Improving My Leadership Vision

Is it really worth the process?

My oldest grandson got glasses for the first time this week. It was really fun to observe him seeing the world around him more clearly and more vivid than ever before. He was so excited to see all the way across the family to the little daily chart for school that is taped to the laundry room door. He could read it without having to get up and walk across the room.

I think that I am down to my last pair of contact lenses. It may be worth checking my travel ditty bag for an emergency pair. But, I need to go to the optometrist and get my eyes checked. And that is one of my least favorite activities in the world.

A visit to the optometrist

I have worn glasses since very early in elementary school and I still have trouble with — “Is it better on #1, or #2? Is it better here, or here”? The doctor would flip a dial and ask me over and over again until I finally just made up an answer. I would say emphatically that #2 was better and he would turn a dial, flip a knob and ask the question again. Argh!

At first, I think about the aggravation of going to the optometrist. And then I begin to think about how great it is to be able to see clearly. Suddenly, I am reminded that it is worthwhile to go through the process of choosing between #1 and #2 about 27 times until they can get my new prescription and new contact lenses.

Reflecting on last week’s article

There was a lot of feedback from last week’s article on blind spots. And so, I guess I am just following the optical theme a little more to see where it takes me. In other words, I am wondering what we are willing to do in order to improve our leadership vision? 

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Blind Spots — We all have them

How does the Emotionally Agile Leader deal with them?

Blind spots. We all have them. Yes, even YOU have them. For many of us, these blind spots are related to those traits or behaviors of those that we hold most dear. For some, they are about areas of our own traits and behaviors.

What is a “blind spot?”

An optometrist would tell you that it is a scotoma. It is a small area that exists where no vision is present. One of these occurs naturally in every person because the light-sensitive layer – the retina – is not continuous. There is a tiny gap in the retina where the optic nerve, which takes the visual information to the brain, leaves the eye. We are not normally aware of this blind spot because the brain “ignores” this small patch of missing information and “fills in” the area with other information that the brain knows about whatever is the field of vision. Pretty cool, huh?

What does it have to do with leadership and emotional agility?

As leaders, we all have certain areas within our leadership scope that we do not see with the ease and accuracy with which we see other areas. As I said at the outset, many times the blind spot is that young leader that we are mentoring that is getting on the nerves of every other person on the team. But, because we have developed a great deal of affection for them, we may not see some of the rough edges that everyone else sees. It is in our blind spot and we don’t even know that it is there because we don’t “see” it.

Likewise, the same can be said of our own behaviors. We have a habit or a behavior that is so ingrained us that we assume that it is normal and that everyone else accepts it as normal. Maybe we interrupt others when they are talking. We don’t think we are interrupting, we just have this really important and relevant thing to share and we just can’t help but blurt it out. Everyone else in the meeting cringes or just stops contributing because they don’t like being interrupted and we don’t even realize that we have hurt them and stifled their participation.

How do we fix it?

The first step is to be open to the possibility, and reality, that we have blind spots. Once we do, then we become open to determining where they are and how to fix them. Here are some ways to fix them:

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A Need for New Founding Fathers

Today is about more than buying mattresses or new cars

Today is “President’s Day.” Today we honor some of the founding “fathers” of our nation. I feel like calling them the founding “leaders” today. I think that sounds appropriate, don’t you?

Presidents’ Day is an American holiday. So, any of my non-U.S. readers can take a quick nap. But come back toward the end for the leadership application. Traditionally, it is celebrated on the third Monday in February. It was originally established in 1885 in recognition of President George Washington. The one most known as a Founding Father. And, it is still officially called “Washington’s Birthday” by the U.S. federal government.

Just a little history

Many years ago, it was celebrated on February 22nd — George Washington’s actual day of birth. However, the holiday became popularly known as Presidents’ Day after it was relocated on the calendar as part of the U.S. Congress’s 1971 Uniform Monday Holiday Act in an attempt to create more three-day weekends for the nation’s hard-working citizens. While a few states still honor the actual individual days honoring the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Presidents’ Day is now seen as a day to celebrate all U.S. presidents past and present.

I will resist the temptation to comment on individual presidents that I liked or disliked. That would

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Lead Big or Lead Small

Leadership Lessons from an Afternoon at Monster Jam

Sometimes leading small is really leading big.

It is human nature for most folks, when given a choice, to choose the big piece of pie instead of the smaller piece. Leaders are no different. There are some really great books out there that talk about servant leadership and one with the title, Leaders Eat Last. It was inspired by an interview between Simon Sinek and Lt. Gen. George Flynn, USMC Ret.

In that interview, Sinek asked Flynn to try and summarize what made the Marine Corps leadership style unique among the various branches of the military. Flynn said it was quite simple; it was because “Officers eat last”. This concept is both fundamental and intentional. And it exemplifies what makes the Marine Corps such an extraordinarily tight-knit unit. In chow-halls all across the globe Marines line up for their food each day with the most junior ranking Marines getting their food and eating first. Their officers eat last.

Just like in the pivotal courtroom seen in the movie, “A Few Good Men”, you will not find this procedure in the Marine Corps handbook. Nor is it communicated at roll call. It’s just the way that Marine leadership teaches responsibility from recruit class to recruit class and into the rank and file of the Marine Corps.

So what does this have to do with leading big or small?

We go back to human nature. And we go back to some of the common personality traits of leaders. They are usually not shy and reclusive. And they have no problem standing up for themselves or their people. And they usually have substantial egos. And they are generally motivated to succeed. Those are not bad traits. But they also tend to want to grow and leader bigger and bigger teams and seek to influence on a larger scale when offered the chance.

I am still not sure what this has to do with leading big or small!

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Emotional Intelligence

A Primer or a Refresher? 

I have not always been a “reader”. Most of my reading over the years has been to my children and grandchildren. It is only in the last several years that I acquired any taste for books. And my tastes in reading material vary widely. But several years ago, I had a book suggested to me by a fellow leadership coach. He recommended the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. Immediately I started using this book with many of my leadership coaching clients and I think it is worthy to provide a primer to the uninitiated or a refresher with the broader Leadership Voices audience.

The book has a foreword by Patrick Lencioni. Many of you will recognize him as the author of Five Dysfunctions of a Team and Death by Meeting. If you are into great titles, those are a couple of great ones. As Lencioni proclaims in the foreword, he’s no expert in this field, but he sees everyday how critical a skill it is to have and he’s so enthusiastic about this book because it’s the first he’s read that actually shows you how to increase your EQ and apply it in your personal and professional life.

The opening chapter deals with Emotional Intelligence (EI) and your Emotional Quotient (EQ) and compares and contrasts it with the more well-known IQ. The chapter describes what EQ is and what it isn’t. For example, a lot of people mistakenly think that EQ is a part of your personality. To the contrary, EQ is separate from your personality, just as it is separate from your intellect, or IQ. It begins to build your understanding of emotions by showing what the five core emotions look like in varying degrees of intensity. Next, the team of Bradberry and Greaves explain research studies that illustrate how important EQ is in daily living. They show how your EQ impacts things like your tolerance for change, how you manage stress, and even how much money you make.

What Emotional Intelligence Looks Like: Understanding the Four Skills

The book introduces and explains Daniel Goleman’s four EQ skills: Self-Awareness, Self-Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management. Beyond a conceptual description of the skills, the book provides detailed vignettes showing examples of real people who are high or low in each of the skills.

To truly improve your ability in the four emotional intelligence skills, you need to better understand each skill and what it looks like in action.

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Are You a House Cut or a Chair Cut?

Leadership Lessons from the Barber Shop

I got a haircut today. Are you excited to hear that news? At this stage of my life it takes about 3 minutes and, according to the pair of Vietnamese that cut my hair, I am “easy money.” They laugh and say that every time I come by for a haircut. They tease with one another about who will get to cut my hair because I am so easy to do and they think I am a big tipper.

Several years ago I gave up on dealing with my hair. What hair that I had left was not, nor had ever been, very cooperative. On calm days it tended to want to go wherever it wanted despite the lotions and potions that I piled on it to keep it down. And on a windy day, it went wherever the wind blew. So, one day, I asked my barber to make a suggestion. She suggested that I just go to a “#1 razor guard, cut it really short and be done with it. I did it and I loved it.

You can’t imagine the freedom came with that decision. I no longer had to wait in line for my particular barber that remembered how to cut my hair. I now was no longer what barbers call a ”Chair Cut”. I was now a “House Cut”. All I needed to tell whoever cut my hair was “#1 all over” and they would take it from there.

It is now simple.

It is now easy.

There is zero stress involved.

In fact, it has been liberating to some degree.

Now for the Leadership Application

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It Is Never Too Late To Be Encouraging Leaders

There Are Two Ways To Read That!

The English language can be a little tricky, can’t it? You can read the title of today’s article in two ways. You can read it as an admonition to us as followers that we should encourage our leaders. And that would be a great admonition and that would be a great article.

However, my purpose today is to view it from the obverse perspective. I want to admonish the leaders among us that we should be “encouragers” to those around us. And who doesn’t need a little encouragement?

Am I supposed to do that?

One of the most important tasks of a leader is to encourage his followers. Leaders often have to lead in the midst of difficult times and through tough circumstances. These times and circumstances weigh heavily on our team. And one of the things to which they will look to their leaders for is some form of encouragement.

Are you an encourager? 

Do you build your team up? Do you take pro-active steps to speak positive words to your team as they struggle with the tasks that you have given them? Or are you demeaning and demanding? When your team sees you approaching are they looking forward to what you are about to say? Or do they feel a sense of dread and foreboding in your presence and turn the other way and suddenly look too busy to speak to you?

If I were to make a list of those who need encouragement from me, as a father, I need to look no farther than my own home. It seems to me that daily life today is an assault on one’s self-esteem and confidence. Our kids’ schools are not very affirming to those who are not part of the “In” crowd. And, unfortunately, many of our churches are not much better. Many churches have the same “caste society” that the world employs. And if you are not part of the Worship Team or friends with the pastoral staff then you can go largely unnoticed. And our jobs have become so competitive in this still struggling economy that you may not find much encouragement there.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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Leadership Culture

5 Signs That There is Not a Culture that Produces Leaders in Your Organization

The purpose of leadership in any organization is to advance the mission, vision, scope, or provide a return on an investment. It is the strong leaders in an organization who can take your mission farther, faster than trying to do it alone. Unfortunately, some organizations or senior managers (leaders) do not foster a leadership culture.

When this takes place, everyone and everything loses. The organization loses. The senior manager loses. The community loses. The investors lose. People lose. Everyone and everything loses.

There are many reasons for this. And I will not take time to deal with all of them here. But fear plays a huge role. Fear that they will get cast aside by the new leaders. Fear that they will not be able to compete against a younger and often a more energetic crowd.

But a leadership culture works both ways. Older leaders mentoring young leaders. And young leaders honoring and respecting older leaders who have paved the way to make their success possible.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to an organization about a particular leadership topic. Clearly, they are building a leadership culture. And I applaud them for doing so. But, what about your organization? Do you have a strong leadership culture? If not, consider the following signs and see if you recognize any of them in your organization.

The following are 5 Signs Your Organization Does Not Have A Strong Leadership Culture:

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Strength vs. Toughness

If you could only have one, which one would you choose?

Coaching young leaders, and coaching those who aspire to lead, gives me incredible opportunities to take a look at all of the combinations of skills and traits that make up a great leader. Recently, I was in a conversation with a young leader who has a fair amount of both. But I was postulating on the evidence that would suggest that most leaders are either strong or tough. But, usually not both.

What is the difference between strength and toughness?

Never go to the internet with a question like that unless you want a college level physics explanation! However, my questions on this topic are not addressed from a metallurgical perspective. These two terms, when combined, are most often mentioned in metallurgical discussions on toughness, elasticity, and fracturing.

My thoughts are more physiological. Consider for a moment the strength of the powerlifter and the toughness of the hockey player. Both are incredibly skilled in their particular athletic endeavor. Yet, they are built very differently and could not compete on equal footing if either of them were to cross over into the other’s athletic domain. Perhaps that is the very observation that has sparked the global “CrossFit” craze. But, I digress.

The Value of Strength

Strength is a great attribute to possess. More than one young man has flexed a muscle when a pretty young lady walked by. Strength is universally valued and has applicability to many aspects of life. But go back to the example I used to represent strength. It was a powerlifter. When I think of strength, I am reminded of Vasily Alekseyev, the Olympian from the former U.S.S.R. He was the holder of 80 world records and the April 14, 1975 cover of Sports Illustrated proclaimed him the “World’s Strongest Man.” He weighed over 350 pounds.

I watched him in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics many times walk up to a steel bar with hundreds of pounds of iron plates on each end. He would lean over, get a grip, and then lift it over his head for about a second. He would then drop it and nod to the judges and walk off the stage. In all likelihood it would be a new world or Olympic record. But could he have run a marathon or played ice hockey at an Olympic level? Probably not.

The Value of Toughness

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Is “Inspiration” Enough?

Some leadership thoughts from a funeral service

My family’s schedule was impacted this week by the death of my mother-in-law. You can insert all of the standard mother-in-law jokes here if you want to. But, none of them were true in our case. My wife’s mother was an incredible woman. And I loved her dearly.

It is at times like these that we pause and look at a life well lived. And it is altogether fitting that we do so. Mom led a life that by all measures was well-lived. For a skinny girl with glasses that preferred books to boys, she had an incredible life and an incredible impact on so many.

But, merely reading her obituary does not really give you the true sense of the impact that she had on the lives of her family, her church, and her friends. She was an amazing woman. I was blessed to know her for almost 43 years. She was an inspiration to multiple generations who knew her as “Mom”, Aunt Jo Ann, “Grandmama”, and “Greatmama”, except that title was already taken by another extraordinary woman that is walking the streets of Glory today as well, so she just became Grandmama to a new generation.

Is there a leadership angle here?

This is just an observation on my part. But, it seems that we are willing to be inspired by Jo Ann and folks like her. But, are we willing to be instructed and to do the work in our own lives to have these virtues and values instilled in ourselves?

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