Thursday, November 9, 2017

Investing in direct reports is a critical factor of a leader's success

Leaders have conversations all the time. It is what they do but not all conversations are equally important. Some conversations are far more important than others.

I am a firm believer that the most important conversations a leader has on an ongoing basis is with members of their team. These may be monthly meetings or as needed when issues arise. These are not random conversations but revolve around some carefully considered thoughts that are customized for each direct report.

The purpose of these conversations is to ensure alignment, think together regarding strategy, ensure results, and encourage the personal growth of senior team members. All four of these topics are critical for senior team members to pay attention to and the one who can ensure that is their supervisor/leader. This is also the way that a leader develops alignment through regular interaction with their key staff.

In order for these conversations to be meaningful a leader must become an exegete of their direct reports. What are their strengths? Where do they need to grow? What critical skill sets are they missing? What areas of their performance need to be reevaluated? And then, most importantly, how can I open a conversation about one or more of these issues to help my team member grow and develop? And, how can I convey my desire to help the team member grow in the areas where growth is needed?

This underscores the necessity of actively cultivating relationships with those we supervise. Relationship builds trust which in turn allows a supervisor to raise issues without being met with significant pushback or defensiveness. Over time such conversations become part of the fabric of the relationship and the leadership culture a supervisor brings to their team. The more we invest in our reports, the better our team will be.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Core issues every leader needs to pay attention to

Almost all leaders struggle with some core issues related to their leadership. Maturing in our leadership role requires us to resolve these core issues and manage them – if we cannot fully deal with them.

The first is the need to be loved and accepted. This is a universal need of course, but leaders who need to be loved and accepted by those they lead set themselves up to fail. Good leadership is about calling others to something higher than themselves. That will mean creating discontent in the status quo which will inevitably mean that leaders will not always be popular or loved. In addition, a need to be loved by those we lead makes it difficult to push into areas of needed growth by our subordinates. Fear of being unpopular will keep me from pushing into difficult subjects and difficult issues.

Remember, there are many ways to fulfill our need for love and acceptance: God, spouse, family, friends, and even our dog. But for a leader, while being loved by those we lead is a perk it is not always going to happen. Counterintuitively, respect comes to a leader when they have been willing to call the organization to a higher purpose, often against the grain of the status quo.

A second and critical issue all leaders must deal with is to train our minds and emotions to not take issues personally. We need to see issues as separate from us and allow free discussion regarding those issues without taking it personally. In fact, the warning signal that we are taking it personally is that we become defensive – which means that we have made the issue about us and thus feel a need to defend our position. Once we have made the issue about us, if we don’t get our way, we lose and none of us like to lose.

What usually loses when we make issues personal is the mission we are going after. If we can learn that the mission is not about us and to depersonalize differences of ideas and strategies, we will be able to invite the best of people’s thinking and remain free from defensiveness. Any time we are feeling defensive we have allowed the issue to be about us rather than the mission.

And then there is the issue of pride: thinking that my views are the best and my answers better than those of others. The problem with pride is that it becomes a filter through which we see life and leadership and the filter is faulty. It keeps us from hearing the truth when others share it, fools us into thinking that we are right when we are not and prevents our own growth and development.

Wise leaders, therefore cultivate trusted relationships where they can get honest feedback, cultivate an open atmosphere on their team where all ideas can be put on the table and cultivate introspection to ensure that they are developing humility over pride.

All three of these core issues for leaders need to be paid attention to all the time. Being able to manage them brings freedom, growth and allows us to lead from a healthier place.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The civility of a people is reflected in their discourse

If the civility of a people is reflected in their discourse we are in deep trouble. When a lack of civility becomes a way of life in the most public way possible through social media it is clear that there is no sense of shame anymore. From personal attacks to the foulest of language our public discourse has degenerated significantly in recent years.

As a reader of history it should be noted that there have been other periods when public discourse left a great deal to be desired. Ulysses S. Grant, for instance was dogged most of his career by outright lies regarding a supposed drinking problem he had. There has been fake news around for a long time as well as the denigration of others (to someone else's benefit) as a means of making us feel well by comparison. 

That being said, the level of discourse among a people is an indicator of the health or lack of health within a society. For instance, the crude language that was used by Nazi Germany to describe their enemies is a good example - or the hate group rhetoric of white supremacists in our own nation. In the past election, the name calling from the front was embarrassing along with the twitter wars that are increasingly crude and malicious - going not to the ideas that others espouse but to the personhood of men and women made in God's Image. 

This last point is an important one. Free societies have fought for the right to debate ideas, strategy and philosophy. That is what elections are to be about. However, when we move from a debate regarding ideas to the willful destruction of the character and/or personhood of another we cross a line that cannot bring positive results.

Politically, it moves discussion from philosophy to often non provable accusations regarding character. Morally, it moves into sketchy territory as it assumes motives that we cannot know. Theologically, it is often a trashing of others made in the Image of God. There is simply no good outcome to a descent into uncivil discourse! Lack of civility breeds attitudes that all too often move from hateful words into hateful actions - both of which seem to be trends in our world today.

All of us should be aware of our own discourse and its consequences. Words cannot be taken back and sometimes, they are not necessary to be said at all. But if said, civility is always a better choice than lack of it.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Three things to be aware of in leadership transitions

There are three things every leader who resigns or retires needs to be aware of. It is true in the for profit, nonprofit, political and ministry world. I have experienced all three and watched it play out in politics, business and ministry every day.  It is well to be aware of these issues because they are not going to feel fair, and often are not but they are reality in a world that needs scapegoats.

First, no matter how well you led, in most cases, the one who takes your place will blame you for all that they can as they chart their new course. I was amused when one of my successors took some cheap shots about my leadership style after I left (to my face). Amused because he had served on my senior leadership team for some time and had never expressed his concerns to me until I was finished and then I was fair game. Equally amused, because when he is gone, his successor is probably going to do the same to him and some who have subsequently left have already done so! Unfortunately, this is the human condition and it will happen when you leave to some extent or another. We lead and serve for a time and when we are gone, others will criticize us to attain their own ends. Witness the transition in Washington DC when a new President comes to office!

Second, many things will change from how you did things to how the new leader will do things. This is natural but not always comfortable. If we have done our job well, the general philosophy of the organization will be embedded and remain stable but the details as to how these are are carried out will change. A highly empowering leader can be followed by a highly controlling leader (or vice versa) which can be a challenge for those who make the transition. The reality is that we served our time and carried out our leadership responsibilities in the best way we knew how. What happens next is not our responsibility and our former colleagues will make their own judgements relative to the new leadership philosophy.

Third, former leaders are just that – former leaders and need to move on to their next assignment. All of us learn lessons, good and bad as leaders. Wise leaders take the time to reflect on those lessons as they transition to a new role. The best thing we can do as former leaders is to focus on our new assignment, whatever that is and leave the old (for us) behind. We will answer for the stewardship of our leadership and others will answer for theirs. For those who operate out of a faith perspective this means that we leave the results of our leadership to God and move on, confident in God’s evaluation rather than in our own or the judgement of others. This last point is very important. We will often feel as if the evaluation of our successor is not fair. But we can rest assured that God's evaluation of our stewardship is totally fair. 

Transitions are not easy but the come to each of us who lead. How we dealt with our leadership assignment is important, and how we deal with our leadership transition is equally important.