Vision provides the “What” – Leadership provides the “How”

The How and The What

My personal journey toward understanding leadership began many years ago. It began in a medium-sized church in Marietta, Georgia in 1983.

Prior to that point I had been an observer. And I had observed some incredible leaders. I would put my own father in that category. His leadership in many areas are an inspiration to me to this very day. But I have observed many different leaders in these past 32 years. I learned as much as I could from men like Bill Searcy, an entrepreneur and small business owner in the Atlanta metropolitan area. He owned a Firestone auto repair shop. I owned a piece of junk Chevy Celebrity that went through 4 sets of brakes in 2 and a half years. It was a “lemon” and I didn’t realize it. We were destined to spend time together. He taught me more about leadership than just about any one else early in my leadership journey. I owe him a great debt of gratitude.

That kind of observation over the years has shown to me that there are two distinct skill sets that are identifiable among those who would consider themselves to be leaders. There are those that “see” what needs to happen. And there are those who “make” it happen. My observation is that it is actually “vision” that provides the “what” or the goal and objective. But it is “leadership” that provides the “how” and the plan to execute the vision that has been laid out.

Let’s consider for a moment those two skill sets:

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Are You a Guide or Explorer?

Explorer or Guide

What kind of leader are you?  Are you a Guide? Or are you an Explorer? Are both of these leaders with just different skill sets? What is the difference?

A Guide — A guide is someone who has been down this particular path before. They probably have been this way before many times. They have gotten really good at navigating the simplest, safest, and best route for folks to follow. A guide has specific experience related to the specific journey on which you find yourself. They have been where you want to go. They have returned to where you are. And they are now ready to go again and brave the same dangers and traverse the same rough terrain that beckons you.

Guides carry a huge responsibility. Often they are responsible for the life and welfare of the folks who put their trust in them. But folks are willing to trust them because they have a proven track record in the particular journey that needs to be undertaken.

An Explorer — An explorer is a brave individual to be sure. In fact, they may very well be a

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Beware of the Lure to be Likable

Fishing Lure

I guess I am still not done with the whole “like-ability” discussion.  So, I continue the discussion with a warning to beware of the lure to be likable.

Leaders are often placed under a tremendous amount of pressure to be relatable and to be nice.  Many follow the natural tendency to want to be liked because it feels much easier to be liked than to be viewed as capable and accomplishment driven.

Few leaders want to be the bad guy.  And those that do want to be the “heavy” are not the kind of leader that I am drawn to!

But as leaders we are expected to make the tough decisions that serve the organization or the team’s best interests.  Trying to be too nice can in fact be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization.

I’ve seen this happen many times in my personal and professional career.  Leaders get almost addicted to a sense of being likable.  They make a mistake in staffing or in a major decision.  This can happen to anyone, and the best way to remedy the situation is to address it quickly. However, despite the obvious solution to the rest of the team, some leaders keep on trying to make it work.

While it is a good thing to follow our instinct to stick to it and be consistent, if you fast forward a few weeks or months, the situation is no better and often worse.

There’s a key lesson here for any leader

Nice is only good when it’s coupled with a rational perspective and the ability to make difficult choices.  

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Overlooking “Capability”  for “Like-ability” 

Capable - Likeable

One of the biggest problem that I see in many organizations is our willingness to overlook “capability” for “like-ability.”

What does that mean?

It means that many times we are more interested in whether or not our leader is “like-able” and less interested in whether or not they are actually capable of exhibiting and demonstrating leadership.  This can have tragic affects

This phenomenon is not as common in the commercial world.  The business world often cares much more about whether or not you can do the job than whether or not you can be a leader.  There is not often much thought given to how the rest of the employees “feel” about the boss or the leader.

Here is where we see leaders who have progressed through the ranks of an organization and have reached a leadership level through hard work, dedication and a proven track record of success.  They have been mentored by other leaders who have proven track records of success.  They sometimes just aren’t that like-able.  And they often don’t particularly care if they are liked.

To back that premise up, research shows that average Emotional Intelligence scores plummet higher up the corporate ladder beyond the supervisor level. The theory is that people get promoted based upon results, even if their people skills are lacking. As leadership coaches, folks like me are working desperately to change that. But the phenomenon remains.

And I suppose all of this begs a few questions:

  1. Would a leader rather be liked or trusted?
  2. Would a leader rather be popular or right?
  3. Would a leader rather be successful or loved?
  4. Is “like-ability” even something that a leader should be concerned about?

There are so many angles that this thought process could take.

What if . . .

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Strategic Leadership’s Distinct Roles

Distinct Roles

I have spent a great deal of time in my last few articles camping out on the subject of strategic leadership.  We have examined the ancient roots of it.  We have also looked at the circle of leadership.

In this article I want to bring the topic to a close and look at some of the distinctive roles that strategic leaders must fulfill.  Consider if you will these seven distinct roles for strategic leaders.

Providing Direction — The word “leadership” derives from an Anglo-Saxon word, laed, which means “road, path, track or the course of a ship at sea.” Leaders provide the directional guidance for their followers.  Further, they ensure that everyone is moving the the proper direction.  Just moving is not enough.  We must be moving in the right direction.

Thinking and Planning — Strategic leaders decide the direction through strategic thinking and planning. They go on to develop the best strategy to guide your processes, and then they implement it. Thinking and planning without an ability to execute is ultimately worthless.

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Is Self-Esteem Affecting Your Leadership?


Leadership is as much about emotions as it is about skills. You can easily gain a working knowledge of leadership and all the “actions” necessary to make you an effective leader by taking courses and by reading books.

However, knowing them and applying them are two different things.

Often, our personal leadership is affected, not so much by what we don’t know how to do, but by what we are unwilling to do. And being unwilling to do the hard things required of a leader is often caused by fear and lack of self-esteem.

Self-esteem has two components: It is made up largely of how we see ourselves and how we see others.

First, let’s look at how we see ourselves. – By definition, self-esteem is about how we esteem ourselves.  In other words, it is about how we see ourselves and feel about ourselves when we look in the mirror every morning.

Second, it is about how we see others. – But even that is really a reflection of how we see ourselves.  If we envision everyone around us as being smarter or better qualified than we are, then that is perhaps not a reflection of their skills being greater as much as viewing our own skills as being lesser.  Size is a relative thing.  And if we don’t feel we measure up, everyone tends to look bigger in our own eyes.

Self-esteem has an impact upon how we think, how we feel, how we perform, and our results. It is not a stretch to then say that if the results you are getting from your team do not match your expectations, then possibly the problem may not be with your team.  The problem may involve your self-image, your view, and your approach to leadership.

A strong leader must take a good look at their self-image and be introspective enough to consider how our behaviors impact our team.

The following behaviors just may be a signal that your self-esteem is preventing you from effectively leading.

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How Does a Leader Motivate?


In life, it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from. What is important is this: Where are you going and how are you going to get there?

Aside from what you want to accomplish, what kind of a person do you want to become as the result of all your work and effort?  Men and women who achieve great things in life are almost always those who give thought to their own evolution and growth.  They become great people by design, not by accident.  They are like master craftsmen, continually shaping and polishing their character and personality so that they grow into someone important and worthwhile.  And so should you.

The highest goal you can have for yourself is to become a leader, to become an outstanding man or woman who is looked up to, admired, and respected by the people around you.  Motivational leadership is the ability to uplift and inspire people to perform at their best.  Personal leadership on the other hand, is the ability to motivate you to do the things, and be the kind of person that is a motivational leader.  Both are necessary, they are flip sides of the same coin.

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Blending In vs. Standing Out


Blending in vs Standing out - 1When I graduated from college in 1983, and started to look for jobs, I had to do two things during interviews. First I had to convince employers that I understood the basics of their business — the lingo, the process, the requirements of being an employee of their company.

But I also had to give them the sense I was different than other applicants. I needed them to know that I stood out from the pack. I wanted them to believe that I’d work harder and deliver a better work product than anyone else.

It’s a conundrum that faces everyone trying to get ahead in the world of business, from recent graduates, to those moving up the ladder, to entrepreneurs of every stripe: how to stand out, while also making it clear you fit in.

The implications of these two facets of a valuable employee are obvious. But consider for a moment these in the light of being a leader and not just an employee.

Blending in vs Standing out - 2What are the leadership implications of blending in versus standing out?

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Leading With Humility


Leading with Humility - 1We have just experienced a bit of a momentous election here in the U.S.  And we are seeing changes in the upcoming Congress such as have not been seen since Herbert Hoover was president.  Regardless of your political affiliation and whether or not your side gained or lost, how will our newly elected or re-elected representatives lead?

I have written in the past on the recently elected pope and I would suggest again that Pope Francis may have some more words of wisdom for our elected leaders.

Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina chose the name “Francis” when he became the first Jesuit pope of the Catholic Church in March 2013. Inspired by the modesty of St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis anchors his philosophy and approach to life in humility.  After the selection of Argentinian Jesuit Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope in March 2013, his humility, caring and willingness to be vulnerable captured the fancy of Catholics and non-Catholics around the world. Pope Francis, who labels himself a “sinner,” famously asked, “Who am I to judge?

Leading with Humility - 2In his nearly 40 years as a priest in South America, Bergoglio was as an unpretentious man who took public transportation to visit Catholics and non-Catholics in Argentinian neighborhoods. Fifteen months after he turned 75 – and submitted his mandatory resignation to Pope Benedict XVI – Bergoglio was elected to lead the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, stepping in to head a church plagued by controversy. His tenure as pope thus far exemplifies some important leadership lessons.  Humility is one of them.

Pope Francis believes that humility is the single most important leadership characteristic and that everyone should learn to be more humble. For his first public appearance as pope, Francis chose not to stand on a platform that would raise him higher than other cardinals.  Before addressing the crowd, he requested a prayer for himself, a decidedly untraditional gesture. Few corporate leaders demonstrate that kind of humility.

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Leadership is… Releasing


Releasing - 1Today marks the last in my series on defining characteristics of leadership.  I hope that you have enjoyed them and that you have found them beneficial.

The last facet of leadership that I will be discussing is perhaps the hardest and yet the most important.

As leaders we must release the work, the results, the process, the progress and even the direction of the organization into the hands of our team. If we don’t release it to them, they will never have the necessary intrinsic motivators necessary to be fully engaged and successful.

Our releasing actually must begin at the very first discussion about goals and organizational direction. As the leader we may have certain key components that we feel are non-negotiable but we need to keep them few and simple. Leaders must release the work to the team (and they in turn must release the work to those they lead) if we ever want to learn about team-work, collaboration, unity and synergy.

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