Becoming a Servant Coach

Business customer care and support concept.

Who was the worst manager you’ve worked for in your career? Imagine their face in your mind for a moment. Now, think of a problem you are currently facing and go ask that manager for their support. As you play this scenario out in your mind, what happens next? Maybe one of these sounds familiar…

I couldn’t find him/her, they are never available (not physically present).

They didn’t listen to me (didn’t actually hear what I said).

They interrupted me or were clearly distracted (not emotionally present).

They offered ideas I had already tried to do (were not helpful at all).

They explained how they would solve the problem (but I didn’t see how that would work for me).

They helped me brainstorm, but provided no additional resources/support (set me up for failure).

What do all of these possible responses have in common? They are rooted in a mindset of self-centeredness. This is a common mistake that many managers make. With power and authority, they fall into the trap of being egocentric. Among other things, this manifests as lousy coaching, which ultimately leads to lost potential, disengagement, and mediocre performance results.

In my previous article, I offered that after a decade of training over 3000 managers in primarily Fortune 500 organizations, I’ve come to believe that the two most critical skills a manager must master are: 1) delivering feedback in a way that inspires learning and 2) coaching people to solve their own challenges. I then provided a model for how managers can learn to become a Feedback Warrior and overcome obstacles to providing critical feedback. In the final article of this series, I’ll reason that the key to better coaching is overcoming a mindset of self-centeredness. In short…

Managers Must Develop a Servant’s Heart 

When in a position of power, managers often feel overly self-important. After all, you earned that title! You worked hard for that promotion and the organization validated your high degree of competence with increased levels of responsibility. Why wouldn’t you (as a manager) coach others from a mindset of expertise?

Managers must learn to override this strong instinct, and develop a Servant’s Heart if they want to be effective coaches. So, what does it mean to be a servant? By definition, a servant is a devoted and helpful follower or supporter. While a servant has needs just like everyone else, they choose to put their personal needs aside in order to take care of others first. Some famous servant leaders throughout history include Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, etc. All of these extraordinary leaders made great personal sacrifices for the benefit of their followers. They also all embodied values like empathy, humility, curiosity, compassion, and stewardship.

Servant Coach with Logo

While serving others before self may not come naturally for many, we all have the capacity to choose our behavior. This is especially relevant for the modern-day manager. If we choose to develop a Servant’s Heart, we can’t help but to coach others to their full potential and inspire superior results.

Let’s take a look at the Servant’s values and how they help us to coach others effectively:

1.    Empathy – Have you ever had the pleasure of being served by a professional waiter at a high-end restaurant? You may recall feeling like you were “very important” and well cared for. That waiter understood your specific needs and desires. They were attuned to your emotions and exactly how they could exceed your expectations. A good waiter is a master empathizer!

Likewise, empathy is an essential ingredient to being a good coach. Frequently, managers want to immediately move to problem-solving, without accounting for the impact of emotions. The irony being that, when you truly feel what others are feeling, you often redefine the problem altogether! A Servant Coach learns how to get present, listen deeply, and use emotions as key data.

2.    Humility – Jesus Christ is considered one of the best examples of a Servant Leader, and His washing of His disciples’ feet in John 13:1-17 is perhaps the most iconic lesson concerning humility. While already revered as their Lord and Master, Jesus magnifies His influence even further by going against the attitudes of time and offering that He came “not to be served, but to serve.” He then (literally) gets His hands dirty, and does the work traditionally done by servants in washing His disciples’ feet.  

Managers, today, will benefit from demonstrating more humility in their coaching conversations. It’s all about identity. If you see yourself as “an expert,” you will be more of an advisor in your coaching conversations. Instead, show up as a facilitator and remind yourself that your coachee is full of unlimited potential. Be humble, resist the urge to “show what you know,” and tap into your coachee’s creativity.

Albert

3.    Curiosity – So how then do we avoid the managerial tendency to immediately give advice? Simple…be deliberately curious. A Servant Coach understands that the best way to serve others in a coaching conversation is by unlocking answers through smart and powerful questions. If you have been deeply listening to your coachee, and empathized with their situation, you can use this data to inform your questions.

Example: It seems like your recent interactions with customers have been really frustrating for you. I get it…all they seem to care about is the end-result, and they don’t want to hear about how your team’s overtime hours are really burning them out.

What is one small thing customers could do to make things slightly less frustrating for you and your team? or When we are frustrated, we tend to not be at our best. What approaches have you tried thus far to resolve the situation, and how did that go?

Also, don’t entirely discount your expertise. Instead, use your expertise to ask a question rather than offer a solution. There are all sorts of coaching question lists out there, and I invite you to keep a few good questions already in your back pocket. However, when a Servant Coach is at his or her best, insightful questions “emerge” from both paying attention to your gut and leveraging your personal experiences.

4.    Compassion – Compassion can be defined as empathy in action. While empathizing in a coaching conversation is helpful, a Servant Coach will not stop there. Once your coachee identifies the next steps towards solving their problem, look for opportunities to support beyond the coaching conversation. Ask, “What resources can I provide to help this person?” or “What obstacles can I remove that will get this person closer to their goal?” Then they commit to making these things happen.

In today’s busy workplaces, it’s too easy for a manager to have a good coaching conversation, then immediately go back to tending to their personal needs. They leave their coachee to fend for themselves, missing the opportunity to expedite their success. Remember that being a Servant Coach is an investment. In showing compassion and taking supportive action, you can’t help but to make others more successful. Your team will then start bending over backwards to return the favor.

Tom Peters

5.    Stewardship – Finally, a Servant Coach thinks ahead and patiently helps people to meet their full potential over time. They balance coaching immediate needs with considering future possibilities and growth opportunities. This is important because Servant Leadership does not mean that you give people exactly what they want, it means giving people what they need. Sometimes that means a little “tough love” may be necessary to encourage stretching outside one’s comfort zones and building new capacities.

Servant Coach will also hold people accountable for what they say they want to do. Especially if the coachee is stretching themselves in a way that makes them uncomfortable. This requires time and energy on your part as a manager. Without systematic process for follow-up, you’ll likely let them off the hook. It’s about stewardship. Great leaders create more leaders. Be the catalyst that ensures the next generation of leaders is well-prepared.

My hope in sharing this article is that more managers will develop a Servant’s Heart and coach more people to their full potential.

If you found this article interesting, I invite you to check out LGG’s Feedback Warrior Servant Coach training offering by clicking here.

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Becoming a Feedback Warrior

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In my last post, I reasoned that people are not getting enough performance feedback in the workplace today. Although research consistently demonstrates that feedback is a fundamental human need and we desire more of it (even the constructive kind), managers are simply not giving enough of it. This is resulting in a loss of human potential, disengagement, and mediocre results. So what’s the solution?

Managers Must Learn to Embrace Their Warrior Spirit.

Sure, I could start this article with five steps for managers to deliver better feedback. You might read through them and nod your head in approval. You may even say to yourself, “I am going to try to do point number three more often.” Yet, the reality is that you probably wouldn’t make any real changes. Our default operating systems are hardened through years of personal experiences and unconscious adherence to beliefs/values. We can talk all we want about learning new skills; however, if we don’t change our mindset first, we won’t make any lasting shifts in our behavior.

So then…what does it mean to embrace your Warrior Spirit? Let’s first identify what the warrior represents. Warriors have been a necessary part of all cultures and societies throughout the ages. The purpose of a warrior is to face conflict. A warrior is never eager to fight; however, they realize it is sometimes necessary. The warrior is often revered because they take personal risks on our behalf. They may even sacrifice themselves for a greater purpose. The best warriors embody values like duty, loyalty, courage, respect, and integrity.

The Feedback Warrior 2019

While it’s an ancient archetype, it still lives within us all today. Some of us express our inner warrior more often than others, yet we all can learn to bring forward the warrior spirit when needed. This is especially relevant for the modern-day manager. If we learn to become a Feedback Warrior in the workplace, we can unlock potentials in others and inspire superior results.

Let’s take a look at the warrior’s values and how they serve us when delivering feedback:

1.    Duty – Warriors willfully face obstacles because it is their duty. They welcome responsibility and exhibit the discipline necessary to do their job. Likewise, a manager must own their role fully. It is their duty to provide feedback! Ask yourself this…“If not you, then who?” Where is the feedback going to come from? Do you get feedback from peers? Maybe. How about from your direct reports? Not likely. Most of our feedback comes from our supervisors. If you accept the title, own the responsibility as well and think of it as your unconditional duty to give specific, actionable, and timely feedback.

2.    Loyalty – Warriors declare their allegiance to a purpose bigger than themselves. When I served in the U.S. Military, I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution. As did all my fellow servicemen and women. That oath bound us together, and our loyalty to both common purpose and one another was unwavering.

Managers, today, need to think similarly when working with their teams. A loyal manager thinks of his or her direct reports like a brother or sister. They should feel an allegiance to support them, even giving difficult feedback if necessary, because they genuinely care about them and their success.

warrior pose

3.    Courage – Conflict is scary because we are uncertain of the potential outcome. Nevertheless, warriors do not shy away from it. They realize that avoidance of conflict often exacerbates the problem and postpones the inevitable. Warriors, instead, train themselves to handle conflict quickly and efficiently.

This does not mean that the warrior does not feel fear. A warrior understands that courage is taking action despite fear. The same applies to managers, today, when delivering feedback. We don’t know how it will be received and the other person may have a strong emotional reaction. However, we have to work with this person, and we don’t want it to jeopardize our relationship. What if we don’t have our facts straight? We may even be perceived as being sexist or racist!

There are many reasons we feel anxiety about giving feedback. A Feedback Warrior will find the courage within themselves to maintain focus on the task and deliver the feedback despite their emotional energy telling them to do otherwise.

4.    Respect – If you visit a traditional Japanese Karate Dojo, you will immediately notice the emphasis placed on respect. Not just respect for the authority (Sensei), but for the art’s lineage, the customs, and for one another as Karateka practitioners. This is to instill a respect for the powerful gift you are receiving in training. With power comes responsibility. Students learn that karate is for self-defense purposes and to use proportional force against a threat. In short, you learn to respect your opponent.

The same goes for managers today. A Feedback Warrior will seek to create feedback conversations that feel dignified and respectful. They deliver constructive feedback in a private setting, never in front of peers where they might cause undue embarrassment. They, also, will invest in countless instances of providing positive feedback beforehand, to create a strong relationship of mutual respect.

Think of your own experiences…we tend to be more open to constructive feedback when it comes from individuals we admire and respect. Feedback Warriors earn their authority to provide others with constructive criticism.

Integrity GNS Quote

5.    Integrity – A warrior always strives to act honorably and understands that having personal integrity is one of the highest measures of one’s honor. Webster defines integrity as 1) firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values, and 2) the quality or state of being complete or undivided. A Feedback Warrior embodies both aspects of the definition when having feedback conversations.

First, integrity is speaking honestly and fairly. Communicate with absolute candor, while also acknowledging that this feedback is your own perception/understanding/ reaction. A Feedback Warrior recognizes that feedback is as much about the giver as it is the receiver. We all have our own lens and biases, which impact our effectiveness at evaluating others’ competency. However, in speaking to your personal truth, you can help to limit defensiveness. For example:

Instead of: “You are not answering my emails in a timely manner. I need you to be more responsive.”

Try: “I’ve noticed that it took several days to get back to me on this important email. When I don’t hear from you in a timely manner, it makes me feel as if we are not on the same page and we may inadvertently mix up our messaging to the client. I realize that we all can get overwhelmed with email sometimes, yet, can we agree to be more responsive in the future?”

Second, integrity is being undivided in your communication. A Feedback Warrior does not “beat around the bush” or “sugarcoat” things. Often, managers will offer a “feedback sandwich,” to help alleviate their own anxiety. This is giving a compliment, then some constructive feedback, and then ending it with another compliment. This can confuse people as to what’s really important in this conversation and what they need to focus on.

My hope in sharing this article is that more managers will embrace their inner warrior and provide more feedback to their team. Yet, higher levels of performance don’t come from simply providing feedback. In my next article, I will share how managers should develop a Servant’s Heart in order to coach next level learning. I invite you to hit the “follow” button so you can receive future blog posts.

PS. Are you personally getting enough feedback to learn and grow as a professional? If you are a busy executive…probably not! Check out my powerful 360 Feedback Review process by clicking here.

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David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran and consultant to thousands of Fortune 500 managers, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

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

3 Coaching Mistakes Managers Make

Manager

How do you motivate people to bring their best effort to the workplace every day? Most managers will say it’s all about shaping behavior through strong incentives and rewarding positive outcomes, while also establishing appropriate consequences for poor performance. No doubt, a well-designed performance management system is imperative. Yet, talented people need more than carrots and sticks to reach their full potential. According to New York Times Bestselling Author, Dan Pink, smart professionals require three things; autonomy, mastery, and purpose to be intrinsically motivated in their jobs (1). This is why the critical skill of coaching separates a good manager from a top manager in today’s workplace.

Managers who are skilled coaches help their people to grow and develop beyond their current capacity, execute self-directed plans, and bring their unique gifts to the world in a purposeful way. Conversely, mangers who do not coach well set their reports up for stagnation, mediocrity, and disengagement. Many managers, today, understand this, and are genuinely interested in becoming a better coach. As such, I’ve made coaching skills development a top priority in my leadership programs for years. After nearly a decade of training thousands of people, I’ve noticed a few common coaching mistakes many managers make that I’d like to share with you.

Rubics Cube

1.    Trying to Solve the Problem – Bar none, this is the single biggest mistake most managers make when coaching their people. It makes perfect sense. A report comes to you with a workplace challenge, and aren’t you supposed to provide them with solutions? Not if you’re coaching them! The best managers will resist the strong urge to provide solutions straightaway and instead ask smart and powerful questions that unlock learning. Then, as ideas emerge in conversation, the report is more intrinsically motivated to act on them because they are their own. Why do we as managers find this so difficult to do? It’s about identity. You are likely defining your value as a manager as a fixer, a doer, an expert in your craft. Instead, try shifting your identity to one of a facilitator. Your true value is in your curiosity, and in your belief that your reports are more creative and insightful than they (or you) might possibly imagine.

I offer you subscribe to the 80/20 rule to stay on track as a coach. A good coaching conversation is 80% your report talking, and 20% you asking smart questions that create momentum. If you pause and notice that this ratio is out of whack, it’s likely because you are trying too hard to personally solve the problem. Step back and regain perspective on where your true value lies.

Banded2.    Ignoring Emotions – Most coaching conversations have a strong human component to them. Perhaps a report is having a problem influencing a decision-maker, challenged by a co-worker’s personality, or uncertain of what the next stages of their career might be. Yet, many managers distance themselves from the messy emotional stuff and immediately move to generating options for a technical solution. Human challenges require us to exercise a little humanity first. Your report is experiencing emotions as a result of these challenges, so meet them where they are and help them to feel heard first.

Use reflexive listening techniques like, “What I am hearing is that…” and “It sounds to me like this is a (frustrating, disappointing, overwhelming, etc.) experience for you.” In helping them to hear their own voice, and then naming/validating their emotions, you are demonstrating presence and emotional intelligence. You are also creating the conditions for success. Whereas before, emotions may have clouded their vision for available options. In leading with your humanity first, you’ve helped them to process these emotions and move on to rational problem solving on their own.

Hook3.    Taking the Bait – Many managers, especially those new to coaching, are so eager to help that they accidentally “collude” with their report on their problem they face. They are doing all the right things like deep listening, exercising empathy, and helping their report to hear themselves. Yet, in doing so, they are only seeing the challenge through their report’s eyes, and losing objectivity. Great coaching is often about holding multiple perspectives simultaneously, and helping your report to see alternatives.

You may need to be provocative and ask your report, “How did you contribute to this mess?” We often believe our problems exist outside of us rather than within us, and this is one of my favorite questions to help a coachee see the impact of their own behavior. Or, maybe, you pretend to bring the other party “into the room” and ask “if John were here right now, what might he say?” As a general rule, begin with strong empathy, yet remember there are (at least) three sides to every coaching conversation; 1) your report’s story, 2) the other side’s story, and 3) the truth. Great managers help their reports to see more of the truth, so they can choose more influential actions.

The good news is that most managers tend to overcome these three coaching mistakes rather quickly. All it takes is a little training and deliberate practice. If you are interested in helping your managers to become better coaches, contact me directly at dspungin@leadergrowthgroup.com to learn about our management development programs.

BookDavid understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran and consultant to thousands of Fortune 500 managers, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his Amazon Bestselling book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

(1) Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.

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Activate Yourself to Crush Mediocrity

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Things need to change! You’ve known this for some time now. Others on your team understand this as well, yet, for various reasons, no one is acting. You are officially mired in mediocrity.

Perhaps people feel that implementing a change will be too difficult, or too risky. Or, maybe, they feel they don’t have the skill to lead a successful change effort.

So, now the hard question…what are you going to do about it?

In previous articles on the VUCA Proof© Leader, we determined that leaders exist to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. To be effective in our VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) world, leaders must overcome their learned tendency to display heroic leadership, and instead focus on being more passionatebold, and mindful. Then, once you’ve made the effort to get Aligned, it’s time to get to work by becoming Activated.

Activated Main Model

An Activated leader leverages their passion to boldly challenge a team (or organization) to change for the better. It’s their rare combination of energy and courage that ignites others and becomes a powerful force for transformation. Specifically, there are three activities that an activated leader takes to create the conditions for change to occur.

Activated LeadershipActivated leadership starts with planning for change within the context of your environment. Assess the key stakeholders. Who are your allies? Who is likely to be in opposition? What are the hidden assumptions, values, and mental models that are contributing to being for or against your change initiative? I use Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis as my preferred tool to help frame these difficult-to-identify dynamisms.

puzzleNow, make no mistake, if it’s a big-enough change, this will be a struggle! Every system is perfectly designed to produce the results it gets. In any change, there will be winners and losers. Thus, you need to anticipate and prepare for resistance. In the military, we called this “prepping the battlefield.” We never wanted to engage in conflict on other’s terms. Instead, we did things like emplacing shaping obstacles, causing opposition forces to change direction to where we held the advantage. Translation…understand who has the most to lose with your proposed change, and try to predict their next steps. What can you do to mitigate opposition? Perhaps you need to have (meetings before the meeting) to ensure public support from your allies. Or, maybe you need prepare concessions that will make losses resulting from change more tolerable to others. “Wargame” how things could play out, and prepare accordingly.

Now, it’s time to act! An Activated leader will next engage in the activity of pot-stirring. Like a stew that’s become cold and stale, you need to get things moving and heat it up if it’s to become appetizing again. Thus, this is when you “say what needs to be said.” Speak from your heart and authentically articulate what change is needed. It may be uncomfortable, as people try to escape from, avoid, or delay the hard conversation. Hold strong to your beliefs and continue to mix it up. Ask questions of the group like, “What risks do you see in continuing along the same path?” Or, make a provocative interpretation like, “It amazes me that we all just bury our heads in the sand when we see these same mediocre results…is that because we don’t care anymore?” People may sigh at your “ridiculous” statement. Good. The idea is to get people talking when they prefer not to. Keep on stirring until, as Dr. Robert Marshek might explain, all topics, behaviors, attitudes, and feelings that are considered unacceptable or questionable for discussion “move from under the table, to on the table” for discussion[1].

9 Activities ActivatedWhile you may need to be a lightning rod for a moment to help generate healthy debate, I offer you never do it alone, and there will come a point where you should transition to the final Activated leadership activity, which is bridge-building. This is when you focus the group by creating unity of vision and direction. Rather than concentrating on the differences, pay attention to their commonalities and shared values. A year from now, what is a better outcome that we’d all value? What should we be doing to make this vision a reality? Who needs to be included to bring diverse perspectives on how we should get there? What are the small baby steps we can agree on that will enable clear progress? These are example questions that an activated leader might use to facilitate powerful discussion. The path forward does not need to come from you directly, in fact, it’s better if it emerges from the group. While the heroic leader “tells then sells” their vision, the VUCA Proof© leader consults, delegates, and builds consensus. This ensures the greatest amount of team buy-in, which is imperative to leading change in a VUCA environment.

Preparing, Pot-Stirring, and Bridge-Building are the activities that ensure we are practicing Activated Leadership. In my final VUCA Proof© Leadership article, I will address how we can stay Attuned to ensure change efforts progress as planned, which is essential to moving away from a heroic leadership style, and towards a more effective VUCA Proof© style.

Interested in training your team to adopt a more VUCA Proof© leadership style? You can download my white paper here and the VUCA Proof© 1-day Executive Workshop Brochure here.

[1] Marshak, R. J. (2006). Covert processes at work: managing the five hidden dimensions of organizational change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler.

 

Expanding Your “Choice Gap”

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One of my goals in 2018 is to create a YouTube channel that provides quick, informative, and inspiring leadership lessons. Please enjoy this first episode of The Leader Growth Group Video Blog.

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Video Description: Leaders understand reactivity causes them to lose influence. By acknowledging their inner dialogue and emotions, the best leaders create space for more mindful and effective actions.

Time Investment: Less than 4 minutes.

Click on the below link to start the video:

 

Example_15David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of TheLeader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his new book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

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

Setting the Stage for Your Leadership Success

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It’s a new year, it’s a new you! For many of us, January is our customary transition time. A period of lofty aspirations and making positive changes. You may be saying to yourself, “This is the year I will finally lose that 10 pounds, spend more time with the family, or (insert your own reliably missed goal here).” That’s right…we tend to start out strong with our goals, but lose momentum as the reality of life sets in. Nowhere is this more apparent than at your local gym. Right about now, the place is fully packed with hopeful and motivated people. Yet, give it about three weeks….the place will be a ghost town as the difficulty of consistent self-discipline slowly sets in. While setbacks in personal fitness aspirations are normal, and, relatively harmless, there are some goals you can’t afford to miss. Namely, your leadership goals.

With leadership comes tremendous responsibility. Others are counting on you to be your highest-best-self as a leader—everyday. They need you to bring your strengths, mitigate your challenges, and embrace continuous learning. You can’t give it your best in January and, then, just take a few months off. As a leader, you are always on a stage. Always performing. Always being evaluated. If you expect your people to deliver rock star results this year, you need to be the example. As such, the best leaders have a plan to continuously grow themselves.

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So, do you have your leadership goals for the year already established? If not, where should you start? Here are a few thoughts to help spur some ideas.

Thumbs Up and Down1.Inventory Historic Feedback – Reflect back on last year. What consistent feedback did you hear? What strengths did others value? Any weaknesses that are impeding your success? Try to list two to three answers to each of these questions. If this takes you more than 5 minutes to complete, I offer that your most important leadership goal for the coming year may need to be diligently and consistently collecting feedback on your leadership performance.

Vision on Mountain2. Imagine Team/Organizational Success –Take a moment and envision you’ve just fast- forwarded to December. It was an amazingly successful year and you are proud of your team and organizational performance! See the results in your mind’s eye. What are your clients, teammates, and reports saying about the year? Now, who would you need to become as a leader for this to be a reality? How would you personally need to change?

Trends Compass3. Note Environmental Trends – Perhaps you are already a high-performing leader and want to take your game to the next level. Look at how the world is evolving and seek opportunities to evolve with it. Here is a list of seven of the top leadership skills for 2020. For a more in-depth look at what’s ahead, the Center for Creative Leadership published this excellent white paper on future trends in leader development. My personal take on imperative leadership skills for the future include: ability to lead change in an environment of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA); emphasis on facilitative coaching skills as a manager; and internalizing a “service-before-self” mentality rooted in curiosity and humility.

Whatever you decide to focus on as a leader this year, I have one final word of advice…don’t go at it alone! Lean into your support system and seek out mentorship, coaching, and skills training opportunities. If you are interested in executive coaching, check out my Executive Edge Program. If you or your team are interested in becoming a VUCA Proof© leader, check out my VUCA Proof© White Paper and VUCA Proof© Executive Workshop. Great luck in the year ahead, set the stage and lead well!

Example_15(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of TheLeader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his new book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

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

Finding Your Leadership Fit in a VUCA World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example_15.png(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces. Get a copy of his new book, “Growing Leaders: 20 Articles to Challenge, Inspire, and Amplify Your Leadership” by clicking here.

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

Connect, Adapt, Collaborate: Applying Army Mission Execution Fundamentals to Business

Army Ops

The U.S. Army has a timeless and sticky saying it uses in order to drive home the fundamentals of mission execution. From the very first days of boot camp, a young Private will hear the Drill Sergeants yelling “you must learn how to shoot, move, and communicate if you want to survive on the battlefield!” They then go on to spend weeks mastering their personal weapon, learning how to low crawl and find cover, and practicing how to speak properly on the radio. Over time, one learns how important these skills really are. Yes, there are many more advanced competencies to learn over the course of your career, but if you can’t do these three basics consistently well… it might all be for nothing.

These ideas are not limited to the military and there is much that corporate leaders can take away from this simple saying as well. Successfully executing any strategy, whether it be on the battlefield or the boardroom, is often a function of doing the fundamentals consistently well. So how might the Army’s fundamentals of shoot, move, and communicate apply to the modern business environment? There are many similarities but I would translate the language to connect, adapt, and collaborate.

TargetConnect – Just like the Private learning how to “put steel on target” at the weapons qualification range, business execution requires one to master their resources and connect them with distant objectives. Specifically, there are three connections to be made that foster better execution. First, master an awareness of your personal strengths and connect these innate talents with the team’s objectives. Ask yourself: what are my exceptional gifts to the world and how can I provide the most value in day-to-day execution? Next, smartly connect to the infinite resources outside of you. Who can do this challenging activity much better than you can? Savvy leaders realize their boundaries and connect with others that compliment limitations. Finally, fully connect with your customer’s needs and expectations. Little is more frustrating than executing well on something that is no longer in the greatest service to your key stakeholders. Like the bullet seeking its target, the energy of connecting with your customer is one of laser-like focus. Don’t wait for feedback; be proactive and purposeful in continuously reaching out to clarify how things are going.

mud soldiersAdapt – Successful execution is becoming less of a formulaic process, and maintaining flexibility and agility is increasingly important. In essence, we must practice our ability to move with our shifting environment and change plans as necessary. In the Army, we might rehearse a complex mission for weeks on end. Yet, we lived by the rules of “the enemy always has a vote” and “no plan ever survives first contact (with that enemy).” A more relevant example might be at Google, where the culture promotes the concept of “design and iterate.” Googlers see strategy and execution as being one – a continuously refined process of trial and error that speeds up results. We might intuitively understand these concepts; however, many find them difficult to implement. We frequently become wed to our brilliant plans or overly comfortable with stale execution processes. The key to overcoming these barriers is to cultivate a “beginner’s mind” and learn to approach potential change from a place of curiosity. When we already “know” how to execute best, we resist things that do not reinforce these beliefs. Yet, when we lose our rigidity and get curious about possibilities, change becomes a way to simply get better.

military-560475_1280Collaborate – Great execution today requires increased communication and collaboration. It seems simple enough, yet why can it be so hard to collaborate during execution? The answer lies in the two very different energies required to do these equally imperative skills. When we are personally executing, our heads are down, our eyes narrow, and we concentrate our energy so that we might overcome obstacles and complete our tasks. When we are collaborating, we pick our heads up, we open our eyes wide, and seek to see the bigger picture around us. Executing and collaborating well is an ebb and flow of contraction and expansion. We collaborate to build intent, execute initial steps, communicate needs, execute some more, check-in on collective progress, drive towards results… it’s a rhythm we all know well. Yet, we all seem to do much better at the personal execution part than we do at the collaboration part. Key to becoming a better collaborator is becoming aware of when you contract. When do you tend to put your head down and get overly focused on your piece of the execution pie? For me, I contract when I have made a personal commitment and am up against a tight deadline. In these moments, I can be a lousy communicator as I focus myself on fulfilling my promises and shut down to others in the process. Stress in general can make us all contract, so recognizing when we are stressed is a tell-tale sign that we need to communicate our needs and collaborate more with others.

Execution is what translates ethereal strategy into tangible results. Yet, disciplined execution is a rarity in today’s turbulent business environment. Learn to embody the three fundamentals of connection, adaptation, and collaboration…and all will marvel at your ability to get the mission accomplished!

(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 this content is prohibited without the authorized consent of the author.

How to Get Your Leadership License

LL4

What if you could only be a leader in your organization if you first passed a leadership test. Consider something like getting your driver’s license! Imagine this. On your big day, your proud mentor takes you to the Department of Leadership Certification (DLC). You are nervous as your number is called to enter a private booth and take a multiple-choice quiz on topics like emotional intelligence, teamwork, and leading organizations through change. You feel good about how things went, until your assessor calls for you to come and take your practical exam. You are then given a task and a team, and told to deliver results under challenging conditions. All the while, your assessor is scribbling notes on his clipboard about your performance. Hours later, you get your scores back…you’ve done it! You’ve passed your leadership test and earned your license to lead!

Sounds ridiculous, right? Well, as crazy as this may sound, many people out there are waiting for someone to “certify” them as a leader. They may not be formally taking a test; however, they are lingering until an authority deems them “worthy” of handling leadership responsibility. These are the people who tell themselves, “once I get that promotion, then I will be ready to lead.” Or maybe it’s “once I get an M.B.A. from a prestigious institution, that’s when I’ll really start leading.”

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I’ve got a “secret” to share with you…No one can give you permission to lead; it’s a choice you make all by yourself. It doesn’t take a new title. It doesn’t require an advanced degree. However, it does require you to see yourself as a leader. That’s the real magic of getting recognized with a promotion or going through the ceremony of graduating from a credentialed program. These events change how we see ourselves. When leadership becomes a part of your identity, one starts to embrace leadership behaviors more.

So, how do we flip the switch and start to see ourselves as leaders? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Realize You Own the Power – Come on…Really? Yes, really. Recognize that leadership is not about the title and has nothing to do with your credentials. Instead, these things often lend us authority. Yet, authority is given to us whereas leadership is something you do all on your own. If something in your organization must change, begin with yourself and model the change that’s needed. Build your credibility and find others with shared values. Create strength through relational commitments and energize others through your passion. Then, work with authority (or artfully against it) to strategize outcomes and appropriate actions to bring about a new reality. Voila, you just led a movement. Not because someone authorized you to do so, rather because you chose to put in the work.
  2. Practice Your Confidence – So why don’t more people put in the work required to lead? It’s a combination of a few things. First, it’s easier to not exercise leadership, and many just don’t have the energy or determination within them. They would rather someone just do it for them. The second most common reason is people are afraid they might fail. They say to themselves; “what if I put myself out there and nobody follows?” or “do I really have what it takes to make a difference?” There is only one way to know—give it a try. You build your confidence to lead by doing. Note also that it’s often in failure we learn our greatest leadership lessons. Every time you step into the arena, you are building your leadership skills, and in the process, you gain confidence.
  3. Be a Student of Leadership – The best leaders are insatiably curious and committed to life-long learning. They consistently pursue new knowledge and diverse perspectives on leadership. They read leadership books not only to gain fresh insights, but also to form their own opinions on what will work for them personally. They also try to surround themselves with other leaders and observe their behavior. Finally, they commit to their professional development. Whether it be signing up for a new training or working with an Executive Coach, they prepare themselves for the challenges of leadership.

If you hadn’t already bought into your own power to exhibit leadership, I hope this article has helped you to see things differently. If you know someone who has real potential to lead, yet hasn’t created that identity for themselves, please share this with them. With so many challenges today, the world need more leaders. Thankfully, we don’t have to get a license to do so; we just need to choose to lead.

(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.

Mindful Leadership in a VUCA World

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In my last article on the VUCA Proof© leader, I made the case that leaders exist to extinguish the status quo, envision a superior outcome, and align actions towards producing new results. To be effective towards this purpose, leaders must be extraordinarily bold, rising above the distractions of Volatility, Uncertainty, Ambiguity, and Complexity (VUCA) to inspire others. Yet, embracing boldness as a leader is only part of the equation, as a strength overdone becomes a weakness.

Perhaps, you have met an “overly bold” leader. Someone whose vision was so far ahead of the rest of the team, they had a hard time gaining buy-in during execution. Or maybe, they challenged others so intensely to attain their vision, they burned out even their most ardent supporters (or themselves) along the way. For boldness to be effective, it needs a counterweight. Mindfulness is the Yin to the Yang of boldness.

Mindfulness

You may think, “Oh no, not another mindfulness article!” For some, the word mindfulness conjures up images of yogis meditating on a pillow, and it’s “too far out there” for them to practically access. So, please allow me to break this down in the most tangible way possible. Mindfulness is about training your attention. For a VUCA Proof© leader, mindfulness is about training your attention to cut through chaos, so you can notice what’s going on and deeply understand the impact of your leadership initiatives. Let’s look at these components in greater detail.

Cutting through chaosIt’s No Longer Optional – In a world of information overload and multitasking, a leader’s attention is their most precious asset. One might think of attention as the currency of leadership, just like in your wallet or purse you have a finite amount of money you have available to spend. How you spend it is largely a function of your values/needs, and how a leader “spends” attention reflects their priorities. Unfortunately, in today’s VUCA world, it’s easy for leaders to spend their attention on distractions. Mindfulness is no longer optional; it is now a critical leader behavior.

Hand in waterGetting Beneath the Surface – With deliberately focused attention, the leader can dig deeper to see and to hear what might go on in their environment. Think of your daily workflow as moving like a fast-paced stream. The water is rushing by, and from the banks, you can see rocks and how they are affecting flow. Now, you take your hand and place it in the water. Immediately, you notice new information. The water is cooler and deeper than you expected. You also notice there is a strong undercurrent down about two feet. Similarly, leaders leverage mindfulness to observe, feel, sense, and think about what’s going on inside them and around them.

connectionsSeeing connections – With fresh information to work with, a mindful leader can practice greater curiosity and empathy. They might notice the VP of Sales sounded a little down on the call today and get curious about how he is holding up after almost three straight weeks of traveling. They may then remember he has a 5-year-old daughter at home, who has likely also been affected. Or a leader might notice their own frustration around why Project X hasn’t made more progress in recent weeks, only to realize they haven’t done a great job communicating expectations for certain milestones. Having connected the dots, the leader now has greater choice as to what leadership actions will increase their influence and produce results.

Yet, like boldness, mindfulness does not just happen to us one day; it’s a behavior that must be practiced and embodied. To be a mindful leader, here are a few things to keep top of mind:

  1. Be Your Own Intervention – VUCA typically has us thinking about past events and anticipating the future. To get oneself in a fully present state requires an intervention! We need to interrupt our thinking and quiet the mind. For many, the best way to do this is through a micro-meditation that focuses one’s attention on your breath and/or our body. Sometimes, a short mantra can help. As an example of all three techniques, here is Deepak Chopra’s “go-to” 3-minute meditation to get focused.
  2. Make Curiosity a Habit – Once you are well practiced at quieting your mind on demand, you will have the space to practice authentic curiosity — questioning your observations in an open, honest, and non-judgmental way. For better introspection, this is a solid list of 13 questions every leader should have on hand and reflect on daily. However, mindfulness is also about what’s going on for others, and great leaders’ check in often with their people to test assumptions. Here is also a great list of 7 questions every leader should keep in their back pocket to better understand the impact of their leadership on others.
  3. Commit to Consistency – 10 minutes a day…at a minimum, that’s what it takes to increase your mindfulness (1). Just like heading to the gym, you must put in the work to build new muscle. Create the conditions for consistency. Perhaps, you start your day with 5 minutes of meditation and then 5 minutes of reflection on “questions of the day” (before looking at your email). A little discipline goes a long way, and over time, it will become easier. Finally, there is great new technology you can use to support a mindfulness practice. If you haven’t yet heard of Headspace, it’s a great app that helps to make meditation and mindfulness a habit.

I invite you to bring more mindfulness to your leadership. In doing so, you’ll be setting yourself up for greater success and moving toward what I call a VUCA Proof© leadership style. Interested in learning more about what it means to be a VUCA Proof© leader? You can download my whitepaper here. Interested in training your executive team to adopt a mindful, more VUCA Proof© leadership style? Simply download the VUCA Proof© 1-day Executive Workshop Brochure here.

(David understands how effective leadership generates success. A U.S. Army combat veteran with corporate leadership experience, he is the Founder & Principal Consultant of The Leader Growth Group, a firm dedicated to creating self-aware leaders who inspire more engaged and productive workplaces.)

*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.