One of the keys to leadership success involves having something to aim for, something that inspires both you and others to reach and achieve your common goals. We often hear this outcome focus described as being “on purpose,” and another way to express that is through the concept of intentionality, or leading deliberately.
But there’s another aspect of intentional or deliberate leadership that goes deeper and that is far more intimate than setting aspirational goals or assigning measurable targets.
I watched my son dodge waves at the beach this chilly winter morning. He’d watch a wave come in, let it get within a metre or so of him, and then he’d run up the sand until he was beyond the reach of the water.
Eventually, he was waiting until the water was barely inches from his running shoes before commencing his retreat. And with each progressive wave, he got even bolder and cheekier, pushing his luck until inevitably the waves lapped over his shoes and he got a soaker.
He looked down at his wet shoes, socks and pants, laughed, and went right back to dodging waves.
Playing it safe
Canadian hockey great Wayne Gretzky said “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
As a leader, if you don’t take any “shots” then you’re not doing your job.
Risk is inherent when you lead people, whether it’s taking a chance on delegating an important task to someone who may or may not be ready for it, or agreeing to speak to a bigger group than you ever have before.
The speed of learning
The fastest way to learn something is to experience it, mess it up, and go again.
Just as a pendulum swings past the centre line many times before finding equilibrium, the best way for you to build your leadership skills is by taking things too far. You need to make mistakes. You need to aim for Personal Bests.
You need to challenge your limits.
Progress is happiness
There’s a joy that comes with stepping further than you ever have before. There’s a thrill in taking on challenges that are just beyond what you think you’re capable of.
Reach for them.
I’m not talking about diving into the water, fully dressed, on a chilly winter day.
How often do you call it quits on a great idea before you’ve made it happen?
My two young sons set up a lime-selling stand at the end of our driveway this past weekend. They did quite well out of it, but not without initial sibling drama.
You see, they almost gave up before making the first sale because neither of the boys wanted to be the one who held up the sign to alert passing cars. Too embarrassing, apparently.
And then I witnessed my older son, Ben, take the lead in a way that belied his 11 years. He said to his little brother, “Whoever is holding up the sign when someone stops gets three quarters of that sale, and the other person only gets one quarter.”
My younger son worked the sign like a pro.
Here are three questions that leaders ask themselves before giving up on a project or an idea, thus allowing themselves to get more completed than a significant number of their give-up-too-soon counterparts.
Question 1: Is it worth the effort?
My older son, consciously or unconsciously, asked himself whether the lime stand was worth it. And to him it was, for a few reasons. Firstly, he’d never done it before and it was exciting. Secondly, there was money in it. And thirdly, he was avoiding doing homework – perhaps the deciding factor in the end.
If a project or idea is worth the effort, then it’s worth weathering the challenges that come with it. Great leaders don’t change their minds quickly. If they’ve decided something is worth it, it will take serious convincing for them to renege.
Question 2: How can we make this work?
Once Ben decided to continue with lime stand, he didn’t let something like an argument about holding up a sign get in his way. Instead, he stopped and thought about possible solutions. Knowing that his little brother would do almost anything for money, it didn’t take him long.
Leaders have flexibility about the journey. They know what result they want to get, and a glitch in the process doesn’t mean anything other than it’s time to get creative about the how.
Question 3: What am I willing to give up?
Ben gave up 25% of the takings, and as a result the boys probably made even more than they would have if the split was 50/50. Why? Because my younger son was incredibly motivated by making more money than his big brother, and persisted well beyond the time his big brother lost interest. What was lost in margin was made up in volume.
Leaders know that sometimes it’s two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes giving up something now brings even more later.
Your current initiatives
Pick a project you’re working on. Perhaps one that’s stalling, or not working. Ask yourself the three questions.
When is the last time your emotions got the better of you at work?
I remember being in a meeting with a senior manager who consistently cut me off every time I began to speak. It would happen in every meeting we were in, and I increasingly dreaded attending meetings with him. In one particular meeting, after he cut me off again, I spent the rest of the meeting intently looking at the agenda, because if I made eye contact with the rest of the attendees, they would have seen the tears welling up in my eyes, and I didn’t want anyone to know how hurt I felt.
What women often want when I coach them
Very often, when I’m coaching or mentoring women in leadership positions, one of their objectives for our work together is to learn to manage their emotions at work. But when they say “manage,” what they really mean is “hide.” Their biggest fear is often that they’ll burst into tears, look “soft” to their bosses and colleagues, and undo all the hard work they’ve put into their leadership careers. And so they curb their feelings when perhaps what they should be doing is listening to them.
And that was what was happening with me.
Now please hear this. I’m not referring here to crying as a result of depression, burnout, or workplace bullying. I’m talking about those situations where you tear up, and later chide yourself for crying in front of colleagues because you tell yourself you should have been able to handle it.
What your emotions are telling you
Author Anne Kreamer and her colleague Mark Truss, in a 2009 survey of 701 respondents, found that 41% of the women they polled had cried at work in the preceding year.
So if you’ve cried at work recently, you’re far from alone.
Whether you hide away in a washroom stall and have a cry, or whether it happens in front of other people, it can be embarrassing for you, most definitely but it’s also be a potentially compelling message that you really need to pay attention to.
Is it sadness, or is it something else?
For so many women in leadership positions, tears at work are not an indication of sadness at all. They’re not a sign of weakness or unfitness for a leadership position either. They don’t mean you can’t do your job, and they don’t mean you need to turn off your feelings at work to stay in control.
For many women, workplace tears are a sign of frustration and anger.
Think about it. You don’t want to seem weak so you don’t want to cry, but it would be even WORSE, in the eyes of many women, to get really angry at work and to say what you REALLY think about things.
And that tension between feeling angry and frustrated, but not knowing how to express it, can often end in tears.
Early emotional management
If that’s rings true for you, and it will for many women, then take some time to figure out what it is that you’re angry and frustrated about. What you’ll likely discover is that there are issues you haven’t dealt with for fear of looking bossy or mean.
For me, I wasn’t standing up for myself in that meeting, and I felt like I had no communication strategies to deal with the senior manager who consistently cut me off. I felt helpless, and in my mind, each time he cut me off and I didn’t have a way to handle it, I would doubt my own leadership abilities.
Deal with the issue
When I swallowed my pride and met one-on-one with the senior manager to address the problem with him face to face, he was absolutely shocked …. In a good way. It hadn’t registered with him that he was cutting me off. He was passionate about his work, and when he had an idea he would speak it. He apologised profusely and told me he had every respect for my work and it wouldn’t happen again.
And true to his word, future meetings with this senior manager, from that moment, were very different. He treated me with respect, and even gave everyone in the room permission to let him know if he cut them off as he said it was a bad habit of his and he wanted to fix it.
What do your tears mean?
Consider, if you find the tears welling up at work for you, if there’s an issue that you need to address. Perhaps, like me, you have an issue with a specific person that needs addressing, whether it’s something you deal with yourself, or if you raise it with your boss.
Perhaps you’re unclear on the outcome for a particular project you’ve been assigned, and your frustration can be managed by meeting with key stakeholders and getting more clarity.
And if the problem is stress related or bullying, escalate it in accordance with the policies of your organisation and seek assistance.
Let your tears not mean weakness. Let them mean it’s time to take action.
What? Leadership lessons from Stephen King? He’s not a leader ….
I grew up playing softball – a lot. I remember, as a young girl, sleeping with my new glove under my pillow to soften it up. Night after night you could find me throwing the ball around with my older brother, focusing on getting both accuracy and power into my game.
Last week, as I played backyard cricket with my two sons, I noticed exactly why my elder son’s accuracy and power were lacking as he threw the ball to the keeper (the catcher in softball.)
But when I made a gentle suggestion about moving his elbow further back before the throw, he immediately dismissed me as a non-expert.
Because I had never played cricket.
The value of cross-contextual learning
Stephen King is a mega-huge, mega-successful, mega-prolific author. He’s a master of communication and a devotee of persistence. I don’t know about you, but I, for one, think that if the guy’s going to share how he succeeded, as he did in his book “On Writing,” there might be some valuable lessons for those of us who aim to be successful in other realms, such as in leading people.
So here are 5 nuggets of gold from Stephen King that wise leaders would do well to consider.
What’s the most important part of decision-making?
Author Brian Tracy says, “Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all.”
Putting off key decisions is like burying your head under the sheets so that the bogey man in the closet doesn’t get you.
Here are 3 mistakes that are unnecessarily stopping managers and leaders from making the very decisions that must be made, and fast.
Mistake #1: You tell yourself you need more time
There’s a decision sitting right in front of you, but rather than decide, you tell yourself you’ll make the decision later. Then you settle into doing something else altogether.
Needing more time is an automatic strategy for some people who can’t make up their minds. It’s as if time has a magical power in and of itself. Somehow, after a certain number of hours or days, the time will be right for this decision. In the meantime, you don’t have to do any analysis, thinking, or consulting at all.
If this sounds like you, ask yourself, how will time passing bring this decision closer to me? (It won’t.) Can I just make the decision right now? If not, what has to happen above and beyond the passage of time in order for this decision to be made?