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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Comparing Leaders of the Past and the Present

Should we even try to compare?

Comparing Leaders of the Past and the Present

One of the questions and conversations that arise from time to time in my circle of influence is about leaders today and leaders from the past. Recently, I had a conversation about leadership and the leadership crisis in our culture today. One of my hypotheses is that we are just one generation away from losing our society and our culture due to the lack of leadership skills today.

Some that I speak with on this topic are pessimistic. Some are optimistic. One of my friends opined on this topic and had a much more optimistic view. He felt that we are still several generations away. All I know for sure is that there is a distinct lack of leadership exhibited today. And it “seems” that there were better leaders and more leadership skills in the past.

And it seems that leaders of the past almost always seem more effective than those of today. Perhaps it is a perceptual bias: We long for what we don’t have and romanticize or mythologize what we used to have. But even taking this bias into consideration, many of today’s leaders don’t seem to measure up to our expectations.

Is There a Leadership Crisis?

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School and the John F. Kennedy School of Government several years ago, 68% of Americans believe that there is a “leadership crisis” in the country; and leaders in only four out of thirteen sectors polled inspire above average confidence. Those sectors were the military, the Supreme Court, non-profit organizations, and medical institutions. Leaders of the news media, Congress, and Wall Street receive the lowest scores. Who is surprised by this?

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Building Leaders: A Better Model

If creating more leaders is the main goal, why do we spend so much time creating followers?

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Outside of the moral absolutes that we would all commonly accept, there really aren’t a wholly agreed upon set of absolutes for the many pursuits of our lives. And, although I would reject moral relativism, I do accept a certain continuum when it comes to leadership and leadership development.

What does that mean?

That means that there is an acceptable continuum of leadership skills, goals, and objectives. However, my experiences over the last two Sunday afternoons have reinforced within me the objective of creating more leaders and not just more followers. So, toward that end, let’s look at that a little more, shall we?

The kind of leadership that I want to focus on is the kind of leadership that differentiates itself from just good leadership. The differentiator that separates good leaders from great leaders is one that creates other leaders.

While good leaders excel at motivating their followers to do what they are asked, great leaders motivate followers to develop and become leaders themselves. Good leaders only lead followers. Great leaders lead, create, and develop other leaders.

So, if you want to build an organization that endures, you must realize that having good leaders is not enough. You must build an entire culture of leadership throughout your organization that cultivates an environment where great leaders are empowered to create leaders to go out and replicate and even improve upon the foundation laid for them.

What is a Culture of Leadership?

What does it mean to have a leadership culture in your organization? In an organization that has embraced a culture of leadership, all individuals (and not just those that have the words “VP” or “Chief” on their business cards) are expected to think like and to act like leaders. But, what does a leader “think” like and “act” like?

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Coaching

What is it?

coaching

One of the great things about being involved in leadership development and coaching is the opportunity to be constantly learning and developing your own skills in these areas. They say that you teach that which you need to learn the most. Although I don’t subscribe to that theory, there is a thread running through it that resonates within me because of the learning that often goes along with the teaching.

If you’re like most of us, you have probably noticed the buzz word “Coaching” being thrown around a lot in the corporate world. I am a leadership and life coach. But what does it actually mean? Sometimes when dealing with abstract concepts it is easier to define it by describing what it is not.

Coaching is not leading. — Leadership Voices, LLC is all about leadership and about the many ways that leadership is defined and employed. And great leaders will often provide guidelines and advice on how to succeed in certain areas. Typically they will be seeking to help you reach a certain goal, or they wish to rally you and your colleagues to reach this shared goal. Great leaders will often also be great coaches; however, it is still important to understand the differences in the conversations with them.

Coaching is not mentoring. — If you’ve ever been a coach or have been coached, and the conversation has steered towards advice on technical or job specific concepts, then you aren’t being coached – you are being mentored.

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7 Questions To Answer To Move Beyond Good Intentions

Does Effort = Performance?

7 Questions - v1

Are good intentions enough? At some point, it is reasonable to be evaluated based on our performance and not just our intentions.

So much of what is mainstream thought today seems to indicate that as long as you try really, really hard, then you have accomplished something. That may or may not be accurate. You have indeed expended effort. And maybe you have expended a lot of effort. But is effort the same thing as performance? Have you actually accomplished anything of value or significance?

Is effort alone enough when it comes to leadership?

Or, in other words, are good intentions enough? Or at some point, do our followers and the community around us have a right to expect some results?

I cross multiple worlds in my own personal experience. Much of my time is dominated by a secular environment where results are pretty important. So much so that compensation and career advancement are dependent upon identified and verified performance and value generated as the result of expected accomplishments. While the rest of my time is spent in a variety of volunteer, ministry, and non-profit endeavors.

Each world views this topic very differently. But does that necessarily need to be? Is it reasonable to have some measurable performance indicators outside of the business world that are not just appreciated because of their level of effort?

Regardless of whether you are a leader in a for profit or not for profit organization, we must have some understanding of, and answers to, the following questions:

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How Important Are Results?

Should we actually expect something from our leaders?

How Important Are RESULTS?

Everyone knows that there are “unreasonable expectations.” But, are there “reasonable expectations” that we can have when it comes to our leaders?

I believe that there are reasonable expectations that we can have for our leaders. I believe that it is reasonable to expect honesty, integrity, diligence, dependability, and probably much more. But, I also believe that it is reasonable to expect some measure of results when it comes to our leaders or of those who would be leaders.

We live in a society that values effort as much as it values results. There exists a “moral equivalence” and an acceptance of just trying. “Just trying” is acceptable for a child who is up to bat at his first T-Ball game. Ultimately, in that environment, a 30% success rate over the span of an athlete’s career will land you in the Hall of Fame.

What can we expect?

What then, are the reasonable expectations when it comes to the performance or the results of our leaders? Can we expect any real tangible results? Or should we be satisfied that they are really trying their hardest to lead?

Let me say that I believe that it is reasonable to expect “something” from our leaders when it comes to results. It is altogether reasonable to expect them to either empower us to achieve or to actually spearhead an achievement through the power and influence of their leadership skills.

How do we make that a reality?

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Build Another Follower in 2016

Step 4 for 2016

Resolution #4

Who knows if this pithy little saying is really attributable to any one person. The first time I came across it was many years ago and it was attributed as “an ancient Chinese proverb.” Maybe it is ancient, maybe it is not. But it is certainly true. And here it is:

“A man that thinks he leads, yet has no followers, is really only taking a walk.”

How many are there who think they are leaders when they are really just out for a walk?

Resolve This Year to Build Another Follower 

This is one of the true marks of your leadership abilities. Do you have followers? If you do, resolve this year to increase your number of followers. Let’s not build our number of followers for the sake of a big number. It is infinitely more important to build quality followers who are passionate about where you are leading. But it is unavoidable to consider the impact that we are having and the number of followers is one of the metrics that we would want to use to gauge our effectiveness and our reach.

Why do I need followers in the first place? 

Perhaps that is the wrong question. Perhaps the question is what do I do with the followers that we already have? I am not sure that a great leader goes out to amass followers. At least not a leader that I want to follow. I think the truly great leaders attract followers organically. We are drawn to these kinds of leaders through their charisma or their message. Following this line of thought reminds me of another saying that I find apropos. The one who would aspire to be the President of the United States is probably not worthy of the office. I know that is an overly simplistic statement. But, given the election cycle in which we find ourselves, the parallel is painfully obvious.

What should I do?

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Build Another Leader in 2016

Step Three for 2016

Resolution #3

And here we are at part 3 of this quick 4 part series on resolutions that every leader should make as they start the new year. On Monday, I dealt with the importance of being a better leader. On Wednesday I discussed being a better follower.

Now it is time to consider the next step in the 4 part process.

Resolve This Year To Build Another Leader 

This is the oft-forgotten role of truly great leaders. These leaders are concerned about the legacy that they will leave behind. It has been said that one of the key responsibilities of a leader is to build more leaders rather than just building followers. Or, as someone else has put it — Good leaders build strong followers. Great leaders build more leaders.

Ralph Nader has been credited with saying it this way — “The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.” I am not now, nor have I ever been a big fan of Ralph Nader. However, if he is correct, and I believe he is, the question that it leaves for you and I is this. How do we go about the task of producing and then developing other leaders? Because producing new young leaders without having the plan to develop them is ludicrous and damaging to these young leaders.

So, resolve this year to pour yourself into the life of some young leader and help build their leadership skills. It is hard to release the reigns of leadership and allow others to lead. But as leaders, we must always be providing opportunities for new and younger leaders to gain valuable experience.

So, how do we build other leaders?

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Be a Better Follower in 2016

Step Two for 2016

Resolution #2

Well, here is part 2 of this quick 4 part series on resolutions that every leader should make as they start the new year. On Monday, I dealt with the importance of being a better leader. And I included some specific resources that will help you along he way.

Now it is time to consider the next step in the 4 part process.

Resolve This Year To Be A Better Follower 

This one is not so obvious. And this one is one that is also considered to be a sign of weakness by some leaders. Those leaders are often more about power and control and less about true leadership. And to them, anything that resembles being a follower makes them feel somehow weaker as a leader. Sadly, they are seriously mistaken.

Every great leader is not a great leader alone. Every great leader has someone that they are following. They look up to someone, they admire someone, they are imitating someone, or they are in some form of mentoring relationship with someone else. These leaders recognize the importance of having someone with experience and in whom they have great faith speak truth into their lives and hold them accountable for their actions that they take. Never allow yourself to begin to think that you are beyond the need to be a follower.

So, resolve this year to become a better follower. This sends a very strong signal to our followers regarding how important being a follower is to our own ability to lead, and by association, how important it is to their ability to lead.

Being a follower is often misunderstood. But being a follower is a noble and necessary aspect of our social and family culture. The truth is that we are all followers in some form or fashion. In fact, not everyone is a leader. But everyone is a follower of someone or something. Even it is only following your own destructive desires.

So, how do we become better followers in 2016?

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Be a Better Leader in 2016 

Step One for 2016

Resolution

In my first post for the new year, I provided a short list of 4 resolutions that leaders should make as they start out in 2016. The list was as succinct as it was short.

As a reminder, here are the 4 resolutions that I think every leader should make for this year:

  1. Resolve to be a better leader
  2. Resolve to be a better follower
  3. Resolve to build another leader
  4. Resolve to build another follower

I provided a very brief description of what each resolution would mean and how it might manifest itself in our lives. But each resolution could use a little more “meat on the bones” don’t you think? If you agree, then let me start with the first resolution and let me expand a little or provide some greater context and resources.

Resolve This Year To Be A Better Leader

As I noted in my first post, this one is exceedingly obvious. Yet it is surprising how many leaders are not more intentional about developing their leadership skills. As leaders, this must be a central focus for us.

Stephen Covey made the theme of this resolution one of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It is embodied in number seven when he reminds us of the importance of sharpening our saw. Covey says that we are to “Seek continuous improvement and renewal professionally and personally.”

As leaders, we often are so focused on developing those around us that we end up with little energy and drive to improve our own skill sets. Although we would like to think that neglecting to sharpen our saw will leave our saw still sharp enough to get the job done. But logic suggests that for Covey to make this a key principle, there must be some significant dulling and degradation done to our tools as we employ them day to day.

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