Archive for January, 2013

Why do we Strive for Leadership Roles?

               A friend of mine posted this question on Facebook, and it is an excellent question.  Why do we look to be in positions of leadership?  What makes a position of leadership so appealing?  There is a rush of adrenaline to think that you either chose or were selected to be in that position of honor and responsibility.  When we are the leader of a team, we are in charge.  There are several underlying facets to the statement “We are in charge”, and that is what I want to explore a little further. I am not a psychologist, nor will I pretend to be.  However, I know my own personality traits that drive me to desire positions of leadership; so I approach this question from that angle.  

                I would say the biggest obstacle when I am not the leader is trust in whoever is in charge.  It may be safe to say that for anyone who has a new manager or boss, trust does not come easily; trust has to be earned. I feel more comfortable approaching problems from a position of earning the trust of others than giving out my trust freely.  That is probably because I am aware of my own strengths, weaknesses and knowledge.  For that reason, if there is any doubt about who should be guiding a team–if it is appropriate for my skills and talents–I will volunteer.  It should be noted, though, that the old adage “To be a good leader, you have to be a good follower” is true.  If there is someone else more qualified, better prepared and ready to step up, I gladly defer to his or her expertise. In that case, those of us on the team know how to be excellent support partners and team players, because we understand what that leader is facing.

                To be fair, many people do not want a position of leadership.  They may go so far as to directly shun such a position. That may be because of the other half of leadership – the responsibility.  Some situations are easy, fairly cut and dry with little decision making involved.  However, when the stakes are high and money or lives are on the line, leadership takes on a much bigger burden.  There is no shame in rejecting that kind of accountability, but bottom line, someone has to do it.  In that moment, the ones who strive for leadership will step forward and take the reins.  From then on, it becomes a challenge and an adventure to see what the team can achieve.   

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team 



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                   Today there are many comments and articles related to either the Inauguration or to Martin Luther King, Jr. Individually or together, these topics are highly appropriate given the day.   However, I would like to take a deeper look at the word underlying both – hope.  It is an amazing word, immediately conjuring emotions of optimism and positivity.  Merriam-Webster has several definitions for hope:

Intransitive verb

1.       To cherish a desire with anticipation

Transitive verb

1.       To desire with expectation of obtainment

2.       To expect with confidence


                 What an amazing word.  I like the intransitive verb because it uses the word cherish. This is not a word we use often today.  To cherish something (or someone) is above and beyond liking it/them. The object to be cherished should be honored and loved. For someone to “cherish a desire with anticipation”, the idea rings with emotion; feeling love toward a wanted thing or person coupled with anticipation – that ever tantalizing potential for the future.  Similarly, the transitive verb of the word hope references desire but explicitly states “with expectation of obtainment”.  Instead of anticipation, there is now expectation. 

                 The problem with hope is precisely that anticipation and expectation.  Part of the thrill of hope is that the desire may actually come to pass. What if it doesn’t?  Many times in our lives we hope for things or events to turn out a certain way. Think about how powerful that feeling of hope can be as a motivator.  In some ways, if we have hope, we can drive ourselves or the situation right to the anticipated result.  However, the deflation that occurs when hope fades or the anticipated result does not happen can be terrible.  Not only do we feel sorrow for the loss of what could have been; sometimes we feel betrayed or hurt if someone else raised our hopes and did not live up to the promise.  Unfortunately, dashed hopes can severely effect our trust in others or even in ourselves.

                    I love the word and the feeling of hope.  It lifts us up with visions of perfection and idealism. As leaders, though, we have to help maintain the balance of hope and realism.  I submit that false hope raised by a bad leader can be more detrimental to a team than a good leader who balances expectations with truth but may fall short of the goal line.   We need hope in our lives to continue the search for the best in everyone and every situation.  I also think we need to keep truth in focus to achieve the best balance for decision-making. 


Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never Is, but always To be blest:

The soul, uneasy and confin’d from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

– Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man

Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Fish or Cut Bait.

                It is a cliché, and under most circumstances clichés should be avoided. However, when talking about decision-making, it is entirely appropriate.  The implication of a phrase like ‘fish or cut bait’ is to make a decision one way or another.  Unfortunately, there are more than enough stories of businesses or people who failed at reaching goals because they could not make a choice and commit to the path ahead.  I particularly like to reference ‘fish or cut bait’ because it directly talks about either stick with the current plan or abandon it – two very different choices.

                In my experiences, I’ve seen many a project progress (forced is more like it) forward even though it could end up being a bad idea.  Maybe there was an upcoming shortage of money, resources or other support; maybe the outcome was no longer a priority or even necessary.  Whatever the case, leaders may be reluctant to stop. Some refuse to admit the true situation due to passion about the topic or some do not even see there is a problem.  It is really tough to devote time, effort and money to a goal that struggles.  But the question is: What do you do about it, and how can you handle the impact on the team? Keep in mind that an entire group of people has devoted time, effort and maybe money to the goal. A decision has to be made to either push forward or change, and neither one will be easy.

                The first thing I do when faced with a fork in the road like this is look at the whole picture – review again what the end result is supposed to look like and then backtrack over the path that led to this point.  It is important to keep clear where there were missed warning signals and what circumstances were outside the team’s control.  The reason for this clarity is the next higher person in the chain of command is going to want to know these answers; so it’s best to get ready.  I also would engage the entire team for this review.  Other people see things differently and can offer valuable insight to help understand where things may have gotten off track and what the path forward might look like.  People in groups can usually tell when situations get uncomfortable and have some wisdom in how to make them better.

                Leaders must have the courage to look at a situation and be ready to leave the existing road completely, which can be rather intimidating.  That type of change is rather personal for the leader and the team because it signals failure on some levels.  The important thing to remember is that through all failure, there is the opportunity for greatness by learning from the experience.  We have to be brave enough to change the end goal if necessary or change the plan for success or even both.  The key to overall accomplishment lies in the attitude approaching the change and the communication of the change up, down and sideways through the chain of command.  Everyone involved needs to be aware of where things are at, where they need to be and the structure to achieve the goal. Otherwise, the team will end up with another struggling endeavor and go through this type of change more than once on a task, which could be devastating to the team.  As leaders we want to achieve; so either be ready to be patient, solid and calm to get the fish or cut the line, try a new lure/bait/location (hopefully improved from the last unsuccessful attempt) and fish again. Either way, we don’t stop fishing!

– Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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When Our Brains Work Against Us

I learned a new term yesterday – amygdala hijacking.  This is a term created by Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ (1996). Essentially, the amygdala is the oldest part of our brain and is part of the control mechanism for flight or fight response.   According to Goldman, if the amygdala receives input that a person is in a critical situation, it can ‘hijack’ and override rational responses.  Unfounded and potentially damaging reactions may be the result of the purely emotional response.

                When I learned about this term, I immediately saw the potential impact on people and leaders. There are many times when I’ve reacted to a situation in a manner that was totally out of character for me and had to deal with the consequences.  The key word in that last statement is “reacted”.  That is what the amygdala hijacking is doing to us – making us react.  According to Goldman, not all of the emotional responses are negative; some may be incredibly positive, where we fall down laughing so hard we can’t breathe.  I’m going to focus more on the negative side, though, because that is the part we, as leaders, must learn to control for ourselves and our teams.

                Referencing flight or fight responses, the first thoughts conjure visions of dangerous situations where lives are on the line.  I submit flight or fight responses do not have to be the result of something so drastic or dramatic to be just as scary or intense for people.  Think about speaking in front of a large group of people. Toastmasters International was founded on the idea that public speaking is a paralyzing fear for a majority of people.  What about having an uncomfortable conversation regarding behavior or performance with a peer or subordinate or having to terminate someone? What about a tough conversation with a spouse?  These are not situations that are pleasant or happy for most people.  In some ways, we prepare ourselves for the fight or flight in anticipation of the other person’s reaction to the news. 

                Unfortunately, I think this anticipation is part of the problem.  In some ways I know I subconsciously steel myself against potential attack, which may make me less open or receptive to the other person’s thoughts and feelings.  It is not an easy thing, but it is possible to control that flight or fight response.  I think as leaders it is critical for us consciously to make an effort to control our emotional responses.  That is part of being the calm, cool and collected pillar of strength that is expected of us.  Again, though, I temper this suggestion by realizing that we are human and not made of stone.  It is a positive reminder to our teams when we do show some emotion because it demonstrates that we care – there is a personal connection – to the team.  The bottom line is we have to be aware that sometimes our own bodies (i.e. brains) are working against us!

Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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