Traditions Need a Foundation and a Credible Leader

It is not enough to just have some great traditions

Traditions Need a Foundation and a Credible Leader

I pondered recently the value of “traditions” when it comes to building a legacy of leadership. And I got a lot of interesting feedback and comments from folks who reached out to me directly.  And the one that kept coming up over and over was this. “What is more important – The tradition, or the one who is responsible for maintaining and upholding the tradition?”

That is a tough question, isn’t it? It is tough because, at the end of the day, the tradition is only as “valuable” as the one (or ones) who maintain it.

I get to be a part of or visit many, many organizations as part of my job and due to the consulting that I do with non-profit organizations. Each of them would tell you that they have a corporate culture. Many would say that they have some traditions that they hold dear. Yet many of the leaders within those organizations are frustrated and confused by the fact that the culture and traditions do not seem to be permeating the entire organization. Why is that?

Traditions Without Foundations

One of the common reasons for the lack of traditions and the legacy that they bring is that organizations lack the foundational principles on which traditions and legacies are built. They believe that culture is built by providing a good write-up in the New Employee handbook. Unfortunately, the handbook does not establish the “Why?”? And many times it doesn’t even address the “How?”. And the “How” is infinitely easier to explain than the “Why?”  Perhaps traditions are like values. They are not taught. They are caught!

Are you building a foundation where the traditions can be observed and followed because of how well they are defined and lived out by the leadership of the organization?

Traditions Without Credible Leadership

The last sentence of the section above really hints at the problem that no one is really willing to acknowledge. It is like the ancient proverb that says: “A man that thinks he is leading, yet has no followers, is only taking a walk.

After the sting of that thought begins to go away, let’s consider the role that you and I, as leaders, play in the instilling of leadership traditions throughout the organization. Especially when it comes to young leaders and those leaders that are the “up and coming” leaders in an organization.

The first and foremost factor when it comes to the successful instilling of leadership traditions in an organization is that you and I, as leaders, MUST be great examples of those leadership traditions. I was reminded again recently of this when I came across the Knight’s Code that is upheld by an organization that is very near and dear to my heart. That code says:

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Size Really Does Matter

But, maybe not how you think . . .

Size Really Does Matter

I recently got to spend some time at a working farm and family friendly venue with animals to pet, a hay maze, some slides, a little zip line, and some big trikes and pedal cars. The little track with the trikes and pedal cars provided an interesting lesson in leadership and human nature.

The little track had about 5 or 6 different sizes and styles of self-propelled vehicles. And, invariably, as kids entered the area, they were seemingly “drawn” to the biggest pedal cars on the track. It was almost a metal and magnet kind of attraction. Children would walk right past smaller pedal cars and big trikes and go straight for the biggest pedal cars that they could find.

I watched it happen and here is what happened next. A small child would get to the big pedal car and try to mount it. If they were successful in doing that, they then tried to have their little feet and legs reach the pedals. Only to be disappointed. Most of the time, they were not tall enough to reach the pedals. Oh, they would stretch and strain. But, in the end, their legs just weren’t long enough.

Size Matters

Either the cars were too large for the children, or the children were too short for the cars. I saw it with some of my own grandchildren. They wanted to ride on the biggest car that was out there. They couldn’t resist. But, in either case, there was a size issue. And whether or not it was the size of the child or the size of the cart, it just became frustrating and not a whole lot of fun. Fortunately, the wise old grandfather saw what was going on and was able to coax them onto a smaller and more “size appropriate” vehicle. Then they were able to have some fun.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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Thought Leadership

Can You Be a Thought Leader?

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There was not as much backlash as I had anticipated. I was expecting a much stronger reaction from the leadership community where I hang out most of the time. There are many who do not look upon this as being “real” leadership. But, there are many that do.

And all of that prompts a question. “Can you be a thought leader?”

Can You Be a Thought Leader?

The question itself almost indicates that being a thought leader is something that we should seek after. And if it is, can you become one?

Just like some basic leadership skills that can be developed over time, basic thought leadership skills can be developed as well. Having said that, everyone can become a thought leader to some degree.

Thought leadership takes time (it takes a lot of time), it takes knowledge, and it takes a recognized expertise in a particular field or endeavor. Further, it takes a certain level of confidence in your own ability, a commitment to pursue excellence, and a willingness to go against the grain or to challenge the way things have always been done.

One of the challenges that exists today in many organizations is the creation and staffing of “Centers of Excellence.” More often than not these are staffed with young, talented folks who have lots of potential. They may even have advanced degrees that were tucked on immediately to their undergraduate work. Their degrees are impressive. So, let’s make them “thought leaders” and put them in a COE.

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Going 1-on-1

Leadership Development

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There are a lot of concepts and skills that can be communicated in group settings. Seminars and conferences are great forums for idea and information exchange. But, if you want transformation and not just information when it comes to leadership development, then you may want to consider going “1-on-1.”

I am incredibly blessed with a small cadre of leaders that I go 1-on-1 with on a regular basis. The frequency is not as often with some of them as I would like. However, the key is that I am talking or meeting with them in a focused 1-on-1 setting. It may be over the phone, but it is 1-on-1 and there are no other voices distracting us from our reason for being together.

Why 1-on-1?

The main reason for going 1-on-1 is that it forms an intimate and a private conversation between the two participants. It is in those moments that real dialog can occur. You can offer and receive significant feedback that would just not be appropriate in a group setting. And you can forge a relationship that will be sustained and strengthened by committing that time together.

What would we talk about?

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A Leadership Culture

What are the benefits of creating a “Leadership Culture?”

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I have opined much recently on the importance of building more leaders instead of just building followers. That is on of the hallmarks of an organization with a “Leadership Culture.” But, what are the benefits of creating such a culture?

Perhaps the greatest benefit of creating a leadership culture is that it provides a steady supply of capable and experienced leaders to constantly propel the organization forward. If you love sports, you could call their your leadership bench.

How strong is your leadership bench?

When it comes to leadership bench strength, some organizations’ benches are pitifully weak. These organizations often have a leadership model that is personality based and sometimes even “cult-ish” in appearance. There is one leader and everyone else pays homage and is fiercely loyal to that leader. Dissent is never allowed. Free and creative thinking and expression are not valued when they differ from the leader.As a result, the organization plateaus or declines over time. Or, worse yet, it implodes when the leader has a crisis. Often, it never recovers from that crisis. The end is usually ugly.

Some organizations have depended on the same set of leaders for years without ever developing new leaders to succeed them. Even some organizations that have attempted to develop leaders have done so without a strategic or integrated approach to leadership development.

So, what should we be doing?

Every organization is unique. But there are enough similarities (even between profit and non-profit organizations) to make the following ideas worthy of consideration. So, if you or your organization wants to get serious and build leadership bench strength, here are some tips or suggestions for you:

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Developing Young Leaders

This works for any NEW leaders also!

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I have been on a bit of a “Leadership Development” track lately. That is especially true as it relates to young leaders. Training the next generation of leaders in your organization may be the most important thing you do as a leader. It has been said, and I agree, that the goal of leaders is  not to create more followers but to create more leaders. Now, we can debate what that single most important thing is. But, I think that we can all agree that training the next generation of leaders is certainly in the top three!

With that in mind, let’s get right to it 

Here are the things that I feel we need to be doing to keep producing new leaders. This list is not exhaustive. But I firmly believe that if we take these seven ideas to heart and begin to employ them in our relationships with young leaders, then great things will happen.

Train Young Leaders to Respect Authority – To effectively be in authority you must first learn to be under authority. They are “young leaders”. There are certainly some “gray leaders” around who have the scars and the experience to guide these young leaders. And these young leaders must learn to respect those in authority over them.

Play to the Strength of Young Leaders – These young leaders have immediately identifiable talents, skills, and abilities. Play to them and allow the young leader to experience success early and often in their developmental process.

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Leadership Comes From Experience

NOT from Exposure!

leadership-comes-from-experience

As a leader, I am always seeking experiences that will make me a better leader. As a “follower”, I crave experienced and proven leaders. What we need is something that prepares men and women to actually lead and not just to think about or read about leadership.

Young developing leaders need opportunities to actively and personally explore and/or experience what they should have already learned in an academic setting or observed in a practical setting. These opportunities should be “performance practicums” and represent a safe environment for young leaders to grow and gain the practical experience that we as followers desperately want them to have. How else do we develop and grow the best young leaders in our organizations?

A Perspective on Experience

Frequent readers of this blog will know how much I love a great quote. And, it is said that John F. Kennedy produced a notable one as he was battling perceptions that he had a marked deficit of leadership in his 1960 presidential campaign. He is quoted as saying:

“Experience is like tail lights on a boat which illuminate where we have been when we should be focusing on where we should be going”.

That is a great quote, isn’t it? And it is highly inspirational. Especially to the young and to the up and coming.

Another Perspective on Experience

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Be A Mentor

Are you a mentor to other leaders?

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In a recent article, I tackled the need for leaders to be “teachable.” And we certainly must be. But leaders must also be teaching — or, in my words, leaders must be a mentor.

Your followers today are the future leaders of tomorrow. As leaders, we have an obligation to those who will come behind us, or in other words, our future to train and mentor tomorrow’s leaders today. The pace of change today is so swift that we must mentor and coach our young leaders through these times. “Trial by fire” may just not be an option in our organizations.

How do we develop and keep the best young leaders? 

The answer is to use a formal or even an informal mentoring program. By using an effective mentoring program, you and I can help develop today’s leadership talent and potential into tomorrow’s proven and tested leaders. Organizations that leverage the leadership and experience of senior staff can develop, maintain, and retain the talent that they may already have in-house. 

What are some things to consider as a leadership mentor?

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Be Generous

Three Things That Generous Leaders Share

Be Generous

Leaders that folks want to follow are generous by nature. That doesn’t mean they give you money. That means that they have a giving spirit or a generous heart.

Generosity is a word with a historical meaning that is lost today. It once referred to one’s nobility of birth and the obligation toward those of lesser means and lower standing. There was a cultural expectation that leaders (nobility) would behave in certain ways that would demonstrate their worthiness.

But before we can identify the behaviors of a generous leader, we need to identify the motivations of a generous leader. Generous leaders are motivated by the success (whatever that looks like) of those around them. Generous leaders lead the way that they do because they place a high value on the overall success of those who follow them.  On the other hand, leaders who are motivated by their own success tend to measure their achievements in terms of their compensation package, the power in their position, the status as compared to those in their peer group, and whatever recognition they can garner.

Generous leaders hold themselves to different standards. Generous leaders value their empowerment of others, their service to their organization, and their relationships with their followers.

Generous leaders give in ways that are not always measured in terms of dollars.  They are generous on many levels. They usually are generous with their money.  They are often the benefactors of many charitable or ministry organizations.  And they are often the ones behind the anonymous gifts that their followers find at just the right time. But they are also generous with their time as well as their talents.

What does a generous leader look like?

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How to Choose a Coach? 

Don't pick someone you already know!

How to Chose a Coach

By now you may be beginning to see the value of having a leadership coach who will work with you and guide you along the journey of life. But, how do you choose a coach? What are the criteria that you should consider?

Unfortunately, selecting the right leadership coach is often a decision that is made based on a flawed set of criteria.

Let me just say quickly, in this article, I am going to be dealing with non-technical criteria. Certifications, degrees, and experiences are all technical criteria when it comes to what may make a good coach. I want to focus today on less technical selection criteria.

So, what is the selection criteria?

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