Posts Tagged responsibility

Lessons of Leadership.

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.

Lori Buresh

The PDT

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Strength.

strength  When referring to leadership, there is an inherent expectation of strength.  In regards to teams, the leader of the team is the one to provide the guidance and the power when necessary.  What about those times when it is not formal leadership?  For example, a friend calls who is in crisis and needs help.  You are a friend, peer, and equal with this person; although at that moment, you are subconsciously lifted into a position of leadership.  How do you handle that type of situation?   This recently happened with me, so I am writing from a personal perspective.  A friend needed help, and I was the one she asked for support.  I didn’t think about it at that moment, but looking back, I am so honored and humbled that she would think of me in that time of crisis.  Her comment was I would provide strength.  My only comment was that I wouldn’t let her down.  This scenario led me to think about sharing on the topic of strength.

Not only in our organizations and our business teams do we look for and need leadership. We need it in our personal lives as well.  When we have the honor of being able to help and support others, we are de facto leaders in their lives, which is not a responsibility to take lightly, although it is different than being a team leader.  Leadership in this context has to be much more influential and subtle.  The truth is, people can and will do what they choose to do.  This is a big point – while I am going to be the solid, dependable, constant friend, I cannot take on her burden for her; unfortunately, it is hers to handle.  I think we try to assume too much during some of these situations, which can lead to disaster for all parties.  We, as leaders in others’ lives, especially during crisis times, can only provide advice and support to help our friends walk down their own path in life.  In my opinion, part of being in a friendship is our willingness to be there as that support and provide that strength for others when they cannot do it themselves.

Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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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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Demonstrating Unity Through Leadership

                Today is an important and historic day for America – a Presidential election.  Unfortunately, by tomorrow about half of America will be unhappy with today’s results. There are many sentiments flying through the air about moving past the results no matter what and doing the right thing for the country as a whole. This idea should not be isolated just to the election results of today.  We, as leaders, face decisions made by senior leaders that we may not agree with. For example, today’s election may have results we don’t like; however, how we perform in the face of contrary beliefs helps define us as leaders.  This is the point I’d like to focus on today but on an organizational level specific to individual leaders. 

                Anyone who has studied naval leadership should be familiar with the story “Damn Exec”. The tale relates the decisions made by the Executive Officer (or XO) and passed down to the department heads.  One particular department head (DH) decided to relate the decisions and orders to his department but made it clear that he did not agree with the choices and put all disdain and blame on the “damn exec”.  The intention may have been to form a closer bond with his team – everyone against a common enemy – however, the opposite occurred.  The DH’s team lost all respect for him.  The team did not see the DH as a leader; he was essentially a middleman and a whiner.  There was no confidence or trust in the DH since he was basically deferring responsibility for the work or path ahead to the XO. 

                One of the fundamental lessons of leadership is to demonstrate unity throughout the entire chain of command, especially to the team members.  Like parents with children, children learn from the behavior and example set by the parents. If the leader is openly rejecting or rebuffing the direction of the senior leaders, then it sets the example for accepted behavior and attitude by the team.  By setting that type of example, the work effort and performance of the entire team is most assuredly to tank.  Leaders no longer are leaders at this point since the opportunity to motivate and inspire the team is lost. 

                The right answer to this problem is one known well: Unless it is unlawful or immoral, a leader must embody the decisions and direction set forth by senior leaders as his or her own and go forward to achieve goals.  Academically, this is a fairly straightforward and obvious solution.  However, if you think about the world around us (and outside of the military), people struggle with this concept every day.  In my process-oriented brain, I like to go back, once again, to the root goal in order to squelch my anger, disappointment, or even elation (to avoid gloating).  The decisions made by senior leaders are intended to be the best path forward even if I disagree with the method.  As a leader, I look for that ultimate achievement to provide focus.  By honing in on the achievement at hand, the entire team can work to put aside emotional differences in order to accomplish the goal. 

                One final thought: The election results may upset half the nation, but underlying everything, we all want a better America.  Our elected leaders often lose sight of the basic lesson of this blog – demonstrate unity – and allow personal emotion or political party antics to get in the way.  I submit once our government leaders start acting a little more like leaders, we as Americans will reap the benefits of clear focus and direction. 

-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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Communication – What Method to Use?

               The three main types of communication are verbal, non-verbal and written.  What fascinates me is the trend of the world to migrate away from verbal and non-verbal towards written.  Many people will question my last statement since writing a letter is a rare occurrence, but written also includes texting and email.  With that clarification, I’m sure you will agree with my earlier statement.  Why is it we are now so fixated on communicating via email or texting versus picking up a phone or talking face to face? In fact, I have witnessed a large aversion to verbal communication. Why is that?

                There are a lot of other articles and research dedicated to the effectiveness of various types of communication.  Lists of advantages and disadvantages to email or phone calls are readily available.  My point is responsibility.  I believe that emailing and texting are more conducive to removing responsibility from the conversation.  Don’t get me wrong – I email and text all day long; so I’m in this boat, too!  The point is, when we email or when we text, it is a one-way conversation. We are able to write out our own thoughts and feelings exactly how we understand them and send them out into the void.  How our words are received is no longer in mind. The assumption is the reader will understand the message. 

                Think about a time you sent an email or a text message that was misunderstood. The person on the other end misinterpreted your message or was offended by your words.  How did they react? Probably badly.  How did you react to their reaction?  That is a tougher question.  In my own case, I am usually confused by the other person’s emotion. I may get defensive of my own email or text because.. well.. it made sense to me!  Basically, in that scenario, I have all the answers – I knew exactly what I meant in my original written communication. Unfortunately, the other person is really out of the loop since they are not inside my head.  At this point, we should pick up the phone or walk over and switch to verbal communication; however that doesn’t seem to happen very much. 

                Again, I believe it comes back to responsibility. When we text or email, it is possible we try to shift the responsibility of the message to the other person. They are supposed to understand! If we have to repeat or message or say it verbally to someone, it takes on a different tone.  Now that the words come out of our mouths, we internalize the message. The message is now our own to convey and take ownership.  This can be uncomfortable for some people because of the content of the message (saying something hurtful) or because we are not really believers of the message ourselves (passing along tasking from a manager).  As humans, we take the easier route, which means opting for the path of less responsibility – at least it seems like it.   Maybe we should stop and think about that the next time there is an email chain a mile long or texting turns into a thumb war.  

 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Titles and Leadership

            Chris Hayes with MSNBC was admonished for his reluctance to attribute the term “hero” to a fallen soldier.  While my own views on this subject are strong, I will refrain from espousing my emotional reaction.  Instead, I will turn this moment into an opportunity to delve into titles or terminology. I believe Mr. Hayes’ point was to highlight the automatic assignment of phrases towards people that may or may not be appropriate.  Are all fallen soldiers heroes? Did they perform a heroic act that led to their death?  In my own eyes, anyone who chooses to serve this country and gives his or her life, in combat or otherwise, serves a higher purpose to protect us all, and that is heroic.  What about titles or names used in business? Do we apply the same sort of blanket phraseology like soldier = hero, CEO = leader? I think we do, and it may not be right. 

            In society we rely on titles to signify rank and social class.  This is nothing new today versus thousands of years ago.  Titles give us a sense of purpose and roles within life. For example, my title of “mother” has certain expectations, authority and pride associated with it.  I know what I am supposed to accomplish as a mother.  I know what my family (and society for that matter) demands of me as a mother. What about “CEO”?  This is my title for my business. The stresses and requirements for this role are much different than those as a mother.   Chief Executive Officer, along with other common titles, indicates a level of responsibility, authority and hopefully a measure of respect.  I feel that it is the level of respect bestowed on a person that defines their performance as a leader.  Respect is earned, and cannot be taken; it is given by those following the leader. However, respect can be lost quickly and must be rebuilt slowly, if ever.

            The application of titles brings us back to an earlier blog I wrote about positional authority.  Many business leaders with high-profile titles earned the rank through hard work, time and effort.  In this sense, the application of a title to a person probably means he or she is an inspiration to the workforce. However, senior leaders must watch out for those people who use their titles like weapons – throwing around big roles like Director or Manager or even VP or President without consideration or thought. Wielding a title or a position of power as the sole basis for goal accomplishment (instead of teamwork or coordination) can diminish the trust given to that person or office.  Leaders with significant titles should take the responsibility seriously and use their authority sparingly. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

 

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The Power of Confidence

                As I was thinking about leadership this morning, I started going through the different words that I associate with leaders.  Many come to mind but one stuck out – confident. Leaders display some level of confidence in their actions or in their team.  Used in this way, confidence has a two-fold effect: 1. creates a sense of trust by the team members in the leader and 2. shows the team members that the leader has trust in them.  In this sense, confidence comes down to trust.  It may be fair to say that confidence equals trust because without one you really can’t have the other. 

                Assume there is a decision to make and the responsibility is up to you to make it.  It is possible you have very little data or supporting evidence to base your decision on; however a choice must be made.  If you make the decision with a large amount of waffling or outward insecurity, what message does that project to the team members both in the choice and in you as the leader?  Keep in mind that as a leader you do not always have to make decisions all by yourself.  In fact, soliciting team members for their input is encouraged to gain their insight and engagement on the path forward.  Nevertheless, the final authority and responsibility lies with you as the leader, which is important to remember, especially if things go wrong.

                How many times in life do we make the best choice possible and hope for the right outcome?  The key is the confidence which can directly drive to the results desired.  If the leader has confidence, the team may be more willing to put faith and trust in the decision (and the leader) as well. With the team’s support, the leader can show trust and faith back to the team by working together to accomplish goals.  Confidence can be the building block for a strong team. 

– Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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The Need For Leadership

             I attended the Chik-Fil-A Leadercast last Friday (remotely).  For those of you who did not watch via a host site or attend it live, it is worth the time for next year.  The event is a live webcast of the stage in Atlanta where roughly a dozen different people spoke on leadership.  The speakers were authors, athletes, journalists and doctors.  The very first speaker was Andy Stanley, author of The Next Generation Leader.  He grabbed my attention with this statement: “Uncertainty underscores the need for leadership.”  I wrote that one down.

             The simplicity of this statement yet the complexity of the content are amazing. The first word is “uncertainty”, which is not a word usually applied to leadership.  Yet when we look at life in general, it is full of uncertainty.  There are risks and benefits with everything we do in our professional and personal lives.  The unknown ahead in life can be both exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time! However, some people are paralyzed by the fear and responsibility of the unknown instead of driven by the adventure of choice.

             Why are there leaders?  One answer – there is a decision to be made and someone makes it, although that isn’t enough.  I can make decisions all day long and not be a leader.  To be a leader, one must have followers.  Followers are people who do the same action because of the leader’s physical or emotional influence.  Leaders are usually identified with the decisions they make, good or bad.  Think about Harry Truman or Rosa Parks, two leaders who made a large impact on our society and the world due to their decisions.  History shows us that sometimes there is a choice to make and it just takes a strong leader to make it.  

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

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Positional vs. True Leadership

               A common opinion (and one that I share) is there is a big difference between being a manager and being a leader.  I’ve heard it said: “People follow managers because they have to, people follow leaders because they want to.”  The difference between those words – have and want – can be massive.  When you are required to do a task, there is almost a reluctance right from the start to get it done.  We all have things we must do in life like paying taxes each year, and we can take different attitudes toward the MUSTs in life.  The positive spin placed on a HAVE TO or a MUST task comes from a distinct effort on each person’s part to look at life and its challenges this way.  Applying the word WANT to the same project, there is no such effort for positivity.  The implication of the word WANT is that it is a desired action – something we are looking forward to or volunteering to accomplish. The word WANT turns a drudge into a delight.  

             Unfortunately many managers feel they are leaders just by virtue of their positions.  This is the downfall of many businesses – positional leadership is different from true leadership.  Positional leadership gives people the authority as well as the responsibility of a team’s accomplishments.  A key point is that people with this type of leadership are appointed in some fashion by someone above them.  This is not to say the person didn’t earn his or her position through hard work or good results; the idea is that is not enough to demonstrate true leadership.  For example, when I was in the Navy, I had many people with positional authority over me just through their rank.  Unless the order given was unethical or immoral, I had to follow the directions given.  My Executive Officer was one such positional leader.  He gave directions will little thought to the consequences or impact to the person or team involved; he just wanted his order followed immediately.  As discussed in a previous post, giving and following orders will only accomplish the minimum level required for success.  If the person giving the order were a true leader, there is a high potential the results provided would be of a better caliber.  My last department head (direct boss) worked with us as a team to outline all the tasks required and the workload to balance out the effort.  Not only did he give us orders, he also gave us guidance and support in order to get the orders followed. The results were then often better, quicker, and the effort included more drive. 

                It is my own belief that a positional leader is like a dictator – leading through fear, intimidation or consequences.  A true leader has no need for such negative impetus because the people following are doing so willingly and with energy. 

-Lori Buresh

CEO, The Professional Development Team

 

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