Last week I was interviewed in a series focused on women in leadership. The interviewer – an intrepid young woman by the name of Kouros Alaee asked me this obvious, but not simple question: Why is leadership important?
Why even have a conversation about it?
Wow! What a GREAT question!
In social science parlance (my own personal training ground), there are levels of analysis:
Macro, Meso and Micro. So, to answer the question, “Why is leadership important?” my mental autopilot scans through these levels. At what level do you mean ‘why is leadership important’? What is your interest in having that question answered?
The macro-level answer might be that we have failures in leadership everywhere we look! (Check out our national political scene). And, where we haven’t got leadership failures occurring, we have plain leadership gaps! Most importantly, we attribute most of our business and social dysfunctions to these very leadership failures and gaps. That makes leadership very important!
At the meso-level, leadership is a critical strategic planning consideration. How will we prepare our future leaders to be effective at stewarding our political, economic and social organizations? If we could design training that would teach high potentials to be effective leaders, we’d have a more robust internal succession plan. This might be especially top of mind inside executive teams with great responsibility, and inside family businesses, foundations or teams with long standing employees who are not yet ready to powerfully advance the mission of the organization. Leadership is critical to talk about because there is something important to do to repair the failures and fill the gaps that cause dysfunction.
Savannah is the definition of resilient. She’s has averaged more than 7 painful surgeries per year for the last 7 years. Once a vibrant athlete, today she is facing another round that may permanently rob her of the use of both her arms. She experiences constant pain.
Yet, her mantra is “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is Optional.” So, she smells the roses, notices the birds and bees, loves her dog and feels great compassion and a powerful urge to serve, truly every day.
Today Savannah had a breakthrough that I would consider a miracle of anti-fragile (see AntiFragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb). She asked the question: What would it take to actually thrive instead of just not give in? What lies beyond resilient?
I asked her what message she might want to leave the world if she had a chance. At first her message was, “Don’t be a victim” no matter hard it gets, don’t succumb to self-pity.
Today, as she considered that not giving in is resilient, but what would it take to be Anti-Fragile? If resilient is getting up when we are knocked down. What lies beyond resilient?
Perhaps anti-fragile means being grateful for the clarity and growth that being knocked down brings. Savannah sometimes has to search deeply for gratitude for her pain. At times it’s challenging to be grateful about the possibility of never sitting atop her beloved horse again. Her gratitude must be for whatever gifts lie in that possibility while she doggedly remains committed to this present moment.
When Savannah is able to facilitate the sprouting of new hope in an encumbered soul, she is grateful. She is able to serve because of her journey, precisely because she has been knocked down.
That’s anti-fragile. Gratitude for the struggle is anti-fragile.
Anti-fragile is one of the keys to truly taking fierce ownership in your life. Fierce ownership requires us to forgo blame, be committed to transparent truth, and the fortitude to choose love over fear over and over again. Anti-fragile is only possible if we are willing to truly step into fierce ownership of our experience of life. When we get to bear witness to the powerful, vulnerable, humble spirit who seeks to be anti-fragile, we are deeply blessed.
To your inspired journey.
“I’m really bad at relationships!” Jesse said.
This statement of incontrovertible fact was Jesse’s explanation for why he dropped off the grid. During this last week he quit communicating with the important people in his life: the co-workers and employees who were waiting for him to get supplies to them, the incredible woman he had just met and made plans to see last weekend (but didn’t), his best friends from California who were coming into town for a gathering next month. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, or let anyone down (he told himself). In his mind, ‘I just stink at relationships.’
As if that were the truth.
As if that explained everything.
After nearly 30 hours of conversations with this mid-level manager, over the course of our relationship, one thing was evident to me about Jesse. He is very good at conversations. He is smart, introspective, kind, and thoughtful. He expresses himself very well. And, the conversation IS the relationship. So, what really was the problem here?
How can one be good at one thing (conversations), and not good at the other (relationships)?
Here’s what Jesse couldn’t see:
Jesse lacked clarity about what was really driving his avoidant behavior. Jesse was living from a victim place (both consciously, and unconsciously). And Jesse remained in this disempowered place because he was in fear.
So what is there to do? Jesse at least couldn’t see any options.
Whoah – hang on to your hat!
There is a lot of stress and challenge ping-ponging around our world these days. The leadership call is screamingly loud to remain grounded; to come from the clarity of fierce ownership, truth and love. I’m hearing from clients that ordinary stressors are harder than ever to navigate:
None of these challenges is out of the ordinary, and yet, an ordinary response to them will not promote a thriving outcome.
How do we amplify thriving?
We live in times of tremendous abundance and security. So, why do we get so upset about things that in the grand scheme of things are not so serious? And more importantly, how can we get free from the stress of it?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT saying that we should all become serene, even-tempered gurus who never get upset about anything. Trouble shows up when we feel out of control. When the upset has us, then we’ve lost our power to really resolve the problem. What follows is an exploration of how to take fierce ownership – even when we feel completely trapped.
Upset would be ok if only we didn’t feel so stuck and miserable when it happens! Then again, just yesterday my son said to me, ‘Ain’t no appreciating the sunshine if it never rains.’ Well, he has a point!
Still, I think we thrive when we feel free. I might be upset for a while, but when I’m ready to stop being upset, I want to have the freedom to shift. Don’t you? Take a moment and jot down the kinds of upset you would like to be free from.
James, Section Chief of Real Estate Procurement explained that he had transformed their district office into a lean productivity machine. His boss and team praised him repeatedly for how much their office accomplished. Their office produced maps and designs for their customers faster than any of the other 17 offices around the US. Now that the transformation had occurred, James was in charge of keeping it going.
At Austin’s American Grill a few years back, I had lunch with then CEO of Otter-Box, Bryan Thomas. During his tenure, he helped take Otter from a small start-up that made it possible for hardy Coloradoans to be serious extreme sportspeople, who are tech-sporting geeks too —- to a company that serves tablet and smartphone owners worldwide. Otter Products is now worth over a Billion USD, has multiple sites and over a 1000 employees. How did he do that? What was his vision? His particular obsessions, he told me, were customer service and culture. Service and Service – External Service (customers) and Internal Service (culture). That captures most everything doesn’t it? Strategy, communication, executive presence, fun, implementation, and emotional intelligence skills can all be understood as part of external and internal service.
So, what is required to support this focus on service?
After a time he asked me about what I do too. My response: When a leader is hitting on all cylinders, great at strategizing, organized, able to delegate, successfully managing life – at home and at work – gets things done, what’s the one thing that person still cannot do for Himself? Herself?
Most leaders don’t consciously have an answer for that. The very most extraordinary leaders however, know this:
No matter what business skills and leadership maturity s/he has, one cannot effectively be one’s own Sounding Board. What does a sounding board do?
A wonderful piano player recently explained to me that if we placed two Steinway Grand Pianos side by side on a stage, one with a sounding board, one without…. the one with a sounding board will sound like angels crooning, spirit on the air, magical and musical. The one without a sounding board will sound dead.
Leaders are like that. The one with a confidential excellence coach will lead powerfully, getting more done, more quickly – with a team that achieves more, more quickly – and with greater joy.
Top-down, command and control doesn’t work any more. What works is finding ways to truly lead – so that your team is inspired, and brings their creativity and energy to bear on high level goals. A team that trusts and is fully on board with the mission will engage in continuous improvement; positive behaviors and will give their all.
To make a culture like that stick, training and workshops must bring transformation – not only information. When the plan is sound, the talent is there and results are still not showing up, the culprit is nearly always in the implementation. To get results – every player must take Fierce Ownership.
Does your team take fierce ownership? Do you?
Bringing Leadership Home™ shows your team how to do just that. You see, years ago I too believed that performance and productivity were matters of more efficient time and resource management; and, that business success was a matter of sufficient capitalization and planning. I was completely wrong! Performance, productivity and profit all flow from trust. To create a culture of trust, collaboration and results requires you to have genuine leadership presence. The Bringing Leadership Home™ and The Align Forum™ programs bring the gift of transformation to your leaders and teams.
Bringing Leadership Home™shows leaders how to choose love over fear, truth over hiding, and fierce ownership over blame in their interactions with staff, at home with their families, and even when talking to themselves in the mirror (or car, or while running…..)! The Align Forum™ shows leaders and teams how to apply those choices to crafting effective agreements, using their time effectively, setting clear goals, serving (rather than pleasing), and in the ultimate power tool: Communication. To make these choices consistently is to have true leadership presence. To make these choices consistently is to be a person others trust.
It was a glorious October Thursday morning, and the yellow, burnt orange and mottled green leaves were blowing across Lake Circle. One speckled red and gold beauty landed on my windshield as I turned into #1 Lake Avenue in Colorado Springs. When I stopped at the guard’s gate, the leaf pirouetted away again just as the highly professional, friendly guard waved me in to surrender my jeep to the valet parking staff.
I had been invited to speak at the Philanthropy Southwest Annual Conference at the Broadmoor Hotel! As I arrived the afternoon before my talk, I had no idea how delicious a stay at the Broadmoor would be. As I checked in, the desk clerk said, “Dr. Hale, we’ve upgraded your room to a suite. Here is your key and a map,” Impressed, off I went to find my suite. It was so lovely that really it felt nearly like a whole house. I entered the foyer, and immediately there were three doors: A small kitchenette behind the first door on the left; A small walk in closet behind the second door on the left and on the right, a giant, beautiful bathroom. This mirrored and tiled masterpiece was appointed as luxuriously as any private home’s master bath might be. The tub was adorned with a cloth curtain. There were two sinks – toiletries of all kinds and plush towels aplenty.
The elegance continued in the bedroom with corner windows which beautifully framed the colorful dancing leaves that offered a private performance directly across from the four poster bed. I saw that there was a separated living space and I used that to stage down some of my materials.
Oh! look at the time! This room was so delightful and yet, I was there to serve my host as speaker. I unpacked, arranged my handouts, freshened up and went off to find the registration area so that I might listen to the afternoon speakers and get a feel for this audience. One thing I was certain of however, the welcome was already setting the tone for an extraordinary event.
I arrived in time for lunch and as I listened to the lunch speaker and got to know my table-mates I knew both, that I would have to show up in my best form for this audience; AND that I would do just that. This audience was filled with some of the most purposeful, visionary souls around. These were our region’s Philanthropists. And there is nothing like a bright light of purpose to bring out the best in a speaker.
If you are like most of the people I’ve personally spoken with about the election, you are probably sure that your preferred candidate of choice will win (or at least should win because why would anyone in their right mind vote for that “other person”) but you may have quite a bit of anxiety about it.
“So, I’m doing some networking today at lunch,” she said. “I thought I’d have Joe introduce me.” Joe is a colleague of hers. “He’s going to say, ‘meet Dr. Faulkner, she enjoys….” And already I tuned out.
That’s how one of my very favorite clients started our conversation this morning.
As we talked about what she wanted to accomplish with that approach, and how it might land, my client, Dr. Faulkner, suggested I write about this issue.
You see networking is an opportunity for people to get an experience of you. It’s not (at least I don’t think it is) an opportunity to advertise. It’s important that you be able to say what you do in a concise and relatable way. That can best be accomplished be relating!
So, for example, my client Dr. Faulkner is transitioning in her career from Academic Dean to Organizational Development Consultant and Coach. She might respond to the what do you do question like this: