by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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“To kneel or not to kneel; that is the question…” is the way that Shakespeare would probably rewrite his famous line from Hamlet to fit today’s society. All media outlets are enveloped by the story of a growing number of NFL players choosing to forego the tradition of standing for the National Anthem. It is a hot-button topic for Americans everywhere as lines are drawn as to whether you support this action or not. While I have no interest in weighing in on that debate in this blog, I have been fascinated by the leadership lessons that exist in the process.
Colin Kaepernick, who at the time was the San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback, was the epicenter of this entire movement, having sat down during the National Anthem during a preseason game last season. What began as a single man’s choice noting equality and equity has since ballooned into a convoluted scheme of individuals frantically moving in all directions. Some players are sitting, some are kneeling, some are standing, some are linking arms, and some simply don’t know what to do. Teams are taking all sorts of measures, some well thought out, others loosely thrown together at the last minute. At this point, the entire story is a dizzying array of movements that lack alignment and focus, but are wrought with barbs being thrown out, ultimatums being stated, and sides being drawn.
There is no denying that leadership, and in reality the lack of effective leadership, has been instrumental in putting this process where it is today. So I thought it would be interesting to look at leadership lessons that can be learned from this process:
Lacking a Singular Focused Mission: Ask 100 people on the street corner what the ‘Take the Knee’ movement is all about, and most likely you will come out with a slew of answers that would mimic the hundreds of options on a fast-food restaurant’s menu board. Some would say it is about equity and equality, others about race and ethnicity, others about civil rights, others about police brutality, others about military, and others about the President’s recent condemning words. While many of these items are in fact inter-connected, the ‘why’ has not been clearly established for this movement. Change processes, such as this one, need a singular focus, a common mission that everyone can rally around. The problem is that a person might not agree with players kneeling for the anthem, but might be totally against Trump’s words about the players. So then what do they do? Do they kneel or not kneel? If they kneel, what are they kneeling for? If they stand for the anthem, are they supporting the President or simply standing in respect for the military and the country? To be truly effective leaders, we must establish a focused and clearly communicated mission for a movement, something that has clearly not been done in this situation.
Technical Fixes for Adaptive Problems: Ron Heifetz, a noted leadership expert from Harvard University, theorizes that leaders face both technical and adaptive challenges. Technical challenges are ones that can be easily remedied through directives and steps of action (e.g., the power goes out and we have to get the lights turned back on). For Heifetz, adaptive challenges are big and messy problems (e.g., racial discrimination, poorly performing schools, homelessness) that cannot be solved through technical fixes. They take innovative thinking and shifts in the culture of the organization or society. One of the biggest problems in leadership is when leaders try to apply technical fixes to big adaptive problems. Technical fixes to these adaptive problems (e.g., affirmative action policies, tents for the homeless) simply do not work because they cannot possibly get at the deeper, societal issues behind the challenges. While the Taking the Knee movement looks to be an NFL problem, it is instead a deeper, societal issue involving race relations, equity, and civil rights. This huge adaptive issue (one that this country has been struggling with for many generations) cannot be fixed through technical solutions. So when some people call for the NFL to set a mandate that all players have to stand for the anthem or when President Trump calls for the firing of players who kneel, these technical fixes only solve the immediate kneeling issue, but do not impact the larger underlying challenge around equality and rights.
No Charismatic Voice to Motivate Others: When you think of all of the movements that have truly been successful throughout the history of the world, you can always connect them to a singular leader who led either through voice or example. Think Ghandi, Mandela, MLK Jr., Reagan, etc. At the tip of the movement is the voice that lets the group know where everyone is heading. These leaders share the vision for change, set the tone for actions, and exemplify what it means to be a part of the movement. Every movement needs this type of leader to set the course and motivate others so that the movement gains momentum. The Taking the Knee movement has lacked that singular voice and example which has caused it at times to sputter. A few spatterings of actions and words have been provided over the last year from various players, but there is nothing that is unifying these actions and words. Kaepernick would have been the natural selection for the leader, an incredibly skilled football player who others looked up to. But as the year moved forward after his initial act, he sank out of the limelight. People called for him to step up to the mic and let everyone know what should be happening next, but he faded from the limelight save for a series of texts aimed wildly in multiple directions. When he did not take up the leadership mantle, a vacuum of leadership was left, which left the movement rudderless… that is until President Trump stepped to the mic.
President Trump’s words, and later his tweets, instantly galvanized the movement but not in the way he expected. His actions awoke the movement from its slumber, and a giant arose in its wake. Last Sunday marked the largest number of players, coaches, owners, employees, etc. who stood together in opposition. Suddenly the movement had a new direction, a common mission, but it was not exactly what it had originally started as. It was now about opposing the President, his condemning and offensive words, and his actions towards this group. It was about showing him that players were not who he said they were. It was about showing the world that they would stand up, or in this case kneel, against what they felt was wrong. But President Trump’s remarks left thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, in its wake. No one clearly knew what side they were on. Hence, if you are for standing for the anthem, but against President Trump’s words and actions, what are you to do? And for those who simply just want to watch football for entertainment and a way to escape the doldrums of life, I guess you are simply out of luck.
The entire Taking the Knee situation has been wrought with a lack of effective leadership on all sides of the issue. It is why so many are displaced with their emotions and thoughts, unable to decide where they stand on this issue. This is not how movements gain momentum. This is not how change occurs. True leadership is needed, not rhetoric, not grandstanding, but truly effective, clear, and motivating leadership is needed. Thus far, this has been impossible to find in this avalanche of wild emotions and unchained actions. It will be interesting to follow this movement and more particularly the role that leaders play in it as it unfolds. I don’t know about you, but for me, as a leader, I can learn so much about how not to lead a change process.
by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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In a recent leadership development workshop I was conducting with a group of elementary school kids, I asked them a basic starting question, “What is a leader?” They responded with things like:
The main theme to come out of their responses is that they were not actually describing leaders, but rather BOSSES! This is part of the issue when we talk about leaders and leadership, we often intermix our concepts of leaders with bosses. As these kids pointed out, we tend to automatically assume someone has leadership qualities because they hold an impressive title such as President, CEO, Principal, Director, or Captain.
While most likely the people who fill these positions have some natural leadership skills that helped them get to where they are, we cannot assume that bosses are leaders. To move up the ladder in any organization, a person has to show leadership in their actions and words. People who move up are the ones who are taking up leadership of small groups and projects. They live the leadership life on the way up the ladder, and others rally behind them because of their leadership skills. People don’t have to follow them because of some title, but rather they choose to follow them because they see and feel something powerful and motivating in working with these leaders.
The problem is that while leadership skills are used to climb up the ladder, once a positional title is handed out for all of that great work, the leadership skills are often left behind. Leadership skills are replaced with management techniques. Leadership is replaced by authority. Leaders are replaced with bosses. Part of the reason why this happens is that management, power, and authority are so much easier to implement than leadership. It is easier to tell someone what to do then to motivate them to choose to do it. It is easier to tell everyone the plan for success then to build it organically together.
Now don’t get me wrong, being a boss is not always a bad thing. Using management techniques is not a bad thing. There are times that these techniques and approach are absolutely needed. Sometimes you just have to get things done. Sometimes you don’t have the time to build organically. Sometimes you don’t have the time to motivate others. Sometimes you don’t have the time for others to choose to join in the path. Sometimes the boss just needs to get things done.
But when we are not in these dire situations, there is a need to use the leadership skills and techniques that helped us to climb up the ladder. Instead of using positional authority to tell others to do something, we need to find ways to motivate them to do these things. It is crucial to our success as leaders to remember a few key points about the difference between leaders and bosses:
1.Bosses expect respect, leaders earn it
2.Bosses give directions, leaders motivate actions
3.Bosses tell the vision, leaders build it with others
4.Bosses need a title, leaders do not
5.Bosses have employees, leaders have followers
Think about the actions and behaviors of people that you want to follow and then think about the bosses that you never liked working for. Think about the differences between them and then think about your own actions and behaviors. Which group do you fall into? Do people do things because you tell them to do it, or do they do it because they want to do it? Again, as I wrote earlier, there are times where bosses are needed to get things done, but when we have the choice, don’t we want to be leaders? Don’t we want people to achieve greatness because they believe in us? Don’t we want to motivate them to be their best, rather than just doing exactly what we told them to do? So as you climb the ladder recognize the skills, abilities, and actions that others love about you and don’t forget about them because you now have a fancy title! Be a LEADER, not just a BOSS.
by Dr. John J. Franey, CEO/Founder of Developing Difference Makers
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When I entered the family room, I was shocked to find my youngest daughter lying on the ground covering her face with both hands. Her big sister was sitting on the couch yelling out, “Berrrrrrrrrr…nier…. Berrrrrrrr…nier….. Berrrrrrr…….nier, YOU STINK!” I asked what was wrong, to which I was told they were playing hockey and the younger one had broken her nose and lost her teeth (luckily just pretending). The older one was being a Predators fan and yelling at the other team’s goalie (if you have seen the Predators play you have heard the whole crowd yelling this out to the opposing goalie - she was copying them when they were yelling at the Ducks goalie Bernier). The younger one explained to me that she was fine and was going to keep playing because she was tough and that is what hockey players do. I realized quickly that maybe we had been watching a little too much of the hockey playoffs.
As I thought more about the situation, it came to mind how much kids are captured by the examples they see in real life and on TV. It is amazing how impressionable kids are. It is amazing how moved they are by the examples they see. They want to be like the people they look up to. They want to follow in the footsteps of people they see as successful. A perfect example is the 80’s Gatorade commercial campaign that centered on the phrase: “Be Like Mike” that left thousands of kids wanting to dunk basketballs just like Michael Jordan. Advertisers use this concept of modeling and examples to sell everything to kids. If kids are so impressionable and apt to following the examples they see, then why aren’t we using this concept of modeling more when teaching them leadership?
The truth is that we are showing them examples of leadership; we just aren’t consciously doing it. Too often, leadership is a concept that we don’t specifically teach to kids, but they still pick up the concept of leadership by watching ‘leaders’ around them. They pick up leadership from the examples set by teachers, coaches, parents, and older kids. They watch these people lead and then pick up skills, techniques, and approaches to use in their own lives. They pick up the good and the bad when it comes to leadership.
How do we know this happens? First of all, we know kids are like sponges, soaking up everything around them. Secondly, we know that leaders of all ages are heavily influenced by the leaders that come before them. As adult employees we are watching how leaders in our company are leading us on a daily basis. We see examples of things we would do if we were the leader and examples of things we would not do. Every day is an opportunity to hone our understanding of leadership through the people around us. When we get a chance to lead a team of our fellow employees or even lead a large division, we now have a bank of knowledge through our experiential learning that we can use in our leadership efforts.
This concept of building the bank of knowledge through experiences is not any different for kids. In fact, it is even more prevalent for kids since they are apt to soak up what is happening around them as they are figuring out who they are. Knowing the impact of leaders on these kids it is incredibly important that we provide good examples of leadership. It is important that we are showcasing the best of leadership traits, skills, and approaches. When they are surrounded by bad examples of leadership, then kids are apt to continue a trend of poor leadership decisions. Take for example, the issues with hazing on high school and college athletic teams. It is a rampant problem that seems to continue on unfazed by legislation and the efforts of administrators. The reason why it continues is that new athletes to the team see older athletes who are leaders on the team leading these hazing actions. These new players tell themselves that they just have to get through the hazing and someday they will be on the other side and can lead the hazing. The chain of hazing is never broken because the new players are seeing the example of this leadership behavior and want to continue it when they become a leader.
When it comes to teaching leadership to kids, the use of examples of effective leadership can be incredibly impactful. The more that we can show good leadership to these kids and the more examples from the real world that we can provide to them, the greater the chance they will have to pick up effective leadership traits, skills, and approaches. So the key is to locate leadership examples that fit their lives. Whether it is stories of other kids who are similar to them, or stories of world renowned leaders, the key is to bombard kids with as many examples as possible.
Through just watching a handful of hockey games my own kids had picked up some good ideas about hockey (being tough and playing through injuries) and some bad ideas about hockey (yelling at the opposing goalie). Knowing the impact that a small sample of hockey had on my kids, I can only imagine the impact on our kids if we were able to continue to flood them with positive, effective leadership examples. We just may be able to break the bad chains of leadership (e.g., hazing, bullying) and build the next wave of leaders who can make a difference in the world.
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At a recent youth leadership development training that I was conducting with a group of middle schoolers, I started with a simple request to the group: “Raise your hand if you are a leader at this school.” Not one hand went up in the group of 40 students. I went immediately to a second request: “Raise your hand if you are a leader in your classrooms.” Again not a single hand went up. I rolled right into my third request: “Raise your hand if you are a leader in your community.” Still the hands remained lowered at the students’ sides. Onto my fourth request: “Raise your hand if you are a leader in your family.” Finally a few hands in the group went up. I went to a couple of the kids who had raised their hands and asked them how they were the leader in their family. One of the kids responded: “Well I’m not the leader all the time, but sometimes my mom has to work at night and so I am home with my younger brother and sisters. When she is gone I am in charge so then I am the leader.” The other kids who had raised their hands nodded their heads in agreement with this kid’s response.
What happened during this training is a perfect illustration of the difficulty that kids have with the concept of leadership. When you ask a group of kids about leadership, they immediately see leadership as authority. To kids, the only leaders are authority figures. If you are not an authority figure like a principal, coach, teacher, or parent, then you cannot be a leader. None of the kids raised their hand that they are the leader in their school, classroom, or community. This is because there are clear authority figures in charge in each of these settings. The only kids who raised their hands for leadership in their families were older siblings who at times were ‘put in charge’ of their younger siblings. This is all about authority, yet leadership has nothing to do with authority.
Every school has some sort of student leadership group, whether it is student council, student government, ASB, or school ambassador programs. So if kids think that only authority figures can be leaders, then they are going to struggle with the concept of student leadership. If they don’t see themselves as leaders without authority over others, then how are they going to be effective as student leaders? This is one of the biggest struggles for the teachers and advisors that lead these student groups. When I talk with them, they are constantly sharing their issues with getting the student leaders to take initiative and lead programs and activities. This is because kids are stuck in the mindset that an adult is in charge and so student leadership is impossible.
The reality is that leadership and authority are not the same concept. They are not mutually exclusive, but they are also not automatically the same thing. You hope that your authority figures are also leaders, but you also hope that non-authority figures can take on leadership roles as well. The concept of leadership vs. authority is the central reason why I ask kids in these trainings the questions that I shared in this blog. We talk about the Battle Royale, all WWE style, which exists between leadership and authority. The first step to getting kids to see themselves as leaders is to break down the notion that only adults and authority figures can be leaders. Leadership is about moving with people towards a shared vision for success. Authority is about one person who has power telling everyone to move. Kids need to understand the difference between these concepts.
The next step is to get kids to think outside the box with their own leadership. It is about getting them to look at situations in their life where they rely on an authority figure for direction, and working through ways that they can take on leadership in those situations. Now this type of work can often cause the authority figures in these groups to be a little worried. The fear for authority figures is that if we teach kids how to be leaders, they will no longer listen to the authority figure. The fear really is centered on losing power, but if we truly want kids to develop their own leadership capacity, we have to get them to understand that leadership and authority are separate concepts. Both are important. Both are needed. But ultimately they are not the same, which means any kid can take on leadership in the situations where it is most needed. The key to their growth as leaders is for them to understand that they don’t have to be the authority figure to be a leader of a group. Understanding this concept will lead to greater student leadership and more successful student leadership groups.
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Brackets, brackets, and more brackets are on everybody’s mind and on everybody’s desk. It is March Madness season, and the madness is sweeping the nation like it does every year at this time. With brackets on everybody’s mind, it seemed to be a perfect time to release Developing Difference Makers’ new BRACKET OF LEADERSHIP APPROACHES! We ranked eight of the top leadership approaches and sent them into bracket for a tourney to see who is the #1 leadership approach. As with the basketball brackets, there are always teams that were on the bubble, but just didn’t make the cut, so sorry Trait Tech Tortoises and Great Man Academy Giraffes. As with the basketball brackets, fans of each team will swear they are ranked too low and will whine they didn’t get a higher seed. Who are you rooting for to cut down the nets this year?
1. Transformational Tech Titans
Transformational Tech is the preeminent favorite for this year’s tourney. Founded in 1878 by Dr. James Macgregor Burns, the Titans are known for the way in which they bring all of the players together through inspiration and motivation, figuring out the issue that needs to be changed as a team, creating a vision for the change, and then taking collaborative action to make the change. During game play, they do not get caught up in the small transactions, but rather focus in on the overall flow of the game. This team will be a tough out for any tourney opponent.
2. Authentic A&M Aardvarks
Authentic A&M is one of the most mature and intelligent teams in this tourney. On the recruiting trails, their coaches are constantly searching for players who are confident in their own skills, but aware of their weaknesses. There is no hiding on this team, for every player must be true to themselves, both the positive and negative. This attitude helps their players to grow incredibly throughout their careers, which prepares them to lead on the court. Practices included significant time in meditation, goal setting, and visualization of success. This new age team is self-motivated and ready to rock the tournament this year!
3. Charismatic College Chihuahuas
Charismatic College is known throughout the country for being super motivated. They are an inspirational group that gives incredible pre-game and in-game speeches to provide each player the boost they need on the court. Their players are known for running through walls for the greater goal of winning, willing to leave everything on the court to win! The Chihuahuas are even more impressive in post-game conferences, as the audience becomes enthralled with their every word. This exciting group will have you glued to your TV as they connect with you in a way that will have you cheering them on all the way to the finals!
4. Transactional Tech Thundering Herd
Transactional Tech focuses their entire game plan on managing the game play on the floor. The team’s coaches are well known for barking out orders that their players have to listen to. If they follow the directions and complete the game plays effectively they are rewarded greatly. But fail to come through on the directions and a player be riding the bench the rest of the game. The Thundering Herd so badly wants a chance to play their long-storied arch rivals the Transformational Tech Titans. Their former head coach, Bobby Knight, thinks Transactional Tech is ready to win it all this year as long as everyone follows orders on the court.
5. Situational State Scorpions
Many experts feel that the Scorpions are a legit team to win it all this tourney. The reason is because they are perfectly suited to adapt their lineup and strategy to each situation that they are faced with. Situational State spends all of their time in practice practicing what to do each situation they face. Rarely do they ever face a situation they are not prepared for. This team has a deep bench that can be put in specific situations where their skills and leadership are perfectly suited for success in each situation. Look out for the Scorpions this year!
6. Distributed Institute Dolphins
For Distributed Institute, the strategy is all about given every player on the team a chance to lead depending on the unique situations they are faced with. The coaches’ believe that there is no single player should be seen as the team leader. Rather they like to give each player a chance to be the leader in practices and games. They distribute this leadership based on the situations they face, choosing who shoots the ball based on what they see during the game. This makes them a strong team during the tourney because they do not rely on one single player who can be taken out of the game by the opposing team.
7. Behavioral College Badgers
Behavioral College is one of the oldest teams in this tournament, having enjoyed great success on the courts since the 1940’s. They seek out players for their team based on specific behaviors that will lead to success on the court. Every player is tested before they join the team to make sure they have the leadership behaviors needed to succeed on the court. If you pass the test for the right behaviors then you are a lock to be a player. Often the most highly skilled team in the tournament, this classic team will look to make some noise this March.
8. Ethical Academy Eagles
Nicknamed the Gentle Giants, Ethical Academy is one of the best stories in the tourney. Their players and coaches are known for treating everyone they see with honesty, fairness, and care. They care deeply that their fans have a great time at their games and the players work hard to be role models for the kids in the crowd. This is the only school in the tournament to never have a NCAA ethics violation. They have yet to foul a player even one time this season, yet they win because they are so committed to their values. Their ethical behavior on the court may seem like a weakness in the basketball game, but instead their behavior is infectious. Watch for fans across the nation to be rooting for these underdogs.
Fill out your brackets and let us know who you think will win the Leadership Approach Tourney this year!
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Organizations, both big and small, often face chasms between what they are currently doing and what they want or need to do. These moments in time can be very difficult for organizations as they can cause incredible pressure to build on the shoulders of the leaders. The biggest pressure comes from the expectations of organizational stakeholders to make the change happen quickly. As the leader stands at the precipice of the chasm of needed change, they feel the push from behind to jump headlong across the chasm hoping to make it to the other side successfully. In their head though, they are cautious about the change. William Bridges in his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, claims that the biggest problem is that organizations often “expect to be able to move straight from the old to the new. But this isn’t a trip from one side of the street to the other. It’s a journey from one identity to the other, and that takes time.” Organizational change cannot occur overnight, nor can one simple meeting solve every issue. Noted leadership expert, Ron Heiftez, points out that for change to be successful, people in the organization “need time to see their lives in a different light – to change their images of the future and the plans nurtured over a lifetime.” The stakeholders in the change process should be aware of the fact that the pressure for immediate change will serve only to choke off successful change, as the pressure will suffocate the will of the people.
The rushing of the process and improbable expectations of immediate change can halt a leader’s ability to mobilize the organization. Thus, leaders should be fully aware of this notion, and counteract its negative effects through influence, motivation, and communication. A leader’s ability to influence and motivate the stakeholders in his or her organization is the key to true change. However, as Heifetz point out, the leader needs to be careful not to “challenge the system too far and too fast and invite his or her own suppression.” This idea coincides with the notion of giving the work back to the people so that they develop the interest and need for change. Rather than forcing change, leaders need to cultivate an environment where change is grown through the people. The leader needs to continue to push the stakeholders to develop this interest in change without rushing too fast and too far. An organization will not change on its own without leadership and so the leader needs to walk the fine line between pushing too hard and not pushing enough.
For the transformation of organizations to occur, the stakeholders need to realize what noted organizational expert, Peter Senge states: “new insights fail to get put into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting.” As an organization stands at the precipice overlooking the chasm filled with turmoil, chaos, and failure, it needs to open itself up to new possibilities and new images of the future. Organizations cannot continue to stand in the rut of a stationary system that does not grow and does not modify itself to fit into current American society. Although management cannot be the force of change, they do play an integral role in the change process. Through their authority and the use of transformational leadership strategies, they can be the catalyst for adaptive change in the organization. The key is in their ability to mobilize others within the organization to feel the need for change, plan out the change, and then take action towards the change. This is the key to effective organizational leadership during times of change.
Leaders who try to make the jump across the chasm by themselves, as they pull the weight of the entire organization will surely find themselves at the bottom of the great divide. Leaders who try to push others across the divide will end up losing their followers in the chasm. The only way to move forward is for the leaders to build the change process with their followers. The only way to bridge the divide is to work together towards a goal of change that will have a positive impact on the organization. The task is not simple, but then again, is change ever simple and easy? The bridging of the chasm may look to be a daunting or even an impossible task for leaders of organizations, but through effective leadership strategies the beginnings of a bridge across the great divide can be built. Change takes time, patience, effort, communication, and motivation. These become the foundational pillars for the bridge that spans the chasm of change.
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When we think of leadership, we often focus solely on the actions of the leader towards the followers. We talk about how leaders motivate others to succeed, how leaders take initiative in times of stress, and how leaders are able to move great forces towards a common goal. We celebrate the actions, but we often miss where these actions are built. The foundation for every successful leadership action is the leader’s own understanding of who they are. For every leadership action is a representation of who the leader is, what the leader believes in, and what the leader excels at. To be a great leader, a person must not only be self-aware, but they have to live and act according to their authentic self. In the field of leadership, we call this authentic leadership.
Authentic leadership is based on two concepts of ancient Greek philosophers: 1) know thyself, and 2) to thine self be true. Authentic leaders know who they are, know their strengths and weaknesses, know their goals and vision, and know what they believe in. Authentic leaders take action based on their own personal values and convictions. Authentic leaders know who they are and are not worried about what others might think of them. Authentic leaders lead by example, are transparent in their decision-making, are accountable for their actions, and acknowledge their own limitations. In order to achieve this level of authenticity, you must work through various levels of self-awareness. The push in this work is to be honest and open with yourself. In getting to know your authentic self, the focus is on what you know about yourself, not what others tell you about yourself. Authenticity is not about conforming to what others believe in or want you to be, it is about knowing and living what you believe in and what you want to be.
While this authenticity may sound simple, we as people focus almost entirely on what others think of us. We follow career paths that others believe would work well for us. We make decisions that will enable us to fit in with the crowd. We live the status quo. Rarely do we completely follow what it is that we believe in and what we are interested in. There are myriad reasons why we are not authentic in our lives, but the biggest detriment to being an authentic leader is FEAR! We fear what others might think of us. We fear the consequences of breaking away from the crowd. We fear failure and hearing everyone tell us, “I told you so.”
But most of the greatest innovators and leaders followed their authentic self. They traversed their authentic path and were able to enact leadership in forms that others had never seen or experienced before. Bill Gates didn’t follow the crowd and finish his studies at Harvard, he got in touch with his authentic self, dropped out and believed his new computer company would be huge. Martin Luther King, Jr., never wavered from his authentic self and his belief that the world could be different. The company Old Navy is authentic to itself, it doesn’t try to be a high-end retailer like Nordstorms. Old Navy is who it is and if it changed then it would no longer be Old Navy and they would lose their incredibly strong client base. Adele doesn't suddenly start writing and singing rap songs because that is what is kids are listening to. She knows her authentic self, and what songs connect with who she is, and she sings them without fear of not fitting in.
But this is a place where so many leaders and organizations fail. They try to be something they are not. They try to appease everyone. They lack a focus in their products, decisions, and actions. It is like the face-off between a great pitcher and a great hitter in baseball. If the pitcher is known for their great fastball then they go with their fastball and they believe in it. Pitchers run into trouble when they lose their authentic self and try to match what they are doing with what the hitter doesn’t do well. Often times the pitcher is throwing a curve ball or change-up, neither of which they throw well, because they think this is the hitter’s weakness. So they would rather go with their 2nd or 3rd best pitch, rather than believing their best pitch is better than that hitter’s strengths. That pitcher just needs to believe in their stuff, believe in that great fastball, and believe that the fastball will strike out that hitter. It doesn’t always work and that batter may hit a home run off that pitcher every now and then, but more times than not, that authenticity will reign supreme.
It is not just on the baseball field where authenticity is so greatly needed. Every organization and leader needs to find their authentic self. They need to find what they do well and what they believe in. Every action and decision should be focused on this authentic belief system and skill set. If they don’t know and live their authentic self, then they are set up failure. If they don’t lead through authenticity then they are just another face in the crowd. It may be easier to just fit into that crowd. It may be easier to fit into what everyone else thinks you should do. It might be easier to not take a stand in your life. It might be easier to not face that fear of failure. But for those of us who want to be truly great leaders who make a difference in the world, then we need to get that mirror out and start figuring out who we are, what our strengths and weaknesses are, and what it is that we believe in and want to accomplish. That mirror will lead us to success. That mirror will lead us to happiness because we will be living the life that we believe in. And the world will hopefully be a better place because we took the time to look in that mirror and figure out our authentic self.
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The Cubs vs. Indians World Series has captured the nation. From ardent baseball fans to casual sports fans, everybody is tuning in to see which city will break their long World Series drought. The games have been intense and electrifying, filled with incredible plays and great moments. What may lay hidden to the average viewer are the leadership lessons that can be taken from the World Series games and immediately transferred into any organization. As business or school leaders we are not figuring out whether to steal second, call for a reliever, or bunt a player into scoring position. But nevertheless, the actions taken in the form of leadership in this World Series relate closely to the actions we take on a daily basis in our organizations. Four particular leadership lessons that business and school leaders can implement in their organizations have shined in this World Series.
Know the strengths of your players:
Both managers, Joe Madden (Cubs) and Terry Francona (Indians), are well known for being players’ coaches. This means they are particularly in tune with the strengths and weaknesses of their players. In every situation, both Madden and Francona are not trying to push their own agenda, but are rather working to align the strengths of their players with the situations that arise in games. They concentrate in setting their team up for success by putting the right players in the right places at the right times. For business or school success, leaders must know their employees so that they can align their roles with their strengths.
Charisma makes a difference:
Throughout the games, you see players and coaches getting excited. When great plays happen, they are jumping up and down, high-fiving, fist-bumping, yelling, and having fun. There is an excitement that builds with every great play, and the team environment builds stronger as they get excited. Players are pointing at each other, talking with each other, cheering for each other, all in an attempt to pump each other up to achieve success. This charismatic leadership has a virus affect as others catch it and everybody gets moving in the direction towards success. In organizations, leaders must be ready to cheer their team on, to provide charismatic speeches, and to get people pumped up for success.
Situations constantly change plans:
Even the best laid plans can be wrecked by situations that arise in a game. Everything can be planned out, but rarely do the plans go perfectly. As can be seen throughout this World Series, situations and contexts can change everything on a moment’s notice. In these games, many starting pitchers have struggled to pitch their normal 6 innings and so both Francona and Madden have had to bring in relievers at earlier times. In a normal regular season game, the situations would have been addressed differently and the star closers would have been saved for the 9th inning. But here in the World Series, star relievers are being used as early as the 5th inning and are being asked to pitch multiple innings. In business and school organizations, leaders must be ready to adapt to each and every situation that arises.
Don’t be afraid to make a decision:
Throughout the series, both Francona and Madden have been making huge decisions, such as which players to start, who to have pinch-hit, and when to bring in a relief pitcher. While playing in Chicago, Francona had to decide whether to play Carlos Santana (his normal DH) in the field or stick with Mike Napoli. He picked Santana to play, and it paid off as Santana hit a huge home run in their win. For Madden and the Cubs, they had to decide whether to play Kyle Schwarber, one of their young stars. Schwarber had been injured the entire season, but suddenly was ready to play only in the World Series. Madden decided to play him despite missing the whole season and he has been one of the Cubs’ best hitters throughout the series. While these are but two of the big decisions that went right, so many decisions do not go right and so leaders must be ready to face the criticism when it fails. In business and school organizations, leaders must have the conviction to make the hard decisions and then answer to the outcomes, whether they are positive or negative.
Each of these four leadership lessons from the Cubs vs. Indians World Series can shed light on the actions, decisions, and approaches of leaders in any organization. Charisma, decision-making, changing with situations, and knowing your players are all incredibly important to any leader in any organization. They can provide the boost to any organization that is pushing for success. As Game Seven looms this evening, all of us will have to wait to see which team wins and breaks their drought. As for this avid baseball fan and leadership expert, I know I am going to be paying attention to how the leadership game unfolds as well! Most likely the team that shows the greatest leadership is probably going to be bringing victory back to their city for the first time in a long while!
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As winter begins to wind down and spring starts to roll in, plants and trees are beginning their transformation from winter dormancy to spring blooms. It is a beautiful and inspiring time of the year, one that empowers us to seek hope and dream of better days ahead. Leadership often follows a similar pattern of transformation. Leadership skills within individuals and organizations are often held in a dormancy stage, just waiting for the opportunity to bloom. However, without opportunities to bloom, these leaders are held down, unable to demonstrate their ability to lead others. This is a common occurrence in organizations throughout society, due in large part to the misconception that only formal authority figures can be leaders.
As we know from our experiences, leaders are not always just the formal authorities in our organizations. Leadership can occur at all levels of an organization, and in all situations. The key is the ability of a person to lead others towards a common goal or vision. However, without the opportunities for people to demonstrate leadership and to develop leadership skills, leadership within organizations remains top-heavy. This situation becomes very destructive, especially when the formal authority person retires or leaves for another organization. Suddenly there is a vacuum of leadership in the organization because attention has not been given to developing the next wave of leaders.
We need to provide opportunities for leadership to bloom within our organizations. In order for new leadership to bloom there must be a cultivating environment. Similar to the way that we water our plants and the sun provides fuel for growth, the culture in our organization should support the growth of leadership. An incredible way to support these opportunities is to distribute leadership roles throughout the organization. Instead of always relying on formal authority figures to lead work groups, we can open the floor to let leaders bloom from unexpected places. When provided opportunities to display leadership blooms, individuals can begin to grow into leadership positions and develop the skills needed to be leaders in the organization.
The positive outcomes of providing opportunities for leadership to bloom are three-fold. First of all, the individuals in our organizations will strengthen their skills and broaden their experiences by taking on new roles in their work. This can provide new perspectives and experiences that can sharpen their productive output. Secondly, our organizations will become less reliant on a top-heavy leadership process. Members of the organization will not be slowed by waiting for an authority figure to tell them what to do, but will rather be able to self-direct themselves into productivity. Collaborations will become more horizontal, rather than vertically down from an authority figure, which will increase the input from all levels of the collaboration. Finally, when leadership is able to bloom organically, our organizations will not be faced with a leadership vacuum when the authority figure has left the organization. Countless members of the organization will be ready to step up to fill the leadership gaps, because they have felt the bloom of their own leadership.
Ultimately, the goal of our organizations should be to provide opportunities for leadership to bloom throughout all levels of the organization. By striving towards this goal, our organizations are strengthened from the inside. So as spring begins to roll in this year, we should take time to consider how we can ensure that leadership blooms in our organizations, and how we can cultivate an environment where leadership is displayed in brilliant ways. For it is then that we will be taken over by the same eternal hope of better days ahead, both for individuals and the organization as a whole.
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Early experts in the field of leadership theorized that leadership was something that only a few, special, unique individuals had. Their theories focused more on leaders rather than the act of leadership. It followed the mythological ideals of hero worship. The assumption was that these ‘great men’ were simply born to be leaders and would be leaders no matter what. The early theories did not address or accept that the situation could impact the effectiveness of a ‘leader.’ What these early theorists failed to understand was that it is not about leaders, but rather the action of leadership.
Simply put, leadership is not a full time job. Individuals are not leaders twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and even on holidays. Individuals who show incredible leadership in a particular field or situation will not necessarily be leaders in other areas of their lives. An individual might be a leader in their work organization, but are probably not the leader of their church, social group, or family. So much about leadership depends entirely on the situation and the particular forms of leadership that are needed in those situations. Take any great leader in history – Martin Luther King, Jr., Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln – and think about whether they were a leader in every aspect of their life. Would Steve Jobs be a great leader on a NFL football team? Would Martin Luther King, Jr. be a great leader in the Armed Forces? Would Abraham Lincoln be a great leader at Qualcomm? The answer to all three is probably not.
Yet, in our organizations, we often expect individuals to be leaders in every aspect of the organization. Part of this flawed reasoning stems from the notion that we assume that people in management who have authority in the organization are the leaders. We assume that authority naturally comes with leadership, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Leadership arises from all levels of an organization, not just from those in management. It is one of the reasons why organizations are built with multiple levels of employees who can be sought out by the management to fulfill leadership roles in particular situations.
When we expect an individual to lead every aspect of the organization, then we are setting them up for failure. Their skills do not align with the leadership that is needed in every area of the organization, and thus soon this leader will be replaced with a new leader who everyone hopes will be able to lead on a full-time basis. This cycle will continue on until our organizations adjust our perspectives and expectations for leadership. Great organizations understand the role of the situation and know that one person cannot be relied on to be the leader all day, every day. There are particular people who are best at talking to the public, heading up a development project, leading staff development days, tackling a product problem, or working with clients.
The key is to adjust our perspective on leadership, by taking the pressure off of individual leaders and not expect them to be a full time leader. When leadership is distributed based off the situations where the leadership is needed, the organization is at its peak effectiveness. This is something to ponder in our organizations, and most importantly for us to ask ourselves, what are our expectations for leaders?