Proof of Leadership

Is there a “test” for leadership?

It is easy to look like a leader when everything is going well. I think we can make the argument that everything is not going well. We are living in difficult days. I am speaking globally. And I am speaking about our nation. And I am speaking about the great state of Texas. And I am speaking about my own little life.

Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm.

Publilius Syrus

Nobody panic. All is well in my home. I just love a great quote and this is one of my favorites. What does it mean? To me, it is about the difference between being a leader and just looking like a leader.

To my friends and family, there is no need for alarm. I am very blessed. But here is the reality of life as I see it.

Globally – We are seeing world events take place that may bring to resolution a conflict that my father was a part of 68 years ago on the Korean Peninsula. The world watches and waits.

Nationally – Our nation is on the verge of cultural and class warfare.

Texas – Here in Texas we are engaged again in a battle to see if we are conservative enough. Is there a “litmus test” for conservatism? I don’t know for sure. And if so, would I pass it? Would you?

Home – Home is where I find joy and contentment and love and acceptance. I am blessed beyond measure with a family that is strong and courageous and loving and caring. But there are still struggles every day that are common to many of you who read these words.

So, is there a test that determines if you are a leader or not?

It is easy to lead when times are easy.

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Don’t Be Afraid To Look Funny

Words of Wisdom from an Unsuccessful Presidential Candidate

I am putting the final touches on a manuscript. One of the tasks given to me by my editor is to chase down a quote that I plan to use to drive home a point in one of the chapters toward the end of the book. I have said many times that I truly love a great and pithy little quote. And this one from Adlai Stevenson is no exception.

Adlai Ewing Stevenson II (5 February 1900 – 14 July 1965) was an American politician and statesman. He was known as a skillful orator and debater. He served as a Governor of Illinois and he was twice an unsuccessful candidate for President of the United States. He mounted unsuccessful campaigns running against Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and again in 1956. He did serve the John F. Kennedy administration when he was appointed as United States Ambassador to the United Nations. 

Here is a quote attributed to him:

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

I am struggling to find a direct attribution to Adlai Stevenson although everyone seems to be quoting him. The quote in question has been written about recently in a book by Ron Gaddie entitled, Born to Run: Origins of the Political Career. In that book, Gaddie examines the political careers of nine different individuals who ran for political offices at a variety of local and state levels. I do not intend to review the book here. Rather, I want to look at the quote and explore its implication to us as leaders.

What does the quote say to you from a leadership perspective?

Here is what it says to me. It says that we must look beyond our own real, or imagined, shortcomings in order to be an effective leader. This is especially true when it comes to our self-confidence.

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What Does a Leader Say?

Insight from a preschooler

What does Mimi always say?

That was the question that we asked our youngest grandchild as we were sitting around the dining room table yesterday afternoon. For those of you who know some of my parenting rules, you will know that I do not like asking a question to which I don’t already know the answer to, or to which I can’t control the answer. And, asking a young child to repeat what his impression is regarding what his grandmother always says was risky. His answer, much to our delight was this: “Jax, do you want Mimi to get you something to eat?”

We went around the table and asked each of our grandchildren the same question about what their individual parents or we the grandparents are always saying to them. Some of the responses were hysterically funny. Some of them tweaked our hearts a little bit. It tweaked a little because when they were asked for something that they hear from our mouths on a regular basis, not everything was as nurturing as Mimi fixing them a little snack of comfort food.

What does that have to do with leadership?

As leaders, we have developed a repertoire of words and statements that we use on a frequent basis. They are our “go to” statements and answers. They are second nature to us and require little if any thought before we respond. 

In a sense, they paint an emotional picture of our leadership. Whenever someone thinks of our leadership style and our leadership efforts, certain words or statements jump to the forefront of their mind just as they did for our three grandchildren. Those words define us. They do so because they are the first words that pop into our brains when someone says our name.

Are you feeling a little “tweaked?”

Boy, I am! What do my followers hear me say all the time? Is it uplifting? Is it encouraging? Is it helpful? Is it instructive? Or, is it snarky, belittling, negative, or childish? 

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Leadership Lessons from a Kid and a Kite

A Valuable Kid and a Cheap Kite

Even as we were engaged in the activity yesterday afternoon, I could feel the inspiration for this article welling up inside of me. And as I stand at my desk today, I am convinced that the value is in the kid and not the kite.

Recently, we went away for the weekend with two of our three grandchildren. My wife, the consummate planner, planned way more activities that we had time for. As a result of that, we had a couple of Dollar Store kites that were not opened and waiting to be tried by the grandkids. So, we walked down to the neighborhood elementary school and we opened the package and took out the kite. We put Rod “A” in Slot “B” and attached String “C” to Ring “D” and we were ready to launch.

There was only one problem. There was not much breeze.

What do you if you are a child and someone hands you a kite? You RUN! You run and pull the kite along as it drifts just a few feet above the ground. You run in giant circles in the parking lot of the school until your little legs are too tired and you collapse onto the ground. Your kite falls to the pavement. No wind = no flying.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

What is the leadership lesson in trying to fly a cheap kite with no wind? It is this.

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What Does Leadership Feel Like?

Is there a leadership “feeling”?

I just couldn’t resist one more article in this series. This last one will deal with how leadership feels — both for the leader and the follower.

Maybe it is more of a “groove” than just a feeling. Maybe it is really nothing more than leadership “mojo.” But, there is an undeniable feeling when you are called to lead and you lead well. So, let’s take a look at how it feels for both the leader and the follower.

How it feels to lead well

Perhaps here is where the word “mojo” fits more than it does for the follower. The feeling that you have when you are leading a team through a project that no one else thought would have a chance of succeeding is almost euphoric. The feeling that you feel when you are communicating clearly and communicating with passion and your team is converting your words into actions is energizing. Perhaps the greatest benefit of those feelings is that they build our confidence and reinforce the sense that we are indeed in the right place at the right time.

However, all of this so far is predicated on the fact that we are leading and succeeding. But, what if we are leading and struggling? What if we are confident in our leadership, but the results are a reason to doubt? How do we deal with those feelings?

It is here that we need to move from feelings, which may be fleeting, and focus on the tried and true leadership principles that have served us well in times past. Focus on the tasks at hand and trust that the “warm” feelings will come with the ultimate success of the project. One of the factors that set great leaders apart is that they do what they know is right and then wait to feel good about the decision. Many wait until they feel good about a decision and then act based on that feeling.

What kinds of feelings do you experience?

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What Does Leadership Sound Like?

Is there a leadership “sound”?

Wow! The feedback that I received from so many of you about the “look” of leadership was amazing. And, even if I had not already planned today’s article as a follow-up, it would be an imperative in light of the interest in the “leadership look.” So, let’s consider if there is a “sound” associated with great leadership.

Leadership has a voice

The site publishing this week’s article is aptly named in my opinion. For, there is indeed a leadership “voice.” Several years ago I wrote an article on whether or not leadership was a quiet or loud activity. The genesis of thought for the article spans from my firstborn’s kindergarten teacher in 1990. If you are interested in that background thought, here is a link to that article.

Communication is the “voice” of leadership

Communication is the voice of leadership. In fact,

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What Does Leadership Look Like?

Is there a leadership “look”?

 

Have you ever done a Google image search for the word “leader?” If you have, you’ve probably noticed a lot of mountain climbing, pointing, flag carrying, and little stick figures that look more like game tokens than they look like leaders. Throw in a person speaking in a microphone or megaphone to a crowd or to a group seated around a conference table and add a few more stick figures where all of them except for one are the same color and that is what leadership looks like. At least that is what Google Images thinks it looks like. Apparently, standing out is a prerequisite.

But, I am not sure I get a clear picture of what a leader looks like based on an image search. Actually, I am pretty sure that I don’t. But it is an interesting exercise nonetheless.

Leadership is a lot like beauty

It is in the eye of the beholder. Or, better stated, it cannot be judged objectively. Rather, it is quite subjective. What one person deems beautiful or admirable may not appeal to another in the least. And when push comes to shove, what we really find attractive may be different than what we have always said.

All through my adolescent years, I would have said that I find petite, dark-haired females the most attractive. Yet, I married a tall Nordic, blue-eyed blond. And I am really glad that I did!

Is leadership like that?

Can we envisage a new leadership look?

Perhaps it is time to reconsider how leadership looks and turn away from the “alpha male” stereotypes and look more at leadership qualities and not weigh physical qualities quite as much. The alternative is to dismiss without much thought the individuals that don’t fit our perception of what a leader looks like. In so doing we will overlook some incredible leaders.

What should we be looking for?

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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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