#LeadershipStrong in 2018

Some Incredible Leadership Observations from Hurricane Harvey in 2017

For any who live in or around Houston, TX and the south Texas region, you will be aware that #HoustonStrong became the hashtag that dominated social media in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. It came to represent the strength and resilience of folks of the greater Houston metropolitan area.

Texans are made of the same stuff that legends are made of. And Houstonians often feel that they are the caretakers of those legends. And there were some new legends that were created throughout the days of rain and the many days of rescue and recovery that followed.

For a few weeks that started in mid-August of this past year and lasted until the National Weather Service downgraded the hurricane on September 3, 2017, I had a front row seat for some inspiring leadership. Not that I was only an observer. Not at all. But, I watched some folks step up and lead in ways that you may not otherwise see without such a huge humanitarian crisis or catastrophic weather event that unleashes trillions and trillions of gallons of water on your city.

To put this storm in perspective you need to consider just a few numbers. In just a four-day period, many areas in and around Houston received more than 40 inches of rain as the storm system slowly meandered over our city and over southeastern Texas, causing catastrophic flooding. The highest recorded accumulation of 60.58 inches was not far from where my son, his wife, and their young son live. Hurricane Harvey was the wettest tropical storm on record in the United States. The resulting floods inundated hundreds of thousands of homes, displaced more than 30,000 people, and prompted more than 17,000 rescues.

It is against that backdrop that leadership took center stage. #HoustonStrong gave us #LeadershipStrong. And leadership talent was on display for all to see if you were looking for it. I was looking for it and I was not disappointed.

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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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Accountability ≠ “Gotcha!”

Do we even know what “accountability” looks like?

Once again I want to remind you of my deep love for great pithy quotes. And today is no exception. In fact, it hit me right between the proverbial eyes. Are you ready? Here it is:

“Hypocrisy exists in the space between language and action.”
— Henry J. Evans

I can’t guarantee that is the right attribution for that quote. But, his name seems to be associated with it in the most contexts in which I see it. If anyone has any information to the contrary regarding the correct attribution, I want to be accountable for its accuracy and give credit to the originator.

Blaming and Finger Pointing

My fear as I write this article is that we are so far removed from a culture of accountability that we don’t even know what accountability looks like anymore. Whenever we do experience something that someone claims to be “accountability” it feels more like “blame” and “finger pointing” than anything else. So let me state emphatically that accountability does not equal a great big gotcha when something goes wrong. It is quite different and begins way upstream of whatever incident or accident has just occurred. But it should point out the space between language and action.

Let’s Move Upstream

Let’s agree right now that you can’t inject accountability into a process or a project in mid-stream. At least, you can’t do it without a lot of wear and tear on all parties concerned. So, what do you do? You build it into the next project or the next process or the next planning and execution event. You go upstream.

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Principles of Intentional Mentoring 

4 Things That Must Be Considered

There are some genuine considerations for the would-be protégé. In fact, there are four that I would have you consider today.

We need to identify a leader that is worthy of following.

It is an indictment of our culture, and maybe even our own judgment sometimes, that we would need to be reminded of this consideration. Not every leader is worthy of following. We must understand that consideration from both the leader’s and from the follower’s perspective. As a follower, I must find a leader that is worthy to follow and whose successes are not compromised by their ethics or methods. As a leader, I must always be diligent to be “worthy” to be followed.

We must learn how they lead.

Is there some “secret sauce?” Usually, there is not. It is just a lot of hard work and some careful application of emotional intelligence concepts. But, as a protégé, they will be asking: “What is the secret to your success as a leader?” So, as a leader, ask yourself the following questions: What makes you worthy to be followed? And what are you doing specifically that makes you “successful” as a leader?

What makes one leader successful will not always work in another place and setting. That is why I am stressing that it is important to learn how they lead. It is the “how” that will be filled with those traits and characteristics that will be the earmarks of an Emotionally Agile Leader.

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Sticks and Stones 

What I “think” about it really matters

How many of you remember growing up and playing on the playground? What did you say when someone said something mean or hurtful to you? Maybe you said what many children have said when you repeated a little saying.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Oh, how I wish that were true. As we have gotten older, we have realized that words hurt more than the sticks and the stones. In fact, I heard a person say one time that “it is not what you think about me or even say about me that hurts me. It is what I think about what you think about me or say about me that hurts me.” What they are saying is that it is my perception about something that drives my behaviors.

What does this have to do with leadership?

I am working on some “appendix material” for my upcoming book. And I am working on a leadership development resource for 1-on-1 mentoring. I am working on the issue of self-awareness or self-perception. My focus for that section is on how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, and how we perceive that others perceive us. This can almost become a carnival house of mirrors scenario where that loop can become almost infinite. So, let’s not go that far.

Psychologists often use words like self-perception, other perception, and meta-perception. They indicate that we can be good or bad at each the of perception. I love alliteration. It helps me cement a concept in my mind. So, I am modifying their words to help me get a better grip on them and their leadership implications. So, I will use Self-Perception, Social-Perception, and Circular-Perception.

Self-Perception is simply a matter of how you see yourself. Our role as leadership mentors is to help our protégés to help them really see themselves as they are. And not just as they perceive themselves or even as others perceive them to be. Let’s face it. Very few of us are “black belts” at self-awareness. mentors must never come across as having become too much of an expert in this regard.

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Leading Without the Adrenaline Rush

5 Characteristics of Leaders for the Long Haul

Crisis leadership is a 24 hour a day adrenaline rush. It is a crisis and you are leading folks through that crisis. You have led well. The crisis has passed. And now you are coming down from the adrenaline rush that has flowed through your veins for the past few days or weeks.

Now what?

For some, the immediate crisis is over. If you are in the south Texas area, you are in this phase. If you are in Florida, the immediate danger is over, but the crisis remains as the sun is up and you are getting a chance to survey the damage that occurred overnight.

What if there is no adrenaline rush?

What if your situation is fairly stable? What if there is no looming, current, or recent crisis to deal with? How can we be leaders for the long haul where we must get up every day and lead through the mundane?

I would submit to you that this is difficult leadership. There is no crisis to rally around and there is not a tragedy to motivate us. This is where the bulk of leadership takes place.

Consider for a few moments five characteristics of leaders in it for the long haul.

Long Haul Leaders are Committed — It takes real commitment to be a part of something for the long haul. The metaphor of the over the road trucker jumps to my mind. The road is long. And many times the scenery is boring. But the journey is every bit as important and the cargo is every bit as important to those who rely on the trucker to deliver the products we need every day to thrive. Likewise, the Long Haul Leader is committed to the process even though the hours are long and the scenery is repetitive.

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More Than Goal Setting

One of the Myths of Leadership

More Than Goal Setting

I was walking back to my hotel room today to check out from a weeklong conference that I have been attending. And I overheard two people walking directly in front of me. One said to the other, “You know, the key to great leadership is goal setting.”

I wanted to stop them in their tracks and open a conversation with them. But, I am tired. And I am sure they are tired from this conference. I wanted to tell them that leadership is so much more.

So much more?

Yes! If it was as simple as just setting goals, then we could just boil the process down to a mathematical formula. Assign a numerical value to each of an organization’s objectives and put them in order. That will give you your organization’s goals in a ranked priority. Simple. But, leadership is not about “goal setting” as much as it is about “goal planning”, then “goal execution”, and finally “goal achievement.”

So, what is a leader to do?

Leadership has a lot of responsibilities regarding goal setting. Consider these:

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Genuine or Joke?

What kind of a leader are you?

Genuine or Joke?

This world is full of fakes and phonies. Some would call them “posers.” But I tend to write alliteratively and I needed a word that began with the same phonetic sound as the word, “genuine.” So I ended up with “Genuine or Joke?”

One of the words I hear a lot these days in the leadership lingo is a buzzword — Authentic. Do you hear it as often as I do? You are more likely to hear it in the non-profit world than the commercial profit ventures. From what I can tell, to those folks who use that word most often, being authentic is just an excuse for poor behavior and a lack of self-discipline. They are not genuine leaders. They are a joke.

So, how do you tell the difference between genuine and joke?

Genuineness and authenticity do not have totally objective measurements. In fact, genuineness and authenticity may be a little like how the U.S. Supreme Court has dealt with the issue of obscenity. They said that they may not be able to define it. But they know it when they see it. Consider the following comparisons between leaders who are genuine and leaders who are a joke.

Leaders that are genuine

Genuine leaders are comfortable in their own skin. They are comfortable with who they are at a very basic level. To be clear, they are always seeking to improve. They are not complacent. But they are comfortable with who they are without the need for pretentious behaviors and overt gestures.

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You Can Conduct Valuable Team Meetings

A Few Easy Concepts

You Can Conduct Valuable Team Meetings

Almost 2 weeks ago, I discussed team briefings and the importance of communications in the process. But I really didn’t take the time to address the mechanics of conducting a valuable team briefing. So, today, let’s focus on that.

Create the Environment

As the leader, you must establish the proper environment. Think about the environment you want to create for these briefings. It doesn’t necessarily be a super-formal environment. But, it just needs to be a positive environment. People must understand what to expect when they attend one of your team briefings. Here are a few things that make for a good environment:

  • Ensure that you understand what is going on in the organization and that you have been properly briefed yourself. Make sure your team leaders know what’s happening at various levels, and with various other teams, throughout the organization.
  • Provide training or coaching on how to conduct effective team briefings.
  • Recognize and reward supervisors and managers for conducting effective team briefings.
  • Brevity is the soul of wit. If you can’t say it in 15 to 30 minutes, then a team briefing is not the right vehicle for a more complex message.

Have a Structure and a Process

As the leader, you must commit to a structure and a process. You have invited the team and they are gathered for information sharing.

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How to Recognize True Success

I have had my share of them, also.

True Success

Last week I refreshed an article that I wrote several years ago about leadership failure. And, as promised, here is the follow-up dealing with leadership success. Whenever you write an article like the one on failure last week, there is always a significant amount of trepidation about how it will be received. When you consult with other leaders you always wonder what one of them will think when they read one of your articles. You wonder if they think it is about them.

(Why is there suddenly a Carly Simon song playing in my head)?

Well, today, I hope that all of the leaders that I have worked with over the years think this article is about them much more than some may have wondered about last week’s article.

I have written over 360 articles describing, in some way or another, what it takes to be a superior leader in the home, on the job, in a church or volunteers capacity, and in society. Some researchers and authors claim a superior leader possesses certain traits or abilities innately; others say it is all personality, style, and charisma. Still, others maintain it is the behaviors or actions that I take — if I do this, then my followers will do thus — that are crucial to determining success. Regardless of the how and the why, these are some signs that your followers are indeed following you and that you are succeeding as a leader:

Signs of Leadership Success

There is leadership success when the team catches your Vision. Successful leaders have followers that have a clear understanding of your vision and what it means to them as an individual contributor or follower. You have articulated it to them. And they can now articulate it to others. They see it and they own it. There is no ambiguity. If you ask them on an elevator to describe the vision of the organization, they can express it with clarity and passion.

Ask yourself: Am I surrounded by followers who see the vision that I see? 

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