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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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

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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

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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

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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8 Beliefs That Limit Your Leadership Potential (Part 2)

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In Part 1 of this post (below), we explored how our values, beliefs, and personal stories drive our behavior through the crowded bar story. After waiting a long time for service, the leader took action and secured a pitcher of beer for her thirsty team. Let’s pick it up from there…

Finally enjoying their frothy cold beverages together, the follower, manager, and leader begin to talk about their day. The follower starts the conversation by explaining his routine challenges to the group. Apparently, the sales team keeps over-promising on what his manufacturing team can deliver on and the timid follower feels he can’t speak up about it. The intense workload and impossible demands are taking their toll on him and his peers. He then describes his boss as a “slave driver” with no backbone to stand up to those “prima donna sales snobs!” Unfortunately, and unbeknownst to the follower, the gentlemen to his left happens to be the head manager of sales and he is quickly becoming very defensive about the follower’s tirade. The now irate manager begins to loudly express his strong denouncement of everything the follower has just shared. He then explains his intricate system for accurate sales forecasting, his impeccable record of always making his numbers, and how it’s just too bad if the “whiny” manufacturing folks can’t keep up! At this point, the leader intervenes. First, she explains to the manager that she hears what he is saying and offers that the sales team is under a lot of pressure to deliver on the quarterly expectations. She then coaches the now very embarrassed follower into not backing down from this challenge by the manager. She expresses her interest in learning more about the follower’s challenges and begins to facilitate the much needed discussion. After a few uncomfortable minutes, the group begins to engage with each other and truly hear one another’s needs and concerns. By the end of the night they are toasting each other and commit to making several improvements together. The leader then picks up the tab and Ubers a cab for their ride home!

This brings us to the next four beliefs that can limit your potential as a leader. As you read through them, I offer that you 1) try to identify how these stories might be either limiting or working towards the leadership potential of our fictional characters in the bar scenario and 2) check-in with your own beliefs and how they are shaping the possibilities available to you. Again…what is it that you personally believe?

1. I must be liked to be a good leader – This makes perfect sense. No one wants to work with someone that they don’t like. Besides, leadership is about influence and how could I begin to influence people if they don’t like me? If I work to be liked first, then people will go out of their way to help me and make me successful in my leadership responsibilities. Not necessarily. While being liked as a leader certainly helps, it should never be a primary motivator for your behavior. Leaders often have to make tough decisions and sometimes those decisions will make them unpopular. Whether it be delivering news about much needed sacrifices ahead or having difficult accountability conversations, leaders must be comfortable with communicating the hard truth versus what will make people happy. Instead of working to be liked, work to be respected. Not in the sense that followers respect your authority, but rather respected for your competence, compassion, character, commitment, and consistency. The liking part will then take care of itself.

2. A leader ensures a harmonious team – Huh? How could this not be true? We all know that harmony is a good thing. I mean what kind of leader lets team members get into it with one another, which always has such a chilling effect on the rest of the group. A leader’s job is to ensure that various personalities on the team find a way to get along. Not really! It’s very easy to fall into this trap as it is socially engrained in us from an early age. Groups naturally strive for harmony and the moment that conflict emerges, we just want it to go away. If a leader provides us with protection and re-establishes order in these moments, they are exercising authority not leadership![1] Good leaders instead recognize that conflict is a necessary part of getting the group’s needs met. More importantly, leaders understand the ramifications of repressing conflict and promoting a false harmony — resentment and crippling dysfunction. Leaders instead create a trustful space for diverse perspectives to speak their mind and enable healthy debate to occur.

3. Leaders don’t fail – Of course they don’t fail! Failures fall by the wayside and it’s those that succeed who are promoted to positions of greater responsibility and opportunity. Leadership and failure go together like oil and water. There is simply no mixing the two or you will quickly be labeled a poor leader. Wrong! Leaders are never one to play it safe. Comfortable is a dirty word to them and thus they take risks and push our boundaries of what is possible. Yet, leaders, like everyone else, rarely get everything right the first time. They make mistakes, and it’s how they handle their mistakes that separates themselves from the rest of us. Leaders never lets their mistakes define them. They don’t avoid their failures, they own them and value them. Failures instead become powerful ways to expedite their learning, strengthen their resilience, and inspire an even greater will to succeed.

4. I’m not good enough to lead – Seriously, what were they thinking putting me in charge? I have been faking it the whole way. Sure, I had some successes but anyone could have produced the same results. It’s only a matter of time before they figure me out. Absolutely, Positively, NO! This may seem to be ridiculously obvious as a limiting belief, however it is by far the #1 most pervasive belief holding many leaders back. Even many “successful” leaders share this story and, ironically, it can be the primary driver of their success. When this belief serves them, they work extra hard to overcome their insecurity and embrace continuous learning. Unfortunately, this story also can cause a leader to overcompensate for their ego, feeding almost every other belief discussed in this post! If this is resonating with you, know this, you are not alone and you don’t need anything else. You already have everything it takes to be an extraordinary leader. The real challenge is will you internally validate yourself enough to be the leader that you are destined to become. When you flip the switch inside and see yourself as that leader – you are.

Remember that our beliefs, values, and personal stories are not fixed, we can change them. It’s not a simple undertaking, yet it’s certainly a worthwhile endeavor if they are limiting our leadership capacity. The world needs your leadership, choose to reach your full potential.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to hit the “follow” button on this page so I can share with you share with you on a variety of topics. Thank You!

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[1] Heifetz, R., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Boston: Harvard Business Press.

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