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.
Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitudes and in actions. – Harold S. Geneen
In his book the 360° Leader, John Maxwell shares a story about President Harry S. Truman speaking at the National War College. In the speech, Truman said, “You know, it’s easy for the Monday morning quarterback to say what the coach should have done, after the game is over. But when the decision is up before you-and on my desk I have a motto which says ‘The Buck Stops Here’- the decision has to be made.”
On another occasion Truman said, “The president-whoever he is- has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. No one else can do the deciding for him. That’s his job.” For the leader, the weight of responsibility can be heavy burden to carry. Seldom do others see behind the scenes the struggles many leaders deal with on a regular basis.
To be sure, stress in the workplace is something to reckon with on many levels. The Huffington Post (http://huff.to/14YHA6L) reported on recent finding from the third annual Work Stress Survey, conducted by Harris Interactive. The results last year found that 73 percent of Americans were stressed at work. This year, that number jumped to 83 percent. Only 17 percent of workers said nothing about their jobs causing them stress.
Regardless of your present station in your organizational structure there are things you can do to lift your leader. Why is this important? When you commit yourself to lifting your leader you are crating the kind of culture within your organization that can have residual effects that ripple through your organization in a positive way. Consider these five for starters.
Lighten your leader’s load. When you lighten the load of your leader you are freeing up his or her ability to focus on larger and more consequential things for your organization. Lightening the load happens as you look past just what is good for you and look at what is good for the organization. When you lighten the leader’s load you increase his capacity to grow.
Listen to your leader’s concerns. The “Buck Stops Here” responsibility weighs heavily on your leader. You can lighten the load of your leader as you listen to the verbal and pay attention to the non-verbal communications. When you know what is on the mind of your leader you can do your part to put his mind at ease.
Leverage your leader’s strengths. You always want your leader in a position of strength in any given situation. Leveraging the strength of your leader can also include finding creative ways of assisting in his weaker areas. When you are contentious of this it can be a real boost to your leader and can give your company extra leverage it may need. Strong leaders make for strong teams. Lift up the strengths of your leader and everyone benefits.
Learn from your leader. You can lift, encourage, and empower your leader when you commit yourself to learn from him. The investment he or she has made in you should be cause for enough consideration that they feel you have some potential. Succession in leadership is not a birthright, it’s earned. You can lift your leader by showing respect and learning from their experiences and expertise.
Laugh with your leader. Leadership is a journey filled with many surprises. It’s filled with joys and heartache and a little bit of everything else in between. Charles M. Schultz said, “If I were given the opportunity to present a gift to the next generation, it would be the ability for each individual to learn to laugh at himself.” Never underestimate the power of laughter in leadership. You can lift your leader when you laugh with your leader.
Lifting your leader is a matter of strong intuition, being a little less selfish, and realizing that one day you may be a position where you’d like to call upon these acts of kindness. When you lift your leader you are growing as a leader.
On Monday mornings I am dedicated to the proposition that all men are created jerks. - H. Allen Smith
In The 360° Leader, John Maxwell shares a humorous story about a turkey chatting with a bull. “I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree,” sighed the turkey, “but I haven’t got the energy.”
“Well,” replied the bull, “why don’t you nibble on some of me droppings? They’re packed with nutrients.” The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the lowest branch of the tree.
The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fourth night, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. But he was promptly spotted by a hunter, who shot him down out of the tree. The moral of the story: BS might get you to the top, but it won’t keep you there.
Monday morning can either be a day of dread or one filled with expectation for what lies ahead. As a leader what motivation do you bring to the office on Monday? What do you believe truly motivates your team to come back? Here are three qualities that will endear you to your team and them proud to be by your side.
A leader with a servant’s heart. A leader with a servant’s heart is not absorbed in centering the organization on his or her needs, but in being a facilitator in order to make those around him successful. The mentality is not, “what can you do for me?” but rather, “what can I do for you?”
When you engage your team with a servants heart you will help them see and understand that you are about the big picture; not being the big person. Authentic servant leadership will have the team back on Monday if you dare to live it.
A leader with an open mind. Martha Stewart said, “Without an open-minded mind, you can never be a great success.” And this is at the heart of what makes your workplace enjoyable. When leadership is open-minded to new ideas, thinking outside the margins, and vesting trust in the team, great things are within your reach.
Strong morale is built upon a foundation of mutual respect and appreciation for the talent and gifts each person has invested. The leader with an open mind is smart enough to surround himself with the best and brightest and humble enough not to care who gets the credit. Keep an open mind and you will keep your team close. How open minded are you?
A leader with a clear vision. Monday is the least of your worries if your team members do not have their hearts and minds wrapped around the vision and mission of what they are doing and why. A clear vision and mission are the two key ingredients that give your team a sense of purpose and direction.
Warren G. Bennis said, “Leadership is the ability to translate vision into reality.” And this is the responsibility of your leadership; to map out the vision in clear terms that your team can embrace. When your team knows where they are going, why they are going there, and what the rewards will be, it is then they will buy-in and go there with you.
What brings your team back on Monday is a leader with a servant’s heart; it is not about you. What brings your team back on Monday is a leader with an open mind; don’t BS them. What brings your team back on Monday is a leader with a vision; share it.
What do you say?
No one is more definite about the solution than the one who doesn’t understand the problem. - Robert Half
A story is told about a professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School who used to start his first day of class by putting two figures on the blackboard: 4 2. Then he would ask, “What’s the solution?”
One student would call out, “Six.” Another would say, “Two,” and yet another would say, “Eight.” But the teacher would shake his head in the negative. Then he would point out their collective error. “All of you failed to ask the key question: What is the problem? Gentlemen, unless you know what the problem is, you cannot possibly find the answer.”
Many of the problems your organization faces will come across your desk. While this is not uncommon, especially for a small business, what should not be common is the way you address them. But unless you are tuned in to your people and their needs then what you perceive to be a problem may not be one at all.
Malcolm Forbes said, “When things are bad we take a bit of comfort in the thought that they could always be worse. And when they are, we find hope in the thought that things are so bad they have to get better.” What hope can be found in knowing that things could be worse? Here are three observations to help you understand problems and make the most of them.
Problems are symptoms. In order to correct a problem you must know what it is. When you are sick you go to the doctor because your body is telling you something is wrong. It’s after you tell the doctor your symptoms that he can make a diagnosis and give you the right medicine to make you well.
Too often in organizations there seems to be an abundance of “physicians” who think they have the cure for what’s wrong but are more like the students in the story who do not understand the problem.
The symptoms may be sluggish sales figures, missed deadlines, loss of productivity, or low morale to name a few. Your job is to get to the root of the problem and make corrections; it’s what sets you apart as a leader. But first, you have to make sure you solving the right problem.
Problems are opportunities. The real test of your leadership comes after identifying the problem. You are not in a position of leadership merely to put out fires. Problems can be blessings in disguise when you tap into the unexpected opportunities they present.
Liu Chi Kung, who placed second to Van Cliburn in the 1948 Tchaikovsky competition, was imprisoned a year later during the Cultural Revolution in China. During the entire seven years he was held, he was denied the use of a piano. Soon after his release, however, he was back on tour.
Critics wrote in astonishment that his musicianship was better than ever. “How did you do this?” a critic asked. “You had no chance to practice for seven years.” “I did practice,” Liu replied, “Every day I rehearsed every piece I have ever played, note by note, in my mind.”
Liu trained himself daily to play his music in spite of his circumstances. As a leader, you have to train yourself to not always see problems, but to see opportunities that can come from them. What opportunities do you see?
Problems are benchmarks. Charles F. Kettering said, “Problems are the price of progress. Don’t bring me anything but trouble—good news weakens me.” Progress seldom comes easy and the problems you face are the signposts on your road of achievement.
Each new challenge you overcome is a testament to your leadership and an example to the rest of your team. It’s when you successfully work though the challenges you face that you model the leadership you expect and the leadership skills that will empower your team.
When problems come be sure to identify them correctly, look for the opportunity you now have, and grow from the experience. What problems will you overcome today?
Life is too short to be little. - Benjamin Disraeli
The late Fred Rogers, speaking at his acceptance speech into the Television Hall of Fame, gave a speech that I believe typifies what leadership is truly about. Rogers says, “Fame is a four-letter word: and like tape or zoom or face or pain or love, what ultimately matters is what we do with it.
I feel that those of us in television are chosen to be servants. It doesn't matter what our particular job, we are chosen to help meet the deeper needs of those who watch and listen – day and night!
The conductor of the orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl grew up in a family that had little interest in music, but he often tells people he found his early inspiration from the fine musicians on television.” Rogers’s perspective on what is truly important may seem like a throw-back in time, but the message is timeless.
Rogers added, “Who in your life has been a servant to you…who has helped you love the good that grows within you? No matter where they are-either here or in heaven-imagine how pleased those people must be to know that you thought of them right now. We all have only one life to live on earth. And through television, we have the choice of encouraging others to demean this life or to cherish it in creative, imaginative ways.”
As defined by John Maxwell, leadership is influence. And with the influence you have as a leader, you will add value to the lives of others by your leadership style or it will be characterized by missed opportunities. How you see yourself will determine the direction you travel.
Italo Magni said, “If you’re talking with your head, you’re going to speak to their heads. If you’re talking with your heart, you’re going to reach their hearts. If you talk with your life, you’re going to reach their lives.” So here is the question: on which level do you want to lead? Discover these simple secrets and understand the most effective way to lead.
When you lead with your head you can help. There is certainly an advantage to leading from a position of knowledge. To be sure, it lends credibility when you lead and speak with understanding and from experience. But leading with your head can only take you so far.
Howard Hendricks said, “You can impress people at a distance, but you can impact them only up close.” You can draw a person in with your knowledge but if you want to keep them there and truly make a difference there has to be more.
When you lead with your heart you can make a difference. When you lead on this level you have taken a giant step in expanding your influence. When you lead with your head you earn respect because of what you know; but when you lead with your heart, you earn a following because of who you are.
Malcolm Forbes said, “At the heart of any good business is a chief executive officer with one.” Leading from the heart provides the emotional intelligence that you need to integrate head knowledge into a plan of action that can easily be embraced. Until you connect with the heart you will never get to the life changing encounters that come from leading with your life.
When you lead with your life you change the world. Leading with your life is the most powerful form of leadership. This level of leadership embodies all that you know, all of your passions, and unites them into a life committed to adding value to others.
Fred Rogers also said, “If you could only sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to the people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.” Stop and consider the relationships you have and how your influence is making a difference.
When you lead with your life your influence has no limits. What will be the measure of your leadership?
Reality is the leading cause of stress among those in touch with it. – Lily Tomlin
According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens, a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.
Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its grip, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.”
The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be fit for use when you want it.”
Many people today find themselves at the breaking point. Recent findings in the 2013 Work Stress Survey by Harris Interactive for Everest College (http://bit.ly/115tgJa) revealed that 83% of American workers said they are stressed out by at least one thing at work, up sharply from 73% in 2012. Other stressors include lack of opportunity for advancement, fear of being laid off, poor work/life balance and working in a job that was not the person’s chosen career.
These stress points along with others are reasons why many are at the breaking point. Applying a little wisdom from Aesop could go a long way in reducing stress levels and gaining some fresh perspective on the challenges of leadership and life. Here are a few tips to consider.
Know your limits. It might be noble to think you can be the “Ironman” of your office. You can even have 5-hour energy drinks coursing through your veins as you work night and day. But it’s not smart, sustainable, nor is it healthy. You can’t do it all and you shouldn’t try. You can work hard; you can work smart, but you shouldn’t work yourself to death. Permission is granted to be human.
Learn to say no. One of the most liberating things you can learn as a leader is how to say no. This is not an excuse to slack off or not carry your weight as an effective team player, but you have to protect your boundaries. Knowing your limits is only useful when you can define and defend your boundaries. Learning to say no allows you to be more productive at what you do best. Permission is granted to defend yourself.
Set priorities. Many reach their breaking points because of poor time management skills. The most precious resource you have is time. How you manage your time it is essential to your success. Jim Rohn was right when he said, “Either you run the day or the day runs you.” Get a grip on your priorities, write them down, and guard them as best you can. With your priorities in place you can significantly reduce your stress and be more productive. Permission is granted to be organized.
Consider others. Something magical happens on the day you stop navel-gazing and put into practice the Golden Rule. When serving causes greater than self becomes the norm it puts things into a new perspective. When you begin to focus on the needs of others it begins a wonderful process of reciprocation that allows you to count your blessings instead of your troubles. Permission is granted to be compassionate.
Enjoy guilt-free down time. The point Aesop made was that if you always keep the bow bent it will eventually break. If you let it go slack it will be fit for use when you need it. With the same degree of enthusiasm you have adopted the philosophy of hard work you should equally embrace the philosophy of needed rest and relaxation. Taking time to rest, relax, and enjoy down time will give you the much needed time to recharge and refresh yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Permission is granted to rest.
What do you say?