The 3 Most Dangerous Words for a Leader to Use
The 3 Most Dangerous Words for a Leader to Use
“Dangerous” might be an odd adjective to use when it comes to words. And yet, as I went about my work this past week, it occurred to me that a particular phrase – comprised of 3 words – could be very dangerous when used by leaders. And my guess is that you’ve heard this phrase used – by leaders and others – many, many times. The phrase is…
“I Already Know.”
I can feel the incredulity as you read that phase. I can hear the disbelief. How on earth can “I already know” be a dangerous phase?
Here’s how: it gets in the way of growth, learning and expansion.
When you approach a situation with the energy of “I already know” it closes you off from becoming something more. It shuts down your willingness to absorb something potentially new, if only a fresh perspective. Saying “I already know” actually keeps you small.
This is problematic for anyone, and for a leader in particular. Effective leadership requires growth, expansion, stretch. This in turn requires you to hold a beginner’s mind, an open mind, especially in the face of learning opportunities.
So, when you’re presented with a learning opportunity of any sort, saying “I already know” cuts you off from becoming what you could be.
Here’s another thing. If you truly KNOW something, you act on that something. In other words, if you KNOW how to be an effective communicator – you’ve taken all the workshops, attended all the PD you can – then you will communicate effectively. Period. If, however, there are times when your communication is ineffective, there is probably more that you can learn. AND THAT’s OK.
Sometimes, especially for leaders, there is a mistaken idea that if you don’t know something then you’re not capable or good enough. This simply isn’t true. Not having knowledge isn’t a problem in and of itself. Not being willing to gain knowledge, however, that is problematic. Which is why the phrase “I ALREADY KNOW” can be problematic.
Bottom-line: effective leadership requires a willingness to be on a constant learning curve. It’s about growth, stretch, expansion and evolution. The only way to grow is to expand knowledge. Telling yourself that you ALREADY KNOW gets in the way of that expansion, which then inhibits effective leadership. So embrace a beginner’s mind, forget what you know, and open yourself up to new possibilities.
Leadership Lessons Post-Election 2016 (They Apply Whether You’re Running for President or Not)
At this stage of the game – nearly one week out from the US election – it’s quite possible that you’re very tired of hearing about Donald Trump and our expectations (or fears) for his presidency. I get that. And, I have a few thoughts that have been percolating, that I believe are share-worthy.
As I watched things unfold last Tuesday evening, I found myself pondering what leadership lessons could be extrapolated from this particular moment in history. The lessons I gleaned had a common thread: the need to listen to one another. And the lessons themselves come from different angles. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
- When we people feel that it’s unsafe to speak, they go silent.
In and of itself, this is not surprising. Although they are silent, however, their beliefs and thoughts don’t necessarily change. They simply don’t share. And so, while we might look out and think that everyone is of a similar viewpoint, they’re not. Erego pre-election predictions that were far from accurate; folks couldn’t have been being honest about who they would vote for. The lesson from this is that we need to find a way to create space for all people to feel safe to express their viewpoints. We can’t allow folks to hold back on their opinions, just so we can feel like we are all on the same page.
The solution: We must create environments where even the most unpalatable opinions can be spoken, without fear of hostility (I know, this is one heck of a tall order!).
- When folks feel unseen, unheard, or unvalued, they rebel.
Even when the rebellious choice goes counter to values they may subscribe to. In the US election, for so long, many have been clamouring for change in the establishment. Change hasn’t been forthcoming. And so, finally, when faced with the choice to back someone with experience who had a proven track record of doing good public service but was clearly part of the establishment, and an individual who was in no way linked to the establishment, they chose the latter – even with his proven woeful lack of credibility, integrity and capacity. It was almost as though they would rather try something new, at any cost, than risk having the same old, same old.
The solution: We must ensure that we see, hear and value EVERYONE on our teams, even when we disagree with them.
- As leaders, we simply cannot take ANYTHING or ANYONE for granted.
We cannot assume that we have anything in the bag. We cannot imagine that just because something has happened in the past, it will happen again (or that a lesson has been learned and it won’t happen, as they case might be).
The solution: As leaders, we must continually stand in genuine curiousity and respond to what we notice, with integrity.
- Bonus lesson: Sometimes, even the best-laid plans go awry. When that happens, there’s something to be said for graciousness in defeat. Tenacity is admirable; and, at the same time, when you’ve lost, there’s wisdom in conceding graciously. This doesn’t mean you stop fighting for your cause. The work still needs to be done and if it was worth fighting for before the election (or whatever your equivalent is) then it’s still worth fighting for. Working for. Taking a stand for.
The solution: pay attention and know when it’s time to step down – for the moment. There will be a time to rise again, if the cause is just and worthy, and if you’re willing to pay attention and listen.
Bottom-line: I know that for many folks in my world, the 2016 Presidential election did not go as planned. And, the lessons that were held in that event’s unfolding are valuable for leaders everywhere. It all boils down to respect, creating space, and learning to be with one another even with our differences. When we can figure this out, we are able to be truly effective leaders.
Are Leaders Allowed to Jump Ship?
I know, this week’s article title seems facetious. Surely it’s obvious that leaders are NOT allowed to jump ship! Leaders are meant to stay the course. To hold tight when things are rough. To shine the light and set direction. But jump ship? No way.
Or can they?
Based on an experience I had this week, here’s what I’ve discovered. It’s not about whether or not leaders are ALLOWED to jump ship. It’s about understanding that there will be times when every leader WANTS to jump ship. And those are pivotal, game-changing moments.
It’s the moment when the best-laid plans seem to unravel without any warning, rhyme or reason.
It’s the moment when leaders feel pulled in a million directions and they’re about to break.
It’s the moment when folks are looking for answers, and the leader hasn’t had a minute to consider the question.
It’s the moment when leaders feel at a loss, unsupported and on their own.
It’s the moment when leaders discover that they’ve given everything they’ve got, and the results still fall short.
Every leader has moments like these. And jumping ship feels like a viable option.
In these moments, leaders are the folks who put their egos aside, and ask what will serve in moving forward. Leaders recognize that in the face of whatever is falling apart, this is the moment to pause and consider what will be best for all concerned. These are not the moments for a rash decision. These are the moments in which leaders take a breath, take stock, and allow the waters to settle as best they can, before deciding what will be the best course of action in moving forward.
Following such discernment, jumping ship may in fact be the solution. If so, it won’t actually look like jumping ship; instead it will look like stepping back and making way for something better. Jumping ship carries with it an energy of giving up. Making way, however, has the energy of being of service. And great leaders always stand in a place of service.
Bottom-line: from time to time, all leaders will feel the urge to jump ship. After all, desperate times call for desperate measures. In the face of desperation, however, leaders aren’t the folks who act desperately. Instead, leaders are the folks who take a step back, pause, take stock and then decide what will help to move things forward. If making room for another leader is what’s required, that’s not jumping ship. That’s leading with integrity. That’s leadership that serves.
What’s Standing In The Way of Your Happiness?
Happiness. The concept has been on my mind a lot this last week, as a result of a conversation that I had with a friend. This particular individual is going through a lot right now. So many challenges and roadblocks seem to be at every turn. During the course of our conversation, in frustration she finally said, “I can’t wait until ________________. I just want to be happy again, and have some fun.”
My heart broke for her. And not because I agreed, but because I saw what she was denying herself. Let me explain.
Happiness is not a function of your outer circumstances. Instead, happiness is a quality that resides within you. As such, it is accessible at all times. It looks a lot of different ways, and can make itself felt in varying degrees. Sometimes, happiness can feel like excitement, elation, joy and exuberance. Sometimes, happiness can be expressed and experienced in the company of others, in shared interests, in laugher and lightness. And sometimes, happiness is quieter, more subtle, a feeling of contentment, or even just a knowing that “this too shall pass.”
Since happiness resides within you, since it isn’t actually a function of what’s going on outside of you, here’s the kicker: if you’re waiting for your circumstances to change in order for you to be happy, you never will be. If you can’t find a way to access your inner happiness, in even the smallest of measures, no matter what is going on, you won’t be able to be truly happy when your circumstances change.
One of the things that you’ve got to understand about happiness is this: it can coexist with feelings and circumstances that we don’t typically associate with happiness. For example, during a funeral, there is usually a sense of sadness. Grief. Loss. AND, there is often a corresponding sense of happiness that exists within the memories that you hold about the deceased. Can you understand this? It’s imperative that you do because otherwise you will continue to deny yourself the opportunity to experience happiness no matter what is going on. You’ll continue to link your happiness to circumstances outside of yourself and that simply isn’t in your best interest.
All of this is not to suggest in any way that you must comport yourself with giddy happiness at all times. Sometimes, your over-riding emotion and expression will be sadness, anger, overwhelm, confusion. This is okay. In no way should you deny yourself the expression or experience of any emotion. What I want you to understand is that you don’t need to wait to be happy. Don’t hitch your happiness wagon to the circumstances of your life. Instead, know that if you truly want to be happy, all you have to do is look within. And access whatever quality of happiness you can latch on to in that moment.
Bottom-line: life can be tough at times. Circumstances can feel overwhelming. In various situations you may well feel things other than happiness. Just remember: happiness is present nonetheless. Happiness resides within you. It’s available to you in some measure at all times, if you choose to access it. Don’t wait for circumstances to change in order to experience happiness. Instead, allow yourself to be aware of and feel your inner happiness no matter what. This is the essence of living your very best life.
What Others Think of You Doesn’t Matter; Until It Does
Somewhere out there in the world is a quote, which has been attributed to many people in various forms, but here’s the one I came across most recently, and which I rather like: “The opinion that other people have of you is their problem, not yours” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. Another variation is the ever-popular “what other people think of you is none of your business.”
When I first became acquainted with this idea, my heart resonated with it powerfully. There was such freedom and liberation in being told that the opinions held by others were not nearly as important as my own opinion of myself. I can totally get behind the wisdom of that, you know? That being said, I’ve come to believe that the quote needs to be tweaked a bit; because sometimes, the opinions of other people do matter. Here’s what I mean.
As an individual out there in the world who’s trying to do something, accomplish something, create something – whatever that “something” might be – your reputation is important. wWen it comes right down to it, your reputation is nothing more or less than the sum total of what others think of you, the opinions they hold. If a majority of people hold a similar opinion, and that opinion flies in the face of how you’d like to be experienced, that could be problematic. Why? Because there will be a gap between how you say you want to be experienced, and the actual prevailing experience of you.
If you go around in the world believing that the opinions of others are irrelevant, then you run the risk of being like an ostrich with your head in the sand, unaware of the reputation you’ve got in the community; or, perhaps more accurately, you’ll be completely aware of your reputation but unaware of the effect of that on the work you’re striving to do. This lack of awareness can result in your desired impact being less than it could be.
Is that what you want?
The best way to be with the opinions of others is to truly know yourself inside out and backwards. Know what matters to you, what you’re striving to create, the impact you’re working to have. Once you know this, you can show up with the express purpose of bringing all of this to life. And, if or when it comes to your attention that somebody’s opinion of you is less than desirable, or when those opinions fly in the face of who you’re trying to be, you can evaluate and determine how to move forward in a way that serves your vision.
Understand; I’m not for a moment suggesting that you need to take on the judgments of others, the insecurities of others, or even the opinions of others. Their opinions are in fact just those – their opinions. Knowing how those opinions line up or deviate from your own opinion of yourself, however, is important. When you can confidently articulate who you are and how you want to be experienced, you can address any deviations with the power of this confidence. You can question another’s opinion of you, without giving it validation. You can attempt to set the record straight, if it matters to you. And if it doesn’t, you can move on; but you’ll move on with integrity and wisdom, rather than with an attitude of “your problem, not mine.”
Bottom-line: pretending that the opinions of others are irrelevant to you is naïve. On the flip side, giving complete credence to the opinions of others is unnecessary. No matter who you are or what you’re up to in the world, your job is to know the impact you want to have, then pay attention to the feedback you get, and tweak as necessary. What others think of you does matter; it has to line up with who you are at your core. When your reputation matches your character, you’re definitely in the zone.
Mistake? Or Choice? Do You Know the Difference?
Twice is a pattern.
Years ago, I heard a colleague of mine say this and was struck by the truth of the statement. Patterns are often thought of as recurring more frequently than twice; and yet twice is, in fact, a pattern.
Recently, I’ve had opportunity to think of this idea as it relates to mistakes. I’m a big advocate of allowing space for mistakes, and fostering the learning that comes from them. Mistakes are tangible learning opportunities and need to be treated as such. That being said, how often can you repeat a mistake, before it’s not a mistake any longer?
Here’s what I mean. I recently read that “you can’t make the same mistake twice; the second time you make it, it’s no longer a mistake, it’s a choice.” And I stopped in my tracks. The truth of this statement is paradigm-shifting.
As leaders, we often allow folks repeated opportunities to learn from mistakes. To be clear, we allow repeated opportunities to learn from the SAME mistake, made more than once. What I’m slowly but surely coming to terms with is that, when the exact same mistake is made more than once, learning hasn’t actually transpired the first time. More importantly, it’s not likely to transpire after this second attempt –or the third. So long as someone is making the exact same mistake, they’re actually choosing to do what’s already been done. In other words, it’s a choice – not a mistake.
So, why does this matter?
As leaders, our job is to support folks in their learning and growth (as well as engaging in our own learning and growth!). When we notice that learning is not transferring – when we see folks choosing to make the same “mistake” repeatedly – we can consciously draw their attention to the repeated error. And we can ask the following question: what’s stopping you from doing things differently?
The answer to this question can be quite illuminating. It could point to a fear of trying something new; perhaps there’s a lack of understanding of HOW a different choice will yield a different result; or maybe folks are simply uncomfortable with change. Regardless of the answer, knowing it can be helpful in ensuring that mistakes aren’t repeated.
Bottom-line: mistakes made more than once are choices, not actual mistakes. As leaders, creating room for mistakes is one thing. Creating room for repeated mistakes, is a surefire way to undermine progress.
Leadership & Gratitude
Great leaders are grateful. And they express their gratitude. Great leaders understand that the expression of gratitude goes a long way to enriching any experience and garnering successful results.
It’s a well-known fact that people who feel appreciated work harder and deliver greater results than those who feel as though they’re not valued. Think about it: when you feel as though your efforts are valued, that your work is meaningful, that you’re not just a warm body taking up space or filling in a spot on the schedule, you are more likely to work with greater enthusiasm, right?
Great leaders know this. And they get deliberate about expressing gratitude.
How do you get deliberate about it? Here are a few strategies:
- Create a system in which you thank at least 5 folks a day for their contribution. This ensures that everyone feels appreciated over time.
- Host a luncheon at the end of a project or time frame, specifically as an expression of gratitude for everyone’s efforts.
- Make it a point to send thank you notes or emails when you notice something that has been beneficial to the team.
A few things to bear in mind as you strive to be more deliberate about expressing gratitude:
- Be sincere and specific, whenever possible. A generalized “thank you” is fine once in a while – and without specificity, it loses meaning and impact. Be specific; make it real.
- Be spontaneous. In other words, even when you have a system in place for expressing gratitude, make sure that you say thanks outside of the system as well. You don’t want gratitude to become rote.
- Deliver gratitude in person when possible – and look folks in the eye. Show them you are genuine in valuing their contribution to the workplace.
Bottom-line: folks don’t often think of the expression of gratitude as a leadership quality. And yet, great leaders know that showing appreciation for the people that surround you, is essential to increased productivity and boosting workplace morale. Model the art of gratitude; and savour the positive shift that comes with it.
Leaders Gotta Leap
This past summer, a new zipline ride of sorts opened up in Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side). The Mistrider allows riders to zip along towards the falls at a crazy height (and equally crazy speed, to some extent). The moment I saw that this ride was available, it went to the top of my summer bucket list.
Needless to say, I was super-excited when the opportunity arose to actually take part in this adventure!
In preparation for the ride, I did my research. I checked out all stats and watched videos of others riding the zipline. I ensured that, to the best of my ability, I knew what to expect. I also gave thought to who I wanted to ride with me; the end result was that my hubby, daughter and I would ride, and my son would video the whole thing.
As we approached the front of the line, my heart started to race. I became giddy with excitement. My daughter actually laughed at my childlike exuberance – I mean, I was actually giggling! What respectable 45 year old woman does that? (Me, I do that!)
When it was our turn to be harnessed in, I felt my nerves start to settle. And then, unexpectedly, my heart leapt into my throat, as I realized what I had just committed to. In one minute, the glass gate in front of me would open and there would be no turning back. And I knew, in that moment, that every fear I had about heights, about speed, about falling, about faulty carabineers, would all come racing to the forefront of my brain. Which meant I absolutely had to give myself over to the process and trust.
So that’s what I did. Following a split second of panic, I allowed myself to mentally leap into the space of trust and go where this ride would take me.
The result? The most exhilarating feeling of surrender and freedom and joy and accomplishement all at once.
For me, this experience held a leadership lesson. Too often, leaders rise to the challenge in front of them, walk to the edge of what’s known – and then stop short. What lies ahead is unknown, uncharted territory and for all anyone knows, anything and everything could go to hell in a hand basket. Or it could all go very, very right.
When you as leader are standing on the edge of the unknown, you need to take a breath, trust in the preparations you’ve made up to this point, trust in the folks you’ve gathered around you, and leap.
Notice the implications of what I’ve said there. You’ve got to have done some prep work. You’ve got to make sure that the people around you – colleagues, employees, clients – are folks you trust. And then, you’ve got to let go and leap.
If you don’t leap, then you’ll remain stuck. Your process will be stuck. Your project, whatever it is, will be stuck. And stuck does not serve.
If, however, you DO leap, then everything will move forward. You WILL get to where you want to go, because you’ve actually created the circumstances to facilitate that.
Bottom-line: as a leader, you have got to ensure that you create the right conditions for success. Having done that, you will face a moment when the only thing left for you to do is leap. Leap into the unknown, leap into what’s next, leap to success. Because without that leap, you will stay stuck. And staying stuck will never get you anywhere.
I Quit!– Leading When You Want to Throw in the Towel
Every leader has been there at one point or another. That space where all you want to do is quit.
Everyone from everywhere wants a piece of you.
Nothing – like, NOTHING – is going right.
Nobody is listening.
You’re surrounded by complaints.
Problems seem to be multiplying.
You’ve given your all, and it seems to have been for naught.
Any progress you thought you were making has stalled.
Curveballs are coming from everywhere.
And any support systems you’d put in place have suddenly disappeared.
Honestly. In these moments, throwing in the towel would seem to be the most sane option. I mean, who could blame you?
I’ve been in this space a few times in recent weeks. It’s not comfortable. It’s not fun. And it sure as heck is NOT what I would have anticipated even a few months ago.
As leaders, when we take it upon ourselves to tackle a situation, to deal with a challenge, we expect that at some point, our efforts will bear fruit.
And sometimes, that just doesn’t happen. So, what are you supposed to do?
Many would argue that throwing in the towel is the logical, understandable next step. And it might be. My sense, however, is that before you throw in the towel, there is one more approach that just might turn things around.
It’s time to chunk it. And here’s what I mean.
In those moments of extreme overwhelm, when anything and everything seems to be going wrong, part of what’s happening is that you’re looking at things through a wide-angle lens. You’re seeing everything, and some of what you’re seeing is distracting to say the least.
Narrowing your scope of vision can help to eliminate some of the distraction. And by doing so, you can start to tackle “bite-size” chunks of the problem instead of the whole problem. This is what it means to “chunk it”.
Now, before you chunk it, there are two other steps to take. The first is to walk away. Whatever is staring you in the face and causing you to feel like it’s time to yell “I quit!” walk away from that. Go for a stroll around the block. Or go sit on a park bench. Or just close your office door, close your eyes, and take a mental trip to the beach. Walking away is about removing yourself, as much as possible, from that which is sending you spinning.
Having walked away, now breathe. Deeply. Several times. Each time you breathe, exhale angst and inhale calm. Slow your mind down.
Now you can look at the problem with fresh eyes. And ask yourself, what ONE THING can I tackle? What ONE THING can I do? What ONE THING can I address? Whatever your answer, do that. No more, and no less. Once that is done, move on to the next ONE THING.
Sometimes, there might be nothing you can do. And that is okay. Keep breathing. Keep working on other things that need your attention. Allow things to unfold.
Bottom-line: all leaders will hit the “I wanna quit” moment at some point or another. It’s okay; in many ways, it speaks to your passion. Recognize it as a sign to pull back a bit, stop trying to do it all, and regroup. It may well be time to hand over the reins. However, deciding to do so from a space of grounded presence is always better than throwing in the towel. In the face of overwhelm, remember to breathe, step away, and chunk it. Small chunks are easier to manage.
Leadership, Impact & Responsibility: How Do These Go Together?
Years ago, I learned about an important leadership relationship. The significance of this particular relationship has been profound in my world, shifting the way I lead and am led. In the wake of learning this lesson, I have been so cognizant of this particular relationship that I cringe when I see other leaders ignoring it.
One of the most significant leadership relationships is that between impact and responsibility.
It’s true that in and of themselves these concepts are essential to effective leadership. Leaders need to be aware of their impact. And leaders need to be responsible for what happens around them. Too often, however, leaders ignore taking responsibility for the impact that they have on the space around them. By failing to do so, they create tension, rifts and angst where such qualities need not be.
Last week, I had a great experience of this. Sitting in a meeting in which a difficult topic was being addressed, the leader of the meeting was answering questions and addressing concerns. Despite the difficult content, the meeting itself was going very well. The leader was sensitive, transparent and open in her dialogue. Until she wasn’t.
There came a moment where, on the heels of an answer she had provided, a participant asked if she could add something. Without explanation, the leader said “no”. Moreover, she said it in a firm tone, without making eye contact with the questioner, and without looking at anyone else in the group. The group as a whole giggled nervously; the one who asked permission let it go. And you could feel the collective air in the room get sucked out. People held their breath and waited to see what would happen next.
What I recognized in that moment was that the issue – the sense of angst – wasn’t so much about the denial of the request. After all, simply put, permission was asked and denied. The angst was around how the request was denied, and the lack of context around it.
So, what could have been done differently?
The leader could have spoken to her decision, providing a context for it. Or, assuming that such a context would somehow have been inappropriate, she could have acknowledged that her denial had created tension and that the group needed to trust that that wasn’t her intent. Or, she could have changed her body language to soften the delivery. Eye contact alone can soften impact.
All of this, of course, requires an awareness of impact and a willingness to be responsible for it. As I indicated, for all intents and purposes the meeting continued without anyone rumbling – and at the same time the sense of angst was palpable. Any questions that were asked after that exchange were asked with trepidation. Which means that something was lost that didn’t have to be.
Here’s the bottom-line folks: as leaders, we know (or we should know) we have an impact. Moreover, it matters. And if our goal is to be truly effective leaders, then we must take responsibility for the impact that we have – always. Leadership, impact and responsibility are inextricably entwined.