Episode Focus: Looking at several leadership articles from around the world including topics such as:
- Seven mistakes that new managers make
- How successful people stay calm
- An interesting statistic on how leadership can help keep employees happy
- Leadership from a distance
- Excuses on behaving badly?
- Leadership mistakes that women make (these apply to men as well)
- Defining leadership
- How leaders manage their composure during difficult times
Every once in a while I put out a “tweetable” definition of leadership attributes for discussion – the latest one on “character” generated several different viewpoints.
VOCL has been generated as a free resource and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. It is my way of giving back for all of the fantastic opportunities I have been given in my life. Some people and small teams may, however, may want something more focussed on their issues and needs. If VOCL resonates with you, you may wish to check out Bluenose Leadership Solutions. This is a new company that I have started to help people develop and communicate their leadership vision. This podcast (that is, VOCL) will not become a selling platform, however. Unless there is a really pertinent point, the only mention of BLS will be in the credits.
VOCL Resources and Articles
This week – a random selection of 10 articles on different aspects of leadership.
The 7 Common (And Totally Avoidable) Mistakes New Managers Make by Laura Vanderkam at Fast Company on 2 September 2014.
This quick-read article highlights 7 areas where people can have troubles switching from employees to managers. VOCL readers/listeners know that I tend to differentiate between leadership (people) and management (things), but I’ll cut the author some slack on the nomenclature. The seven areas are:
- Keeping the star mindset (you need to focus on leading people instead of doing your last job)
- Doing other people’s work for them (don’t micromanage)
- Not getting to know people (when starting out, how can you effectively lead someone you don’t know?)
- Calling attention to insecurities (don’t belittle your own abilities)
- Burning the barns (help people buy into your vision)
- Not aiming for early wins (people love someone who can show success AKA the ‘everyone loves a winner’ concept)
- Not taking time to focus (you need to start thinking ahead)
Probably the hardest mistake for people to overcome is #1 (keeping the star mindset) – it’s generally easier to do a job in which you were excelling rather than working on a new skill area. As a new leader, you must remember that you were given the promotion so you could lead others in accomplishing the organizational goals.
For those looking at promoting people to leadership positions – a word of warning. Just because ‘Paul’ is an excellent widget maker does not mean that he will be able to lead others in the making of widgets. Your hope is that he may create a bunch of ‘Pauls’, but if does not want to be a leader, or has not yet developed leadership skills, or you don’t have the time to properly mentor ‘Paul’, you are potentially inviting failure in four ways:
- You have taken Paul away from where he is productive and have made him less productive.
- You may create an ineffective or inefficient atmosphere (at best) or ‘poisonous’ atmosphere (worst case) for your employees or organization if Paul does not know how to effectively lead others.
- You will create more work for yourself in the long run – you will need to solve the problem, plus you will still need to find/make an effective leader.
- You will likely have many unhappy people – ‘Paul,’ the very person that you are trying to reward, may very well be one of them.
P.S. If you do promote Paul, MAKE THE TIME to mentor him.
How Successful People Stay Calm by Dr. Travis Bradberry at LinkedIn on 5 August 2014.
Being a leader can be stressful at times – what can you do about it? Some stress is good – it can motivate us to perform. If the stress is too great, or it is there for too long of a period, your performance will start to suffer, and so will your ability to lead others. The author provides several strategies that successful people use to control stress:
- The appreciate what they have (helps puts things into context)
- They avoid asking “What if?” (fewer aspects to worry about)
- They stay positive (there must be something good – can you focus on that?)
- They disconnect (don’t look at that Blackberry when you are doing other things such as spending time with family or relaxing)
- They limit their caffeine intake (no triple espresso for them!)
- They sleep (recharge that mental battery)
- They squash negative self-talk (be careful of the words you choose – the ones that you use to communicate with others but also the ones you use to communicate to yourself)
- They reframe their perspective (switch from a negative mindset towards finding the positive of the situation)
- They breathe (focusing on your breathing can be a mini-meditation system, plus it relaxes your body, helping to release some of that stress)
- They use their support system (very few people can ‘go at it’ alone, and even then it will not last for a long time. Just talking about the issue with someone can help you feel better, plus you may get a new perspective on the solution)
Okay – many of these I fully agree with, but others not so much.
#2 – (avoid asking “What If?”) I can see why this made the list, but I would save that as a last resort. Personally, if I can think ahead to lots of potential outcomes, I am actually better prepared to take action when the results come in. For me, the value of a plan comes not from the plan itself, but rather the thought process that went into it. Think back to your exam days – were you more worried when you studied lots or studied little?
#3 – (stay positive) I consider this a really weak cousin of the much better #8 (reframing of perspective) – perhaps it was used to make an even 10.
#5 – (limit caffeine) Not my coffee!!! In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake (a stressful situation), coffee was my fuel as I sought to think about all the “what-ifs” in generating a new set of plans to deal with the change in the security situation. Having said that, I admit that I really had to start cutting back after the first month because the cumulative effect of at least 10 cups of coffee per day (I wish I was exaggerating) was starting to take its toll… These days, I limit myself to a more reasonable 2-3 cups.
#11 – The article didn’t have one, but it should have. EXERCISE!!! Not only does it make you feel better (really – the endorphins are amazing), but there have been many times that the answer to a stressful problem suddenly materializes.
At the end of the day, a stressed out leader benefits no one. Do your team (and yourself) a favour and try at least one of these techniques the next time you feel stressed.
(Original article has been deleted)
Relationships, leadership, pay most important to enjoyable job by Canadian HR Reporter at hrreporter.com on 12 September 2014.
Although there are no leadership tips in this article, there some leadership aspects that make for an interesting discussion. I have to note – although the article cites a Randstad Canada survey, I can’t find it online so I can only go by the article instead of citing actual portions of the report. Having said that, the numbers aren’t as important as the principles, so I’ll use the article as a platform to provide a key message.
The article points to the survey results that indicated that great colleagues and trustworthy leaders are among the top three things Canadians are looking for in their jobs. To me, these are part of the same desire. Not only do we want leaders (or anyone else, for that matter) that we can trust, but we want to work in a positive environment surrounded by great people. Think about it – a leader is responsible for creating (or fixing) the culture for which they are responsible. They are also responsible for ensuring that they lead and mentor their subordinates. Can you imagine a situation where everyone grows and develops in a trusted environment surrounded by enthusiastic people? I’d want to stay there.
What I also want to focus on is the initial sentence of the article:
“Nearly one-half of Canadians (43 per cent) would stay at a job that left them unfulfilled if they were surrounded by a great team, according to a Randstad Canada survey.”
As leaders, it is one of our responsibilities to ensure that our followers not only know the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ of a task but most importantly, the ‘why’. By understanding their role and how they contribute, people are more likely to remain engaged. This will increase their satisfaction and will help you achieve your vision – a win-win situation.
5 Ways To Boost Your Leadership Impact From Afar by Jeff Boss at Forbes on 16 September 2014.
Leadership in large organizations can be difficult if the team members are in different locations. This is especially true if the locations are around the world! This article provides some guidance in making to seem more ‘local’:
- Visit remote offices (go out and see your followers – this is the principle of ‘management by walking around’)
- Show your face (informal discussions can sometimes be more productive than official meetings)
- Take the road less travelled (don’t always get to your desk the same way – use different paths so you come across different people)
- Iron your T-Shirt (even in casual environments, you should still look like a leader)
- Aim for crisis (be seen taking action when things go wrong)
For #1, physical travel may not always be financially feasible, or you may not be able to take the time to travel. As such, technologies such as video conferencing should be used to ensure a more physical presence.
For #2, I remember a smoker telling me once “I don’t know how non-smokers get anything done – we sort out so many problems and come up with great ideas during our smoking breaks.” I don’t advocate smoking, but I certainly like the concept of impromptu meetings that aren’t ‘forced’.
For #3, I would avoid trying to make it artificial. I would rather take the first idea (walking around) and apply that in my day-to-day activities.
For #4, I’m still wrapping my head around ironing a T-shirt… I can live with a polo shirt – I feel better ironing one of those!
For #5, click here for my thoughts on leadership in challenging situations.
Quit Using Your Personality as an Excuse for Behaving Badly by Randy Conley at Leading With Trust on 21 September 2014.
Every leader is different; every leader has their own personality. Some leaders are comfortable in some areas, others could find the same situation very uncomfortable. Having said that, the author states that there’s no excuse for using your personality as a leadership “crutch” across the following dimensions:
- Shirking job responsibilities (if you’re responsible for it, do it!)
- Being rude to people (you can be polite and respectful, even during times of conflict)
- Not giving feedback when feedback is due (how can your team know what they are doing right or how they can improve their performance?)
- Avoiding or inciting conflict (conflict is natural; leaders know how to help people grow from conflict)
- Blaming others (own your choices!)
I commented on the blog with the following:
Great article – I really like the section about blaming others. As a leader, my team knows that credit goes to the entire team, but the blame comes to me – I bear ultimate responsibility. Even if I didn’t physically do the wrong action, could I have prevented it somehow? Could I have created an environment where that mistake couldn’t happen? Could I have improved the training? Could I have found someone to help the person? Could have I assigned the task to someone else? You get the point. By accepting responsibility, my mindset goes from negative (blame) to positive (problem solving).
Finally, I would propose another area – not developing your followers, especially if you’re an introvert. Some might say that this is a subset of shirking your responsibilities (you are, after all, responsible to help your team grow), but I personally feel that this is important enough to merit its own category. You need to help each member of your team to see and ultimately achieve their potential, even if they don’t believe in themselves (yet). You may feel somewhat uncomfortable at first, but you will rapidly overcome this obstacle when you see the look of pride and accomplishment on people’s faces.
Here’s the reply:
Excellent points Chris. I have the same philosophy as you….success goes to the team, and I’m responsible when something goes wrong. That attitude creates a tremendous sense of trust between leader and team members.
Thanks for adding your insights,
Leadership Advice for Women: The Mistakes We Make by Jody Michael at Huffington Post on 9 July 2014.
This article provides some common mistakes that women make in the pursuit of a career, as observed by a female. The author started out emulating her male peers but then discovered that she could be a better leader by being authentic to herself and her values. Her counsel includes:
- Know the difference between truth and perception (people can use different terminology based on their perceptions e.g., assertive can be seen as “ball buster”)
- Increase your emotional intelligence (understand how you are being perceived)
- It’s not about ‘Acting like a man’ (instead, use your instincts more)
- Manage your emotions (you must effectively manage yourself before you can effectively manage others)
- Build your confidence (set goals and achieve them – self-confidence will come)
- Toot your own horn (your competition will be doing so – make sure you get noticed)
- Stop being too nice (you may get overlooked for leadership positions)
- Control the conversation (make sure that you communicate effectively)
Many of these points I consider to be effective for both genders. For ‘stop being too nice’ – I know what the author is trying to get at, but I would rather that the point would focus on being more assertive. I have met some amazing leaders that are incredibly nice. They were effective leaders, not simply because they were nice, but because they were reflecting their genuine nature in an assertive manner.
Defining Leadership by Chris Haché
Defining leadership can be difficult. Perhaps the most important principle that identifies a person as a leader is that they have followers. These followers can come from a wide variety of sources:
- They are people who you have hired
- They can be those assigned to you at work
- They are people in your social organization (e.g., Girl Guides)
- They are people in your social circle (friends)
- They are people in your family
A Social Contract
In many ways, leadership is a social contract between you and your followers. As a leader, you are responsible for these people. They have trusted you with guidance over certain aspects of their lives, and in turn, expect that you will look out for their best interests. In several of these situations, that contract is contextual – someone who is your leader in a community-based organization is not your leader in your family. In some cases, leadership roles can even be reversed. Many years ago, I was a person’s leader at work since I had a higher rank. When it came time to go to the martial arts class, I became this person’s follower since he was higher ranking than me. Although this could have been a source of friction, both of us understood our roles as leaders and as followers in different situations.
The Difficulty with Studying Leadership
There are so many leadership books out there that I don’t think it would be possible to read them all in one’s lifetime. One of the most frustrating aspects of studying leadership is that there is no one successful formula. You can’t simply open a book or read a blog post, copy the formula as if it were a recipe, and magically become a leader. Unlike a mathematical formula, I do not believe that there is a “right” answer to every leadership situation. Nor do I believe that there is one leadership style that can solve every leadership challenge. The reason is simple – every leader comes from different backgrounds, have different experiences, and have different beliefs. The followers are also different, but for the very same reasons. Having said that, there are some principles that seem to come up time and time again, and as such, this series will focus on those.
Why Should People Follow You
Let’s go back to the start of the article to look at the ‘pool’ of followers. Your followers can have different expectations of you depending on why they are your followers. Your followers may look to you for a paycheck, or they may look at you helping them advance in their careers. They may look at you for information on how to do better at sports, or how to carry out certain skills. They may look to you for guidance in what you are going to do together. They may look to you to provide standards of behaviour and of performance. They may look to you for comfort and support. They may look to you for answers in crisis situations. The bottom line is that your followers are looking at you to help them.
An Eye to the Future
Your followers will expect you to have certain skills or qualities. Over the next several posts, I will be looking at other aspects of leadership, including vision, communication, teamwork, empathy, passion, goal setting, responsibility, problem-solving, servant leadership, and so on. By discussing these and other leadership ‘best practices,’ it is hoped to get you thinking about how you can incorporate and improve these principles in your everyday life.
If you are still reading, I commend you for your interest in leadership. Leading people can be one of the most challenging, yet most rewarding things that you can do. Leaders are not passive individuals – they take action. In this case, your action is not to simply read. Rather, I want you to reflect on what has been written, and add your own voice to the discussion. I firmly believe that the value of a leadership article lies not in itself, but rather in the dialogue that it creates. My aim is to create a community of people wanting to share their thoughts on leadership, their successes and (gasp) their failures so that we can all learn how to become better leaders together. Imagine the world that we can create.
“Maintaining Composure” by Chris Haché
Note: Originally, this was going to be one of my standard article reviews. In the process of doing so, however, I rapidly found myself at over a page and I still had more to write. As such, this is more of a hybrid where I create my own post using an article as the structure for discussion.
The article titled, “7 Ways Leaders Maintain Their Composure during Difficult Times” by Glenn Llopis at Forbes on 20 January 2014 provides seven tips to help leaders maintain their composure during difficult or stressful times. The appearance of a stressed leader does not inspire confidence in your followers – just mentally picture any war movie for good and bad examples of composure. (Hint – it’s like that in real life, too!) These tips are:
- Don’t allow your emotions to get in the way (you must maintain objectivity)
- Don’t take things personally (this leads to greater emotion – see point 1)
- Keep a positive mental attitude (it can be tough, but you need to show your followers a positive path)
- Remain fearless (ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen – often, the outcome isn’t as bad as it would first appear).
- Respond decisively (nothing instils doubt, worry, and frustration more than a wishy-washy leader)
- Take accountability (you accept responsibility and take steps towards fixing the issue)
- Act like you’ve been there before (you’ve been there, survived, got the T-shirt…)
I love Glenn’s work – he writes a lot of great material that provides food for thought. I will, however, offer some different yet complementary perspectives on some of the points that he raises:
- Emotions getting in the way. Leaders aren’t robots, and neither are your followers. Someone showing no emotion can be almost as troubling as someone showing too much emotion. People connect through emotion. As such, I believe that you need to channel your emotion. Maintain a steady keel most of the time, but there are times that you want to increase your emotion to achieve a “surge” in achieving group goals. Be very careful, however, about not losing control or using it too often – unless used sparingly, this tool will lose its effectiveness with overuse.
- Don’t take things personally. This one is hard to do – chances are that you are putting your heart and soul into the work that you are doing. Someone challenging your thought process or your work can, therefore, be seen as someone challenging your very essence. What you need to do is reframe the situation. Imagine that you can float above the surroundings, much like the Scrooge overflights in Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. Try to see the situation from all angles – can you perhaps see why another path was chosen or why a different decision was made? It may not make you feel any better, but I believe that you will get a more well-rounded understanding of the situation.
- Keep a positive mental attitude. I have personally been involved in more emergency situations than I care to remember. In each of those times, I have either watched others or have been watched for the reaction to the incident at hand. People will look at the leader to provide a cue on what to do and how to act. If the leader remains calm, the followers are more likely to stay calm as well. Panic accomplishes little; thoughtful ‘accelerated’ actions can quickly resolve an emergency (I’m still here…) Not every situation is life-threatening, but this principle applies in everyday life. If you keep reading until the end, you’ll see a joke that speaks to this principle.
- Remain fearless. Perhaps it’s just the title, but I believe that “remain fearless” is a misnomer. Fear is a natural state within humans – you can’t remove it from your personality. What you can control, however, is your reaction to your fear. I believe that Bruce Lee said it best, “Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to act in the presence of fear”. Therefore, I would change the title of this bullet to “remain courageous.”
- Respond decisively. I’ve heard the expression “Fake it ‘til you make it,” and there is a certain amount of truth to that. You will project an air of confidence, and people will react in ways that would support that projection – in a sense, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. What I would caution, however, is that you do not project so much confidence that people switch off their minds in trying to help solve the problem at hand “phew – someone else has this!” Instead, lead your team in coming up with a plan on how you’re going to solve the issue. They will feel much more empowered, and you get the benefit of harnessing more brainpower to solve the problem.
- Take accountability. I agree fully that leaders accept ultimate responsibility, but it can be hard for people who are starting out their leadership journey to understand “why” this is so important. If you don’t accept responsibility, you can’t take ownership of the problem – you need to own the problem to fix the problem. Yes, “Bob” may be the one who did the mistake – it sounds easy to blame Bob. But if you take responsibility, you start looking at the problem through a different lens. Could you have improved your planning process to be able to anticipate and fix the problem at hand before it became a major concern? Could you have come up with a system that would have prevented the problem? Even if you really want to focus on Bob, instead could you look at your hiring or onboarding process that would identify missing skill sets? Each of these questions helps you look at solving the root of the problem, and not just solving the manifestation of that problem.
- Act like you’ve been there before. I like that the article highlights that although you may not have gone through this particular situation before, you have gone through the problem-solving process – there are transferable skills and thoughts that can help you do better each time you go through a problem. The above speaks to experience, but how do you get experience, especially if you are just starting on leadership journey? Look for others who have documented their experience in books, journals, magazine articles, etc. Coaches and mentors can also offer a wealth of knowledge and should be able to apply that knowledge to the issue that you are facing.
Although we may have some different approaches to how leaders should maintain composure, it is important to note that I agree with Glenn about the importance of leaders maintaining their composure. It is one of the best and fastest ways to see you through the issue at hand.
I have spent nearly 25 years in the Royal Canadian Navy, so I tend to have a nautical perspective on things. In that spirit, and to tie in the point about how followers look towards their leaders for cues on how to think and act, here’s the joke that I promised earlier (author unknown):
Long ago, when sailing ships ruled the sea, this captain and his crew were always in danger of being boarded by pirates from a pirate ship. One day while they were sailing, they saw that a pirate ship had sent a boarding party to try and board their ship. The crew became worried, but the Captain was calm. He bellowed to his First Mate, “Bring me my red shirt!” The First Mate quickly got the Captain’s red shirt, which the captain put on. Then he led his crew into battle against the mean pirates. Although there were some casualties among the crew, the pirates were defeated.
Later that day, the lookout screamed that there were two pirate vessels sending two boarding parties towards their ship. The crew was nervous, but the Captain, calm as ever, bellowed, “Bring me my red shirt!” And once again the battle was on! The Captain and his crew fought off the boarding parties, though this time more casualties occurred.
Weary from the battles, the men sat around on deck that night recounting the day’s events when an ensign looked at the Captain and asked, “Sir, why did you call for your red shirt before the battle?” The Captain, giving the ensign a look that only a captain can give, explained, “If I am wounded in battle, the red shirt does not show the blood, so you men will continue to fight unafraid.” The men sat in silence. They were amazed at the courage of such a man.
As dawn came the next morning, the lookout screamed that there were pirate ships, 10 of them, all with boarding parties on their way. The men became silent and looked to the Captain, their leader, for his usual command. The Captain, calm as ever, bellowed, ‘Bring me my brown pants!!!’
As usual, if you have any suggestions for the Resources and Articles section, please let me know.
VOCL Listener Feedback
A series of thirty different aspects of leadership in a “tweetable” format.
Used to generate discussion – the latest was “Character”
- My definition – being trustworthy in making the right decision, regardless of the personal consequence
- Deb K (via FB) – difficult, unpopular decisions in spite of personal and professional consequence. THAT takes character.
- Jocelyn T (via FB) – To be an independent thinker.
- Brian R. – my definition sounds like integrity. How about “resilience of individual uniqueness regardless of environment”?
- Bill G. – Integrity is the quality in a person who does the right thing even when no one is looking.
- Google (character) – the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.
- Google (integrity) – the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
Bottom line – I see integrity as a subcomponent of character. How do I capture all of these points in 140 characters? How about a new definition;
Character – being trustworthy in consistently making the morally right decision, regardless of the personal or professional consequence
VOCL Closing Thoughts / Future Episodes
What’s been happening
- Interviews for the 2015 GGCLC – there are so many outstanding candidates. Based on the people that I have seen, I believe that Canada’s future outlook looks bright!
Takeaways and introspection:
- The 7 Common (And Totally Avoidable) Mistakes New Managers Make and Leadership Advice for Women: The Mistakes We Make– even if you are a seasoned leader, are you still making one (or more) of these mistakes? If so, come up with an action plan to resolve the issue.
- How Successful People Stay Calm and 7 Ways Leaders Maintain Their Composure during Difficult Times – think about stressful or difficult times in your life. Can you apply one or more of the principles covered here?