary technique is to broaden the conversation to where their performance is no longer the focal point. Your job as a leader is to keep the heat on them in a respectful and supportive manner.

5. Coach towards the desired performance

It is important when you work with a coachee to determine a clear path to success together. However, there is no need to give him or her all the answers. It is important they discover on their own how they can improve. You might ask, “how do you believe we could avoid this challenge in the future?” Then after hearing them out, you might offer, “If you have an opposing opinion in the future, I honestly want to hear it rather than have you feel like challenging me will offend me. My expectation is that we have a united front when engaging with the larger team in these meetings, and, if we have differences, we should hash them out in private beforehand. Is that an unreasonable expectation or can we both agree on this moving forward?”

This post is a sample chapter from my new eBook “ACTIONABLE! Leadership: Develop Your Inspirational Ability, Motivate Teams, & Achieve Extraordinary Results.”  Claim your free copy by following the below link and start taking action towards meeting your full leadership potential.

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Google’s Surprising Insights on Team Effectiveness

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After two plus years of rigorous research leveraging over 200 interviews focused on 250 attributes of 180 active teams, Google’s People Operations (think HR department with analytics capabilities) determined there is one question that every leader should be asking themselves if they are seeking to create an effective team…

How’s our psychological safety coming along?

Huh? Yes, I had the same reaction when I first read this excellent NY Times article on the research. You mean to tell me that building an effective team is not about selecting the right mix of talented people who possess unique skillsets that complement one another? Or that forming effective teams is not mostly about creating “team chemistry,” and aligning personality traits to where team members gel together naturally. Nope. Apparently, it’s not so much about who is on the team, but more about how people interact with each other. While Google’s researchers found five key findings that set its best teams apart from others, psychological safety was clearly the most important…and the more you read about it, the more sense it makes.

So what is psychological safety and how can we know if it exists within our team? The short answer is that psychological safety is the underpinnings that lead to a trusting environment. Do you feel safe with your fellow team members? Are they willing to both challenge and support you in a positive manner? Do they have your best interests at heart? Will they listen empathetically to your ideas and in a non-judgmental way? Can you be vulnerable with one another? To include sharing each other’s mistakes and shortcomings? These are just a few questions that one can use to assess the level of psychological safety within their team.

This is related to what we know from recent brain-based research, in that we as human-beings have a need for status and relatedness. When we come together as a team, we are constantly assessing where we stand within the team’s “pecking order” and if we are a part of the “in” or “out” group. This causes us to be guarded in our interactions and limits-our willingness to take risks with one another. We simply don’t want others to negatively assess our “competence, awareness, or positivity.”1 Perhaps more importantly, “in the absence of safe social interactions, the body generates a threat response.”2 When our bodies become inundated with cortisol and testosterone, and are focused on how to either fight against or flee from fellow team members, we can assume that trust will be degraded.

So what can a leader do to create the conditions for greater psychological safety to exist on their team? Here are a few ideas to consider:

1. Communicate expectations – If you are leading a group and have formal authority as well, be clear and upfront with how you would like team members to interact with one another. For example, expressing “team, I want you to know that I truly value everyone’s opinion, and, as such, I expect that you will bring your ideas forward, no matter how crazy they may sound or how contradictory they may be. Furthermore, this is a safe space to do so and I will not tolerate personal attacks in our interactions. We want to challenge each other and foster healthy debate, but not at the expense of our relationships. Can we agree to this?” If you are attempting to influence a team without formal authority, you might make a similar offer and then work towards norms that will allow for peer accountability and enforcement.

2. Be the example – A leader is always on a stage and team members are constantly looking to the leader and determining “what right looks like” in how they will interact with one another. If you as a leader are not present, not fully listening, discounting others ideas, interrupting, or ignoring certain voices…others will undoubtedly do the same. So after you clearly set expectations, work hard to model those expectations and give team members license to call you out if you are not! Perhaps the most important area where a leader needs to lead by example is in expressing vulnerability. If you don’t offer your shortcomings and where you have made mistakes to the group first, don’t expect anyone to let down their defenses either.

3. Lead through facilitation – A team’s culture will not only be shaped by the leader’s behavior, but also by what behavior he or she allows from others. A wise leader will practice upholding shared values and facilitating productive conversation. When an unfair interruption has occurred, someone might say “wait a second Jim, let’s hear out what Jane was just saying and we’ll come back to you once she’s finished.” If a team member has been noticeably quiet, the leader may practice inclusiveness by saying “Pranov, we haven’t heard from you yet; please help us to understand your stance on the issue.” If the team is dealing with a failure and assigning blame to each other, the leader may offer, “we all had a role to play in this, including myself. I want us to stop focusing on who is to blame and start focusing on what we have learned and how we can solve the problem.” The foundation of good facilitation is curiosity. Always be asking yourself, what’s most important right now and what questions or statements will help move the team forward together?

Google’s latest research on teams helps to confirm what many of us already knew, without trust there can be no team. And while the term psychological safety may be new to us, we all intuitively get it — people need to feel safe with each other to trust one another. The real value in this work is in helping leaders to identify where they need to focus their efforts in creating the conditions for psychological safety to exist. Thus, I offer that you reflect upon your own team….How’s your psychological safety coming along?

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  1. Rosovsky, J. (2015, November 17). The five keys to a successful Google team. Retrieved from https://rework.withgoogle.com/blog/five-keys-to-a-successful-google-team/
  2. Rock, D. (2008). SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Retrieved from http://www.your-brain-at-work.com/files/NLJ_SCARFUS.pdf

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

Help!!! My Team Needs More Accountability

Help!!! My Team Needs More Accountability

As a leadership development professional, I am always astonished by the number of questions I get on “how can I hold others more accountable for their performance?” This is consistently a hot topic for managers as they seek out the next best practice for driving better performance results. Unfortunately, managers typically don’t like what I have to offer them on this subject as my standard response is…

“I can help, but it will require you to first examine where you may have failed as a leader.”

To which their reply is something to the effect of…

“But that’s not what I’m looking for! I want to focus on where others are screwing up and how we can better hold their feet to the fire.”

Like it or not, the first rule of leadership is everything is your fault. While for many this may sound just a bit harsh, it’s not far from the truth. As a leader, you are responsible for all your team does or fails to do. This is because leaders not only set the purpose and direction for the team, they also manage the culture that dictates execution. Thus, when mistakes happen, regardless if you are the one personally making them, you absolutely had something to do with it! Accountability is then fully owning your responsibilities and consistently communicating this ownership to others. Leaders demonstrate their accountability by assessing performance challenges as opportunities for growth and learning rather than failures to be explained, excused or avoided. In short, when mistakes happen, the leader looks inward vs. blaming outward.

Herein lies the greatest challenge most managers face when seeking greater accountability within their team or organization—can you set your ego aside, be vulnerable with your team members, and work towards tangible solutions rather than playing the blame game? This can be a challenging leadership behavior for anyone to exhibit and is infinitely more difficult when experiencing the stresses of a failure (or potential failure). The key to developing this leadership behavior is threefold: 1) The leader should learn to identify his or her own reactivity and defense mechanisms, 2) The leader should understand how accountable leaders choose to behave, 3) The leader should practice the accountable leadership behavior until it becomes his or her new instinctual response.

Let’s take a closer look at these three components of development and how one can leverage them to increase personal accountability.

1. Recognizing Reactivity and Defense Mechanisms

Think of the last time you failed at something in which others were depending on you. Perhaps it was a job related performance goal you failed to deliver on. Or maybe it was a failure on the home front in which you missed a spouse’s expectation entirely. Whatever the situation, try to take yourself back to that challenging incident. Now search inside for that moment of apprehension when you realized there was no way to save the day; you were simply going to fail. You likely felt embarrassed, disappointed, worried, discouraged, and/or insecure. On a physical level your muscles probably tightened, your heartbeat and respiratory rate increased, and you may have even started to perspire. Mentally, it’s likely your mind started racing, alternating between beating yourself up for the mistake and searching for ways to avoid the inevitable consequences. Welcome to survival mode! What you were experiencing is the body’s fight-or-flight stress response and most people will do just about anything to avoid this discomfort, often through offering excuses or blaming others. This shows up in organizations in what many have come to label as “The Organizational Blame Game.”

Leaders must recognize that this instinctual response to avoid accountability lives in their DNA; one can’t avoid it! Rather than attempting to circumvent this natural hard-wiring, it is best to bring awareness to it. Leaders see their reactivity, own it, and then prevent it from hijacking their thinking any further. In that moment of pause, leaders then choose to react differently.

2. The Inspirational Leader’s Response

Exercising personal accountability for mistakes is going against one’s self-preservation instincts, which takes both courage and humility. This is very difficult for many to do, which is why accountability is uncommon. So when it does happen, we really take notice and it leaves a lasting impact on us. We may not be happy with a mistake that’s been made, yet we recognize accountable behavior as honorable and, thus, respect the leader’s exemplary character. This is counter-intuitive, so I offer that you pause for a moment to really let this sink in.

The practice of demonstrating personal accountability rather than playing the blame game is even more powerful when the leader assumes responsibility for what are clearly other team member’s personal failures. Your subordinates have the same reaction to failure that you do. They feel embarrassed, disappointed, worried, discouraged, and insecure. When you take some of that burden off their shoulders, you lighten their emotional load and free them to work with you towards solutions rather than focusing on problems. This can be very inspirational and produces deep loyalty to the leader.

3. Making Accountability Instinctual

Adopting any new behavior is a challenging undertaking, so start with a single day. Try to go an entire day without offering a single excuse for anything or blaming anyone for your challenges. To be successful, you have to really pay attention to your inner dialogue. Note when things are not going how you would like them to go and how your mind is rationalizing the outcomes. Pay attention to any feelings of embarrassment, disappointment, worry, discouragement, and insecurity. This is when you are most susceptible to offer excuses and/or blame others. When you notice your instincts beginning to kick-in, override them with a single question..

“How have I personally contributed to this situation?”

Pause and reflect. Realize your contribution and own it. When you can complete a full day without offering excuses or blaming others, up the ante to an entire week. If successful, try to go an entire month. If you can go a full month excuse and blame free, you will have implemented a new habit of seeking accountability first. This will serve you well when you next face real adversity.

This post is a sample chapter from my new eBook “ACTIONABLE! Leadership: Develop Your Inspirational Ability, Motivate Teams, & Achieve Extraordinary Results.”  Claim your free copy by following the below link and start taking action towards meeting your full leadership potential.

Free ACTIONABLE! Leadership eBook

I also invite you to follow my blog so I can share with you on a variety of topics. Thank You!

How Leaders Remain Composed Under Pressure

How Leaders Remain Composed Under Pressure

Composure is a behavior that people respond to instantly. Put any group under pressure and you will be able to assess most people’s level of composure in a few short minutes. Sometimes people will mentally “check out” and wait for others to handle the challenging situation for them. Other times they will “freak out” and have an overly emotional reaction. Regardless of the response, any indication of losing one’s composure directly impacts one’s ability to influence others. Conversely, individuals displaying a high degree of composure under pressure are naturally attractive. We seem drawn to follow those that project a calm, cool, self-assuredness. Given this phenomena, and that leadership is about inspiring others through our action and example, it makes sense that a leader should work to hone their composure. I am not talking about developing arrogant, egotistical, or narcissistic behavior that suggests “nothing rattles me!” Instead, I am talking about establishing a powerful presence that, regardless of the pressure leaders find themselves under, they inspire optimism and high-performance from self and others.

Think about your own experiences. Have you ever worked for a leader who frequently lost his or her composure? Ever work for a “screamer” before? Did you trust him or her? Likely not. As a result, you probably second guessed his or her decision and looked for leadership from others. The opposite is likely true if you’ve worked for a leader who exhibited a composed presence. She probably made you feel safe. She didn’t get rattled by challenging situations. She remained “cool under pressure” and, hence, you respected her judgement. By providing level-headed direction, she created trust. Composed persons will face challenges head on because they are not inhibited by paralyzing emotion like fear. When we “feel” this strength within them, it becomes contagious, and we start to believe we can achieve success also. Composed leaders breed confidence in others.

Many believe composure is something that you are either born with or you are not; a personality trait. This is completely false. It is important to understand that composure is not an innate gift that enables an absence of fear in high-pressure situations, but rather the mindful management of that fear. We can have control over how we feel about any given experience. While it may not appear this way sometimes, with increased self-awareness and practice, we can learn to choose our personal beliefs, thus learning to develop greater composure.

Another common misconception is that the only way to develop composure is by experiencing challenging situations. Overcoming challenging “crucible” experiences undoubtedly grows our self-confidence and, hence, increases our likelihood of exhibiting greater composure in future situations. Life is constantly knocking us off balance and gives us ample opportunity to practice composure in everyday life as well. There’s the child at home that won’t get his shoes on to leave the house; the unavoidable traffic that makes us late to our meeting; or the co-worker who always knows exactly how to get under our skin. These are examples of common annoyances that can cause us to lose our patience, perspective, and ultimately our presence. Yet, if you consistently practice composure in these routine situations, you will be well prepared to exhibit the calm self-assuredness that inspires others when the next crucible moment presents itself.

So the natural question then is, how do we practice greater composure in our daily lives so that we can prepare ourselves for the challenging moments that we may face? Here are a few best practices to consider: 

1. Don’t take it so personally – Composed leaders know not to take things so personally when situations don’t go their way. As the saying goes…Sh*t happens! Circumstances don’t always play out logically because our environment is complex and unpredictable. If we take things personally, we will begin to behave defensively. Instead, learn to let go of what is beyond your control. Leaders understand that control is an illusion. Some leaders find that adopting a mantra to remind us of this fundamental truth to be helpful. Timeless sayings like “Que Sera, Sera” and “Everything happens for a reason” can be helpful in regaining perspective and releasing ourselves from blame. The result is often a more composed self that is ready to rationally tackle the problem at hand.

 2. Fake it until you make it – The pressure is on and you can feel the anxiety permeate the team as the reality of the challenge sets in. All eyes are on you for answers, yet you have no idea what to do next! No worries, countless successful leaders have been in your shoes before. What did they do? They pretended they had a clue. Often what is most needed in these situations is a sense of optimism and reassurance that everything will be ok. You must be the energy that is missing in your team. While you may not have a tangible next step figured out yet, you can provide a confidence that, in working together, the team will figure it out.

3. Stand taller, breathe deeply, speak more slowly, smile more – The body and the mind are closely connected. If you change little things about how you hold yourself in physical space, it can change the way you think and how you experience the world. For instance, mindfully standing taller with your chest higher and your shoulders back will cause your voice to deepen and your words to have greater gravity. Composed leaders also practice breathing deeply into their belly vs. allowing short, chest high, breaths which promote anxiousness. Composed leaders also mindfully speak a little slower, as they don’t have a need to rush to their conclusion or worry about losing their train of thought. Finally, composed leaders smile in the face of adversity, and, in doing so, project their confidence and optimism onto others. Research supports that smiling invites connection and increases a leader’s influence.

4. Crush negative self-talk in the moment – It’s not just you. We all have that voice in our head that talks to us sometimes. Most annoyingly, it shows up most often right at the moment when we are assessing whether or not we can do something challenging. We hear things like “that will never work,” or “what were they thinking putting me in charge of this task?” That voice in our head is constantly telling us we are not good enough. Why does this happen? Well, that’s your ego talking and it’s very protective of you. If we try and fail, our ego bears the brunt of that pain and it tends to not like that very much. So it works hard to keep itself in a comfortable and risk free environment.

Yet, leaders operate with a growth mindset and recognize that risk and learning through failure are all part of increasing one’s confidence and composure. Thus, leaders crush negative self-talk in the moment, before it negatively influences them. A powerful way to do this is by simply asking the question “where did I learn this thinking?” Often, we have learned these self-sabotaging beliefs from someone in our lives or from a negative experience. When we pause to question if that belief is really true, we realize that this is not the case or that we are allowing our past to unfairly dictate our future possibilities. You are not the person you were just yesterday, so imagine how much you’ve grown in five years. Let go of those old stories and acknowledge your current strengths and abilities.

This post is a sample chapter from my new eBook “ACTIONABLE! Leadership: Develop Your Inspirational Ability, Motivate Teams, & Achieve Extraordinary Results.”  Claim your free copy by following the below link and start taking action towards meeting your full leadership potential.

Free ACTIONABLE! Leadership eBook

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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8 Beliefs That Increase Your Leadership Potential

Nect Gas 130 miles

A follower, a manager, and a leader set out on a road trip together. After packing the car, they briefly discussed who will drive. Not wanting to be responsible for potentially getting them lost, the follower opts out and takes a spot in the back seat. Then, sensing the manager’s need to be in control, the leader hands over the keys and instead reviews the map from the shotgun position. It wasn’t very long into their adventure that everyone realized how they all were in the perfect place to best contribute. The leader was doing a fantastic job of monitoring congestion alerts, augmenting the route, and then providing clear directions to the manager. In turn, the manager who was a superb driver, safely obeyed the traffic laws while skillfully weaving through the crowded highway. Finally, capitalizing on his natural gift for DJing, the follower played a great medley of tunes from his iPhone’s extensive music collection that kept the group upbeat throughout. In fact, things were going so well that no one noticed that they were almost out of gas!

As their car slowly sputtered to the side of the road, the manager was livid as he had specifically asked the follower to fill the car with gas before they left and, the closest gas station was many miles away. The mood in the car now quickly turned sour as the manager angrily sought to hold the follower accountable for his mistake. The follower knew he had really screwed up. Sulking in his seat, he felt horrible. Evaluating what would best serve the group in this moment, the leader began to speak. “Gentleman, this is my fault. Prior to the trip I asked the follower to help me load the car. He likely didn’t have time to get gas because he was doing me a favor. What I thought would take only a few minutes ended up taking over an hour.” The follower immediately felt better, not necessarily because he was no longer on the hook, but because he felt connected to the leader who was both sticking up for him and exercising personal accountability. Even the manager, while still not particularly happy about the situation, felt his emotions subside and was now more concerned with solving the problem.

Everyone then quickly got back to what they did best. The follower worked the side of the road to try and flag down someone who might help, the manager inventoried their resources available in case they were stranded for an extended period of time, and the leader got on the phone with AAA to try and secure towing support. Each bringing his diverse talents to the situation, it wasn’t long before the group was back on the road and headed in the right direction again!

In my recent posts “8 Beliefs that Limit Your Leadership Potential Part 1 and Part 2”, we explored how our values, beliefs, and personal stories shape what possibilities are available to us and, thus, are responsible for driving our behavior.

This then raises an important question, if there are certain beliefs that hold us back as leaders, are there certain beliefs that might enable us to better fulfill our leadership potential?

After 20+ years of studying leadership and observing some truly amazing leaders in action, I think there are certain beliefs that set the best leaders apart. These are ways of looking at the world that open up possibilities, ensure priorities are maintained, and invite greatness. As you read through these first four beliefs, evaluate how they might have showed up in the story metaphorically and, if they are congruent with your own system of beliefs. If you assess these beliefs as your own, to what extent are they fully embodied? Check in with your daily actions as a leader…would others agree that your behavior is congruent with the following:

1. Everyone comes to this world with unique gifts to offer – If you’re a results-focused leader like I am, this may seem a little soft and sentimental. Yet, the reality is that each of us is needed, has value, and has a deep seated desire to contribute. When we hold this belief, we no longer use people like human “resources” to be managed as we delegate work tasks. Instead, we seek to understand each person’s gifts and how they can best be leveraged. A leader who truly embodies this belief at a core level will also look beyond an individual’s surface level attributes. They become curious as to what gifts remain untapped, and wonder how this individual might contribute in ways that they haven’t considered yet? The best leaders help us to see potential in ourselves that we never knew existed.

2. There is strength in diversity – People often fear what they do not understand. Thus, when it comes to hiring people in organizations and building work groups, people often surround themselves with those who are much like themselves. Doing so makes us feel more in control — enabling a sense of comfort and a greater semblance of predictability. Yet, the best leaders lean into the discomfort of surrounding themselves with a diverse team. They know that homogeneity leads to group think and, hence, they value the varied perspectives that diversity offers. They also value independent thinking and, thus, create cultures where dissent is both encouraged and appreciated. Great leaders know they will rise or fall depending on the quality of the team they lead. The saying often goes that A’s hire A’s while B’s hire C’s. Perhaps more appropriately, A’s hire diverse A’s while B’s hire similar C’s.

3. Nobody shows up to work to suck – When individuals are not meeting organizational standards, the first thing most managers are likely to do is judge them as non-performers and document their failures. Essentially, they are protecting themselves and externalizing blame for their non-performance. In fact, many managerial experts will tell you that the faster you rid yourself of non-performers, the more effective the organization will be. While there may be some truth to this, I believe the best leaders see things differently. First, they get curious as to what their part is in the non-performance behavior and recognize that, as an accountable leader, they likely had something to do with it. Leaders don’t ask “why is this person failing,” but rather “where have I failed this person?” Their curiosity emerges from the belief that nobody shows up to work with intentions of sucking at their job. Something else is likely going on. Perhaps they are going through a difficult personal challenge at home, or maybe they are simply in the wrong position for their natural skill-sets. Whatever the situation, non-performers are almost always doing the very best they can given their circumstances. A true leader will then find a way to make them successful again. I have seen it time and time again…the best leaders never leave anyone behind.

4. A leader’s primary responsibility is to serve followers – While the responsibilities of holding authority are stressful and can take their toll on a manager, an elevated position within an organizational hierarchy is certainly not without its perks. There is the increased status, access to information, and the powerful feeling of being more in control of one’s destiny. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that when riding the lofty winds of authority, it’s the fans of loyal followers who are keeping you in flight! That’s why this particular belief is supremely important in reaching your potential. Leaders know that if they are to be successful, their followers must be successful first. Thus, the best leaders rarely think in terms of their own personal needs or agenda, but rather work tirelessly to uncover and meet the needs of their followers. The irony being that when you serve your followers well, they will bend over backwards to make you successful! Not because you are their manager with great authority, but because they respect your outstanding leadership in helping them to become their best.

Hopefully, these first four 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’s 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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