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?

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.

Applying Servant Leadership

Continuing with the servant leader theme, I want to share a real-life example that I experienced. To help you realize that servant leadership can occur in any organization, consider what happened when I visited the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

When you mention the DMV, most people would say it’s a government bureaucracy that often treats them as a number instead of a human being. I felt the same way at the time—but like we all do every few years; I had to go there in person to renew my driver’s license.  I hadn’t been to the DMV in years and headed to the office with low expectations. In fact, I asked my assistant to schedule three hours for my visit. That’s how long it normally takes them to beat you up.

I knew immediately something had changed when I walked in the front door and was greeted by a smiling woman. “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! Do you speak English or Spanish?”

“English,” I replied.

She pointed to a nearby counter and said, “Right over there.”

The guy behind the counter cheerfully said, “Welcome to the Department of Motor Vehicles! How may I help you today?” It took me only nine minutes to get my replacement license, including having my picture taken. I asked the woman who took my picture, “What are you all smoking here? This isn’t the same old DMV I used to know and love.”

She asked, “Haven’t you met our new director?” and pointed to a man sitting at a desk right in the middle of everything—no private office for him. I walked over to him, introduced myself, and asked, “What’s your job as the director of this branch of the DMV?” The man gave me the best definition of management I had ever heard:

“My job is to reorganize the department on a moment-to-moment basis, depending on citizen (customer) need.”

The director obviously had a compelling vision for his department. The point of their business was to serve the needs of the citizens (their customers), and to serve them well. What did this director do? Since he had philosophically turned the traditional hierarchical pyramid upside down, his main role was being responsive to his people and cheering them on—that’s why he was out in the middle of the action. He also cross-trained everyone in every job—even those who normally weren’t out front, like bookkeepers and secretaries. Why? Because if a flood of citizens came in suddenly, they would be able to respond. And no one went to lunch between 11:30 and 2:00, because that was the busiest time of day for customers to come in. Everyone’s energy was focused on the citizens and their needs.

This director created a motivating environment for his people. His team members were really committed. Even employees I recognized from past visits—who at the time had seemed stiff and jaded—were now excited about serving.

When leaders are servants first and leaders second, they make a positive difference in everyone around them. Would you like to work for this kind of leader? You’d better believe it. Why? Because he’s a servant leader who treats his people as his business partners in implementing the service vision and solving problems.

Think about what you can do to bring servant leadership alive in your organization.

The Visionary Role of the Servant Leader

I love the saying “A river without banks is a large puddle.” The banks permit the river to flow and give it direction. In my last post I explained that the visionary part of servant leadership is about providing clear direction. If people don’t have a compelling vision to serve, they can’t work toward a common goal. They can’t keep organizational energy flowing in a consistent direction.

Walt Disney provided a great example of this when he started his theme parks with a significant purpose. He said “We’re in the happiness business.” That is very different from being in the theme park business. Being in the happiness business helps cast members (employees) understand their primary role in the company.

Walt Disney’s picture of the future was expressed in the charge he gave every cast member: “Keep the same smile on people’s faces when they leave the park as when they entered.” Disney didn’t care whether a guest was in the park two hours or ten hours. He just wanted to keep them smiling. After all, they were in the happiness business. A picture of the future should focus on the end result, not the process of getting there.

The Disney theme parks have four clear, rank ordered values: safety, courtesy, the show, and efficiency. Why is safety the highest ranked value? Walt Disney knew that if a guest was carried out of one of his parks on a stretcher, they would not have the same smile on their face leaving the park as they had when they entered.

The second ranked value, courtesy, is all about the friendly attitude you expect at a Disney park. Why is it important to know that it’s the number two value? Suppose one of the Disney cast members is answering a guest question in a friendly, courteous manner, and he hears a scream that’s not coming from a roller coaster. If that cast member wants to act according to the park’s rank ordered values, he will excuse himself as quickly and politely as possible and race toward the scream. Why? Because the number one value just called. If the values were not rank ordered and the cast member was enjoying his interaction with the guest, he might say, “They’re always yelling at the park,” and not move in the direction of the scream. Later, somebody could come to that cast member and say, “You were the closest to the scream. Why didn’t you move?” The response could be, “I was dealing with our courtesy value.” Life is a series of value conflicts. There will be times when you can’t act on two values at the same time.

Every organization should have a compelling vision that includes a significant purpose, a picture of the future, and clear values. These three elements will provide the strategic direction people need on a daily basis to perform at the highest level and secure organizational success.

The Collaborative Way to Create a Clear Purpose, Values, and Goals

I’ve always said that leadership is about going somewhere—and a big part of that is working with your people to create a clear purpose, values, and goals. This is a key element in the collaborative process we describe, using the acronym UNITE, in my latest book with my coauthors Jane Ripley and Eunice Parisi-Carew, Collaboration Begins with You: Be a Silo Buster.

As a reminder, UNITE represents the five elements every person must adopt if they want to create a culture of collaboration in their workplace: Utilize differences; Nurture safety and trust; Involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values, and goals; Talk openly; and Empower yourself and others. Today we will take a closer look at the importance of Involving others in the process of creating a clear purpose, values and goals. To clarify, a clear shared purpose galvanizes action, values guide behaviors, and goals focus energy.

It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that the vision and direction are clear, but it is essential to get feedback from everyone when writing the purpose statement, operating values, and strategic goals. If these decisions are made by executives and imposed on the group in a top-down implementation, people won’t be wholly supportive. When everyone has input there is greater support and buy-in because each person has a stake in the outcome. Involving people in these decisions builds their commitment to the cause—whether it is at the corporate, department, or team level.

Once the purpose statement is created, team members need to agree on values and rank them in order of importance. This is a critical step because sometimes values can be in conflict with each other. For example, let’s say your values are integrity, relationships, success, and creativity, ranked in that order. Your team has come up with a very creative idea, but implementing it would be cost prohibitive and could put the company at financial risk. Since success is ranked before creativity, the project would be a no-go—that is, unless the team can be creative enough to develop a way to make the project a less expensive undertaking.

The last task is to agree upon three or four key goals that clearly state what is expected of the team. Some leaders make the mistake of thinking that when the purpose and values are clear, people will understand what they need to do. But that is a dangerous assumption to make. Don’t leave anything to chance. Clear goals are necessary to ensure everyone is moving in the same direction for the same reasons.

As a leader, how well do you think you involve others in crafting a clear purpose, values and goals? Ask yourself these questions.

  1. Is my team committed to a shared purpose?
  2. Do I know the purpose of our project and why it is important?
  3. Do I hold myself and others accountable for adhering to our values?
  4. Do I check decisions against our stated values?
  5. Do I hold myself and others accountable for project outcomes?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, you are probably a very collaborative leader. Use this checklist as a guide to make sure you are focused on continual improvement and keeping your team involved.

Collaboration Begins with You Book coverTo learn more about Collaboration Begins With You: Be a Silo Buster, visit the book homepage where you can download the first chapter.