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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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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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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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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#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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Leadership Soup

An unusual quote for Thanksgiving Day

I was trying to come up with something memorable and appropriate to say on this Thanksgiving Day of 2017. BrainyQuote.com had serious quotes, funny quotes, thought-provoking quotes, and more than one guilt-inducing quotes. But, then, I came across this little gem.

What a marvelous resource soup is for the thrifty cook – it solves the ham-bone and lamb-bone problems, the everlasting Thanksgiving turkey, the extra vegetables.

Julia Child

Are you kidding me? Is that the best you have for today?

Yes, that is the best that I have for today. Don’t judge it too quickly. I have had the pleasure of sitting at the tables of some of the finest cooks on the planet. My paternal grandmother was an amazing pie and bread baker and all around farmhouse cook. She didn’t really believe that we ever went to the moon. But, man, could she cook!?!

I don’t think she ever used a recipe. It wouldn’t have done any good because living during the great depression, you never really knew for sure what you would have to make a meal out of. Freshly baked loaves of bread and soups were a staple. You just never knew what kind of soup it would be. Sometimes there would be corn, sometimes there would be a few potatoes, and sometimes there was more water than anything. But, one thing was certain. Nothing was wasted.

Are you ready for the Thanksgiving angle on the nature of this soup quote?

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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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The Importance of Values to Leadership

Can one exist without the other?

The Importance of Values to Leadership

Can you have real leadership in a “value vacuum”?

What do I mean by that? By that, I mean a leadership context that is devoid of values or morals. In an article on “Heroic Leadership” earlier I opined the following: “Values are an integral part of good leadership. To be a true leader, you must take a stand on issues. And that stand must be a moral stand. As leaders, we should be mobilizing and motivating our organizations to higher moral ground even when that may not increase the organization’s profit margin or bottom line”. 

What’s goin’ on out there?

Upon further reflection, I am wondering if in addition to a leadership crisis in our society, we just actually be having a moral or values crisis. Could it be that there are just not enough of those who see values that are worthy enough that would make us want to lead others to strive toward reaching those same values? Conversely, could it be that there are not enough of us who see things that have such potential for harm that we will lead others away from those dangerous moral pitfalls?

I would not suggest that only the morally pure would be qualified to lead. For to do so would disqualify all candidates. Nor would I suggest that values-based leadership would be infallible. But, I do believe that leadership is in and of itself a value. Society today would say, “To each his own” or “Live and let live”. Today’s culture does not necessarily see a value in “values-based” leading or in choosing whom they are following based upon a moral assessment of the leader’s character. But, like so many today, I am looking for leaders to rise up with values and morals as their foundation and say “Follow me and I will lead you to higher ground!”

How does this relate to me and my leadership?

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