I Didn’t Know It Was That Bad

The Power of Perspective

I Didn’t Know It Was That Bad

I got one of those lovely letters from the Homeowners Association that no one likes to receive. It told me that my driveway was too dirty. And it told me that I needed to clean my driveway. No, really. That is what it said. So, I borrowed a pressure washer from my son and set about the task of cleaning my driveway.

What I saw after the first spray of pressurized water hit the concrete was amazing. That first jet of water took off 19 years of accumulated dirt and gunk that had settled on it over the years. That first swath of high-pressure water took off that gunk and revealed concrete as it must have looked 19 years ago when it was poured and cured. To look at the concrete the day before would never have given me the hint that it was that “dirty.” In fact, I thought the HOA folks were a little crazy. But one look at the “clean” concrete next to the areas that I had not pressure washed yet showed that the concrete had indeed become very dark gray and almost black by comparison to the newly washed section.

This certainly gave me an interesting perspective on things. It made me a little self-reflective. What about my own life? Had I let it get dunked up with many years of accumulated dirt and grime? So, as a reference point, I left a little patch of concrete alone. I did not even get it wet. I wanted to leave it alone. That little dark patch on my driveway is a reminder of what the whole driveway looked like before the pressure washer hit it.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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When to Charge Ahead

And When to Leave it Alone

When to Charge Ahead

How do we determine when we are to charge ahead as leaders or leave it alone and deal with it another day?

Never put off until tomorrow . . . 

We have all been taught in elementary school that we should not put off until tomorrow a kindness that we can do today. But what about a tough decision that we must make as a leader? Is there ever a situation where we would want to put that off for another time down the road? 

When? That is the question!

When is it right to charge ahead and take the bull by the horns and lead in the midst of a difficult situation? And when is it right to stand back and leave the issue alone and take a more relaxed and non-confrontational approach? These are legitimate questions that I have wrestled with in my own mind for many years. I have been guilty of rushing in too hard, too fast, or too soon. And I have been equally guilty of ignoring or turning away from a situation that had a whole lot of downside and very little upside that would drain all of my mental or emotional energy.

The problem is in knowing when to charge ahead and seize the moment. And knowing when to relax and take a more measured approach to the issue that faces us.

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Projecting and Reflecting

A simple principle about leadership

Projecting and Reflecting

Our followers will reflect whatever you project. It is just that simple. It is also just that scary.

Many years ago when our children were very young, I was joking about their behavior (and by behavior I mean misbehavior) in Sunday School one morning. I jokingly said that they must have learned that behavior while playing with the other children. The response from the teacher was humorous but it stung my heart. It became one of the most haunting little statements that anyone ever made to me when I was a young parent. Here is what she said: “Children only do what they see at home.”

I was suddenly mortified. What if that was true? (And I believe that it is to a large extent.) What if those little eyes really are watching my every move? Fast forward now many years later and I can tell you that my children have grown into incredible adults. They are each wonderful parents and role models for their own children now.

But stay with me, please. This is not an article about parenting. It is really a quick article about leadership outside of the home. And it is about how our followers perceive us. In other words, how do they perceive the leadership message or methodology that I am projecting? And can I tell what I am projecting by how they reflect my leadership?

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Don’t Be Silly

Bad Advice Some Times

Don't Be Silly

There is a quote by Adlai Stevenson that is rattling inside my head today. It has leadership implications both at home and at work. Here are the words of Adlai Stevenson.

“It’s hard to lead a cavalry charge if you think you look funny on a horse.”

Leadership In The Home

One of the things that is the most important to us as men is that our wives and children respect us. I think for many men respect comes before love in order of importance to the male psyche. But, I won’t debate that here today. Instead, I want to talk about something that in many ways may run counter to the notion of respect.

The opposite of respect is, of course, disrespect. And as dads, we cannot tolerate that from our children. But consider for a moment the importance of being silly with your children. Did you catch that? I said that it is important to be silly with your children. Why is that important?

Many times our kids see us as the great enforcers of rules and the “sucker of all that is fun out of life.” They could never have known us when we were wearing togas to toga parties in college. They never saw us perform some goofy skit in the Fall Fun Fest our sophomore year. In their eyes, we are the one who goes to work every day and comes home too tired to play.

So, what do we do?

So, what do we do? The truth is that I don’t know how to program silliness into your fatherhood repertoire. It is hard to plan these sorts of things. But be spontaneous. The next time you need to pick up all of the dirty clothes from your child’s room, do it together and make a silly contest out of seeing how many dirty socks, shorts, and shirts you can stuff in your pants. And then waddle to the laundry room with the dirty clothes sticking out of your pockets and waistband and dump them in the washing machine. OK, that isn’t the greatest idea in the world, but I was being spontaneous!

And there is a practical side to all of this.

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Is it Time for a Post-Mortem?

Consider it for the living!

IS IT TIME FOR A POST-MORTEM?

OK, the title is a little morbid. Especially in light of the fact that I have been really sick with the flu and now I find myself in a part of the world where Malaria is all too common for those of us without a natural immunity. In fact, I had a Malaria Test Kit waiting for me and sitting on the desk in my room when I returned to the hotel several days ago. That always makes you feel good!

But have no fear. I am alive and well. So please stick with me for a minute or two. Because I want to discuss a tool that I have used many times with clients when I was more actively involved in consulting. This particular approach that I recommend that you try attempts to take a look at what exactly happened during an “event” so that all of the stakeholders can understand it clearly. Not all will see it the same way. But, with enough individual views, a collective view will emerge.

This approach can be particularly helpful when there is already an acknowledgment that there are a number of issues that need to change. This approach requires a high degree of trust among the team because it can naturally focus on the negative of what took place. It is very similar to the critiques we used to receive in the theater at the end of a performance or a rehearsal.

A Post-Mortem in a Leadership Context

The kind of review that I am referring to today is different from those that we used in the theater. The kinds of critiques that I am suggesting are a little more interactive and participatory. The best critiques included all of the components below: 

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Conflict and Leadership

Is there a hidden opportunity in conflict?

Conflict & Leadership

I have been thinking a lot lately about conflict and conflict resolution. We are certainly seeing it played out on a daily basis in the news. Although I think we can all agree that some level of conflict is unavoidable, we do seem to have it in abundance and it is coming more and more because we are so polarizing in our communications with those around us. However, how we face it and resolve that conflict says a great deal about our own leadership styles and abilities.

Conflict as Opportunity

Consider the following statement by Warren Bennis, one of the foremost writers on leadership and organizational and management theory.

“Leaders do not avoid, repress, or deny conflict, but rather see it as an opportunity.” 

Leaders, this is one of your primary responsibilities. I believe strongly in delegating. But, you cannot delegate this one. Nor can you pretend that conflicts do not occur within your organization. I have spent much of my adult life working in the corporate world during the week and serving in a non-profit and volunteer organization on weeknights and weekends. And conflict is common to all organizations. Yes, even within churches and religious organizations. But you, as leaders, have the responsibility to sense a conflict at its earliest stages and resolve it before it affects the entire organization.

True leaders do not avoid or run from conflict. I am not proclaiming that they go and seek it out or invent it where it does not exist. But, leaders lead in times of calm and in times of conflict. And by the way, while we are on this subject, let’s not just “manage” the conflict, let’s “resolve” it once and for all!

Conflict Resolution is an art as much as it is a science. The goal of conflict resolution is to assess and resolve disputes at the lowest level possible and do so before they escalate into something major.

What is Conflict?

Conflict is fundamentally an indication of a miscommunication that has an enhanced level of emotion attached to it. It could begin as a request for clarification based upon a perception. And, depending on how that clarification is requested, received, and interpreted, it can lead to a conflict.

Conflict and Conflict Resolution Require Emotional Agility

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Adaptive and Agile Leadership

Which One Are You?

Adaptive and Agile

So many of the world’s problems, and the issues that organizations, businesses, and people face every day can seem intractable and unsolvable. Leadership consultants Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky discussed a new way to lead the charge to change in their book in 2009 entitled, “Adaptive Leadership”.

Adaptive Leadership calls for moving beyond outdated approaches and embracing new skills and attitudes to guide your organization in the 21st century. Adaptive leadership combines established ways of leading with new skills and new perspectives for dealing with unprecedented challenges.

I am currently engaged in writing a book about this need for adaptive leadership. I am choosing to talk about it in terms of being “agile” in our leadership. I don’t believe the words are interchangeable. But they are certainly synergistic.

What is the difference?

The differences to me are subtle. But they are real. An adaptive leader is usually discussed in terms of their ability to bring change to an organization or to guide the organization through a change that may be thrust upon them Agile leaders, on the other hand, are more concerned with the people and the processes that will be affected by the change.

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