Archive for category Leadership Thoughts
I’ve heard quite a bit about forgiveness recently which made me start to think about how much I forgive and how much I don’t. Forgiveness is not one of those clear-cut, black and white emotions. For example, I can be quick to forgive my close friends for actions or words but not be able to do the same for someone I just met. Instead of laughing off a sarcastic comment from a friend, a stranger’s words might spur hurt feelings. Why is it I can quickly forgive my friends but it is harder for strangers? Does it matter the severity of the hurt – words or actions? Let’s explore this topic a little.
In my opinion, I can forgive my friends quicker because of longevity. Quite simply I’ve known them longer. We have history and a relationship that builds a bond of trust. It is that bond of trust that keeps words from stinging or actions from hurting more than they should. It also means I can extend the hand of forgiveness quickly, sometimes without even thinking. With an established relationship, there is trust. Once again, trust leads to the strength of all interactions. However, I submit that the severity of the hurt also plays a part in the ability to forgive. Let’s say that a long-time friend forgets my birthday. Honestly, I wouldn’t even think twice about that. But if that long-time friend spreads a vicious rumor about me, that may take longer to forgive, maybe because the bonds of trust have been stretched or broken.
Then I question – what is forgiveness? Merriam Webster says that forgiveness is a noun meaning “the act of forgiving someone or something”. That doesn’t help because what does it mean to forgive? Back to the dictionary I go. To forgive is a verb meaning “to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong); to stop blaming (someone)”. Okay – now we are getting somewhere. When we look at the definition of ‘forgive’, it is entirely personal. It means that I must stop feeling anger outwards, not that someone else must act. It is internal for me to forgive and for me to calm my own emotions. No one can do that for me and I cannot do that for someone else. A much bigger and much deeper question is how do we forgive? That is a great question but one that I am totally unqualified to answer. I will share that I struggle with forgiveness. I can easily move past wrongs from certain people and not others. Notice my choice of words – move past and not forget.
I don’t remember every single time I’ve needed forgiveness or forgiven others but there are those deep hurts that I’ve chosen to let go. I probably will not be able to ever forget them but I can do my best to let go of the anger. I also admit that deep hurts may be forgiven, not forgotten, and therefore shape my relationship with that person in the future. I may continue to have a friendship with someone but for deep hurts, I’ll do my best to never allow that situation to happen again – good or bad, right or wrong. There are a lot of questions about forgiveness so this may come up again. I’d like to share how motivation and intent play into forgiveness, or some ways it has been hard for me to forgive. Those thoughts are for another time.
I can only imagine what it feels like to go hang gliding. Standing there at the end of a massive drop off of some kind; with the world open ahead and below you. While you have every intention of soaring into the sky and having the ride of your life, there is a very real possibility you may plummet and crash. Tonight is the eve of my new job. I’ve started new jobs before and this one is actually easier than the ones before it, but it is still filled with anxiety and emotion. The possibility and potential with any new opportunity is awesome and inspiring but there is a very real possibility of screwing things up. I think I worried a lot more about screwing things up when I joined other organizations, but I think I’ve got that part under control right now. So the horizon is ahead of me with every intention of having the ride of my life! But I want to go over some of the things that got me to this point – specifically what I learned from my other jobs.
I think what makes this opportunity a little more secure and exciting is that I really took the time to figure out what I like to do and what environment I thrive in. The easy part is what I like to do, lots of stuff. I have a strong computer background with almost a decade of experience, I love to do business process improvement, and I really like to get stuff done. Kind of vague but it gets me pointed in the right direction – I am not in finance, HR or engineering. I also had to narrow down the computer stuff a little since I am not a good programmer. Don’t get me wrong, I had to write code for my undergraduate degree but at this point 12 year olds program better than I do.
The much bigger (and more important) aspect for me to figure out was what kind of environment I thrive in. What I mean by this is what kind of organizational culture, workplace structure and team interaction makes me happy. I did not give this aspect of my professional life any consideration before but I can tell you that it is number one on my list of what I look for in an employer today. Work is work. For the most part, it is all similar with challenges, expectations, up and downs. I found out that the true distinction is the culture of the company. Do people come to work just to get a paycheck and work just enough not to get fired or is there true cohesion and focus with the team? Are the people who love their jobs only at the top of the heap or does the person on the bottom of the ladder also enjoy coming to work each day? This is actually important stuff!
When you are in a work environment that is not a good fit culturally, it makes going to work painful. Since we spend a majority of our waking day at our jobs, being happy or at least satisfied pretty darned important. I took these lessons learned from my own personal experience and made that my deciding factor going forward. I can say that my new company has an awesome culture and I don’t even work there yet! It energizes me just to think that I get to be a part of it! That is my overall point, because my new opportunity is so awesome I am anxious tonight but I am not afraid. I am on the edge of a new adventure but I believe that I am going to soar because I am so ready to jump off and not worry about the potential downfalls.
My time in the military taught me a lot about myself. Some of it was not that pretty. To be honest I am surprised and ashamed at how I reacted in some of my early situations. I was not on the battlefield but I was faced with trials and tasks that were hard, hard in ways I did not expect, and I was afraid. My fear led me to be weak or run away from the difficulties ahead but in the military you don’t run far. Because of my fear, and my reaction to my fear, my leaders were very tough on me – and they had every right to be. I didn’t realize until later on how much I needed them to be tough to make me stronger.
There are personality traits that can be beneficial to good leaders like charisma and charm but that will never be enough. True character is what defines great leaders – those that are trustworthy, calm, fair and understanding. There is a long-standing debate about whether leadership can be taught or is inherent. I believe these character traits must have an internal foundation, where someone has the propensity to have these qualities that can then be built and enhanced along the way.
While I may have had fear and ran from my hardships early on in my military career, my leaders saw those character traits in me because they already existed in me. Before I joined the Navy, I was already dependable, trustworthy, and fair. Through my leaders’ lessons in my life, I can say that I “grew up.” They believed in me and through them I learned how to be the person I am today. My leaders helped me understand that leadership is not about the authority that comes along with being in charge; it is about accepting the responsibility of the team and the outcome.
God Bless our military – the true leaders of the world.
My blog has been silent for a few weeks now. The reason is partially due to life but mainly because I have not felt inspired to write. Not that there aren’t thousands of thoughts yet to share about leadership, teamwork and personal interactions, but nothing felt right to write (pun intended). Amazingly enough, my lack of inspiration now became my topic! Call it writer’s block or being uninspired, when ideas are not flowing, I feel it is almost impossible to force good content. For me, when I write, it is like I am speaking the words in my head while I am typing. I type as fast as my thoughts are flowing which makes writing fun and the words easy to find. When my head is empty, my fingers are not able to move. Personally, I think it is obvious even in the way I write between topics I am inspired to write about and others that I am trying to just get down on paper.
The difference between inspiration and discouragement comes down to motivation. When I am inspired about a topic or a life event, I am motivated to work. My mind and my body are energized towards greatness as ideas and effort flow forth in a way that feels exciting and fun instead of like a drudge. When I am not encouraged or enthusiastic about my topics or about my life events, the weight of my ambivalence slows down my entire psyche. I don’t WANT to think or to move! So let’s think about this when it comes to leadership because this is a huge deal.
Just like it is obvious to me in the results of my work when I want to write and when I am going through the motions, the outcome for groups is no different. The harder task for leaders is to find the motivating factor for the team to drive them to greatness. Unfortunately, we are all made different so this sounds a lot easier than it is. Although, there is one core truth that I choose to believe, that people do strive for greatness. Call it optimism, but when we are at work or charged with a task in life, I choose to think that individually we want to good a job. It is a sign of our capabilities and our talents to demonstrate what we can accomplish. In turn, when we have a chance to use our skills, we are energized. I think for leaders, identifying those particular talents and skills of each team member to contribute to the goal overall is the key to keeping people motivated and therefore inspired.
The Professional Development Team
Communicating via technology is not only expected but required for most positions today. As our teams become more separated, not just via computers at our desks but even across the globe, we have to learn how to work and lead using technology. Integrating technology expands the work location options, where some jobs allow remote computer access as a means of off-site support, and some encourage a better work-life balance. Therefore, working from home is promoted 1-2 days per week, while others are 100% remote positions. I started looking at these full-time telecommuting jobs (100% remote), trying to detect any expectation adjustments between off- and on-site positions. The truth was there was no difference in the job descriptions except to be comfortable with remote work. However, for the people in charge, it means working and leading in a whole new way. Instead of standing in the room with someone and shaking his or her hand, interactions are completely non-physical. The question must be asked: How can we lead when we don’t actually meet? I believe we can still practice the core fundamentals of leadership face-to-face or otherwise.
First we have to go back and look at the requirement for a good remote team member before we can lead the team. I mentioned that remote work or telecommuting requires people who are comfortable with that type of environment. That means the person doing the job will be essentially on his or her own. She/he must be ready to learn new skills and processes (sometimes with little to no support) and keep motivated without someone literally standing over his or her shoulder. That second part is the harder part. For me working at home sometimes can be more of a distraction than a blessing. There are so many little to-dos that take my attention as well as the big focus-getters like family. Leaders need to look for qualities and characteristics that demonstrate strong personal motivation and self-starting for team members who will work remotely.
Leaders also have to be strong personal motivators, but with a remote team they have to figure out how to motivate others, too. The advancements in technology help in this area. Video communication tools like Microsoft Lync or Skype give the opportunity to put a face to the name. Also, voice communication gives people the chance to see/hear the conversation instead of completely relying on emails. As mentioned in many other blogs, emails have a way of being misconstrued or misunderstood. Bottom line, being a leader is just being a leader – the fundamentals do not change. Even though the team may not sit in the same room, it is possible to get people to communicate; it may just take a little more effort. Therein lies the key. Communication is critical no matter what the environment of the team. One last point: In my opinion, leaders’ expectations of performance and professionalism should not be sacrificed at the altar of technology.
The Professional Development Team
I find that criticism or judgment of others is directly related to our own sphere of understanding. This may be an obvious point, but let me share what I mean. I live in the “Bible belt” of America; there are churches on almost every single corner in town with many faith-based activities in the area. During one such event – a music concert – there was a woman down front who was really rocking out to the music. Now the music was very contemporary with guitars and drums and the whole bit, but she was really into it. At first I watched her with unease, almost disdain, because of her jumping and thrashing around. But as time went on, I stopped watching her with judgment, and it shifted to awe. Here was a woman who had no other focus in life at that moment but her connection with the music and God. She had zero concern for the world around her, including the people who may be witness to her exuberance.
When I realized the carefree moment this woman was experiencing, I was envious. I started to think, why am I not having that same sort of experience? I decided it is because of two reasons, and both of them involve judgment. 1) I still hold some concern for how others will see, therefore judge, me in that sort of environment and 2) I still hold some reservations, and therefore judgment, that such abandon is not true faith but just antics. Either way, I am sitting in judgment of others and of myself. Where does this prejudice come from, and who am I to judge? I think that the answer is that we are human. We base our decisions and our lives on our experiences and the world around us.
What we know and understand and are comfortable with becomes ‘right’, and anything else shifts to ‘wrong’. That which is uncomfortable or unknown is harder to face or deal with: so we shy away from it. It becomes easy to judge at that point, because from a simplistic view, what we know as ‘right’ makes us ‘righteous’. That is a very nice spot to live in. When we are righteous, we are justified in our judgment or condemnation of that which we find ‘wrong’, and anything that affects our righteous position makes us a victim – again, a very powerful vantage point. So what do we do?
I don’t have the answers to this dilemma. I think it is just important to recognize that it exists. As I am branching out and trying new things, I am now more conscious of my preconceived notions and my judgments. At the very least, I am trying to shelve my initial fears or reactions and just live. It is not an easy lesson and probably one that I will have to continually learn over and over again. However, just because something is different or is outside my comfort zone, it in no way means it is bad or wrong.
The Professional Development Team
My son is afraid of thunderstorms. On nights when the lightning flashes and the thunder booms, it is a given a little boy will be climbing into “the big bed” within a short period of time. Sometimes I even get ahead of him and curl up with him in his bed first. Either way, he always turns over either to hug or embrace me in his sleep. Even just a touch of his foot on my leg is enough for him to feel safe. Once he knows he has mommy or daddy nearby, he can sleep through anything – not that we get much sleep after that. Last night was one such night, and as I pondered my son’s calm, I thought about how that same sort of peace is provided by great leaders.
My son feels comforted because he knows his protectors are close at hand. He has trust that his parents will do their best to ensure no harm comes to him. He is a brave boy on his own, but he needs a little extra help with a touch or a cuddle during a storm. Leaders can do the same for us if they have the same basic relationship of trust with their team. When a team has no trust or confidence in its leader, they find no comfort in the direction or the path of the team. As with any discomfort, it is irritating and drives our attention away from other, more important things.
Leaders do not need to “cuddle” their teams, but they do need to build that trust and confidence relationship. I know that when I listen and follow leaders I truly believe in, I have no doubts or concerns about the path ahead. While I can’t say that I phrase it as peace and comfort in those situations, I can say that I am not concerned about the leadership – just the mission and goal. I am focused and ready to perform knowing that my leaders have the situation under control, and I just need to do my part. In the case of my son, he needs to calm down and sleep during a storm – mission accomplished.
The Professional Development Team
“Positive control” is a term I first learned in the military. Ironically, it has nothing to do with the traditional understanding of the word “positive”. Unlike positive in the sense of upbeat or enthusiastic, positive control is more about awareness and leadership. Being in positive control indicates that there is direct (or sometimes indirect) leadership presence from the person in charge. In some ways that is simplistic, because the term means more than that as well.
In my experience, part of positive control means having situational awareness and team awareness at the same time. Situational awareness is the understanding of one’s entire surroundings with more of a big picture view. It is important for leaders to keep situational awareness throughout a challenge; things change along the way. In order for leaders to be effective, we have to recognize the changes that occur or pitfalls up ahead for our teams and are ready with the plan to adjust. It is that ability to “adapt and overcome” that helps set apart great leaders from good leaders. Team awareness is the same thing, but instead of the overall focus, the leader has to stay involved with the team members.
Teams change over time. People get tired of long projects that seem to have no end, or a long journey that gets physically taxing. People also get tired of other people and need some space. Sometimes leaders can accommodate those ups and downs of the team dynamic with rest or personal space and sometimes not. The important thing is to recognize that they are happening and try to handle any tensions before they boil over. There are many examples where teams started out cohesive but one person or the entire team fell to pieces. For leaders, positive control indicates the juggling act of keeping in focus the path ahead and the people walking the path so everything and everyone reaches the finish line.
CEO, The Professional Development Team
When it comes to leadership, we fool ourselves into thinking we have control. The truth is, when it comes to people, control in any context is an illusion. Unless that person is bound up in chains and has no free will to resist, control is not actually within our grasp. Think about this for a moment: While I may give the tools to my team to accomplish goals, it is ultimately up to each of them to act of their own free will in accordance with the needs of the mission. For example, to prepare for a party I need balloons inflated; so I hand out balloons. However, it is up to each person to choose to take a deep breath and inflate a balloon. Simplistic example but true. Even in the military it is still up to the free will of each person to execute the orders he or she is given. While I may have worked with my division on which areas of the ship to paint, they were the ones who got it done.
So where does the control exist in leadership? I submit it still exists with the leader but not in a direct manner. Let’s go back to the idea of blowing up balloons – I cannot force people to take a deep breath and blow up a balloon. I cannot hold their mouths open and shove air into their lungs. Yet if I demonstrate there is a need, and that I am willing to do the same task as everyone else and that by accomplishing the task there is a greater good, I can influence the free will of others so they may want to blow up a balloon. Therein lies the key – the team members want to act and therefore choose to act. Maybe “want” is not the right word, because we may not want to do the things we need to do in every situation. Yet, we will use our free will to do what is expected of us.
As leaders we create the influence necessary to affect other’s free will by showing strength, courage, compassion, knowledge and calm. I believe most people want to do well. What they need is a guide to get on the right path. It is the leader who becomes that guide so that each individual knows what he or she needs to do. In that regard, the leader is in control but not really. We each control ourselves, but through our leaders we choose our actions.
CEO, The Professional Development Team