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Personal Leadership

There is much discussion in our Forums about leadership.  HR Directors ponder how to inculcate it and implement a leadership development process.  Other groups grapple with the general malaise resulting from a lack of leadership among the ranks, which impacts a broad range of issues, from holding people accountable (a notable weak spot) to succession planning.

I get more opinions about leadership in our industry and elsewhere from the younger generation, my kids and their friends.  While not statistically significant, the input is broad enough for me to make some generalizations.  The “kids” (25-35 years old) often find leadership lacking in unexpected ways.  They feel disengaged and uninformed.  They can’t understand why their bosses act the way they do, and how decisions are made.  They often develop a healthy disrespect for their superiors.  In sum, they operate on four cylinders and not at full capacity not because they are lazy but because they don’t have sufficient confidence in their leaders to be effectively led.

This issue isn’t new.  It has plagued our industry for many years.  It is particularly acute now, when morale is low, prospects for many companies dim, and (appropriately) strategic focus is set aside in favor of survival. 

As I have written before, these are good times for investment:  in the franchise, and especially in our people.  Leadership development, which is far too gushy a phrase for me, is clearly such an investment.  Yet the tools available are often ineffective, and sometimes way too expensive.  Most of the courses and training sessions I have come across are sorely lacking.

Recently I came across an interesting process that might be one apt solution to the leadership development quandary.  What I like about this tool is that it does not teach people what to do and how to act.  Instead, it asks deeply personal questions that compel the respondent to candidly explore their leadership style.  In other words, the feedback in this process is entirely internal, and has nothing to do with management theories.

To be clear, I am all for the process of learning and understand the value of training.  However, all too often leadership training does not entail internal retrospection, which is the first step to wisdom.  Without it, external input might fall on deaf ears, or it may not be put to its best use.  Even with it, too few of us can have a personality transplant once we see the light.

Here are the questions this process poses.  As someone answers them, they discover more about themselves and their leadership style; they clarify how they best interact with subordinates, peers and superiors; and they prioritize what’s important to them and offer an explicit basis for interaction with all constituencies in the organization.  Armed with this information, they are now more open to learning and style adjustment.  In the end, though, candor is key.

Here are some questions to ask yourself in order to gain this important insight:

  1. Leadership values.  What do you really care about?  Is it what the organization professes to care about?  Do you agree with those values in my heart of hearts?
  1. Operating principles.  How do you function in a leadership role?  Examples:
    1. Are you a “roll up your sleeves“ manager?  Big picture or a “sweat the details” executive? 
    2. Do you operate at the 30,000-foot level only to swoop in from time to time and confuse my associates as to your style?
    3. Are you consistent in applying your operating principles and style?
    4. Do you confront people when needed or do you delegate the tough jobs to your HR director?
    5. Are you a glass half full or glass half empty person?
    6. Do you have a direct line to God (i.e. you have the answers) or do you really listen? Are you open to learning?
    7. Where are you on the continuum of analysis/paralysis to 100% gut feel?
    8. Are you serious? Dry? Funny? Etc.
    9. Do you communicate simply and in a straightforward manner?
    10. Do you inspire trust and confidence in others?
    11. Do you inspire fear in others?  Will they tell you the truth or are they too intimidated to do so?
  1. Expectations:  What do you expect from your team?  Truthfulness?  Commitment?  Passion?  Dedication? Family values?  Again, candor is the key, not whatever is “politically correct”.
  1. Non-negotiables:  We all have certain things we will not compromise on.  We need to be aware of those and tell our team and peers what they are as well.  Is trust one of your non-negotiables or are you a healthy skeptic and reserve the right to be disappointed?  What about reciprocity:  do you expect others to treat you as you treat them (with equal candor, disclosure, respect etc.)?  How important are rules (and playing by them) to you?  Can you handle people who don’t have your drive?  What abut gossipers (even if they tell you something you really wanted to know)?  Spell it out for your team so they know what you value the most and understand where the landmines are buried.
  1. Priorities:  Too often, I find, my priorities are clear to me but not to others.  Given my own personal style, everything is perceived to be urgent and critical, while in my own mind there are wide variations.  Spell your FEW priorities out so everyone knows what they are and can be held accountable for them.
  1. Commitment:  In return for all the above, what are you willing to commit to your organization?  Do you have any personal boundaries people (and you) should be aware of?  Mine, for example, involved no business dinners or evening functions without someone from my family present.  Another commitment involved accepting criticism and listening to it.  Yet another was to show the team vulnerability by never “rigging” public meetings and facilitating truly open dialogue through anonymous questions that were not pre-screened.  Another was the commitment not to expect as much from others as I do from myself.  What are yours?

 

Even if you’re a very successful leader, and even if you require no development or have no opportunity to formally get leadership training, I believe answering the questions above with full candor is a productive development process.  Just stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye and ask these questions.  The answers might surprise you!

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