The Truth About Leadership & Being In Charge

 The buck stops here.

This cliché is often associated with leadership. And there’s truth in it. A team’s success or failure, growth or stagnation, can all be traced back to the role of its leaders. True leaders are those folks who are absolutely willing to be responsible and take ownership of what is transpiring around them.

Effective leaders operate from a space of taking this accountability and responsibility to heart. Effective leaders own up to mistakes, give credit where credit is due, hold vision, and take responsibility for implementing plans and initiatives all at the same time. They do this by immersing themselves in the work of their team, even as they set the course that’s required by all.

What effective leaders do NOT do is walk around reminding everyone of their own leadership role. They do not talk about “being in charge”. They do not distance themselves from the required tasks and responsibilities of any initiative. They don’t act as if certain tasks are theirs exclusively, while others are beneath them. Do you understand the distinction I’m making here?

Effective leaders stand in the paradox of their leadership, recognizing that they are simultaneously at the helm and part of the team all at once. True leaders understand that while the buck does, indeed, stop with them, this doesn’t mean that they are separate from the folks around them. Instead, it means that to some degree they must be at least as invested – if not more so – in doing what needs to be done to achieve success.

If you find yourself using “in charge” language – phrases such as “because I said so” or “I’m the boss” or “you’ll do what I said” or “this is the way it is” – you’re really not leading. You’re throwing your weight around and attempting to assert authority without actually earning it. And you’re not being a team player – which is a surefire way to lose the respect of your team (and in turn, their investment in your vision).

Bottom-line: if, as a leader, you want to achieve success, then you’ve got to stop hiding behind your position and your title. Leadership is not about position or title. Leadership is not about what you do, it’s about how you be. And effective leaders are those who BE part of the team, and BE in service of a shared objective. True leaders are never concerned about who’s in charge; they’re concerned about how their team can enact a vision, and how they can support that vision becoming reality. 

How do Leaders Build Trust?

Earlier this week, as I was delivering a workshop on Leading Change, I fielded the following question:

“How do we build trust in an environment where it’s missing?”

It’ a really relevant question for many organizations; and it’s one with a fairly simple answer.

You build trust by being trustworthy. That’s what it boils down to. The challenge inherent in this, of course, is that simplicity doesn’t translate into immediacy. it takes time for folks to lean into your trustworthiness. Let me explain.

When I talk about being trustworthy, I’m essentially asking you to act as Barbara Coloroso advises: “Say what you mean, mean what you say, and do what you say you’re going to do.” This is what lies at the heart of whether or not folks will trust you. If you say what you mean and mean what you say – ALWAYS – and if you ALWAYS do what you say you’re going to do then trust is built. Inherently. Without struggle. With ease.

The challenge is that you need to be CONSISTENT.

You can’t say what you mean SOMETIMES. And you can’t do what you said you’d do today, but not tomorrow. If you’re inconsistent in your behavior, trust will not build.

Moreover, you’ve got to make yourself available. You’ve got to be willing to hear what others are saying and truly listen to their concerns. You must be willing to invest time in establishing relationships and creating space for others.

Also, when it comes to building trust, as a leader you must hold yourself accountable and take responsibility for the impact you create around you. Trust me when I say, folks are watching you. If you make a mistake and act like it didn’t happen, or pass the buck, or pretend that it was an intentional act, you will erode any possibility of trust.

Bottom-line: the building of trust – especially when it is absent to begin with – takes time. The key to building trust is a simple one: be trustworthy. Those who are trustworthy earn trust; those who are not, don’t. Plain and simple.  Be trustworthy, and you’ll create an environment of trust, which means you’ll create a work environment that works. And that, when it comes right down to it, is the ultimate goal.

Leadership & Simplicity: Can They Go Hand-in-Hand?

Confucius has been quoted as saying “life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” These are brilliant words, from my perspective; words that apply to so much of how we live these days, particularly as leaders.

In recent months, as I find myself working with more groups and teams, I’m noticing exactly how leaders stumble into the trap of taking something seemingly innocuous and making it unnecessarily complicated. Policies are created when a short conversation would suffice; elaborate procedures are put in place to address simple challenges; lengthy meetings are held to address problems that could be resolved in the moment.

These are but a few examples of how simple matters take on a complicated turn. I’m sure you can think of some very real, practical examples of your own to add to the list. Rest assured, this sort of thing happens all the time, and it’s getting in the way of effectiveness.

One of the reasons we gravitate toward the complicated, is our lack of appreciation of the simple. We negate the value of a simple solution, time and time again. Instead we subscribe to a misguided belief that the more complicated something is, the more value it adds. Trust me when I say that this belief has got to get kicked to the curb. Complicated is never better than simple. In fact, our goal as leaders should always be to find the SIMPLE solution.

When we embrace complicated over simple, there is much at stake. We waste time and resources. We drain the energy of our teams. We muddy otherwise clear waters. We lose sight of objectives. Ultimately, we set ourselves up for failure.

Bottom-line: while it might be tempting to believe that something complicated is required to address a challenge, this is rarely true. Effective leaders understand and embrace the value of simplicity. Simple solutions are the key to resolving all challenges. Seek the simple solution, and enjoy the sense of flow that comes about as a result.

 

What’s Your Fatal Flaw?

Just as every leader has a unique super power, rest assured that this is balanced out by a corresponding fatal flaw. There’s some particular characteristic that you have that can absolutely undermine any and all of the good work that you do as a leader, particularly if you’re unaware of it.

  • Arrogance.
  • Excessive humility.
  • Fear of (fill in the blank).
  • An inability to ask for help.
  • People-pleasing.
  • Lack of boundaries.

This list could go on forever, sadly. What’s really disconcerting is that too many leaders and aspiring leaders aren’t aware of what their particular “fatal flaw” is. Which is a flaw, in and of itself. Because when you don’t know what your flaw is, you cannot mitigate the impact of it. (And let me assure you, it’s having an impact).

So, how do you go about recognizing your particular fatal flaw? How do you become familiar with your Achilles’ heel? And then, how do you work around it, so that you can do the great leadership work you’re meant to do?

First, pay attention. Increase your level of self-awareness. If necessary, ask a trusted (and trusted is the key word here) friend or colleague to speak to what they see as your weakness. This isn’t for the purposes of making yourself small. This is so that you can familiarize yourself with all aspects of your leadership, and work around the qualities that don’t serve.

Second, make sure that you are NOT operating on auto-pilot. Be fully present and aware of your choices in every interaction and conversation. This will allow you to notice when your “weakness” starts to make an appearance.

Third, when you notice your flaw at play, consciously choose to sidestep it, as it were. For example, if you are a people-pleaser and you have become aware that this inhibits your leadership effectiveness, then – when you feel “people pleasing” rearing its head – consciously choose actions that are less about pleasing, and more about leading effectively.  Admittedly, this ability to consciously choose different actions takes some practice – and, it will serve you well in the long run.

Bottom-line: knowing your fatal flaw as a leader is just as important as knowing your super-power. Just as you want to play to the gift of the latter, you want to minimize the impact of the former. And the only way to do that is to be aware of it. Know who you are, warts and all, and you can consciously lead with the greatest possible impact.

What’s Your Leadership Superpower?

Wonder Woman. Batman. Superman. Jean Grey.

All of these folks – and a myriad of others – are considered to be superheroes. Each has a unique gift a strength, that surpasses what one might consider the norm. Their super power is something that allows them to do phenomenal things, in a way that is unique to them.

As a leader, trust me when I tell you that you too have a super power. Moreover, if you’re not acknowledging it and working with it, you’re not leading effectively.

I know. For some of you, the fact that I’m writing about this topic seems somewhat frivolous and flip. Rest assured, that is not my intention at all. In fact, I’m being absolutely serious here. Your superpower is something that you’ve GOT to pay attention to, if you’re going to lead to your full potential.

Your superpower may not be as awe-inspiring as the ability to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or the power of invisibility.  Whatever it is, though, trust me when I tell you that it is what separates you – stands you apart – in a leadership crowd.

So, what is your superpower? What is that particular strength that you have, that comes with great ease, and allows you to do what others grapple with?

Perhaps it’s the gift of compassion, or listening; maybe you’re particularly adept at organization or visioning; you might be a gifted writer or a spectacular delegator.

Whatever your particular superpower is, here’s what I know: you’re likely overlooking it and its power because it comes so easily. Your superpower is not something you have to work at. Your superpower is that gift that just happens.

In order to make the most of your superpower, it’s time for you to be responsible with it. It’s time for you to simultaneously heighten your awareness of it, AND consciously put it to use. Moreover, what you want to do is play to that particular superpower, that strength, and let go of trying to develop skills that aren’t yours.

Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with stretching and growing and learning new things. That being said, when you’ve got a built-in strength that already elevates your leadership, why wouldn’t you use that to full advantage?

Bottom-line: as a leader, you have absolutely got a superpower to use. Your superpower may not seem all that glamorous to you, because it just comes with ease. Rest assured, no matter how easy it feels to you, that particular strength is something that others grapple with. So, when you can recognize, access and lean in to your superpower, you will absolutely elevate your leadership game and leave a powerful leadership legacy that is truly yours and yours alone.

How Do You Survive a Values Clash?

Values are a topic that I’ve often written and spoken about.  Indeed in my most recent book, I talk about values a lot, as I know the importance of honouring values when it comes to living and leading the way we truly want.

The challenge with values is this: sometimes, they clash.

I know you’ve been aware of times in your life when you feel like the things that matter to you are doing battle with the things that matter to someone else.  Perhaps more challenging is when two of the things that matter to you are fighting with each other for space in your life.   By way of illustration, let me offer this example:  imagine an individual who values family time and professional responsibility – otherwise known as meeting job expectations.  On a night when this person has a meeting at work scheduled as well as her child’s school concert, she’s dealing with a values clash.

Or, think of a time when you were having a conversation with a friend.  In the course of the conversation, you hit on a topic where your perspective is drastically different from that of your friend.  In this context, the root of the issue is likely a values clash.

In either of these cases, how do you handle it?  What do you do when two values – whether they’re both yours or not – go up against each other?  The situation can be challenging, no doubt about it, and there is a solution.  Simply put, you decide what matters (which is, essentially, the core of the title of my book: What Matters Now – for very good reason).

Let’s start with the case of two personal values coming up against one another.  In the example preceding, I talked about “family time” and “professional responsibility”; in this case, two strong values are competing.  When it comes to deciding which to honour and how to move forward, the key question is “what matters most?”  It can be hard to answer, no doubt about it; I mean how do you choose between family and work?  But when you allow yourself to get still and hold the question, considering implications and outcomes, what happens is that you connect with your priority in the moment.  In other words, you get to decide which value to honour NOW, knowing that it’s not necessarily the one that you might honour at another time.  So, if the meeting is dealing with a crucial topic with relevant implications for your job, you may well choose to attend the meeting over the concert.  Or, you might request that the meeting be held at a different time, or that you be allowed to leave early or arrive late.  In other words, holding the question of “what matters now” will allow you to a) know what matters to you and b) explore options to facilitate the honouring of all your values.

In the case of your values being pitted against the values of someone else, the same question holds.  And likely what will happen as you hold the question is that you’ll notice another value of yours start to rise to the surface.  When you ask “what matters now” when you’re in the midst of a values clash with another person, you might realize that what matters is being honest, or agreeing to disagree, or letting go of toxicity.  Whatever this “third value” is, that becomes the one to honour and provides the way out of the clash.

As a leader, no matter what clash you’re experiencing, the fact remains that in order for you to have the richest experience of your life and leadership, and for you to live and lead with few regrets, the honouring of your values is what truly matters in the end.  This isn’t about being selfish or ignoring the needs and ideas of those around you.  Instead, this is about finding your path and following it in a way that allows you and others true freedom, and ultimate joy.  As a leader, modeling this capacity to identify and follow what matters is highly compelling.

Bottom-line:  values clashes happen, there’s no escaping them.  And, you can move through them.  The crucial question to hold at all times is “what matters now”?  When you know the answer to this question, you’ll always find your way out of the clash and into the flow.

Leadership Truth: You’re Not as Indispensible as You Think!

“Just a second, I HAVE to respond to this message.”

“Hold on, I have to take this call.”

“Sorry, I just need to check in on my team.”

Variations on any and all of these statements are something I hear a LOT in the leadership realm. Those who hold leadership roles often seem to drop out of conversations, put personal tasks on hold, defer appointments or projects – whether of a personal or professional nature – to deal with whatever the latest “urgent” request is.

Somebody has a question. A new staff member doesn’t know what to do. This person just needs you for a moment. You know the sorts of things I’m talking about.

As a leader, you’ve probably found yourself doing a version of these actions as recently as today. There’s a way that you have been made to feel – either by yourself or by those around you – utterly indispensible.

After all, leaders are essential to the success of any team, right?

Well here’s what I want you to know: while leaders are essential to the success of any team, this does not mean that YOU are indispensible. Leadership can happen from anywhere, by anyone, which means that YOU yourself are not all that essential. You’re not nearly as important as you might think you are. In fact, your team can actually function without you.

You’ve just got to give them a chance to do so.

You’re actually not doing your team any favours by being at their beck and call.

There’s a huge difference between being available when needed, and never letting go of the reins.  The difference lies in drawing and maintaining clear boundaries.

In other words, there’s merit and wisdom in saying things like the following:

“When I’m in my office and my door is open, I’m happy to answer any questions.”

“I respond to emails between the hours of 9 a.m. and noon.”

“I don’t respond to work-related texts after hours – unless it’s an emergency.”

“When I’m on vacation, _____________ will be answering all questions, not me.”

When you don’t set clear boundaries, when you drop everything to address every problem yourself the minute a problem arises, when you don’t empower your team to solve problems on their own you’re not leading. Instead, you’re managing, and moreover, you’re doing so in a way that doesn’t actually foster effective outcomes.

The bottom-line is this: you are not as indispensible as you think. Yes, you want to be an effective leader, thereby contributing to your team’s success. If, however, you’re translating this into never being able to walk away from your phone/computer/office without a sense that you’re somehow out of the loop, you’re no longer leading, you’re controlling. And you’re doing so at the expense of your own leadership well-being.

What You Do As a Leader Isn’t What Matters (At Least, Not as Much as You Think!)

As a leader, you’ve probably got a to-do list a mile long (give or take).

This list likely haunts you more often than not, raising questions in your mind as to what to tackle and when. And no sooner do you check an item off the list, before you’re adding at least one more item to take its place.

The to-do list can seem never-ending.

Here’s what I want you to know: as a leader, as a truly EFFECTIVE leader, the to-do list doesn’t matter as much as you think. Because what you do isn’t nearly as important as HOW YOU SHOW UP.

Let me say it again, another way: leadership isn’t about what you do, it’s about how you BE.

I know, you’ve been entrusted to attain some results. There are outcomes that are expected of you. It’s true.

At the same time, delivering those outcomes, achieving those results, isn’t nearly as meaningful as HOW you achieve those results. Leadership is all about how you BE when delivering results.

Think about it: if you choose to operate from a disconnected space, standing apart from your team and acting as though your opinion is the only one that matters, any results you achieve will be tainted by an energy of disconnection. They won’t feel complete.

Similarly, if you choose to show up with a “driven” energy, this will colour the results you achieve, likely in an uninspiring way.

The question you want to stand in as a leader is this: how do you want to show up? How do you want to be?

Let me be clear: this isn’t about being wishy-washy, always accommodating or overly nice; and it’s not about being hard-nosed or stoic at the other extreme. I’m also not suggesting that you shouldn’t deliver results as part of your leadership.

Instead, I’m pointing you in the direction of focusing on the energy you bring to the office, the table, the team MORE than focusing on the tasks at hand.

What is the way that you need to show up in order to inspire your team? How do you need to be to achieve whatever outcome your team has set? What is the energy that you need to exude, in order that your completed to-do list leaves an energy of success for all to enjoy?

You see, how you be – how you show up – is imperative to the success of your leadership. Moreover, it’s not static. It’s something that you can choose and re-choose as required.

The key is to shift your focus from “what do I need to do?” to “how do I need to be?”

Bottom-line: when you get conscious and deliberate about how you need to be, how you show up, your leadership impact actually gets amplified. Never fear; you’ll still check off the items on your to-do list. And, the results you achieve as you do so will be far more impactful.

Leadership Challenges: How High Do You Rank on Your List of Priorities?

Doctor’s appointments. Physiotherapy. Spa treatments. A meeting with your lawyer. A dinner date with your family.

Any and all of these – and a myriad of other activities – qualify as “personal appointments”. Everyone has personal appointments. Some are more important than others. Sometimes it’s challenging to tend to them as scheduled. For leaders in particular, however, how you act in relation to your personal appointments matters.

Why?

Because it’s an indicator of how you value yourself in relation to everything else on your list of priorities.

Sometimes, by virtue of who else is involved in the personal appointment (your partner, your lawyer, your doctor) how you act in relation to your personal appointments can also be an indicator of how you value OTHERS in relation to your list of priorities.

I know, I know. You’re busy. Sometimes you can’t help but be late. I get it.

And yet, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’re probably on time for some appointments. So the question becomes this: how are you able to make those appointments enough of a priority that you can be on time? Or that you don’t have to cancel them? Or that you show up in general?

You see, your decision to be on time, or late, or a no-show – particularly if it’s part of a pattern – sends a very loud, clear message about what matters to you. About what you value. About what you consider worthy of your time, attention and respect. That message is one that you’re conveying to your team, your family, your friends, and indeed, your SELF.

And that message matters. Because over time, the pattern you set, becomes the expectation that you and others hold for yourself.

If you regularly put yourself at the bottom of your priority list, or if you’re regularly late for meetings (putting others at the bottom of your priority list), you’re causing damage. Do it for too long, and the damage becomes irreparable.

I know. You have so many demands on your time. Everyone wants a piece of you. You can’t be in two places at once.

I’m not asking you to be.

What I’m telling you is this: as a human being, and as a leader in particular, how you honour your commitments matters. You need to draw boundaries. Boundaries are an essential aspect of being ablee to lead effectively.

So, if you are heading out the door to attend your child’s concert and an employee wants “just two minutes” of your time (which you know darn well is going to turn into 15) it’s up to you to say (respectfully), “listen, I’m heading out for the day, however, I can meet with you at _________ to chat.”

Remember, everybody truly believes that their particular scenario or challenge is an emergency and in need of your time/energy/insight RIGHT NOW. As a leader, it’s your job to help them realize that not every emergency is one. It’s up to you to manage expectations (which is different from meeting them). It’s up to you to model good boundary setting.

Bottom-line: it’s time to make yourself a top-seed on your list of priorities. If you cannot regularly honour your own appointments, if you can’t stick to timelines and model effective boundaries, you will forever be at the beck and call of everybody but yourself. And that’s no way to lead.

 

Leadership & Perfection: It’s Time to Let Go of the Illusion

Perfection. It’s this ever-elusive goal that is chased by many.

For leaders in particular, consciously or not, perfection is often the unstated (or stated) objective.

The picture of perfection can vary depending on the specific scenario and even on the specific leader involved. What one considers perfection, another may find faulty. In all “perfect” objectives, however, the implication is that things are flawless.

Flawless development of a plan.

Flawless execution of said plan.

Flawless results when all is said and done.

The challenge is that perfect and flawless aren’t actually synonymous.

The best environment in which to heighten your awareness of this is in nature. If you take the time to go outside – in a garden, a park, a forest, your front lawn – and look around, you will likely describe your surroundings as “perfect”. When you look closely, however, you’ll discover that what appears perfect is anything but “flawless”. There will be branches that are broken; flower petals that are torn; blades of grass that are bent; and the list keeps going. Despite these “flaws”, the overall picture is one of perfection. In other words, perfection is found in the way these flaws come together.

Let’s extrapolate this idea to the realm of leadership.

As leaders, when you look around your surroundings, you will likely notice flaws: flaws in your 5-year plan, flaws in members of your team, flaws in various processes and procedures. Some of these may well need to be addressed – rectified, corrected if you will. That being said, the goal of leadership is not the elimination of flaws. The goal of leadership is ongoing progress towards the achievement of a bigger objective – and such progress can include the supposed flaws.

Bottom-line: as a leader, it’s imperative that you be aware of flaws and challenges and address those as you move towards the achievement of whatever your big-picture goal is. That being said, don’t be so focused on perfection that you stall out. This impedes progress and when it comes right down to it, if you don’t progress, you will never achieve your goal. Progress, not perfection, is the ultimate leadership accomplishment.

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