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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Can I Give You Some Feedback on Your Feedback?

Scared Guy

Hi there,

I know we don’t know each other very well, but do you mind if I give you some feedback?

Well, I don’t know how to put this. It’s never easy to talk about. Uhm, I’ll just cut to the chase…

You suck at giving feedback.  

Look, it’s not just you. Most managers are pretty terrible at it. Still, you can do better and you should work on it.

Ok? Great. Well then…good chat.

Oh yeah, your coaching stinks too, but we can talk about that later.

Ugh. Sound familiar? Most of us have had a few of these conversations with a boss throughout our careers. There is something our manager wants us to get better at, and they awkwardly stumble through giving us feedback on our performance. They are either too direct or too soft. So blunt that they trigger defensiveness in us, or so indirect that they outright confuse us. They lack details and examples. They don’t help us to see a clear path to improvement.

We leave the conversation feeling sad, pissed off, and perplexed. We don’t improve, and our relationship with our manager is often damaged.

The irony is that while this example is horribly executed, at least it’s feedback!

Most of the time, managers just avoid the discomfort of performance feedback altogether. If you are lucky, they might comment on things you are doing well, but you rarely get constructive feedback and coaching. Consider these recent findings:

  • PwC employee study found that nearly 60% of survey respondents reported that they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis—a number that increased to 72% for employees under the age of 30. Additionally, more than 75% of respondents believed that feedback is valuable, and about 45% of respondents also valued feedback from their peers and clients or customers. Yet, less than 30% said they receive it.
  • Leadership experts Zenger and Folkman’s study of 900 global employees found that 69% of respondents said they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognizedMoreover, 92% of respondents agreed that when managers delivered constructive feedback properly, it was effective at improving performance.
  • Management research firm CEB confirmed that 77% of HR execs believe performance reviews aren’t an accurate representation of employee performance.

That last stat is quite telling. Managers, today, do a lousy job of giving feedback and coaching throughout the year, then performance review time comes around and acts as a forcing function. Yet, even then they “fluff it up,” avoiding the tougher conversations that might unfold by offering an honest assessment.

Or worse, they tell you all the things they should have told you months ago! You get surprised. Your ratings are not as high as you think they should be. Then, any semblance of coaching arrives way too late for you to do anything about it. The toothpaste is already out of the tube…you can’t put it back in, and you’re left with a mess.

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This really isn’t all that surprising. A recent study by CareerBuilder.com shows that a massive 58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training.Most managers in the workforce, today, are promoted due to their technical competence, not because they are innately capable of leading others. Making the people around them better requires a distinct set of skills that (typically) must be learned.

This is why after a decade of training 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. When done consistently well, great things happen. Individuals grow. Teams excel. Organizations thrive. Sure, managers need to be well-versed in a myriad of other skills as well. Yet, time and again, I keep reaching the same conclusion. Feedback and coaching is what separates the best from the rest.

Why? Well, the whole point of management is to help maximize organizational resources. People are every manager’s greatest resource. When a person receives timely, transparent, and relevant feedback, and is then coached on how to bring their highest-best-self to their work, they are being fully “maximized.” Not only do they deliver better results, but also they feel more engaged.

Still, easier said than done. It’s personally taken me the better part of my career to figure out how to artfully deliver feedback and coach people to their full potential. This is not exactly intuitive stuff! I want to help managers to expedite that learning curve, and here is the secret as I see it….

Spirit and Service

Okay, stop rolling your eyes. No, really, that’s it! All the skills of excellent feedback and coaching stem from these archetypical underpinnings. How you think determines your actions. When a manager learns to embody these values, his or her actions cannot fail but to inspire.

Women warrior

 

First, we must cultivate our Warrior Spirit and deliver performance feedback by recognizing our duty, finding our courage, and speaking with integrity.

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Next, we must find our Servant’s Heart to coach others to their full potential. We do this by embracing humility, exercising empathy, and generating possibilities through curiosity.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing more on how you can learn to bring more of your Warrior Spirit and a Servant’s Heart to your feedback and coaching skills. I invite you to hit the “follow” button so you can receive future blogs.

Example_15David 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.

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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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“Soft Power” – Leading Without Authority

Bear FaceHave you ever tried leading a person or a group without any formal authority to fall back on? For many, this is one of the greatest leadership challenges we might face. Without the traditional “carrot or stick” to help get things done, we can feel powerless and limited in our ability to influence. Yet, some people seem to thrive in these situations and we admire their ability to still get things accomplished. I call this demonstration of applied emotional intelligence—leveraging “soft power.” So what are the secrets of “soft power” and how can we use it to accomplish both individual and team objectives? Here are three ideas to consider.

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  1. Give Power to Others. When working in groups where the formal power dynamics are flat, it is important to recognize that everyone is subconsciously “racking and stacking” one another and creating their own personal hierarchy. This evolutionary process is deeply ingrained within all humans and allowed us to organize ourselves for survival. Expect that there will be power plays as group members test to see where they fit in the group. Instead of allowing these dynamics to naturally unfold, tactfully intervene and try to facilitate a space where everyone’s voice gets heard. Rather than leading with your opinion, ask for input from others and encourage quieter voices to speak up. Insist on mutual respect for all team members. In creating a space for power to be shared, others will trust in you more and naturally give you an informal leadership role.

Create Space to Listen Deeply

2. Actively Listen. When we hold formal authority, we are frequently directing and telling others what needs to be done in order for the team to be successful. Thus, managers tend to get really good with their directing skills, often to the neglect of practicing their listening skills. In a power flat relationship, it is the better listener who will assume leadership. Use techniques like mirroring back what you heard and asking meaningful questions to gain further clarification. When others feel you are a great listener, they are more likely to trust you and hence give you referent power, which is the highest base of power a leader can access.

Hands

3. Serve & Synergize. In power flat relationships, the synergistic details that lead to better teamwork can often be neglected as everyone stays in their personal lanes of responsibility. To be seen as a leader in a team, hunt down the resources that everyone knowingly needs, but no one finds the courage or the time to make a priority. Or perhaps you might seek out the management/stakeholder feedback needed to make the team work better, and then act as a liaison in making the team more aware. Make it your priority to help others succeed. These small acts of service will increase your value to the team and others will intuitively begin to seek out your leadership.

Leading a team without formal authority can often feel like a daunting challenge. Yet, when we smartly recognize the group dynamics at play and practice the use of “soft power,” we provide the leadership necessary to achieve results. The next time you are leading without formal authority, try using some of the above ideas to influence others… you might be surprised at how persuasive you can become!

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

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3 Leadership Lessons from Dr. Seuss

Many of you may not know this about me, but I have four young kids ranging from one to ten years old. As a family, we enjoy reading a lot of children’s books together and over the years, we’ve determined a few favorites. At the top of our list are several books written by Dr. Seuss. His rhymes are fun to read, and the brightly colored illustrations capture their imagination. I’ve also noticed that some of his stories carry a wonderful leadership message within them. A message that many adults could stand to revisit. Here are three of my favorites:

1.      Yertle the Turtle – These are King Yertle’s famous last words. Just a few pages later, we find him falling from his great height, face first in the mud, never to rule again. How did the once proud and mighty king end up like this? Well, he wasn’t grateful for the wonderful kingdom he already had and became overly ambitious. Leveraging his positional power for his personal benefit, he literally walks on the backs of his subordinates to make himself more magnificent. Meanwhile, he treats his people with great disrespect. If you’ve been in the workforce for more than a day, you have probably met your own personal Yertle somewhere in your career. Leadership lesson…don’t be King Yertle! Instead, embrace humility as a leader and use your power to serve, rather than exploit, others.

2.      The Sneetches – Oh those silly Sneetches! Always trying to outdo one another and put down those that are not like them. There are several solid lessons here. In the formation of all groups, a natural phenomenon unfolds where “racking and stacking” takes place. We are unconsciously determining the social pecking order, and this often results with an “in-group” and an “out-group.” When this occurs, unspoken jealousy and resentment can plague a team’s dynamics and effectiveness. Leadership lesson…no kind of Sneetch is the best on the beaches! All team members have unique value. Leaders must be aware of where unhealthy dynamics are festering in their team and learn to unleash the often repressed value that the “out-group” brings through their diversity.

3.      The Zax – This one is my favorite! It’s a short tale of two prideful and stubborn Zax who find themselves at a crossroads, unable to compromise on a solution (great metaphor for the current state of American politics, anyone?). Instead of exercising empathy and compassion, the two Zax angrily argue their individual viewpoints. The result—zero progress and personal irrelevance as the world passes them by. Leadership lesson…learn to notice your inner Zax and manage it accordingly. Leaders should be principled and passionate, however, not to where they are getting in their own way.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my new children’s book, “The Legend of Stinky Toes McGee.” Inspired by Dr. Seuss, it’s intended to teach kids that some problems cannot be solved with our heads, but rather, they can only be solved with our hearts.

You can pick up a paperback or digital copy exclusively on Amazon by following this link:“The Legend of Stinky Toes McGee”

David Spungin 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. Follow him on LinkedIn , Twitter, and Facebook to see more of his articles.

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8 Beliefs That Increase Your Leadership Potential

Nect Gas 130 miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hopefully, these first four beliefs personally resonate with you and your leadership experiences. If so, you are likely already fulfilling much of your leadership potential. If not, remember that our beliefs, values, and personal stories are not fixed, we can change them. While not a simple undertaking, it’s always a worthwhile endeavor to strive for greater leadership capacity. The world needs your leadership. Choose to reach your full potential.

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10 Leadership Lessons I Learned at West Point (Part 2)

West Point Dress Uniform

The United States Military Academy at West Point has produced some of the United States’ finest leaders. From President’s Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower to General’s Douglass MacArthur and George Patton, every graduate experiences a formal four year leader development process that is designed to yield principled centered leaders of character. As a leader development professional and graduate myself, I often reflect back on my West Point experience and the powerful leadership lessons that it taught me. In this two part series, I compiled some of the stickiest lessons that continue to guide me today. Part one explored how great leadership is about demonstrating personal accountability, acting with integrity, proving resilience, embracing adaptability, and embodying a mindset of selfless-service. Here are five more timeless lessons to reflect on:

1. No combat ready unit ever passed inspection – West Point cadets endure lots of inspections. From daily uniform checks to white glove room inspections called SAMI (Saturday Morning Inspection), by default every cadet becomes a master shoe shiner and sink scrubber. If at any time you failed to meet Academy standards, you could get written up and ultimately end up walking hours on the area as punishment. No matter how “squared away” you were, most cadets end up walking at least a few hours over their four years as you are constantly juggling many priorities and eventually balls are dropped. Thus, cadets get very good at prioritizing what is most important. With only so many hours in a day, sometimes studying for the big exam or writing that important paper meant you would likely be written up for an untidy room or uniform. The same goes for leaders today. It’s important to get the big stuff right — always. You might take a few bruises along the way, but in the long run, your ability to stay focused on what’s most important will pay off.

2. Trust but verify – In their second year at the Academy, every cadet is assigned a first year cadet (called a plebe) as a direct report. For many, this is their first opportunity to lead someone on a daily basis. You are responsible for your plebe’s performance and quickly learn to conduct periodic inspections to ensure discipline and proper accountability. While subordinates in today’s organizations don’t want leaders hovering over their shoulders and inspecting their every move, they do expect you to check-in with them often and acknowledge their hard work. Train your team, trust they will deliver, and then verify standards have been met. The act of verification is important because it validates your leadership priorities and helps to clarify expectations for the team.

3. The only dumb question is the one you don’t ask – As a first year cadet in particular, success is often clouded with mystery. There is so much to learn and so little time to learn it all. Then, just when you think you have figured it all out, you are challenged with new tasks that make you feel like a novice again. To survive this intense period of learning, you must accept your vulnerabilities and lean into others for support (we used the saying “Cooperate and Graduate” as a reminder). Leaders today must do them same. No one expects you to have all the answers in this fast changing and complex world we live in. Instead, leaders should practice an impassioned curiosity and have the courage to say “I don’t know” when appropriate. The irony being, in admitting our vulnerability we often find the answers and/or develop the very competence we are seeking.

4. Always understand your mission two levels up – A key philosophy of U.S. Army operations is that in the absence of specific direction, any soldier should be able to take initiative and complete the mission. To support this concept, every officer learns to embrace their Commander’s Intent, as well as their next level Commander’s Intent. It might seem like overkill but in the fog of war, intent is the glue that keeps a unit together. The corporate world is no different. For a leader to be successful, they need to make their supervisor and their organization successful. Clearly understanding your bosses’ definition of success, daily priorities, and leadership philosophy is a must.

5. Mission first, people always – This popular Army slogan represents much of what a cadet does on a daily basis until it philosophically permeates every bone of their body over time. From simply checking on your subordinates feet while on a long road march, to never leaving a soldier behind on the battlefield, cadets practice balancing mission execution with taking care of their people’s needs. Leaders in the corporate world should also embrace this philosophy. Talent is the single greatest differentiator in the marketplace today and every organization’s greatest asset is its people. Successful business leaders understand how to manage the stresses of short-term stakeholder expectations while continuously being mindful of employee needs and concerns.

Thus, in addition to the behaviors noted in part one, great leadership is also about rigorously maintaining priorities, holding others accountable to standards, being a life-long learner, exercising initiative through intent, and taking care of your people at all times. It’s worth repeating that you don’t have to go to West Point to learn these lessons. Anyone can adopt these behaviors and become a better leader. Practice these behaviors consistently and watch your personal, team’s, and organization’s success exponentially increase.

(If you would like to learn more about how my leader development programs can help you and your organization practice these critical behaviors more consistently, please contact me at dspungin@leadergrowthgroup.com)

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