Archive for December, 2012
It is that time of year again, the last day of one year and heading into a new, shiny future. The social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter and even email are abuzz with resolutions. I’ve seen notices of being nicer to people, the ever-popular dieting pledge and even a few to change jobs. When I worked out at a local popular gym, every January it was the same. Right after the New Year it was ridiculous to try to find an open weight or cardio machine due to all of the new people. As frustrating as it was, I always knew it wouldn’t last – by mid-February or so all of the New Year’s Resolutioners (as I called them) would leave and it would be back to normal. So why do we continue the cycle, and why do we seem to fail overwhelmingly at our resolutions?
Instead of addressing this solely as an issue at one time of the year, let’s look at this from a change management perspective. In any organization or team, we as leaders look to bring about change in an organized manner. There must be planning, training, preparation and execution of the plan for it to be successful. In order to enact lasting change, the leader and the team’s behavior and processes have to alter in a permanent manner. I think we can agree that for a team, quick change is a challenge to handle and usually any process alterations are temporary at best. So why do we throw all of this knowledge out the window when it comes to the end of one year and the beginning of a new one?
I believe it is the hope and optimism of the human spirit. We look to make our lives better and/or different; so we use the positive energy of a new year as the catalyst for our changes. However, as someone who has made and broken plenty of resolutions of my own, I realize it is not always the recipe for success. Just like springing new behaviors on my team can be a disaster, so can doing the same thing to myself. Today, New Year’s Eve, I have certain behaviors, and tomorrow, New Year’s Day, those behaviors will still be there until I go through a mental and physical change management process essentially to train myself to do things differently.
For leaders, put it this way: Would you believe that the sun setting and rising on one day will somehow make your team members different people? Maybe for the New Year, we, as leaders, should think about applying leadership and change management techniques personally and see how things turn out!
CEO, The Professional Development Team
I’ve mentioned the word focus quite a bit in my leadership thoughts. In the last few days, I’ve heard the word focus used over and over again in various news articles or internet posts. Among the many emotions and thoughts that raced through my head as a result of the terrible tragedy in Connecticut, I started to really think about what it means to focus. There is a wave of sentiment to focus on the victims of the horrible crime instead of on the criminal. I’ve read many different viewpoints about the focus of guns in our society and culture. I myself have advised leaders to direct and guide the focus of them and their teams – but again, what are we trying to say with the word focus?
Seems like a silly question since we use the word every day and know most of its literal definitions: the point of convergence of a beam of particles, the center of activity or attraction, or maybe a distinct vision. My favorite, though, and the one that I refer to when I encourage leaders to focus, is a state permitting clear perception or understanding (Merriam-Webster). When it comes to overwhelming emotion – grief and despair – how can we truly find focus? What perception or understanding is there to be gained in the wake of such unbelievable horror like shooting innocent children?
Like many others, my first reaction to the news of last week was Why?? Then, as I contemplated it further, I realized there is no why. To expect an answer to the question why implies there is some kind of answer to be found; in this case there is none. The question of why means there is a reason that we can wrap our hearts and our heads around to try to make sense of this tragedy. However, there is no sense, no logic and no reason that can be found in this sort of behavior. The problem with not having an answer is that it is wholly unsatisfying to us as humans.
I am no psychologist, but from my own experiences, I need to fill in the answers to the questions so there is a resolution – a closing. Without a response to my question – why – it is hard to deal with my inner turmoil. Unfortunately, as with any tragedy from the Oklahoma City bombings, 9/11, or even Connecticut, the bottom line is there will be little I can do except eventually reconcile my own emotions. This brings me back to the original subject of focus. As with each one of us, I can only control my own self – my own actions and reactions to the world around me.
There will be many debates in the upcoming weeks and months around gun control and mental illness – two major topics resulting from the recent happenings in the Northeast. I can only hope and support the leaders who take the time to find true focus – I mean clear perception and understanding – in order to move our society toward a brighter future. In my own opinion, we need to fight, not run, from the evils of our society; otherwise they will overtake us from behind. We must stand and fight against those influences and problems that might tear us apart from each other. In that regard, I will turn my focus to my children. I cannot stop everything, but I can help shield my family from the onslaught of malevolence in the world.
We have made our world too complicated when it is really quite simple – focus. Give these questions some thought: Where is your focus? What impact does that have on your own environment or family? Those few answers can help guide you toward emphasizing your focus or changing your focus. We all can make a difference…if we find our focus.
There was quite a bit of chatter going around concerning the behavior and breakdown of the Army’s quarterback following the Army/Navy game. I would like to address this situation directly with this blog post. For those of you unfamiliar with the Army/Navy game, let me take a moment to try to set the scene so the rest of this story makes sense. Army and Navy are brothers and sisters in arms on the battlefield – we will stand and fight side by side gladly and willingly every single day of the year, except one. The Army vs. Navy football game has been played 113 times. It is a deep-rooted tradition between the two service academies that is so ingrained that the phrase Beat Army is loudly shouted after singing the Naval Academy school song. Any time Army and Navy compete, there is a higher sense of purpose and drive to win. In this particular case, Army has been losing in football to Navy for ten years in a row; this year made eleven. The truth is Army was poised to win this year. They had the ball and were headed down the field, Navy unable to stop them very well. Unfortunately, with about one minute left in the game, the quarterback and running back did not have a good exchange and the ball was fumbled, ultimately recovered by Navy. That meant the end of the game and the loss for Army. What happened next is the true point of this blog – the quarterback sat on the sideline and sobbed. Not only did he sob during the last minute of the game, but he sobbed during the singing of each school‘s song as well as afterwards. He was inconsolable, even by Generals on the field.
Okay, now that the scenario is out there, let’s dive into the leadership aspect. From the various forums and Facebook postings, I am willing to say a majority of the spectators of the game felt the quarterback was blubbering, past the point of compassion. It did not help that CBS decided to focus on this guy’s breakdown throughout the final fifteen minutes of airtime; so we all got to watch the snot drip down his nose. The other perspective, though, is that this is a highly charged, emotional game and this guy may feel responsible for the loss, and/or he is a senior who never saw Army beat Navy in football. After devoting so many years, sweat and hard work into something, be on the brink of success, then see it slip from your grasp is tough for anyone to take.
So let’s bring this topic back up one level instead of just this one football game. Like this quarterback, we as leaders are looked up to for guidance, strength and handling the performance of our team. In some ways it is a good thing for us to show we are not made of stone to our teams – we have hearts and they do break. Teams work together and as such should support each other. Leaders are not excluded from this concept; so it is not only appropriate but encouraging to think a team would rally around a leader who needs consolation. What seems to be a defining limit, though, is when the leader is unable to regain composure and remain the leader.
In this type of situation, leaders have to keep two things in mind: 1. Bearing and 2. Perspective. Those who have served in the military are well aware of the concept of military bearing. It means to keep your composure and focus no matter what else is going on around you. I submit this is not an idea that should be limited just to the military. Any leader would benefit by remaining focused and composed, especially during a crisis situation. Teams look to leaders for clear-headed thinking and direction; remaining composed helps leaders provide that guidance, which builds the confidence of the team members for the leader. If the leader is unable to stay composed, in essence, the role of the guide is subconsciously passed on to whoever steps up at that time. The potential impact on this shift could affect future crisis situations, where the trust and confidence in the leader is shaken but not in the other team member who came through when someone was needed to lead.
The other point is perspective. This one is tougher because it reaches back to another of my previous blog posts about perception. At the end of the day, what is the most important point for the leader and the team to remember? What is the focus or direction for leaders in order to continue to move forward with their teams? Should we look at the one failure or the overall accomplishments? To state what may be obvious, leaders must find the positive within the negative. In some ways, this technique just eases the sting of defeat, but as a leader, isn’t that part of what we need to do?
In the case of the Army quarterback, he was devastated, but again, it was a football game. I am in a position to say ‘just a football game’ because I’ve seen Army beat Navy during my time as a midshipman. When I graduated in 2000, the series went 2-2 so I know what the sting of defeat feels like in this rivalry; something the mids of today do not know. The bigger picture is the Army fought a tough battle, and while they should feel sad for the loss, they should hold their heads up high for playing so well. Today, after the game, Army cadets and Navy midshipmen are back in class, preparing for finals. When they graduate, they will serve our country with honor and distinction, not as athletes but as Soldiers, Sailors and Marines. God Bless each of them and the future of our country.
CEO, The Professional Development Team
I’m sure each of us could think of (at least) one or two people who have the ability to turn every situation into a crisis. Whether at home or at work, the sky is always falling for these individuals! The problem is their issues can escalate into our issues if we aren’t careful. There are many avenues to explore why a person may have dramatic tendencies, but that starts to delve into the realm of psychology which is not something I am an expert in. However, I do know a little something about workplace dynamics and the impact a dramatic personality may have on the group or the team.
When someone has an overabundance of drama in his or her life or personality, it absolutely will affect others around them. Drama attracts attention, time, focus and resources – not one of those items do we want to divert from our team objectives. As leaders, we have to do two things: 1. Temper the impact of the dramatic person and 2. Make sure we do not get caught up in or become the dramatic person! I am not going to try to suggest that leaders alter the personalities of their team members – that is way beyond the scope of our calling. However, as with any partner within a group, we must control and define behavior. Every single one of us has our own personality quirks, but the leader establishes the standards and expectations of behavior for everyone on the team, regardless of personal issues. When someone steps outside of the defined rules of behavior, the leader must take action.
In an earlier blog, I reviewed one of the pitfalls of leadership – trying to solve everyone’s problems. When it comes to dramatic personalities, there are problems all the time; it can become very time-consuming and distracting if the leader takes on the role of personal problem solver. The focus for leaders has to be on the overall team goals and evaluating if the issues presented will impact those goals. If so, the leader needs to address the problems; otherwise, the leader should de-escalate the situation and remove the problem from the table. Unfortunately, it is possible that we, as the leaders, may get swept up into the drama ourselves, which would be undesirable. Once we become wrapped up in the fury and emotion of drama, we lose sight of the big picture and guiding the team as a whole. This could be disastrous for our leadership skills with effects like a loss of trust by team members, lack of confidence by other leaders or maybe a failure to complete the goals at hand.
When it comes to drama, I suggest leaders be the cold bucket of water on the hot fire. While some problems are legitimate crisis-level items, too many can be like crying wolf. Leaders have to have the strategic and tactical thinking to separate out what is truly worth worrying about and then defusing anything else. Not an easy responsibility for leaders but one that is well worth it to keep the entire team’s attention pointed in the right direction.
– Lori Buresh
CEO, The Professional Development Team