Courage is a trait possessed by all great leaders. So much so, that leadership absent courage is nothing short of a farce. Let me be very clear – I’m not advocating for bravado, arrogance, or an overabundance of hubris, but rather the courage necessary to stay the course and to do the right things. I believe it was Aristotle who referred to courage as the first virtue, because it makes all of the other virtues possible. Many leaders think they have courage – few actually do.
Today’s post is a short rant, but one every leader should take to heart – STOP CHECKING BOXES. To believe leadership can be reduced to task management is simply flawed thinking. Here’s the thing – you can manage to a list, but you certainly cannot lead to a list. A check the box approach to leadership accomplishes only one thing – it limits your ability to lead.
Leadership isn’t about checking boxes. Great leadership thrives beyond typical borders and constraints – it lives outside the norm. Leadership requires more than just going through the motions. Real leaders reshape, reinvent, or remove boxes, but they refuse to simply check them.
True leadership doesn’t reveal itself by meeting expectations; it shows itself by exceeding them. Leadership looks past the obvious, beyond the optics, and it embraces the challenge of seeking the extraordinary. Leadership is demonstrated by having the courage to do more than just go through the motions.
Think about it like this – do you want to be a leader who simply does what’s expected, or do you want to be a leader who makes what if a reality? Let me say this as simply as I can: Leaders don’t settle – they move forward. They innately stretch themselves, as well as those they lead. The best leaders don’t have a maintenance mindset. They focus their efforts on discovery, creation, improvement, disruption, and growth.
Think of the best leader you know; now think of the best leaders throughout history – did any of the leaders who came to mind make an impact by just checking the box? The next time you’re tempted to check a box, consider asking yourself the following questions: Is this the best I can do? Am I leading or am I settling? Are those whom I lead better off as a result of this decision? Checking a box is an easy thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do – it doesn’t make you a leader.
The sustainability of any organization hinges on leadership’s ability to understand, embrace, and implement change. Whenever leaders are surveyed about what keeps them awake at night, “change” is usually at or near the top of the list. When change initiatives fail, so do leaders. When brands fall into decline, and organizations implode, it’s often due to a company’s inability to change. In today’s post, I’ll share three fresh approaches to change.
Try to envision a future without change… it’s nearly impossible to do, isn’t it? A world without change, a world frozen in time, a world stuck in a perpetual state of status quo – it’s certainly uninspired, and for me, it’s altogether unimaginable. While most of us hold a worldview that embraces, if not demands change, this isn’t always the case with business leaders. Sure, most leaders talk about change, but do they really lead it? Talking about innovation is not the same as bringing it to life.
The best evidence of the importance of change leadership is what occurs in its absence– mediocrity, irrelevance, and ultimately, obsolescence. Leaders concerned with the cost of change should be far more concerned about the cost of not changing. The best of human ingenuity and accomplishment are experienced through change. To learn, create, advance, develop, and sustain, we must change. If you accept this premise as true, then my question is this: why do so many businesses struggle with the practice of change? The answer is regrettably obvious– many leaders are simply inept at leading change.
Following are three ideas, which will help you lead change more effectively:
#1: Pull Change Forward
Stop talking about change as a theoretical future state and pull it forward into the present. Change is the path to the future, but the future isn’t some ethereal, distant event – it begins in just a fraction of a second. While all great leaders must navigate the present, they must do so in anticipation of the future. The best leaders understand the present is nothing more than a platform for the envisioning of, and positioning for, the future. If you want to lead more effectively, shorten the distance between the future and present.
#2: Change Is Not a Process – It’s A Mindset
Leading change is far more than a process– it’s a cultural mindset. Change requires leaders to embrace dissenting opinions, give voice to positional differences, and to constantly challenge static thinking. While leading change does require skill, it first requires a decision to value change, and then it demands the courage to act. Leadership isn’t about being right; it’s about achieving the right outcomes. Change must be more than a buzzword used by leadership – it must be embedded within the strategic vision, cultural design, and operating fabric of the enterprise. Leaders who protect the status quo through control must surrender to change in order to secure the future for their organization.
#3: Leadership IS Change
If there are no visible signs of change in your organization, I would suggest your leadership isn’t leading. Change must become a leadership competency and priority. Leaders who fail to deliver change will be replaced by those who can. Leadership is nothing if not fluid, flexible, and forward moving – none of these things can occur without an emphasis on change. In fact, I would go so far as to say “leadership IS change.”
Bonus: This is where it gets tricky – not all change is good change. Just as a lack of change can bring demise, Ill-conceived change, change solely for the sake of change, or change driven by hidden/self-serving agendas can ruin even category dominant brands. Make sure the drivers for change are in alignment with corporate values and vision, serve the best interests of the consumer, and lead to a higher purpose.
If you’re in a leadership role, it’s in the best interest of the organization, and those you lead, to embrace change at every level.
Do you ever find yourself wondering how so many good companies can make so many bad hires? The fact is, all the rigorous and sophisticated hiring processes employed by the best companies in the world don’t prevent bad hires. The good news is, addressing one single factor can easily prevent bad hires.
Today marks the 11th anniversary of 9/11. There is no doubt the United States is indebted to our active duty military, veterans and their families for the tremendous sacrifices they’ve made (and continue to make) on our behalf. What I’m struggling with is whether or not we as a country are deserving of their sacrifice…
Nations rise and fall based upon the values that bring them together or drive them apart. It’s been said we are a nation at war. In fact, many will correctly point out we are a country engaged in multiple conflicts. I beg to differ – we are a nation at war by proxy. What we are is a military at war, hamstrung by an indecisive government, and a fickle population mostly oblivious to the sacrifices of a few. History has shown us time and again the destiny of a nation is most often determined by its ability to unite around crisis and endure through shared sacrifice. The current state of affairs does not portend well for our destiny as a nation.
The simple fact is less than 1% of our country’s population serves in the military. This small percentage of men and women carry an extremely heavy burden, while their families live each and every day only one knock at the door away from devastation. It’s been said, “People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to violence on their behalf.” But know this – our nations warriors cannot preserve ideals that we ignore, do not honor, or refuse to embrace.
We created the following infographic to offer some perspective as to the difference in our nations commitment and resolve by comparing our reaction to entering World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor with how we have reacted to the attacks of 9/11.
We were a mighty nation during World War II not because of our economic or military strength, but because of our national spirit. We were a mighty nation because of our ability to set aside petty differences, and to rally behind a collective commitment to a common set of values demonstrated by our willingness to sacrifice as an entire population. We are not that same nation today. We have mostly devolved to become a selfish people and a self-interested nation.
Other than in its creation, our world has never been perfect, and we’ll likely never experience perfection going forward. That’s okay, and most of us can accept that fact. What’s difficult for me to accept is we live in far too dangerous times to exhibit such callous disregard for anything other than ourselves, and if we as a nation don’t wake-up to this fact we will continue to see more chaos and calamity.
Our country must move away from self-interest and toward a bigger cause and a greater good. This is the only path to maintaining our might as a nation. The good news is greatness overcomes tragedy, and the power of a lasting and honorable legacy can fuel greatness that spans generations.
Bottom line: “The Greatest Generation” doesn’t have to be a historic reference. This is a country capable of having each generation become the next greatest generation, but only if we don’t lose site of our history. We must find a path back to sharing a common purpose in order to move forward in the fulfillment of our destiny.
Here’s the thing - leadership and conflict go hand-in-hand. There’s no getting around the fact leadership is a full-contact sport, and if you cannot address conflict in a healthy, productive fashion then you should not be in a leadership role. I would submit effectively dealing with conflict is one of the most valuable skills a leader can possess.
From my perspective, the issues surrounding conflict resolution can be best summed-up in three words…”Deal With It.” While you can try and avoid conflict (bad idea), you cannot escape conflict…The fact of the matter is that conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. It will find you whether you look for it (good idea – more later) or not. The ability to recognize conflict, understand the nature of conflict, and to be able to bring swift and just (notice I didn’t say fair) resolution to conflict will serve you well as a leader – the inability to do so may well be your downfall.
How many times over the years have you witnessed otherwise savvy professionals self-destruct because they wouldn’t engage out of a fear of conflict? Putting one’s head in the sand, and hoping conflict will pass you by, is not the most effective methodology for problem solving. Conflict rarely resolves itself. In fact, conflict normally escalates if not dealt with proactively and properly. It’s not at all uncommon to see what might have been a non-event manifest itself into a monumental problem if not resolved early on.
One of my favorite examples of what I described in the paragraph above is the weak leader who cannot deal with subordinates who use emotional deceit as a weapon of destruction. Every workplace is plagued with manipulative people who use emotion to create conflict in order to mask a lack of substance. These are the drama queens/kings that when confronted about wrongdoing and/or lack of performance are quick to point the finger in another direction. They are adept at using emotional tirades that often include crocodile tears, blameshifting, little lies, omissions, half truths and other trite manipulations in an attempt to avoid being held accountable. The only thing worse than what I’ve just described is leadership that doesn’t recognize it and/or does nothing about it. Real leaders don’t play favorites, they don’t get involved in drama, and they certainly don’t tolerate manipulative, self-serving behavior.
Developing effective conflict resolution skill sets are an essential component of a building a sustainable business model. Unresolved conflict often results in a loss of productivity, stifles creativity, and creates barriers to collaboration. Perhaps most importantly for leaders, good conflict resolution ability equals good employee retention. Leaders who don’t deal with conflict will eventually watch their good talent walk out the door in search of a healthier and safer work environment.
While conflict is a normal part of any social and organizational setting, the challenge of conflict lies in how one chooses to deal with it. Concealed, avoided or otherwise ignored, conflict will likely fester only to grow into resentment, create withdrawal or cause factional infighting within an organization. Addressed properly, conflict can lead to change, innovation, personal and professional growth, and countless other items that often end-up as missed opportunities. I would challenge you to change your view such that you begin to perceive conflict as the gateway to opportunity.
So, what creates conflict in the workplace? Opposing positions, competitive tensions, power struggles, ego, pride, jealousy, performance discrepancies, compensation issues, just someone having a bad day, etc. While the answer to the previous question would appear to lead to the conclusion that just about anything and everything creates conflict, the reality is that the root of most conflict is either born out of poor communication or the inability to control one’s emotions. Let’s examine these two major causes of conflict:
Communication: Firstly, if you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered over the years, you’ll quickly recognize many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation. Let’s assume for a moment you were lucky enough to have received good information, but didn’t know what to do with it – that is still a communication problem, which in turn, can lead to conflict. Clear, concise, accurate, and timely communication of information will help to ease both the number and severity of conflicts. Secondly, conversations are not competitions – stop trying to win them and just focus on enriching them. Lastly, while it’s true every interaction is a chance to learn, grow, teach and mentor, it’s important for leaders to remember these interactions can be more than refining moments, they can be defining moments.
Emotions: Another common mistake made in workplace communications that leads to conflict is letting emotions drive decisions. I have witnessed otherwise savvy executives place the need for emotional superiority ahead of achieving their mission (not that they always understood this at the time). Case in point…have you ever witnessed an employee throw a fit of rage and resign their position in the heat of the moment? If you have, what you really watched was a person indulging their emotions rather than protecting their future. Let me be clear – I’m not suggesting leaders become robots, but rather they develop better emotional intelligence so they can more successfully convert stumbling blocks into opportunity.
The very bane of human existence, which is in fact human nature itself, will always create gaps in thinking & philosophy, and no matter how much we all wish it wasn’t so…it is. So the question then becomes how to effectively deal with conflict when it arises. It is essential for organizational health and performance that conflict be accepted and addressed through effective conflict resolution processes. While having a conflict resolution structure is important, effective utilization of conflict resolution processes is ultimately dependant upon the ability of all parties to understand the benefits of conflict resolution, and perhaps more importantly, their desire to resolve the matter. The following tips will help guide you in more effectively handling conflicts in the workplace:
- Define Acceptable Behavior: You know what they say about assuming…Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in avoiding conflict. Creating a framework for decision making, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help avoid conflicts. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them, and a well articulated organizational framework to allow for effective communication will also help avoid conflicts.
- Hit Conflict Head-on: While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it has been my experience the secret to conflict resolution is in fact conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict, and proactively intervening in a just and decisive fashion, you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If a conflict does flair up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly.
- Understanding the WIIFM Factor: Understanding the other person’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand other’s motivations prior to weighing in. The way to avoid conflict is to help those around you achieve their objectives. If you approach conflict from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.
- The Importance Factor: Pick your battles and avoid conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict, then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance, or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional gaps.
- View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/learning opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity. Think about it like this – if you avoid conflict, you’re avoiding growth, change, and innovation. In doing so, you’re also avoiding leading.
Bottom line…I believe resolution can normally be found with conflicts where there is a sincere desire to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener, service above self, and numerous other approaches will always allow one to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough. However, when all else fails and positional gaps cannot be closed, resolve the issue not by playing favorites, but by doing the right thing – lead.
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts, experiences and comments…
When was the last time you read a leadership job description? We have job descriptions for every position under the sun, but I’ve yet to see one for leaders. Virtually every job description you’ll read lists “leadership ability” as a quality/characteristic/attribute that is valued, and in fact, most list it as a requirement. So why is it we place so much value in leaders, when we can’t even define leadership? In today’s column I’ll discuss the importance of understanding the role of a leader BEFORE you place someone in a leadership role.