What is it that people look for in their leaders?
What are those key characteristics that make the difference between successful leaders and those that hold only positional power over their constituents?
What is the foundation for good leadership?

What leaders say they do is one thing; what constituents say they want and how well leaders meet these expectations is another. ~ The Leadership Challenge

Leadership takes two. It is the joint effort between the leader and the follower and requires both to be successful. Any discussion on the topic of leadership must look not only at the practices and expectations of the leader, but also the expectations of the followers. So what do followers expect?

In The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, we get a very good list of what constituents expect. Based on thousands of surveys over 20 years, the researchers found that in order for constituents to willingly follow a leader, that leader must be HONEST, COMPETENT, FORWARD-THINKING, and INSPIRING.

Honesty

In the research of Kouzes and Posner, honesty shows up on the list of characteristics that constituents look for and expect in their leaders. On the surface I think we all want to work with someone that we perceive as honest. But why is that so important for the majority of people? No matter the situation or the challenge, we all want to follow someone that we believe we can trust.

That nearly 90 percent of constituents want their leaders to be honest above all else is a message that all leaders must take to heart. ~ The Leadership Challenge

None of us want to be misled. We want to be told the truth, even when that message may not be positive. And while we all want to win, we don’t want to win if that means being lied to or deceived, or if winning involves cheating or breaking the rules. Honesty is important because the honesty of our leaders is a direct reflection on us. When we willingly follow someone who is dishonest, it is a direct reflection on us. This makes it very personal.

Forward-Thinking

The next characteristic most sought after by constituents is the leaders ability to see the path ahead. The leader needs to be able to have a vision for where the organization is going and the path to get there. In John Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, this is The Law of Navigation.

Anyone can steer the ship, but it takes a leader to chart the course. ~ Dr. John C Maxwell

We are not talking about a perfect picture of tomorrow. This is not about being able to predict the future. What it does mean is that the leader needs to understand the prevailing trends in the business, how those trends will impact the organization, and how the organization will navigate those challenges successfully.

Competent

Competence means the ability to guide the organization where it needs to go. We want a leader that is effective and can get things done. It doesn’t mean being a technical expert, but it does mean that the leader understands with sufficient detail what it takes to move the organization in the right direction. So for example, the leader of a software company would need to have good understanding of the software products and services provided by the organization, the trends in the industry, and the position of the organization in that industry. It does not mean that they would be an expert programmer or a computer hardware specialist.

A leader must have the ability to bring out the best in others-to enable others to act. ~ The Leadership Challenge

Leadership is ultimately about being able to lead groups. Leadership is ultimately relational, so a leader that is able to bring groups together and get things done will be seen as competent.

Inspiring

We all want to be inspired. The ability of a leader to bring meaning to the mundane is important. We want a leader that is enthusiastic, encouraging, and positive about the future. This is not a blind belief that everything is wonderful and there are no issues, but is instead the ability to help the team see the success that just beyond the challenges. The inspiring leader is able to help the team face the challenges and also see the success that awaits. When the team is weighed down by the challenges ahead, the last thing that they need is a leader that emphasizes all the negatives. What they want is someone that sees and acknowledges the challenges, but also shows a belief in the team to be successful. It is part cheerleader and part field general.

Taken together, these characteristics bring credibility to the leader. Without credibility, it is impossible to lead others. Without credibility, people will not chose to follow you.

What characteristics a are you looking for in your leaders?
What is important to those you lead?

Got Leadership?

Posted: December 28, 2014 in Uncategorized
  • Does the organization have strong leaders who are still growing and developing themselves?
  • Does the organization have a well-thought out leadership development program, that includes classroom training, coaching, and mentoring?
  • Does the organization measure the performance of those in leadership?
  • Does the organization hire, promote, and dismiss based on leadership performance?

These are just some of the questions that an organization needs to ask itself to honestly answer the first question. And if an organization can answer positively to these questions, it is highly likely that they have a strong leadership culture. If there is no evidence that supports positive answers to these questions, then the answer to the initial question has to be “No,” and the next question that naturally flows from that is, “Why not?:”

I can think of a lot of answers that might be given… “You can’t teach leadership. It just has to happens!” “We hire people the best people.” “The style of leadership that we need will be developed on the job.” “We have a great process or system, so leadership is only important at the top levels of the organization.” “We don’t have time to train people. We are too busy.” Besides being short-sighted, most of those answers display a great misunderstanding of leadership and the impact good leadership can have on any organization. There are numerous studies that have shown that leadership does matter to the overall health and performance of an organization, and that the organizations with a strong leadership development program outperform those that don’t.

In a recent study from the independent research firm Bersin & Associates, the results showed “leadership development matters. It is hard to find a company which has survived many economic cycles that does not have a [sophisticated] leadership development strategy in place. While it may take many years to develop and refine, the results clearly pay off.” Here are just a few statistics from the studies on this topic. Companies with leadership development programs are:

  • 84 % more effective in developing the leadership pipeline
  • 73 % more effective at improving employee retention
  • 67 % more effective at increasing engagement, retention, and teamwork of their leaders

In a 2007 Harvard Business Review study by Laurie Bassie and Daniel McMurrer concluded that “Companies with high scores for their investments in human capital delivered stock market returns that were five times higher than that of companies with less emphasis on human capital.” In another study by Bassie and McMurrer, they found that companies with strong human capital practices provided shareholder returns three times greater than those without those strong practices. Leadership does make a huge difference in any organization, and a strong and a well-thought out leadership development program is key to an organizations long-term health and performance!

So let me ask again, “Does leadership matter to your organization?”

A Growth Culture

Posted: December 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

Leadership in an organization is not a static thing. It is not something you do once and then check off your list of accomplishments. Real leadership never stops growing and developing, even for those in the top of the organization. In fact, I believe that an organization where the leaders are not still on a path of growth will soon stall. As Dr. John Maxwell has stated, “Everything rises and falls with leadership.” So if the leaders in your organization are not growing, they and your organization will eventually hit a ceiling. This is what John Maxwell refers to as “The Law of the Lid.”

So how do you raise your lid? What are the components of a growing organization? What does a growth culture look like?

First and foremost, to have a growing organization, the people have to have the desire to grow.

Do you and the people in your organization have a desire to grow and do they have a forward focus?

So this might seem obvious, but I see a lot of people that simply want to survive the day. I also see a lot of people that believe that since they have attained a certain position or title, they act like they have “made it” and no longer need to push themselves to grow in the area of leadership. Even team members that have performed well in the past can reach that point where they are simply trying to make it through the day, or believe that they have all the tools and abilities that they need. On the first count, I’ve been there, and it can be very difficult to get out of that mode. The desire to grow and look forward needs to exist at every level in the organization. If the core leadership is focused on their personal growth, and that is evident to the entire organization, that will go a long way to support this component of the culture. And while it is always to helpful to look to the past and consider what has been done, what has/has not worked, the leadership development should always be about developing and growing, not blaming.

Are people constantly given opportunities outside their comfort zone and challenged to grow?

Growth does not happen when we are in our comfort zone, period. Think about any area of life and you will see that we only grow when we are challenged and stretched. A word of caution here… If you are outside your comfort zone and also outside your strength zone, you are on very dangerous ground. This is where it is so important that the leaders in the organization understand, not only the strengths of their team members, but their weaknesses. To put a team member in a position where they are being challenged outside their area of strength is a sure setup for failure. And without strong mentor-ship and coaching, leaders are setting their team members up for failure.

Does your organization treat failure as the enemy, or is there an affirming environment when mistakes are made?

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes. ~ John Wooden

Without mistakes, nothing is really learned. People are absolutely going to make mistakes. That is just a fact of life. When asked about all the “failures” he had experienced while inventing, Thomas Edison responded, “I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The way the organization handles mistakes will either create a culture where people learn from their mistake or they will hide there mistakes. People have to be able to take risks if they want to grow and learn. If the decision is so critical that a mistake is absolutely not OK, then the decision needs to have more experienced people to support. But don’t take it out of the hands of the “newbie.” Just make sure that there is some coaching and mentoring taking place. And when mistakes are made, the first question should never be, “Who’s fault was this?” The first question should always be, “What happened, and how can we learn prevent this in the future?”

Are others growing, and is growth modeled and expected?

In one of the organizations I have been involved with, there was clearly an expectation for people to grow. And that expectation was communicated through the fact that the leadership in that organization was growing and developing. My immediate supervisor, the Director of Product Development was a big advocate of formal training and also application. We did this by practicing what we were learning, and also teaching what we were learning. Each week in the staff meeting, one of the engineers or chemists would make a presentation to the group on something they were reading or learning. We also shared experiences from the application of what we were learning. The Director was also included in the rotation. The entire team was learning and growing.

Answer these questions and model these behaviors, and you will see your teams and organization begin to grow and flourish!

Jay

Thankful on Thanksgiving

Posted: November 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Today is Thanksgiving, and it is a day to enjoy the company of friends and family through food and fellowship. It is a day when our Nation has taken a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. It is a time that we slow down and take time to consider all the blessings that God has given us.

“Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…”

~ James 1:17a (HCSB)

I hope that this day is filled with joy and peace for all Americans, and that we will take the time to not only consider and be thankful for all that we have, but that we would also rekindle and renew relationships with family and friends.

Happy Thanksgiving and God bless.

Jay

A Vision that Sticks

Posted: October 26, 2014 in Uncategorized

Visions, Mission Statements, Slogans… Everyone has one. You hear them in TV commercials, see them posted in advertisement materials, displayed on web pages, and on signs hanging in almost every company around the world. They attempt to communicate the essence of what drives an organization or team. They are the picture of where the company or organization wants to go or become. See if you recognize any of the following examples:

Human Rights nCampaign: Equality for everyone.

National Multiple Sclerosis Society: A World Free of MS.

Habitat for Humanity: A world where everyone has a decent place to live.

Make-A-Wish: Our vision is that people everywhere will share the power of a wish.

San Diego Zoo: To become a world leader at connecting people to wildlife and conservation.

Ducks Unlimited is wetlands sufficient to fill the skies with waterfowl today, tomorrow and forever.

In Touch Ministries: proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in every country of the world.

NPR, with its network of independent member stations, is America’s pre-eminent news institution.

World Vision: For every child, life in all its fullness; Our prayer for every heart, the will to make it so.

Goodwill: Every person has the opportunity to achieve his/her fullest potential and participate in and contribute to all aspects of life.

Smithsonian: Shaping the future by preserving our heritage, discovering new knowledge, and sharing our resources with the world.

Save the Children: Our vision is a world in which every child attains the right to survival, protection, development and participation.

Boy Scouts of America: To prepare every eligible youth in America to become a responsible, participating citizen and leader who is guided by the Scout Oath and Law.

Special Olympics: To transform communities by inspiring people throughout the world to open their minds, accept and include people with intellectual disabilities and thereby anyone who is perceived as different.

Vision is defined as “the act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be,” or “a vivid, imaginative conception or anticipation.” Grand visions have been put forth throughout the history of man. In the book of Genesis the Bible tells the story of the Tower of Babel. In that account, the people of Babel had a vision to build a tower to the heavens in order to make a name for themselves (Genesis 11). That did work out so well… There was Tucker, who had probably the most technologically advanced car to come to market at the time. His dream lives now only in the few cars that he managed to build. Ford and Coca-Cola are two of the most recognized brands in the world. Henry Ford had the vision to build a car that every person could afford to own and operate. The founders of Coca-Cola had the vision to put a sparkling beverage in the hands of every person around the world. Coca-Cola has the world’s largest beverage distribution system serving consumers in more than 200 countries at a rate of 1.9 billion servings a day…pretty impressive results. The United States of America was the culmination of the vision of the Founding Fathers.

So what makes some visions impactful, and others to end up in the wishing well? There are certainly a lot of factors that can come into play in bringing a vision to reality. In the case of the some of the examples listed above, the outside influences may have been just too great to overcome. Some would argue that it could have also been that human arrogance was the root of the issue, and the vision was not only destined for failure, but was in fact completely wrong in the first place. But if you have a look at the examples of success, I believe you will come away with some lessons on how to make a vision go from the white board of the mind to the reality of life; from visions and dreams to something that can be shared with the world!

In Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage, the Organizational Health Model is presented. While Mr. Lencioni does not specifically use the word “vision” in his model, he does discuss the topic of “clarity” in an organization. This creation of clarity is step two on the path to organizational health, which Mr. Lencioni says is a key factor going forward for all organizational success. I have to agree with him. With the explosive growth of information and data, and the ease of access via the internet, any company and organization can obtain information regarding the best strategy and technology. In most cases, financing is readily available for a good idea. Walk into any bookstore or search the web and you can find tons of information on effective marketing. Just watch TV and you will see how various organizations mimic each other when it comes to catchy marketing. While these aspects are still very important, I have to agree that these are not the keys to separating one brand or idea from another. If you are no good at these things, then certainly a great vision will not make any difference. But even if you have the right data, a good strategy model, the best technology, and a good marketing plan, but your organization lacks vision, you will be limited in your success and miss being all you can be (did you catch that slogan from the US Army).

So what are the keys to going from vision to reality? Assuming you have a great vision already in view…

Put together an effective team.

John Maxwell said that one is too small a number to achieve greatness. Any great achievement that has been done throughout human history has been the result of a team effort. I am a huge Peyton Manning fan. He is perhaps the greatest quarterback to play the game. He is a 5-time NFL Player of the Year and has set numerous other records. But so far he has only one Super Bowl ring. So why has he not won more rings? Because he can’t do it alone! It takes an effective team to win the big one.

Growing the idea and setting the expectations.

A vision stated does not bring it to reality. A vision has to be nurtured and developed. One of the first statements that has to be asked is “Why are we here?” To really flesh out that answer, several questions should be asked:

  • Why does our organization or team exist?
  • How will we treat each other?
  • What will we measure our success?
  • What are the most important short-term needs of our organization?
  • What will we do right now?

Patrick Lencioni lists very similar questions in Discipline 2: Create Clarity. This step is needed to make sure the organization is aligned and that any potential for confusion is minimized. I have personally seen how skipping this step or not having complete buy-in can result in delays getting an activity started, and limit even the best team’s success.

Communicate, communicate, communicate…and communicate some more!

Another big mistake that many organizations make is a lack of communicating the vision. It is not enough to hang a banner or send out a memo. The vision needs to be talked about and integrated into everything the organization does. Patrick Lencioni says that to be truly effective, the message should be simple and communicated in different mediums. The vision needs to be communicated throughout the organization by every level of leadership. And it needs to be repeated.

Living the Vision…

The final step to make the vision stick is to integrate the vision into the day-to-day activities of your organization. Everything that your organization does, from hiring to promotions, to measuring performance, to dismissing or changing leadership, should support the vision statement. How can an organization emphasize safety as part of the vision statement, but cut short safety training or operating equipment without proper safety guards in place, all to save money. What does that communicate to the organization? Or how can an organization emphasize production quotas at the cost of quality processes if quality is a key part of the organizations vision. If leadership has said that teamwork is part of the organizations DNA, but behind the scenes there are deliberate activities taking place that undermine teamwork, do you think that part of the vision will survive? Not likely…

Having a vision that goes from idea to reality is hard work and takes great leadership. No one said that leadership was easy, but it is worth the investment. Leadership is not complicated, but it is hard. It takes dedication, determination, and the ability to rise above the squabbling and bickering that can take place among the leadership of many organizations. In my own experience, I have seen many occasions when leaders concern for their area of responsibility has overshadowed their leadership ability and hurt the organization.

Jay

Vision vs. Culture

Posted: September 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

I once heard it said that “Culture eats Vision for lunch, every time!” It is an interesting statement to consider, as it says to us that no matter what we say or what we hope for; no matter how grand or inspiring the vision, our actions carry such weight that our teams will never hear what we say. In fact, when our actions don’t line up with our words, it can have a very detrimental impact to our credibility in the organization. Culture is where the rubber meets the road!

Since I am a firm believer that words matter, I would like to begin by defining what I mean by culture and vision.

Culture is defined as “the quality in a person or society that arises from a concern for what is regarded as excellent in arts, letters, manners, scholarly pursuits, etc.,” or “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic, or age group.” For the purposes of the discussion here, we will stick to the second definition with one slight modification. I am referring to the culture of a company, so the definition that will be used is-

The behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular company, department, or individual.”

Vision is defined as-

The act or power of anticipating that which will or may come to be.”

So to put it simply, culture is the behaviors and beliefs that exist within our company, department, or individual. This is the how we act, either as an organization or individuals within that organization. The culture is the heartbeat of the organization. It is how we treat each other, how we solve problems, how we deal with performance issues, and how we develop our team members, for example.

Vision, on the other hand, is the picture of what we want our organizations to become; where we want to go. Leaders within the organization survey the current landscape and develop a vision of the future landscape. Then they communicate that via annual meetings, round tables, and other communication mediums. Visions are often encompassed in an organization’s mission statement and brought to life through specific plans and actions.

So when we make the statement, “Culture eats Vision for lunch, every time!” what we are in fact saying is that no matter how strong a vision or mission statement we as leaders may have, if our behaviors and actions don’t support it, the vision will get “eaten.” This is the old analogy “do as I say, not as I do.” The problem with that statement is that our Team Members see through that and our credibility is damaged.

Next time I’ll talk about how a vision gets developed, adopted and communicated, ultimately bringing the vision to life through a changed culture.

Hope to see you back!

Jay

Reflection – Will you be someone that adds value to others? How can you you add value today to those you come in contact?