Even Leaders Need Help

Or, maybe I should say, especially leaders need help.

With as much humility as I can muster, I will say that I am a very comfortable public speaker. It is one of my strengths. But, there are a lot of areas where I have weaknesses. The older that I get, the more that technology has become a weakness.

More than admitting a weakness

There is more to this little moment of transparency than just admitting a weakness. This is about being self-aware enough to know your strengths and weaknesses. Clint Eastwood gave us a memorable line from his 1973 sequel to Dirty Harry, entitled Magnum Force. He said in that movie, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” It seems the older that I get, the more in touch I am with my limitations. 

Knowing one’s limitations is just another way of expressing one of the key components of emotional intelligence. Knowing our limitations is being self-aware. And self-awareness leads to being able to self-manage.

What does this look like from a practical standpoint?

I am in the midst of some very significant changes in my writing and coaching practice. Some of those changes are requiring a huge technological component in order to support my mission and goals going forward. And I do not have the skills necessary to perform much of the work that will need to be done. 

That is a hard thing for me to admit. I have more than 20 years in various areas of the IT industry. I have managed areas of a data center, I have managed software development teams, and I have managed It operations. Unfortunately, the last time I had a real IT job was 17 years ago. And yet today, I am totally out of my depth when it comes to technology. If I stray too far from my Mac and iPhone, I am in unfamiliar territory. And, truthfully, I don’t know a whole lot about my Mac and iPhone!

What is the practical application of this self-awareness?

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Comfort and Navigation

One is a little more important than the other

Last week I gave you a little insight into some of my travails. It was actually the travails of my travels. It was a little tough to get home from a recent trip. And the whole experience provided some great leadership insights. I didn’t include all of them last week. This week I want to look at the real reason we had the travails in the first place.

The plane that was supposed to bring me home last week had multiple mechanical issues. There were actually two mechanical issues. Upon arrival, the flight crew determined that three of the seats were not able to be placed “in their upright and locked position.” A further pre-flight inspection revealed that one of the planes antennas were struck by lightning while en route to Detroit.

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Direct Communication Is Best

Cut out the middleman and speak directly to your followers

We were supposed to board the plane at 2:50 pm and be “wheels up” at 3:19 pm. That was the plan. But the incoming plane arrived with three broken seats and we were placed on a mechanical delay. In the midst of doing the pre-flight routine, the pilots discovered that the plane had also been hit by lightning as it cut through some thunderstorms. Now there was another delay. 

A total of 9 mechanical delays and we had no idea when we would leave Detroit to come home to Houston. One by one, the plane that was overbooked dwindled down its passenger list to only 11 men and 1 woman. And none of us knew when, or if, we were going to get home that day. The flight was never canceled. It was just on an indefinite delay.

Indirect Communication

Throughout the whole ordeal, the gate agents were great. But, there was really nothing that they could do except for relay information from the flight deck to us at the gate. So, every 20 or 30 minutes the gate get would unlock the door and walk down the jetway and board the plane to talk to the flight crew. We could not do that. We wanted to. But we could not go beyond the gate area until the plane was cleared to fly. 

Time after time she would go to the plane and return with little or no real news. “The mechanics had not arrived. The mechanics were working on the problem. You may want to make other flight arrangements.” All of these messages were being relayed to us. But the real question on the minds of the few that remained was this: “Are we going to get home tonight?” It was more than 4 hours past our originally scheduled departure and we did not have the central question answered. 

All we had was indirect communication. The gate agent was just a messenger.

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Serving on a Board – Part 3

Making a Case for Servant Leadership

We have covered the role of a body or group of leaders known as a board. And we have covered the role of the individual within that body. Now it is time for the secret sauce if there is such a thing. From my perspective, the secret sauce is servant leadership.

What is Servant Leadership?

While the idea of servant leadership goes back multiple millennia, the modern servant leadership movement was given voice by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 with the publication of his essay, The Servant as Leader. Greenleaf defined the servant-leader as follows:

“The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions. The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

The more recent application of servant leadership to business and industry has taken the form of focusing on a set of behaviors and practices that turn the traditional “power leadership” model upside down. Rather than the followers working to serve the leader, the leader actually exists to serve the followers. Servant leadership is centered on a desire to serve and emphasizes collaboration, trust, empathy, and the ethical use of power. Its primary goal is to enhance individual growth, teamwork and overall organizational involvement and satisfaction.

Why Servant Leadership?

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Serving on a Board – Part 2

What is YOUR role?

 

Help! I was just elected to serve on a board. Has that ever happened to you? If so, then I have some more guidance for you this week. 

Last week I took a look at the role of a board. I chose to look at it from the perspective of the purpose that it is supposed to fulfill. The article really dealt with the types of boards and the functions of boards serving non-profit organizations. This week, I want to look at what you and I must do if we are called upon to serve on a board.

Quick Review

There are three board functions that we covered. In summary, they are to advise, to consent, and to lead. 

Advise — To advise means to offer suggestions about the best way to operate or the best course of action to take. The one being advised is under no obligation to accept the advice and the one providing it cannot mandate that it be accepted and implemented.

Consent — To consent means to give permission for something to happen. In theory, nothing happens without that consent. And that is where some problems begin in the non-profit world. Many a strong or controlling leader has made a consenting board into a “rubber stamp” board by packing it with friendly and like-minded individuals. 

Lead — To lead means to operate and execute the day to day operations of the organization. And the board leads the organization itself through the insightful creation of strategies, plans, policies, and practices that increase the scope and span of the non-profit organization.

Focus on the Non-Profit Board Member

You have been elected to serve. Now what? You know the three basic functions that a board provides for an organization. But, what happens at the individual level? The answer is simple. And it is the same as at the board level. You are there to give your advice, to give your consent, and to lead the organization. That leadership may be a solo activity at times. But it is a function that you must be able to provide.

Advising — You are there to provide input. That input is just another word for advice. You are there to list to be sure. But you are there to speak. A completely silent board member is a wasted chair at the table. That sounds harsh and I realize that. But, if you just sit and observe what goes on and never contribute, then you are taking the place of someone who would be willing to do offer solutions to the challenges that most organizations face. I hope that the board that you serve on has a commissioning ceremony or some other occasion to mark the start of your tenure. But if not, don’t wait to be charged. Begin as soon as you can to contribute to the collective wisdom that rests within the board.

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Serving on a Board

What is the board's role?

Currently, I am observing the performance (or lack thereof) of six or seven non-profit boards. I have my eyes on a couple of profit-making ventures as well. If you are serving on one of these kinds of boards, then I have some observations and some thoughts for you today.

Profit Oriented Enterprises

If you serve on this kind of board and it is a publicly traded company, then you have some fiduciary responsibilities that other boards and other board members may not have. I will not really address these types of boards at this time. But, suffice it to say, there are stakeholders, shareholders, customers, and clients and each of them has needs that must be addressed.

Not-for-Profit Enterprises

If you are serving on this kind of bard, then I want to speak to you today. You, too, have stakeholders, shareholders, customers, and clients. There is just no profit-making motive that drives you. These enterprises are driven by the customer or client experience. It is in these environments — churches, charities, clubs, educational institutes, and most hospitals, that there is significant work to be done for the boards that lead and guide them.

Types of Boards

Functionally Defined

There are several different types of boards.

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The Value of Loyal Followers

They are great followers. But, what kind of leader are they?

Someone gave me an opportunity to speak at a high school commencement this past weekend. It was an extraordinary honor. Watch in the coming days for some thoughts from that commencement address. 

One of the things that I needed to provide was a short bio for the principal to use when he introduced me. Drafting that reminded me of just how many jobs I have had over the last 39 years. One of the jobs that I had was in sales. And one of the things that became apparent immediately was that the ranks of sales managers were full of the companies greatest salespeople  

So, what’s the problem?

That seems like a logical place to draw from if you need sales managers. Just find your best salespeople and promote them. That ought to work. There is only one problem. It doesn’t always. The skills that make you a great sales professional don’t necessarily make you a great management professional.

Is there a leadership point in there somewhere?

Yes! And it is this. Just like great sales professionals don’t make necessarily make great managers, great and loyal followers don’t necessarily make great leaders. The problem is that many leaders love to be surrounded by loyal followers. And whenever there is a leadership need, leaders often look to those who are deemed to be most loyal. 

So, what’s the problem?

The problem is often manifested in several ways. Let’s consider a few:

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Vision = “What” and Leadership = “How”

Visionary and Tactical Leadership

My own personal journey toward understanding various forms of leadership began many years ago. It began in a medium-sized church in Marietta, Georgia in 1983. I was 22 years of age and I was elected to the church board I was the youngest board member elected that year. 

Prior to that point, I had been an observer. And I had observed some incredible leaders. I would put my own father in that category. His leadership in many areas are an inspiration to me to this very day. But I have observed many different leaders in these past 35 years. I learned as much as I could from men like Bill Searcy, an entrepreneur and small business owner in the Atlanta metropolitan area. He owned a Firestone auto repair shop. I owned a piece of junk Chevy Celebrity that went through 4 sets of brakes in 2 and a half years. It was a “lemon” and I didn’t realize it. So, we were destined to spend time together. He taught me more about leadership than just about anyone else early in the early years of my leadership journey. I owe him, and some others like him, a great debt of gratitude.

I consider myself to be a keen observer. I am an observer of leaders. That kind of observation over the years has shown to me that there are two distinct skill sets that are common among those who would consider themselves to be leaders. There are those that “see” what needs to happen. And there are those who “make” it happen.

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Are You a Visionary Leader?

And is vision alone enough?

I am fortunate to be involved with several non-profit organizations. They range from religious, to academic, to secular. Even those that are not religious know one of the passages in the Bible that deal with vision. Here is that often misquoted or misused scripture 

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”. 

It is found in the Old Testament in Proverbs 29:18. It is used many times from the pulpit to exhort us to catch the vision that the pastor has seen and to press us onward to the destination seen in the vision.

But I submit to you that there is a BIG difference between being a visionary and being a leader. And I ask the larger question: Is having a great vision enough? Beyond having a vision, is having one and being able to communicate it, enough?

What is a “visionary?”

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Leadership Lessons from a Round of Golf

A smart golfer will listen to his caddie

I had a chance to play a round of golf last Friday with a couple of friends. But there was another person to join the round of golf — a caddie. Caddies are not a usual component of my golf game. My skills certainly don’t warrant the use of a caddie. Nevertheless, I had the chance to play 18 holes with the use of a skilled and knowledgeable caddie.

Our caddie’s name was Doug. He didn’t look like a caddie. But, then again, I don’t look like a golfer. But he knew the course as well as Jack Nicklaus himself, the designer of the course. He knew every fairway, water hazard, and bunker. He told us where to aim and what areas to avoid. And he could read the greens with absolute precision. He used his knowledge and did everything that he could to set us up for success. All we had to do was to execute the shot. Simple. Not necessarily easy. But, simple to see once he showed us the way.

My friend that was hosting us on that day was a member of the club and knew the course very well having played it hundreds of times. But even he listened to Doug and followed Doug’s advice when it came to reading the greens and putting. I figured that if my friend was listening to the caddie’s advice, I should probably do the same.

The Leadership Lesson

Is there a leadership lesson in there somewhere? Yes. There are several. And here they are. But before we reveal them, it is important to note that you don’t have to be a great golfer to be a great caddie.

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