Throwback Thursday: Leading People With Positivity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

 

scan0038A positive leader is a real strength to an organization. In fact, learning how to deal with adversity and leading people through it is one of the most important skills leaders must develop. Some people are so successful that when they eventually fail at something, that failure becomes an existential crisis for them. Organizations are not different: some are resilient and some aren’t. For leaders to be effective, they need to be able to put things in perspective leading people with “positivity.”

When I was in high school, I co-coached my brother’s Little League team when the adult coach had to quit for personal reasons. It was my first coaching job and I certainly learned a great deal about leadership from the experience. One particularly bad day, our game plan completely came apart. We’d gone through all our pitchers, and the other team was killing us. At one point things were going so badly, I walked into the dugout and dejectedly sat down. Seeing this, my Dad quietly walked out of the bleachers and whispered in my ear, “When you get down, the team will get down. Get up and get back in the game.” It was a great lesson in leading with positivity.

I’d like to say we won, but we didn’t. However, we were able to tell the boys they’d done good and congratulate them for never giving up even when they were getting creamed. That post game pep talk carried a lot more weight when we coaches maintained our positive attitude.

There’s many personal skills involved in maintaining a positive attitude, like the ones John Treas writes about over a Inc.com  5 Steps Toward Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

1. Manage rejection. It is easy to get discouraged when unwelcomed events occur. The trick is to put them in perspective: Most will pass and become unimportant with time. It’s easy to feel like a single failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it never is. In fact, setbacks often give you an opportunity to turn a rebuff into a win. One time early in my sales career, I was literally thrown out of a prospect’s office because she felt I hadn’t respected her tight schedule. I went back to my office, wrote a letter of apology, and sent a gift designed to make her job easier. She became a good customer, and we became lasting friends.

Of course there’s other ways as well, and each person has their own. Leaders should find what works for them. That said, whatever individual skills people use to maintain their personal positivity, leaders must translate that into helping their teams maintain their positivity. As I’ve written many times, leadership style is both highly personal and highly situational, so leaders must adapt to their environment. I agree with Treas’ ideas at the link, and I’d like to add a couple leadership behaviors I believe are important for leaders to model:

– Be truthful. People quickly see through “happy talk” when leaders are delivering bad news. Some leaders believe they can “sugar coat” unpleasantness and those words will carry greater weight than the actual unpleasantness. I’m sorry, but to someone losing their job or being forced into a significant changes euphemisms like “right sizing” or “we’re making a change” ring hollow. People respect leaders who speak truthfully, and while bad news can be delivered with gentleness and compassion, we shouldn’t attempt to use euphemism to minimize the real pain people feel with change. When teams have confidence their leaders are being truthful, the resulting trust helps people maintain a positive attitude.

– Think Ahead. It’s much easier to lead people toward a positive attitude when there’s a plan. Even when the road ahead is tough, the team’s attitude is much more likely to stay positive if they can see where they’re going. Nothing destroys team morale…positive attitudes…than figuratively groping through the darkness towards an unseen or ambiguous goal.

– Stay positive. The most important thing a leader can do is model the behavior they want their teams to exhibit. Once the leader gets “down” the team will quickly follow; conversely if the leader is positive it’s much more likely the team will stay “up.”

Just like that Little League team, leaders need to understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and helping their teams maintain theirs. What skills do you use to keep yourself and your teammates positive?

Dynamic Dozen: Know Yourself and Seek Self Improvement

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

Leadership Quote AFS

Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.
― Heraclitus

One of the most valuable lessons I learned as a new “fish” in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets was I would never be a leader until I learned to follow first. Believe me, an Aggie Cadet follows like hell their first year. In addition to the academic demands of our coursework, we were required to join a club, and attend various sporting and University events. Our upperclassmen also led us in volunteer work and intramural sports.

What my upperclassmen were trying to give us the space and example to do, was to discover who we are as individuals, and to develop in us the desire for continuous self improvement. For people to grow into maturity, these skills are important–for leaders, they’re vital. You can’t lead anyone if you don’t know who you are or where you want to go.

Know Yourself

Getting to know yourself is a lifelong pursuit, and there are no shortcuts to the journey. You can go to seminars and read books, and those are helpful aids to discovery, but the only sure way to learn who you are is to step out and live life. As I told my Airmen many times, “Don’t be a cave dweller. You can’t live your life coming home to XBox and energy drinks–get outside and do something!” Experiencing life is the only sure way to learn who you are and what you’re capable of doing. Obviously, this approach involves risk–you might fail–but even those failures can illuminate our character and our aptitude. I’m not talking about living recklessly or violating your conscience. What I am talking about is living deliberately instead of allowing life to happen to you. Set goals, take (reasonable) chances, and be prepared to make mistakes. Thomas Edison famously spoke about the number of times he failed to make a light bulb before he succeeded.

Learning about yourself means knowing what you want and setting about getting to that destination. That means you do have to do some introspection, but once you’ve settled on a direction: move out. If you allow life to just happen instead of living each day deliberately, you’ll never get to the next step: seeking self improvement.

Continuous Self Improvement

One of the hallmarks of every great leader is each continued to seek to improve themselves. To do that, we need to understand the ways we see ourselves and can improve ourselves. I like to think of the human person in three facets: Mind, Body, and Spirit. In approaching your life as seeking balance between these three sides or facets of your person, you can take deliberate steps to improve yourself. I was privileged to attend several in-residence professional military education colleges, and I remember being awed by the very high quality of the guest speakers we heard. Each of them, man and woman, military and civilian, were high achievers: generals, military heroes, C-suite executives, statesmen, and professional athletes. All of them had a couple of things in common: they were early risers and they continued to improve themselves in each facet of their person. They were widely read and continued to keep up with current literature; they found time to exercise regularly, and they spent time attending to their human spirit.

As leaders, our commitment to continuous self improvement not makes us better people, it also increases our effectiveness. The sort of leader who is a life-long learner and always seeking to better himself is the same sort of person who sees opportunity when others see disaster. Indeed, a commitment to continuous self improvement usually translates to a leader whose eyes are on the horizon. Those men and women are people others want to follow, and better yet, they are leaders who know where to take their teams.

Summing Up

Leaders who know themselves and seek to improve themselves are exactly the sorts of people we love to follow.

 

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com

Champions Don’t Take Shortcuts

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

nfl_lombardi_01The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.
Vince Lombardi

I’ve been an athlete my entire life. From Little League, soccer, and football growing up in Texas to intramurals of all sorts in college and the military, athletic competition is a big part of my life. Sports are a great metaphor for life and I’ve gleaned countless leadership lessons from it. In fact, it’s one of the reasons the military uses athletic competition as a training opportunity from entry level (Basic Military Training) to senior executive level (e.g. Air War College). It was the quotable General Douglas MacArthur who shrewdly observed, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that on other days, on other fields will bear the fruits of victory.”

A lesson every successful athlete learns quickly is champions don’t take shortcuts. Sure, an athlete can take performance enhancing drugs or try quick fixes, but those short term wins are usually overshadowed by long term defeats. The true champion, the one who everyone aspires to emulate and sports magazines profile, is the one who did the hard work even when it would’ve been easy not to do it. It’s the one rising before dawn to work out before starting a full day at work or school, then repeating it day after day until they reach their goal. In Texas, many championship high school football programs start their first practice at midnight on the first day the league allows teams to work out. Those coaches know the players who start out with a “do the work” mentality develop into teams who’ll give their all when the time comes.

In short, champions earn their titles long before the title contest in November. They earned their championship at midnight in August under stadium lights.

The same is true in the military. We “sweat in peacetime” so our skills are second nature to us and we can respond quickly under stress. The drills are sometimes fun, but training can be boring if one has to repeat similar tasks over and over. However, everyone is grateful to their trainers for being demanding and requiring them to learn procedures by heart when the stress level is high, because being well trained makes a person confident. To paraphrase the old military maxim: No one rises to the occasion in stressful situations, they sink to the level of their training. That sense of confidence usually carries into high performance.

In the busy and highly competitive world we live in, it’s very tempting for leaders to cut corners to save time or money. I’m here to encourage leaders to resist the urge. Speed in business is essential, but your team is unlikely to have the ability to hit the mark if leaders don’t train, resource, and lead them. Spend the time ensuring your team has the skills they need to get the job you’ve assigned them done. Believe me, time spent in the training room doing quality training will pay off enormously when there’s a crisis or short deadline. A team that’s raised on shortcuts, however, will dissolve into chaos when the pressure is on. In a high-pressure job I had at the Pentagon once, we had a saying: “Speed kills.” It was our way of reminding ourselves to be precise, but taking shortcuts would lead to mistakes we couldn’t afford to make.

Just like Airmen honing their skills or athletes doing conditioning, well-led teams put in the work required to get the job done when the pressure is low. They do that because they know that when they do the preparatory work and training when they need to, they won’t have to try to rely on shortcuts later. Rather, they’ll perform at the same high level they did in practice.

Originally posted on Generalleadership.com

Dynamic Dozen: Be Technically and Tactically Proficient

Posted Leave a commentPosted in GeneralLeadership.com

Grader FestThe vast majority of Airmen we train are going to be somewhere in harm’s way within the next year or two. It is up to us to impart to them the talent and skill they need to accomplish their mission in a world-class fashion and at the same time make sure we get them back safely to the families that love them.
General William R. Looney III, USAF

I remember it just like it was yesterday. As a young lieutenant, I was designing an asphalt road for a road my engineer Airmen would construct during a Field Training Exercise (FTX) I was to lead. The master sergeant assigned to my leadership team leaned over my shoulder and asked,

“Watcha doin’ L-T?” I looked up and said, “Calculating how much asphalt we’re going to need.”

He looked at my calculations where my arithmetic indicated 30.56 tons of asphalt and smiled. “L-T, asphalt comes in 10 ton trucks–you need four trucks.” It was an object lesson in technical and tactical proficiency from a seasoned professional, and I was grateful to him for correction. His mentoring saved me from the giggles I’d surely have received from my Airmen if I’d tried to order “30.56 tons” of asphalt.

Leadership is More Than Charisma

Personal charisma is certainly useful in leaders, but charisma without actual proficiency in the business of the organization only goes so far. While it’s true an exceptional leader can help an organization through difficult time, if you really want your organization to be high performing, you have to hire the right team captain. I’ve worked in many different teams during my nearly 30 years in uniform, and the leader with the most charisma wasn’t always the one who got the most from their team. Rather, the leader with a keen sense of how to garner resources and put the right team member in the right job is far more important. Some of my most effective commanders were among the least charismatic. What those leaders lacked in charisma they more than made up for in developing their team and setting clear goals.

Leaders Need Technical and Tactical Proficiency

The combination of solid interpersonal skills and technical proficiency is a formula for an exceptionally successful leader. If your team spends half their time trying to educate you on the “nuts and bolts” of your mission, I can guarantee they’re not spending enough time getting the mission done. A technically proficient leader can skip the “101” go directly to the graduate level. That’s where a leader really shows his worth. It’s analogous to a team rowing a boat. If the leader has a steady hand on the tiller and eyes on the horizon, the boat will reach its destination quickly.

A tactically and technically proficient leader marries their knowledge and vision to lead their teams. A technically proficient is constantly learning. Developing a leader’s mind means keeping up with the current books in your field, attending conferences and industry forums, and engaging in the industry’s conversation online and in person. LinkedIn groups, professional societies, and reading lists by thought leaders are all proven ways to build and maintain your technical proficiency. A tactically proficient leader understands the environment. Networking with other leaders and contributing to your industry’s development through writing and speaking are ways to build your tactical proficiency. Finally, a technically and tactically proficient leader is a teacher–he or she is able to pass on their skills to the team and elevate the team’s performance by increasing their skill level.

Summing Up

Leaders who pay attention to their proficiency as well as their leadership skills have an edge over those who don’t. If your team is spending all day teaching you the business, they’re not doing the mission. Additionally, it’s difficult to give direction if you don’t know what you’re doing. Therefore, learning the business is just as important as relating to people. If you do both, you’re truly leading the team to high performance.

Originally posted on GeneralLeadership.com

 

Commanders Lead Culture

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Leading Leaders, Practical Leadership

We have a saying in the Air Force: “Commanders Lead Culture.” What this means is commanders have the ability to lead others in a way that lifts both individuals and the unit up, and to create a culture within the unit for mission success. It also means leaders have the responsibility to lead change when the culture needs adjusting. The Air Force, like many large organizations, expects its leaders to be engaged in creating the right climate within their organization, and to be engaged in the business of bettering their community.

Air Force Instruction 1-2 Air Force Culture directly quotes Title 10 of the United States Code when discussing the Air Force commander’s role in leading the culture of his/her unit and the Air Force in general:

All commanding officers and others in authority in the Air Force are required: (1) to show in themselves a good example of virtue, honor, patriotism, and subordination; (2) to be vigilant in inspecting the conduct of all persons who are placed under their command; (3) to guard against and suppress all dissolute and immoral practices, and to correct, according to the laws and regulations of the Air force, all persons who are guilty of them; and (4) to take all necessary and proper measures, under the laws, regulations, and customs of the Air Force, to promote and safeguard the morale, the physical well-being, and the general welfare of the persons under their command or charge. – Title 10 USC § 8583

Fortune Magazine’s John Kell makes the point that CEOs can do the same; not only internal to their own organizations, but also in their communities as well. In a time of increased (and virtually instantaneous) communication, informal power and authority have real impact on civil society.

No matter where they operate, leaders have responsibilities to many (often competing) groups: their boss, their company, their team, and community. Leaders must balance the needs of those stakeholders and be focused on the goal without losing sight of their connection to their community and their team. Additionally, internal culture is just as important. If people don’t believe in their leaders and don’t feel at home in their workplace, any shared sense of mission is lost and work becomes “every man for himself.” Setting the right tone that a company is not merely a “paycheck provider”, but also a responsible member of the community and an organization that values their employees is central to doing business in the 21st century. In truth, those values aren’t new: you only have to read A Christmas Carol and the Gospel story of the Workers in the Vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16) to see that people have always valued what we now know as “corporate responsibility.” Here’s the takeaway: when an organization’s culture is right, people flourish and so does business.

Read on and share your thoughts below: can and should companies and their leaders engage in the marketplace of ideas, or should they just work to improve their companies? How should leaders establish and maintain the right culture in their organizations?

Leading People With Positivity

Posted Leave a commentPosted in From the Blogs, Leadership by Experience

 

scan0038Learning how to deal with adversity and leading people through it is one of the most important skills leaders must develop. Some people are so successful that when they eventually fail at something, that failure becomes an existential crisis for them. Organizations are not different: some are resilient and some aren’t. For leaders to be effective, they need to be able to put things in perspective leading people with “positivity.”

When I was in high school, I co-coached my brother’s Little League team when the adult coach had to quit for personal reasons. It was my first coaching job and I certainly learned a great deal about leadership from the experience. One particularly bad day, our game plan completely came apart. We’d gone through all our pitchers, and the other team was killing us. At one point things were going so badly, I walked into the dugout and dejectedly sat down. Seeing this, my Dad quietly walked out of the bleachers and whispered in my ear, “When you get down, the team will get down. Get up and get back in the game.” It was a great lesson in leading with positivity.

I’d like to say we won, but we didn’t. However, we were able to tell the boys they’d done good and congratulate them for never giving up even when they were getting creamed. That post game pep talk carried a lot more weight when we coaches maintained our positive attitude.

There’s many personal skills involved in maintaining a positive attitude, like the ones John Treas writes about over a Inc.com  5 Steps Toward Maintaining a Positive Attitude.

1. Manage rejection. It is easy to get discouraged when unwelcomed events occur. The trick is to put them in perspective: Most will pass and become unimportant with time. It’s easy to feel like a single failure or rejection is the end of the world, but it never is. In fact, setbacks often give you an opportunity to turn a rebuff into a win. One time early in my sales career, I was literally thrown out of a prospect’s office because she felt I hadn’t respected her tight schedule. I went back to my office, wrote a letter of apology, and sent a gift designed to make her job easier. She became a good customer, and we became lasting friends.

Of course there’s other ways as well, and each person has their own. Leaders should find what works for them. That said, whatever individual skills people use to maintain their personal positivity, leaders must translate that into helping their teams maintain their positivity. As I’ve written many times, leadership style is both highly personal and highly situational, so leaders must adapt to their environment. I agree with Treas’ ideas at the link, and I’d like to add a couple leadership behaviors I believe are important for leaders to model:

– Be truthful. People quickly see through “happy talk” when leaders are delivering bad news. Some leaders believe they can “sugar coat” unpleasantness and those words will carry greater weight than the actual unpleasantness. I’m sorry, but to someone losing their job or being forced into a significant changes euphemisms like “right sizing” or “we’re making a change” ring hollow. People respect leaders who speak truthfully, and while bad news can be delivered with gentleness and compassion, we shouldn’t attempt to use euphemism to minimize the real pain people feel with change. When teams have confidence their leaders are being truthful, the resulting trust helps people maintain a positive attitude.

– Think Ahead. It’s much easier to lead people toward a positive attitude when there’s a plan. Even when the road ahead is tough, the team’s attitude is much more likely to stay positive if they can see where they’re going. Nothing destroys team morale…positive attitudes…than figuratively groping through the darkness towards an unseen or ambiguous goal.

– Stay positive. The most important thing a leader can do is model the behavior they want their teams to exhibit. Once the leader gets “down” the team will quickly follow; conversely if the leader is positive it’s much more likely the team will stay “up.”

Just like that Little League team, leaders need to understand the importance of maintaining a positive attitude and helping their teams maintain theirs. What skills do you use to keep yourself and your teammates positive?