Getting to Know Yourself

In our book Mission Possible, my coauthor Terry Waghorn and I state that the most important earthly relationship you can cultivate as a leader is your relationship with yourself.  That might sound self-serving, but think about it—how well do you really know yourself?

Every leader should have a purpose—a reason for being—something to strive for. A purpose is different from a goal because it is ongoing. It has no beginning or end.

As a leader, your purpose comprises two elements: a personal mission statement and a set of values that define your strengths and help you make values-based decisions on a daily basis. Having a clear purpose gives meaning and definition to a leader’s life.

Some people have asked me if making money is a good purpose.  There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money—and it may be a goal to work toward—but it’s not a purpose. Purpose isn’t about achievement. It is much bigger. Your purpose is your calling. It’s about what business you are in as a person.

I ask leaders to spend time developing their personal mission statement by answering these four questions:

  1. Why am I in the world?
  2. What is my overarching purpose?
  3. What would I like people to say about me after I’m gone?
  4. What difference will it have made that I was here?

The next step is to identify your personal values by answering these questions:

  1. What is really important to me?
  2. What do I stand for?
  3. What three values do I want to live by?
  4. Which of those values is most important?

Going through this process takes some soul searching and quiet, thoughtful time. This isn’t an exercise to rush through.

Once you clearly understand your motivation and intention as a leader, you are able to monitor yourself on a daily basis. You’ll begin to notice certain actions that are more in line with your purpose than others. And you’ll begin eliminating behaviors that don’t support your purpose—and staying on a path of continuous personal improvement.

When you really know who you are as a leader, you can operate more efficiently and calmly while making meaningful decisions. But the best part is that you’ll also be able to bring out the magnificence in others. And isn’t that the most important role of a leader?

Don’t Just Sit There, Say Something!

Managers typically react to the performance of their direct reports with one of three responses: positive, negative, or no response at all. It isn’t hard to guess which one works best for increasing good performance—the positive response.

A person who does something correctly and receives a positive response will most likely continue to perform using that desired behavior in the future. By the same token, a person who receives a negative response for doing something wrong will most likely not repeat the behavior. So, in effect, even performance that gets a negative response can improve if the manager coaches the person and encourages them to improve.

The most dangerous response a leader can offer is no response at all. Think about it. If someone performs tasks and completes projects correctly and receives no response from their manager, how do you think they will perform in the future? The good performance might continue for awhile, but eventually it will decline. Why? Because no one seems to care.

What about the person who makes mistakes but is never corrected? It seems logical that if a person is left to fail again and again with no support or direction, their performance will get even worse. It is the leader’s responsibility to help everyone succeed. Ignoring bad behavior hurts not only the individual, but also their manager and the organization as a whole. It’s just bad business.

Even though leaders are busier than ever these days, most still notice when their people are doing great or when they need coaching. The big mistake happens when the manager doesn’t say it out loud. I often say “Good thoughts in your head, not delivered, mean squat!”

If you want your people to achieve and maintain high performance, let them know that you notice and care about the things they do right—and that you want to help them when they are off track. Share your thoughts. No one can read your mind.

Be consistent with your communication and you will build a consistently high performing team.

4 Business Practices for Government Leaders

Four years ago, I wrote a blog post about how disappointed Americans were with our political system and activities that were taking place during the months leading up to the presidential election. I followed that with a series of blogs offering advice to both political parties about how to lead at a higher level. As we approach the final weeks of another presidential election cycle, I’d like to revisit that information.

As in 2008, the four business leadership practices I’ve implemented in organizations around the world can be adapted to provide stronger leadership in government.

The first practice is to Have a Compelling Vision. This country needs a clear and compelling vision that people are passionate to follow. A vision is made up of three elements—a purpose, a picture of the future, and values that will guide behaviors on a day-to-day basis.

A perfect example of a compelling vision is the one Martin Luther King, Jr. outlined in his “I Have a Dream” speech. By describing a world where his children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he created powerful and specific images arising from the values of brotherhood, respect, and freedom for all. King’s vision continues to mobilize and guide people beyond his lifetime because it illuminates a significant purpose, provides a picture of the future, and describes values that echo those of our founding fathers.

The second practice is to Treat Citizens as Your Business Partners. The more information people have about a problem, the more likely they are to help resolve it. Government leaders at every level need to be open about dilemmas we are facing—and citizens need to get involved by understanding the intricacies of issues they will be voting on. I encourage government officials to work closely with citizens to create a true partnership. Working together is the way to develop solutions for all kinds of problems.

The third practice is to Involve Every Sector of Society. In their book To Transform a City, Sam Williams and Eric Swanson explain that there are three primary sectors in our society, each of which has three domains.  They are:

  • The Public Sector – government, military, and education
  • The Private Sector – business, arts/entertainment, and media
  • The Social Sector – faith community, nonprofit organizations, and families

In the past, when searching for solutions to local, state, or national problems, the focus has tended to be on only two of these nine domains—government and business. When people start believing that our problems can be solved only by government or by business, problem solving is doomed to failure because the other seven domains are on the outside looking in—and some of them have become our country’s most critical judges.

The fourth, and perhaps most important, practice is to Elect Servant Leaders. The more leaders who are in local, state, and national government to serve and not be served, the better chance we have to mend what’s wrong with our cities, states, and country. Everyone has seen the negative effects of self-serving leaders in every segment of our society. We need to elect leaders who really live their role as servants to the people.

America is a great county. I feel blessed to live here. I also feel it is my duty as a citizen to support our leaders—and one way I can do that is to encourage them to implement these four leadership practices.

And on November 8, don’t forget that it is the duty of every American to vote!

Developing Your Leadership Point of View

One of the most important things you can do as a leader is to share information about yourself with your team. Communicating your purpose, values, and expectations is the best way to create an authentic relationship with your staff. Creating your Leadership Point of View is a great way to start.

I read Noel Tichy’s book The Leadership Engine (Harper Collins, 2007) and talked with him about his research on effective leaders. He told me he found that the most successful leaders have a clear, teachable leadership point of view and are willing to share it with others. My wife, Margie, and I were so fascinated with this idea that we created a course called Communicating Your Leadership Point of View as part of the Masters of Science in Executive Leadership program offered jointly by The Ken Blanchard Companies and the School of Business at the University of San Diego.

In the class, we ask students to think about key people who have influenced their lives—such as parents, grandparents, coaches, or bosses. What did they learn about leadership from these people? Then we ask them to remember key events that were turning points for them. How did those experiences prepare them for a leadership role and what did they learn? The next step involves identifying their personal purpose and values.

The critical task in the process is putting all this information into a story format that can be shared with direct reports and colleagues. People relate to and remember stories. It would be easy to read a list of values to your team, but that isn’t very impactful. Sharing stories about actual events is a more personal and authentic way to communicate. Stories paint a picture that allows others to see the consistency between your values, words, and actions.

We have had such a great experience with this exercise in class that we are now using the same process with our clients. It isn’t an activity to rush through. You need to spend thoughtful, reflective time thinking and writing about the people and events that helped shape who you are as a leader.  When you share your Leadership Point of View with people on your team, they’ll have the benefit of knowing where you’re coming from and a clear understanding about not only what you expect from them but also what they can expect from you.

Give it a try. I guarantee you’ll rediscover some of your core beliefs about leadership. When you share information about yourself with your team, you’ll build a trusting, respectful relationship that will help everyone flourish.

Leadership is a Partnership

Leadership is not something you do to people. It’s something you do with people. I have believed this statement my entire career—and it might be even more important now than it was 35 years ago. Workforces are more diverse, workplaces are less centralized, and technology continues to revolutionize how business is conducted and how people communicate. The most successful leaders are the ones who partner with their staff.

Partnership starts with clear and frequent communication. Leaders must establish a rhythm or consistent schedule of discussions with team members. I suggest that leaders meet at least once a week, for 30 minutes with each direct report. That might sound like a lot of extra work, but I guarantee if you spend this time you’ll create trusting relationships with your team that will improve morale and productivity in your department.

Use these meetings to work with your team member to set clear goals, to praise progress on tasks, to redirect efforts if necessary, and to celebrate the completion of each project. It is critical that the leader and team member participate equally in these meetings, speak their truths, and listen with the intent of learning something—not judging.

Some of you reading this might be saying, “This isn’t new information.” You’re right it isn’t—but it is such a simple truth of leadership that I want to remind people again and again. You’ve probably heard me say that the information I provide for leaders is just common sense. But I also say that my philosophy isn’t always commonly practiced.

My goal is to have every leader start having these important conversations with their teams. I urge you to partner with each team member to help them be successful. So, I provide this reminder for you to be a leader that makes this common sense, common practice. You’ll soon realize how a small investment of time spent partnering with your people will build a stronger, more self-reliant team.