Ancient Observations on Leadership

Socrates

Although strategic leadership focuses on the future, it is, in fact, an ancient concept. The word “Strategy” (strategia in Greek) originally referred exclusively to leadership in a military context. Five hundred years before the birth of Jesus Christ, a “strategos” was a Greek senior, experienced, and successful military commander.  It is the equivalent of a modern-day Army general or Navy admiral.

The Greek philosopher Socrates apparently thought often about the subject of strategic leadership. He believed that just as craftsmen learn their skills, so too can ordinary people learn to become capable, even exemplary, leaders.

Xenophon, who became a strategos of great fame, was a member of Socrates’s inner circle. According to Xenophon, Socrates believed that soldiers would follow leaders who demonstrated both competency and knowledge. Xenophon wrote of what high standards Socrates had for any strategos: “He must be

Buzzword Bingo and Real Leadership

Buzzword Bingo

How many times have you been tempted to play “Buzzword Bingo” in a business meeting?

What?  You don’t know how to play Buzzword Bingo?  Well, let me explain it quickly.

How many times have you been tempted to play “Buzzword Bingo” in a business meeting?

What?  You don’t know how to play Buzzword Bingo?  Well, let me explain it quickly to you.

Buzzword Bingo, also known as something a little more “earthy”, is a bingo-style game where participants prepare bingo cards with certain buzzwords that they are likely to hear at a meeting or event.  They mark them off their game card when they are uttered during an event, such as a meeting or speech. The goal of the game is to mark off a predetermined number of words in a row and then yell “Bingo!” It is generally played in situations where audience members feel that the speaker, in an effort to mask a lack of actual knowledge, is relying too heavily on buzzwords rather than providing relevant details.

An important element of the game is having the courage to actually yell “Bingo!” once you have collected enough marks on your card. In order to avoid the repercussions that could result from doing that in a public setting, participants may resort to looking at one another and silently mouthing the word “Bingo”. An alternate variation requires the person who has achieved bingo to raise his or her hand and use the word “Bingo” within the context of a comment or question.

Consider if you would a couple of thoughts regarding the differences between buzzwords and real leadership.

Buzzwords are a poor substitute for the real content.  In fact, that is the key reason that some leaders tend to rely on buzzwords so much.  They really don’t have anything of real substance to offer.

Real leadership, on the other hand, offers a vocabulary of meaningful dialog.  A leader does not have to have the vocabulary of a Mensa member.  But real leaders use words of real substance and they encourage meaningful words of dialog in return.

Buzzwords are an easy way to say nothing when those who follow you really need to hear something from you.  In times of crisis, those around us do not need buzzwords and platitudes.  They need to know and experience high levels of engagement in times of crisis.

Real leadership shows the willingness to have those difficult conversations.  Real leaders do not shy away or run from a crisis.  Real leaders step up and speak the truth using words that have meaning to the audience.

Buzzwords are the escape hatch for the speaker who is unprepared.  There are only very rare occasions when a leader should stand up in front of their team and be unprepared.  Unless there is a catastrophic event or a tragedy, always be prepared when you approach the microphone.

Real leadership finds a way to be the most prepared person for any given situation.  Perhaps this is most often seen in the calming way in which a real leader steps into a tense situation and has prepared remarks that address all of the emotions that may be present.

Buzzwords provide a facade of being knowledgeable.  But the facade fades and cracks all too quickly in the glaring sunshine of reality.  We can fake it for a short time.  But we can’t fake it forever.

Real leadership actually learns from each and every experience and stores that away for use during a future event or crisis.  This actually is part of the preparation process in the previous example.

Buzzwords are big ideas boiled down to the lowest common denominator of thought.  Buzzwords are a contributing factor to the “dumbing down” of our society.

Real leadership offers everyone a way to access these big ideas and bring clarity and understanding to them.  Real leaders are always gauging their audience to make sure that everyone is able to interact with these ideas on an equal footing without the fear of being left out of the conversation because of the level of the intellectual discourse.

What about you?  Are you a “Buzzworder”?  Or are you a real leader?

Photo credit: Keees / Foter / CC BY

Here is a link to one of the many Buzzword Bingo sites on the internet.

How Does a Leader Motivate?

Motivation

In life, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. What is important is this: Where are you going and how are you going to get there?

Aside from what you want to accomplish, what kind of a person do you want to become as the result of all your work and effort?  Men and women who achieve great things in life are almost always those who give thought to their own evolution and growth.  They become great people by design, not by accident.  They are like master craftsmen, continually shaping and polishing their character and personality so that they grow into someone important and worthwhile.  And so should you.

The highest goal you can have for yourself is to become a leader, to become an outstanding man or woman who is looked up to, admired, and respected by the people around you.  Motivational leadership is the ability to uplift and inspire people to perform at their best.  Personal leadership on the other hand, is the ability to motivate you to do the things, and be the kind of person that is a motivational leader.  Both are necessary, they are flip sides of the same coin.

Pop the Question!

Pop the Question

He who asks a question remains a fool for a few minutes. He who does not ask, remains a fool forever. ~ Chinese Proverb.

 

I have mentioned so many times how much I love a good short quote.  And this one delivers in spades.

Think about it for a second.  What is worse than being the only person in the room who doesn’t understand something? Now imagine that weeks, months, or even years go by and you still are just not understanding the topic of discussion. But knowing that, if you ask now, everyone will wonder what you’ve been doing all this time.

Has that ever happened to you?

But what if you weren’t the only one on the team who has the same question in their mind?  What if they are all sitting around thinking that they are the only one who doesn’t “get it”?

If you have a question, but are afraid to ask, for fear of looking foolish or losing respect – relax, take a deep breath, and then go ahead ask the question.

Oh wait.  That sounded too simple didn’t it?

Teamwork Principles from Sports

Mule Team

Teams are all the rage today in business. Surely some of this comes from our love for sports and the beauty of seeing a group of people on the field or court, working together in unity and skillfully executing a play. But furthermore we love to talk about teams today because of the camaraderie represented, the importance of each team member knowing and executing their job and the synergy that occurs through mutual trust and proficient performance. But loving the concept of “team” and actually building a team and helping it realize its potential are completely different things. I would like to propose 4 sports-themed warnings to help you build a better team.

Going 5-wide just isn’t possible; Going 4 wide isn’t sustainable – I know when you are watching Nascar the adrenaline gets pumping when the competition is tight and an inch can mean the difference between placing or even finishing. But a good crew chief will recognize how many things can actually be done effectively, simultaneously and won’t attempt more than this. When you attempt too many things at once the bottleneck will slow down progress or even worse, end up in catastrophe.

On being a “Courager”

nomadThis is part three in a series of articles on teaching and leading your children. Part one, which introduces the series, can be found here.

I have told my kids that there are no monsters in their closets, but if there were, the reason they would be hiding in the closet is because they are scared of me. I’m guessing that although I find that a very funny idea that my kids aren’t really comforted by it. It certainly doesn’t teach them courage.

Because there aren’t any monsters in my children’s closets, I seek out other opportunities to teach courage. For example, I’m not scared of bugs because I can’t be. Someone has to kill them, and that duty falls under my job description. And if something goes bump in the night, it’s my job to get up and see what it is, and if necessary, it’s my job to deal with it. While there are teaching opportunities in each of these scenarios, overcoming a fear of bugs is probably not age-appropriate for my kids, and explaining the significance of things that go bump in the night would only give them nightmares (and would otherwise serve no purpose). Frankly, neither of these scenarios are of the sort that call upon the kind of courage that my children need at this stage in their lives.

There are other fears.

The Business of Ethics

MM - Ethics

I am sure there has been much written about ethics in leadership but I wanted to share some insights recently revealed to me.

I had a visit with some dear friends who have been in leadership positions and one is currently writing a book on “ethics in the university”. He is a retired professor and is a dear friend so, jokingly, I asked him if he had discovered any, to which there was a resounding NO.

The chats usually go with the state of our country then circles around to business models and ethics.

First, I’m not sure why we call it “business ethics”.

Is the place we learn business ethics, in business, or is it too late then?  Our conversation had me asking that question, “Where do we learn” ethics?

Well, I got the standard business answer we all should expect and the one you are thinking. We teach them in college and have training classes and seminars. Which isn’t bad, I might add!

As you may guess at this point in the conversation, I still had plenty of questions. So, one immediate question was; at what age do we start to teach ethics?

Where and when do “we” learn ethics?

Missionaries or Mercenaries?

Rocky

Remember when you were young and you could hear a song, or watch a movie (like Rocky) and be extremely motivated?

I was so motivated by Rocky that at the age of nine, I asked for boxing gloves, and proceeded to challenge an older and bigger kid to a boxing match. Needless to say he kept asking if he could stop beating the literal snot out of me, but I thought I was Rocky, and would win in the end. I didn’t. So while motivation can be good, it can also make you get the snot the beat out you.

The other thing I learned is outside motivation doesn’t last. In other words, even if you motivate another individual as a leader, it will only last a short while, and something inside of them has to take over to keep it going, or it’s just a peak in an otherwise very long valley. I learned a long time ago that you might be able to inspire someone for a little while with words, but if they do not have the fire inside of them for whatever it is they are doing, the fire will go out, and you are back to square one.

I also learned this about myself.  

How Great Leaders Deal With Crisis

There is always a crisis looming. Pressure is inevitable. The question is not if you will face a crisis, but when will the next one happen. This is especially true if you are a leader. The challenge is, “How will you lead during your next crisis?”

Shackleton

As a part of one of my leadership courses at Regent University, I was required to watch the A&E 2 part miniseries Shackleton. You’ve likely heard of his story as it is perhaps the greatest survival story of all times.

Having lost the race to be the first to reach the South Pole, Ernest Shackleton set his sights on being the first to cross Antarctica. He selected 28 men for his primary ship, The Endurance. Over the next 20 months, the expedition dissolved into one crisis after another as the ship was caught in early-season ice and eventually crushed. Shackleton led his men through great skill and courage, and unbelievably, not a single man perished. It is truly a remarkable story and I encourage you to get the DVDs and watch!

I learned so many leadership principles from watching this great film, but here are just a few:

Leadership Love Languages

Appreciation

We all thrive in an atmosphere of appreciation. Whether that’s peer to peer, parent to child, teacher to student or as we look at here; leader to team.

Steven Covey puts it in his book 7 habits of highly effective people: “Next to physical survival, the greatest need of a human being is psychological survival, to be understood, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be appreciated”.

As we begin 2015; which I imagine will be a difficult year for a lot of organizations. What are you doing as the team leaders to affirm, reaffirm and validate the worth of your team to both the cause and you personally?

I’ve seen a book by Gary Chapman and Paul White called: The 5 languages of Appreciation in the Workplace. In summary it translates the ‘Love Languages’ narrative often used in marriage counseling, into an employment setting; simply stating that if love, appreciation and affirmation, enhances, validates and nurtures marriages then it’ll do the same in a work setting.

After all husbands and wives are humans in a relationship together just as employers and employees. The challenge as leaders, is to work out each of our teams ‘love languages’, seeking to understand how they receive and feel valued and appreciated and implement that through the feedback we give.