Doug Dickerson is an award winning columnist and director of Management Moment Leadership Services. He is the author of the new book, Leaders Without Borders: 9 Essentials for Everyday Leaders. Visit www.dougsmanagementmoment.blogspot.com to learn more.
Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined. – Henry David Thoreau
The year was 1947 and to date no one had broken the sound barrier. Most believed that it could not be done. Some argued that the sound barrier was a literal wall that once hit at 760 mph would destroy a plane. But despite the skeptics and critics there remained a committed group of people devoted to the cause of breaking the barrier.
A young pilot by the name of Chuck Yeager was invited to be the one to break the sound barrier. Colonel Body, his superior, said, “Nobody knows for sure what happens until somebody gets there. Chuck, you’ll be flying into the unknown.” On October 14, 1947, Yeager broke the sound barrier. He later wrote, “I was thunderstruck. After all the anxiety, breaking the sound barrier turned out to be a perfectly paved speedway. After all the anticipation it was really a letdown. The ‘unknown’ was a poke through Jell-O.”
Comfort zones have a tendency to lull us into thinking that out fears are justified and average is acceptable. “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point,” said C.S. Lewis. Comfort zones are the testing points of leadership. As a leader, here are five things you will never learn if you remain in your comfort zone.
The depth of your talent. You will never fully discover the depth of your talent if you are not willing to grow to a place where more is required. If your talent brought you to the place where you are today then contentment will keep you there. Is that acceptable to you? The better practice of leadership is to discover the depth of your talent by embracing the advice of Brian Tracy who said, “You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable with trying something new.”
The reach of your potential. The greatest obstacle to breaking the sound barrier was not engineering but attitude. It was the perceptions of comfortable people. You will never fully reach your potential so long as small thinking makes you comfortable. The better practice of leadership is to be surrounded with people who believe that breaking barriers and overcoming the odds is all in a day’s work.
The reward of your risk. History records the names of risk-takers (Chuck Yeager, Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, etc.) who, in the face of overwhelming odds made a determination that the restrictions of the comfort zone was just not for them. Risk-takers are a peculiar people who had rather fail at something big than succeed at something small. The better practice of leadership is to count the cost of exceptional leadership and dare to change the world.
The power of your dreams. Comfort zones tend to put a lid on dreams. Why dream if you are not willing to take risks and explore the depths of your talent and abilities to achieve it? However, when you unleash your dreams you open yourself to new possibilities reserved for those who have escaped the predictable and the expectations of the ordinary. The better practice of leadership is courage. When others discourage you or talk about invisible walls that do not exist, you can go confidently in the direction of your dreams and live the life you have imagined.
The challenge for you is to get uncomfortable with the comfortable and comfortable with the uncomfortable. Your growth as a leader depends on it.
Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays – Søren Kierkegaard
The stated mission of the United States Military Academy is to “educate, train and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army.” I like it. It’s clear, concise, and straight to the point.
I recently read the West Point Cadet Prayer for the first time. It contains plenty of leadership nuggets worth remembering and applying. Let’s face it; leadership is hard. It’s demanding. It can be lonely.
Contained within the prayer are leadership markers that if taken to heart and embraced can be a difference maker in formulating your leadership style and disposition. Here are six leadership takeaways for your consideration with the corresponding words from the prayer (italics mine).
Lead with integrity. Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking, and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense to diminish. Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life.
Integrity is the foundation from which leadership flows. When leaders commit to living by example rather than by decree it raises the bar for others to follow. When you commit to live above the common level of life as a leader you will be an uncommon leader worth following.
Aim for excellence. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong and never to be content with a half truth when the whole truth can be won.
This portion of the prayer is poignant. Leaders make the hard choices. Leading with excellence is about choosing the harder right instead of the easier wrong. It is the high calling and price of excellent leadership. There are no shortcuts.
Don’t be afraid. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.
If integrity is the foundation of leadership then courage is the fuel that drives it. Anais Nin said, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” So does your leadership. Pray for courage.
Pray for wisdom. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the sacred things of life. Never take lightly the responsibility of leadership. Surround yourself with trusted advisors and never be too proud to seek advice.
Be compassionate. Grant us newties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of a cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow and suffer.
Charles Dickens said, “Have a heart that never hardens, a temper that never tires, and a touch that never hurts,” That’s great advice for leaders. The spirit of a leader is just as important as the vision of the leader. No one wants to follow a jerk.
Serve with honor. Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and to our Country.
Leaders serve with honor and are devoted to causes greater than self. Henry Ward Beecher said, “There never was a person who did anything worth doing who did not receive more than he gave,” And that is the secret of great leadership. Leaders who get ahead do so out of generosity. Lead with honor and you will be rewarded.
A story is told of the Duke of Wellington, the British military leader who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, and how he was not an easy man to serve under. He was brilliant, demanding, and not one to shower his subordinates with compliments.
Yet even Wellington realized that his methods left something to be desired. In his old age a young lady asked him what, if anything, he would do differently if he had his life to live over again. Wellington thought for a moment, and then replied, “I’d give more praise,” he said.
As you evaluate your leadership style and your daily opportunities to add value to the lives of those around you, are you taking advantage of the openings presented to you to make that difference? Here are 5 leadership statements that should never be left unsaid.
“Great job” – A leader comfortable in his own skin has no problem giving credit where it is due and recognizing the work of team members who make success possible. The withholding of praise or encouragement is detrimental to the morale of the team and creates negative energy.
Cicero said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.” It may not be something that comes natural for you, but neither do the rewards of hard work that you team members puts forth. Make it a practice not to miss the opportunity to praise your team for work well done.
“I believe in you” – Empowerment is an exhilarating motivator for your team. When you express your belief in your team members individually and collectively, it sets in place a cultural environment where all inhibitions or doubts about success are set aside.
The late Billy Hornsby said, “It’s okay to let those you lead outshine you, for if they shine brightly enough, they reflect positively on you.” This happens when you empower them and when you tell them.
“How can I help you?” – Part of the empowering process as a leader is achieved by putting the right tools in the hands of your people. When your team succeeds, you succeed. Empowerment must be tangible and you simply can’t presume that your people have the resources they need. You have to ask.
Peter Drucker said, “Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things.” By asking how you can help you are blending together the best management practice with the best leadership practice and creating the opportunity for success. Don’t be afraid to ask what your team needs from you.
“I was wrong” – This might possibly be one of the hardest statements to make a leader. But if you are honest with yourself, it is one you will be a position to frequently make. Leadership is not about perfection. We all make mistakes; no leader worth her salt will be mistake-free.
Henry Ward Beecher said, “Hold yourself responsible for a higher standard than anybody expects of you. Never excuse yourself.” The best way to foster trust and respect with your people is to let them hear it from you when you were wrong. Besides, they already know it.
“Together we can” – Ultimately, your success as a leader is found in cultivating a vision that includes all of your people who individually and collectively take ownership of it. You can’t achieve your goals without your team, and your team will not pursue it if they haven’t bought in.
Warren G. Bennis said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality,” he’s right. Your vision becomes a reality when everyone knows it, everyone believes it, and everyone is committed to achieving it. Together it can happen. Let them know it.