The Timeless Custom of Giving Thanks

This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. As I was growing up, Thanksgiving was always a big deal in our family. To honor the day, my father loved to read part of a 1936 Thanksgiving Proclamation by Wilbur L. Cross, the Governor of Connecticut. As I got older, I memorized the opening lines:

“Time out of mind at this turn of the seasons, when the hardy oak leaves rustle in the wind and the frost gives a tang to the air and the dusk falls early and the friendly evenings lengthen under the heel of Orion, it has seemed good to our people to join together in praising the Creator and Preserver, who has brought us by a way that we did not know to the end of another year. In observance of this custom, I appoint Thursday, the twenty-sixth of November, as a day of Public Thanksgiving.”

Celebrating the bounty of the autumn harvest was a tradition long before America came into being. Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans gave thanks to the gods at this time of year. Even before those civilizations, the Chinese celebrated the fall harvest during the ancient Shang dynasty. So, this custom of giving thanks for blessings goes way back in time.

I love Thanksgiving because it’s all about gratitude. You don’t have to give gifts – you just give thanks for the people and things that make life worth living.

So, wherever you are, give thanks this week. Tell the people in your life how grateful you are for them. Take a moment to acknowledge and appreciate all that you’ve been given.

Life is an extra special occasion when you are thankful for who you love and those who love you. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Want to Give Your People More Autonomy? Set Boundaries First!

This may seem to be a contradiction in terms, but the very best way for organizations to begin developing a culture of empowerment is to set boundaries. By boundaries I don’t mean restrictive, barbed wire fences that tell people where they can and can’t go; I’m talking about flexible, rubber band guidelines that are able to expand to allow people to take on more responsibility and autonomy in relation to their skill level.

Some leaders believe giving people autonomy means allowing them the freedom to do anything they want to do. But that’s not true. Just as river banks allow a river to flow, effective boundaries help channel people’s energy in the right direction. Giving people freedom within boundaries empowers them to grow, develop, and accomplish their goals in a way that makes sense.

A great example of boundary setting is budgeting. People who lack the skills to set budgets are given a boundary—a spending limit—before being given more responsibility. They are also given the training and skill development needed to enable them to handle greater autonomy.

Again, even though it may sound illogical, organizations must have a fundamental structure in place before they can create a true autonomous culture. This structure includes a common purpose, values, and goals, individual job roles, specific incentives and other motivators, along with models of appropriate behavior and measures of success. Basic structure elements also can include company rules, policies, and procedures, of course—but with the provision of allowing people to use their brains to make exceptions when a policy doesn’t make sense.

Team members may think autonomy means they immediately get to make all the decisions—and they may be disappointed when they learn their manager will continue to make strategic decisions. But as people learn from their manager what goes into decision making, and as they become more comfortable assuming the inherent risks, their manager will involve them in operational decisions. Through regular training, people gradually become accountable for their decisions and the potential consequences, and managers pull back on their involvement in decision making. These guidelines allow managers and their people to operate freely within their newly defined roles.

A true culture of empowerment involves establishing boundaries, providing structure and training, and then getting out of the way and trusting your people to be magnificent.

My Personal Leadership Point of View

In my last LeaderChat blog post, I talked about the importance of having a clear, teachable leadership point of view. In this post I thought it might be helpful for me to share my personal leadership point of view, so you can get a sense of how to create your own.

Developing your leadership point of view can be broken down into three basic steps:

  1. Identify key people and events that have shaped and influenced your leadership point of view.
  2. Describe your leadership values.
  3. Share your expectations of yourself and others.

Identify Key People and Events

Who mentored you, taught you, inspired you? What did you learn from these people that shaped your leadership behavior? For me, it’s my mom and dad.

My mom was the ultimate positive thinker. She told everyone that I laughed before I cried, I smiled before I frowned, and I danced before I walked. With those kinds of messages, how could I have ended up anything but a positive thinker? Mom also helped me keep things in perspective. She said, “Ken, don’t act like you’re better than anybody else. But don’t let anyone act like they’re better than you either. Remember, there’s a pearl of goodness in everyone.”

My dad was a career naval officer who retired as an admiral. I learned from him that leadership was a ‘both/and’ relationship—both people and results were important to him. He taught me that position power and “my way or the highway” are not the way to lead.

As far as key events go, I’ll never forget the moment my dad taught me a lesson that has stayed with me all my life.

I was elected president of the seventh grade and came home all excited. Dad said, “It’s great, Ken, that you are president of your class. But now that you have a position, don’t use it. Great leaders are followed not because they have position power, but because they’re respected and trusted as individuals.” That lesson has stayed with me all my life.

Describe Your Values

Values—things like integrity, excellence, success, humor, freedom, power—are the core beliefs that you feel strongly about. What qualities and principles do you value? Jot them down on a piece of paper.

You may come up with a long list. Narrow the list by holding each value against the others until you have just three to five of your most important values. You might want to look back at your stories about key people and key events in your life and think about the values reflected in those stories.

I had trouble narrowing down my top values, so I combined two words to create “spiritual peace” as my number-one value, followed by “integrity,” “love,” and “success.”

The next step in clarifying your values is to define them. To be able to live consistently with a value, you must be able to explain what that value means to you. For example, I define “love” by how it makes me feel and behave:

“I value love. I know I am living by this value anytime I feel loving toward myself and others, anytime I express compassion, anytime I show love to others, and anytime I receive the love of others.”

Your Expectations of Yourself and Others

Clarifying your expectations for yourself and others is the last step in crafting your leadership point of view. These expectations should flow naturally from the key people and events that have influenced you and your values. Your expectations really are the essence of your leadership point of view.

Here’s how I describe my expectations of myself:

“I believe my role as your manager is to help you win—to help accomplish your goals. I want you to get an A. If I am behaving according to my expectations of myself, I will be cheering you on. If progress is not being made, I will be redirecting your efforts and helping get you back on course by either providing direction or support or both. In other words, you should know when you are getting ‘wrong answers’ so that we can discuss what would make a ‘good answer.’ If I am living up to my expectations of myself as a leader, everything I do with you will be geared toward helping you produce good results and, in the process, feel good about yourself.”

Letting people know what they can expect from you underscores the idea that good leadership is a partnership. It gives people a picture of how things will look as you work together.

Here’s what I expect from the people who work with me:

“I expect you to partner with me as we work together to achieve goals. I expect you to be open and honest, so that we’re both clear and enthusiastic about the goals we set. If you are unclear about a goal, my expectation is that you will communicate with me so that I can provide the direction and support you need to succeed. Finally, I expect us to have fun together. Life is a very special occasion, and we don’t want to miss it!

When you let people know what you expect from them, it’s a gift, because it tells them how they can be successful under your leadership.

Okay, I’ve shared mine—now it’s your turn. What’s your leadership point of view?

If you need some help, check out Blanchard’s free webinar on Creating and Sharing Your Leadership Point of View.

Communicating Your Leadership Point of View

In case you didn’t read my blog last time, please take a look. It’s about an important exercise you can do—creating, writing, and communicating your leadership point of view. Where did you get your image of what a good leader looks like? What beliefs about leadership led you to become a leader?

Sharing your leadership point of view can be a significant part of gaining trust and building relationships with your people—because as you share your thoughts and experiences with them, they begin to see who you are as a human being and can’t help but feel closer to you.

In this post, to help you get a better idea of what your leadership story should include, I’m going to repeat the steps of creating your leadership point of view and include some examples written by real leaders. These pieces of someone else’s history may be just what you need to get started with your own creative process.

Elements of Your Leadership Point of View

Developing your leadership point of view is a process that includes these three steps:

  1. Identify key people and events that have shaped and influenced your thoughts about leadership.
  2. Describe your leadership values.
  3. Share your expectations of yourself and of others.

Step 1A: Identify Key People in Your Life. Who are key people who have influenced your leadership style, and what did you learn about leadership from these people?

“When I was considering moving into leadership, I looked to a colleague who was a wonderful leader and role model. He led with love in all his relationships because he valued his direct reports and coworkers. I learned the phrase ‘It’s not about me’ from this man and he taught me what it meant coming from a leader. I learned how to love serving others both at home and at work, which indirectly led to me meeting my future spouse. My amazing colleague flew across the country to attend my wedding and I know it was because he knew I had acted on what I had learned from him.” – L.R.

“While I owe a great debt to my parents, they were very strict when I was younger. Fearing consequences, my siblings and I made up stories about where we were going when we wanted to hang out with friends. It felt bad to not be honest with my parents—but because of that feeling, since becoming an adult I’ve been committed to truthful communication at home and at work.” – T.C.

Step 1B: Identify Key Events that Shaped You. What significant events were turning points for you, what did you learn from those experiences, and how did they prepare you for a leadership role?

“I was the oldest of four children. My family traveled extensively when my siblings and I were in school due to my father’s job. As a result, we were constantly the new kids in the neighborhood and were sometimes subject to bullying from the locals. This taught me to look forward to better times because there was always a new situation around the bend. When I was in my mid teens, my parents divorced. I took on the role of the “man of the family” and began working to help pay the bills. It was a challenge but I was able to help my family, make my mom proud, and still excel in a few areas in school. From misfortune, I learned hard work pays off.” – T.J.

“I once was the head of a work group that messed up on a huge project I had fought for. We drastically underestimated our workload and were going to miss the delivery date by at least three months. My boss, an executive leader, left me a message that the project needed to be wrapped up in two weeks. I summoned the courage to call and let him know the truth. Needless to say, it was not a fun conversation—but it ended up being a turning point in our relationship. He later told me that call convinced him I would always tell him the truth. We still meet for lunch every few months. It was a tough lesson, but it taught me telling the truth is always the right option.” – B.R.

Step 2: Select Your Leadership Values. Values are core beliefs you feel strongly about that have determined how you behave as a leader. Think of three to five fundamental values reflected in your stories about key people and events in your life. Then define each one in your own terms and explain why that value is meaningful.

“I value helpfulness and describe it as regularly seeking moments to offer support and assistance. On a team, helpfulness is one of the primary ways you can demonstrate respect and kindness to others. What makes me happier than just about anything else is to see teammates proactively reaching out and helping others.” – O.S.

“Esprit de Corps is a value I define as pride, camaraderie, loyalty, and accountability shared by the members of a team. It’s about being part of something bigger than yourself. We all spend a significant part of our lives at work and it’s my firm belief that accomplishing great things and having fun are not mutually exclusive—the more fun you’re able to have, the more likely it is you’ll come out on top.” – D.Y.

Step 3: Communicate Your Expectations of Yourself and of Others. What do you expect of yourself as a leader in terms of your behavior and your leadership style? What can people expect of you? And what do you expect of your people? When your people know your expectations, they can more easily determine how they can succeed under your leadership.

“What do I expect from myself? No less than what I expect from all of you. I hold myself accountable for how I’d like to show up in my interactions with you and I ask you to hold me accountable for these three things: high standards (set your mind on big things); transparency (frank, candid communication); and tenacity (do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal).” – K.R.

“Because people and relationships are both values of mine, you can expect me to see you completely—not as a means to an end. To honor my relationship value, I will be honest with you and work to help you get through rough patches at work and in life as we partner to achieve our goals.” – E.S.

“I expect three things from people I work with:

  • Self leadership: ask for the leadership you need to be successful. This is the only way for me to effectively lead my team.
  • Be reliable: don’t make me chase you to do basic job responsibilities.
  • Peer-to-peer influence: Set the bar high and push each other to do more than you’d do on your own.” – D.D.

These short excerpts from real leadership point of view essays are meant as writing prompts to get you thinking about your story. If this feels out of your comfort zone, that’s good—we all need to stretch our comfort zone once in a while. In this case, some people may feel they don’t have much of a story to tell—or that their life isn’t interesting enough for anyone else to care about. But here’s the truth: when you are the leader, standing in front of a group of people talking about your leadership influences, what kind of experiences you’ve lived through, what you value, and what you expect of yourself and others, believe me—you’ll be able to hear a pin drop.

Sharing with Others Creates Strong Connections

So often in organizations, people don’t have an opportunity to really know their leaders—what kind of person they are, what their needs are, what’s important to them. Sharing your thoughts on leadership forms a trusting bond can’t help but strengthen your relationships with people. The experience will help you, your people, and your organization flourish together.

I hope you are able to get started soon on crafting your leadership point of view and sharing it with others. It’s a powerful experience.

The Power of Your Leadership Point of View

Pop quiz: What is your leadership point of view? By that I mean, what are your thoughts about how you lead others, and where did those thoughts come from?

I learned from Noel Tichy, author of The Leadership Engine, 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 developed a course about creating a leadership point of view that is part of the Master of Science in Executive Leadership program offered by the School of Business at the University of San Diego.

If you’re thinking that this discussion does not pertain to you because you are not an executive in an official leadership role, let me ask you this: Have you ever tried to influence the thoughts and actions of others toward a goal? If your answer was yes, then you have engaged in leadership—in other words, you’re a leader. As such, you and the people around you will benefit from knowing your leadership point of view.

Creating Your Leadership Point of View

Developing your leadership point of view is a process that goes through three basic steps:

  • Identifying key people and events that have shaped and influenced your thoughts about leadership.
  • Describing your leadership values.
  • Sharing your expectations of yourself and of others.

Step 1: Identify Key People and Events. Begin by spending some time thinking about key people who have influenced your life, such as parents, grandparents, coaches, or bosses. What did you learn about leadership from these people? Next, think about the significant events that were turning points for you. What did you learn from those events, and how did those lessons prepare you for a leadership role?

For example, I’ve often told the story of how, in the seventh grade, I was elected president of my class. When I rushed home and told my father, he said, “That’s great, son. But now that you are president, don’t ever use your position. Leaders are great not because they have power but because their people trust and respect them.” That experience taught me that leadership was not about me, it was about the people I was serving.

Step Two: Select Your Leadership Values. Values are core beliefs that you feel strongly about. These core beliefs will determine how you behave as a leader. For example, we know that Mahatma Gandhi valued peace, because he modeled that value by encouraging non-violent resistance as he led a successful campaign for India’s independence from British rule.

When you think about your values, you may come up with a long list of things like honesty, creativity, freedom, success, humor, spirituality, security, etc.  What you want to do is narrow down your list to three or five core values. The best way to do this is to look back at the key people and events in your life and think about the values reflected in those stories. This way, your values will flow naturally from the people and events you talked about in Step 1. You will be able to define each value in your own terms and explain why it is meaningful to you. It would be easy to read a list of values to your team, but that isn’t very impactful. Sharing stories about actual events that shaped your values is a more personal and authentic way to communicate.

Step 3, Part A—Communicate Your Expectations of Yourself.  Now—based on the lessons you learned from key people and events and the values you hold dear—what, exactly, do you expect of yourself as a leader? How do you expect to behave as a leader? Making this clear to the people you lead lets them know the intentions behind your behavior. For example, here’s what I might share:

“My expectation of myself as a leader is to help you win and accomplish your goals. I expect to cheer you on or redirect your efforts if progress isn’t being made. If I am living up to my expectations of myself as a leader, everything I do with you will be geared toward helping you produce great results and feel good about yourself.”

Step 3, Part B – Communicate Your Expectations of Others.  What do you expect of others? When you let people know what you expect from them, it gives them a picture of how they can be successful under your leadership. Here’s a partial example of one leader’s expectation of others:

“I expect you to stand tall on the integrity issue and to not allow anyone to think that you tolerate fraud or anything unethical. People need to know how important integrity is to you.”

The reason I say “partial example” is because you should put all these elements—key people and events, values, and your expectations of yourself and others—into a narrative format, so that they flow together as a story.  Stories evoke feelings, so people relate to and remember them.

Sharing You Leadership Point of View

Creating your leadership point of view is a process, so don’t try to craft it overnight. Take time to think deeply about each element and how it fits into your leadership story. A leadership point of view is a very personal statement that requires reflection and vulnerability.

The Final Step.  When you are ready, share your leadership point of view out loud by using an outline of key points or perhaps even reading it to the people who work with you. Margie and I have been amazed to see how powerful it is when leaders share from this deeper place. Don’t skip this final step, because in the end, your leadership point of view is not about you. It’s about helping the people you lead understand where you’re coming from so that together you can become a winning team.