Archive for August, 2012

Applying the Serenity Prayer to Leadership

                There is some truth to the serenity prayer when it comes to leadership – Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  Initially this seems a little counter-intuitive to the premise that leaders can do anything.  I believe that leaders need the mindset of invincibility but the understanding of reality.  It is the mindset of strength that gives leaders their ability to try new things or to face danger with some sense of confidence. Understanding reality means that leaders recognize that things don’t always go according to plan.  The idea that all leaders are infallible is completely false; so there will be failures along the way.  To be honest, all great leaders need to fail.  It is from failure that we can gain our greatest experiences and knowledge.   

                By recognizing that everyone will fail and that leaders are no exception to that rule is important, but then the first part of my statement comes back into play: Leaders need the mindset of invincibility.  Yes, we all fail, but it is the perseverance and fortitude of leaders to continue to try that matters.  With this thought, let’s go back to the serenity prayer.  While failure may be possible and perseverance is important, a leader must also re-evaluate the methods used to achieve the goal. Let’s face it. Some rocks in the path to success may not budge.  A leader will need to figure out which rocks can be moved and which ones need a way around.  Keep in mind, the ‘rocks’ in the path to success may be things like people, policies or physical challenges.

                As any parent will say “pick your battles”, that also applies to leaders.  When it comes to change, some people will get on board and be ready to go; others will resist and may reject completely the solution presented.  The leader has to figure out how to manage those differences in personalities effectively.  Policies or other rules can be big roadblocks, which may not change.  It is up to the leader, therefore, to work within the boundaries presented – and change the boundaries where possible.  The same thing applies to physical challenges.  The bottom line: Leaders should push the envelope where they can and recognize where they can’t.

 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

 

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Should Leaders Focus on Ethics?

                    How many times do we turn on the news and there is another story of a corrupt businessperson or a politician? It’s hard to believe that the Enron scandal was just over 10 years ago; it’s even harder to believe that it wasn’t an isolated incident.  Sometimes I shake my head and wonder what is wrong with people these days.  Weren’t people taught right from wrong when they were children?  I can only assume they were: yet somehow corruption persists.  Merriam-Webster defines ethics as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation.”  Sounds great – what does that mean?  Another definition listed makes a little more sense: “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.”  Now we are getting somewhere–ethics relates to conduct, specifically governing conduct.  If we look back at the first definition, ethics outlines what is good and bad along with morals and obligation.  Since I’m on a dictionary kick, what are morals?  According to Merriam-Webster, morals are “of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior.”  Basically morals and ethics should be what guide people’s actions. 

                   Why do so many people seem to get it wrong?  In some ways, leaders today must take on additional responsibility like parents.  While our team members are not our children, they are grown adults.  Sometimes they need to be reminded of simple things like the golden rule. It is amazing how many times problems could be solved with the simple “do unto others as you would have done to you”!  It seems that the temptations of today can derail some people’s ‘moral compass’ quite easily, which is tough for leaders to fight against. However, all is not lost.  I believe the majority of people want to do the right things and be good people – call me an optimist.

                    The key is for leaders to tap into that ‘good’ in each person.  Doing the right things and feeling good are very powerful motivational tools.  A watch-out, though, is to walk the fine line between motivating for the sake of pure goodness and elevating people’s sense of self-righteousness.  A situation can turn ugly if the team members elevate their own egos by being ‘right’.   Ironically, one way to manage egos is to remove emotion from the equation.  Unfortunately, emotion is necessary to drive motivation and passion in a team member. No one ever said being a leader was easy!

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Clearly Define Goals – It’s Important to WIN!

                Once I was assigned a project that had been abandoned to see if I could revive it and get it finished.  The first part of the project was to make some decisions about which technology to use within the company I worked for.  The next step was to implement the new technology.  I went through a few months of analysis and decision making before ending up with a recommended solution.   The support for my recommendation was positive; however, what happened next surprised me.  It was expected that now that the decision regarding the solution had been finalized, the same project umbrella would be used for the implementation.  I bucked the system and said no.  I pushed back that the first project was to figure out the solution; it was an analysis task and it was finished.  Then I argued we needed a completely separate project for the implementation.  These were two very different goals with two very different paths towards accomplishment. The first part was complete; it was time to refocus and change the playing field for the second part.      

                What I realized a while back was that we, as people, need to win. We need to get to the finish line, close the book, or park the car — however you want to put it.  We need closure.  Looking at my example – by continuing the original project forever, we never showed our progress when in fact a LOT of work had been done!  If we equate this type of thing to sports, it’s like running a race with no finish line or awarding of points.  How do I know when to stop?  How do we know who won?  The importance of milestones and a clear destination for a team working on a goal is sometimes overlooked.  If the goal is fairly simple, then intermediate points are not necessary.  If the end result is complex, milestones along the way accomplish two things – prove progress to the business and the team as well as provide opportunities to re-evaluate the overall project and its progression. 

                In this fast-paced, always-busy world, we have a thousand thoughts and ideas every day.  As long as a goal, task or project is not complete, it is something we have to think about and focus energy on.  If we make a point of reaching an ending and closing that chapter of work, our minds and our focus can be tuned on the next thing ahead.  Also, it feels good to say I’M DONE!

Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Stereotyping – An Instinct To Control

                 Making the statement “we all stereotype” will probably generate some immediate defensive responses.  However, look at the definition of stereotype according to Understanding and Managing Diversity by Carol Harvey and June Allard – stereotype means an overgeneralized belief that categorizes all members of a social identity group as ‘typical’ of that group.  Basically we may make assumptions about a person based on general characteristics of a particular group.  For example, a heavily tattooed man wearing leather would probably be lumped in with motorcycle riders or ‘bikers’ who have a reputation of being burly and tough.  Notice the word reputation, the conjecture that all bikers are burly and tough is prejudicial.  Prejudice (as defined by the book) is the use of previous or preconceived attitudes about someone based on his or her group memberships. By believing all bikers are burly and tough, a predetermined idea is developed which then leads to stereotyping.    

                Why would I state “we all stereotype”? Consciously or subconsciously I believe we do.  These stereotypes are based on outward appearance, mannerisms, speech, material things (cars, house, etc.) or other identifying factors.  It makes sense to me that as part of our instinctual flight or fight response, we size up our environment.  Who is around us? What threat do they pose? What escape should I have? This is a deep-rooted response basic to our core as mammals.  The difference between us as humans and other beings on Earth is we have the cognitive ability to choose to act or not on these instincts.  In short, we have the ability to decide. 

                We are bombarded by a literal information overload when it comes to making decisions.  Through the news, social media, or even our friends, we are influenced on what we consider ‘right’.  If I see someone in the grocery store with five facial piercings and blue hair, my subconscious is making choices and assumptions regarding that person (whether I know it or not) which then influences my emotions or my reactions.  It is the conscious part of my brain though that I can control.  By choosing to ignore any feelings of fear, distrust or even disgust, I am able to control the stereotype which allows me to act or react differently. 

                As leaders, we have to watch out for the stereotypes within ourselves and those in our groups.  It is easier to control ourselves than it is to control other’s instincts. However, it is imperative that leaders are able to help people break out of that cycle.  It can be tough.  An idea for leaders is to watch is how people are inter-relating, is it emotional or rational? Emotional leans more towards instinctual and maybe stereotypical.  Try to have the group move into rational thought by asking for specifics or examples of concerns or issues.  Leaders should to keep in mind is within a group, we don’t always have to agree – in fact life would be boring if we did.  We do have to understand and communicate which is why the leader must work to break down stereotypes.

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team  

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