Tag Archives: personal leadership style

Gaining Wisdom through Reflection

Confucius

Wisdom.  It is one of the many words that are used to describe leadership.  Yet, it is typically not something that we as leaders have innately.  Wisdom is something that coalesces from a variety of other aspects of a leader’s education.  Wisdom is derived from book knowledge, observation, experience, and reflection.  Wisdom is as not simple as the abridged definition “the quality or state of being knowledgeable with just judgement.”

As leaders, the easy part of gaining wisdom comes from the many hours of learning our technical craft.  We spend hours gaining the technical skills of our chosen professions: going to class, taking training courses, reading the current literature, etc.  We also have honed our skills of observation: watching other leaders, learning individuals, understanding group dynamics, etc.  But, have we become wise?

This is an interesting question.  Stop and take a moment to visualize a wise person.  What images come immediately to mind?  For some, it is a yogi or a guru sitting atop a mountain.  For some, it is an owl.  For others, it may be a specific person, but that person is generally older, and quiet.  We have a vision of what it takes to be wise or full of wisdom.  Yet, there is no manual or recipe or real guidance document. Sure, you can Google the question “how to become wise,” (and you will get 23,800,000 hits) but these are suggestions and starting points.  There is not a single recipe or set of steps that you can follow that will have you waking up tomorrow as a wise person.  Sure, you may be a bit wiser than you were today but it is never a completed project.  (It is probably a topic that can have some intellectuals researching for years.)

This doesn’t mean that we can’t become wise nor develop wisdom.  All it means is that wisdom comes from our willingness and openness to new experiences, new ideas, and listening to different points of view.  Wisdom is derived from our personal situations, our challenges, and the environment or circumstances that have occurred over time.  Even then, a leader may not become wise as there is still something missing.  The missing item is reflection.

One cannot learn from our experiences and environments without taking the time to reflect and ask questions about them.  How do we begin to listen to another point of view?  We ask questions.  We investigate.  We may still disagree, but we are actively learning how someone else approaches the same situation.  We learn to be active listeners.  Yet, do we listen to ourselves. Do we note our own conflicts? Do we ask ourselves questions?

We have to make time for the reflection.  And, we have to have some way of reflecting.  So, how can you as a leader begin to develop this habit of reflection?  Well, there is a technique that is widely used and for some of us it is something that is a bit of struggle – journaling.  Yes, remember that creative journal that your English composition teacher tried to get you to start?  It may be one method of helping you develop wisdom in your life.  Sure, you have heard of creative writers journaling, but the CEO of a Fortune 500 company?  You probably have even read excerpts from some journals from famous individuals in history like George Washington, or Thomas Jefferson.  But what about J.P. Morgan?  Sure you know that they kept “diaries” of appointments or notes – but did they journal?  We may or may not know.

Why start a journal?  The typical reasons for journaling include:

  • Journals help you articulate thoughts and ideas
  • Journals help you clear the mental clutter
  • Journals help you track your own personal growth
  • Journals promote creativity

You can do a quick search and find a host of other reasons.  But from a straight forward and simplistic perspective – journals allow you the time for reflection.  It is this reflection time that is the important aspect of developing wisdom.

How do you start and what should you write?  The first step is to pick a medium – computer, paper and pen, etc.  Personally, I am fond of the paper and pen method as for me, it is more personal. It is engaging. And, I am interacting with my thoughts.  (Now, I do use a smart pen which does allow me to store my journals electronically.)  But, I have used a number of different media over the years – including some of the new apps.  I have also found that I am much happier keeping everything in the same place, i.e. my daily appointments, to-do lists, and journal all in the same book.  It simplifies things for me and if I have an idea I don’t have to figure out which book to put it in.

What to write?  This is the personal part of the journal and may be highly dependent on the time of day when you chose to journal.  There are times that I journal in the morning as I am preparing for the day and my reflections may be about my goals for that day.  Or, if in the evening, they may be about something that I learned, noticed or was troubled by during the day.  I may reflect on a reading throughout the day, which is why I like my journal all in one.  I journal about new words, a line in a book, something I heard on the radio or something that I could have handled better.  It really doesn’t matter what you write, it is about taking the time to sit quietly and reflect.

Confucius said that the noblest way to learn wisdom is by reflection.  Margaret Wheatley reminds us that without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and fail to achieve anything useful.  The journal is a means of providing that bit of reflection that is needed to help us develop into the leaders we need to be.

Advertisements

How do you stay current? Or, preparing for the next breakthrough.

One of my all time favorite leadership quotes comes from Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts:

“My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place.  And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.”

In our constant contact, fast paced, instant information world;  you know that it is a requirement to stay current.  But, the question is how?

Many professionals stay current by subscribing to some sort of digest service (my personal inbox gets over a dozen digests each day).  Your professional societies are also a great source of critical new information in your chosen field.  Then, there are a host of personal digesting services or apps out there.  But, this still does not solve the problem of how.  Because, it isn’t the technical side of getting the information that holds us back; it is the time to review, assess, and comprehend the information that is the trick.

As leaders, you know that it is important to stay current in your chosen field.  This is equivalent to the Queen’s running just to stay in place.  It is information from other areas or solutions applied in one industry that can be modified to apply in another.  So, not only do you have to deal with the information, you don’t have time for it now; but, you know to get to that next breakthrough, you have to “drink from the fire hose.”

So, what do you do?  Of course, there is the shut down response – do nothing and hide in the dark.  This won’t help, but may make you feel better temporarily.  Here are some more constructive approaches:

1) Keep an active read pile – both an electronic one and a physical one.  Instapaper is a great clipping service that can help you manage those internet or electronic articles you want to read.  It is accessible through any device which makes it very helpful.  You can use the same process, pulling out only those articles you want to read from your magazines and placing them in a folder which you can take with you to read over lunch.  (If nothing else this reduces the physical pile of magazines to a more manageable stack.)

2) Make some time to read – Give your self permission to stop and take time to read.  You might do it over your coffee break.  Or use an application like NaturalReader to convert the information into an audio file so you can listen to that article while running the treadmill.  This is one time where multitasking may be actually beneficial.

3) Relocate to a different place or office when it is time to read.  Don’t sit at your desk, if you do – you know what happens – you won’t dedicate the time that you need.  It gets swallowed up by other things.

Finally, make sure that you have something to write with or take notes on.  Those ideas that come to you while you are reading may just be the thing you need to make that next breakthrough!

 

Mistakes, Failures, and the “Bad Things” that Happen

We all make them.  We all have the “oops” moment.  We all have that inner voice that says “that was the wrong way to have handled that.”  As no one is perfect.  Mistakes, miscues, errors, failures, and other perceived bad things happen.  Yet, one of your best skills and ultimately your success uses these “uh oh” moments to learn and adapt.  And, your “uh oh” may turnout to be the best thing that ever happened.

It is said that the only things that are guaranteed in life are death and taxes.  I would like to add – that one will make mistakes.  In fact there are cultures, like the Navaho, that say if the “perfect rug is ever woven, the world will come to an end.”  Thus, mistakes are taken as signs and are even built in to the weave.  Sometimes, failures turn out to be bigger successes than what was trying to be achieved in the first place – take for example the Post-It (TM) and Teflon (TM) – these were experiments gone bad.

Yet, we seem to still focus on the “dark cloud” view of mistakes and not the “silver lining.”  These errors are how we learn and grow.  I have always said – that you learn much more from your errors, failures, and mistakes than you ever could by just succeeding.  As parents and teachers – while it is hard to do – you have to let the “learner” make mistakes (provided they don’t get into serious trouble). If you don’t – how will they ever truly learn.

We are now living in a Society – that tries to remove the “bad things.” It tries to abolish failure – everyone has to succeed.  This is such a great dis-service to creating strong individuals.

Think about it.  Pick one of your personal achievements.  Didn’t you have to overcome some adversity?  Didn’t you make an error, or misstep along the way?  Was there someone who said – there is no way you can do that – and you had to prove them wrong?  Did it take time?  My guess is that you would have to say yes to most of the questions above for it to make your list of achievements.

As leaders our job is to guide.  In order to make tomorrow’s leaders we have to let individuals make errors – again provided that they do not result in total catastrophe.  We can’t remove the consequences of errors either.

If we remove the consequences of the error – we have removed the learning as well.  Individuals have to learn how to accept their own mistakes, own them and learn from them.  This is what helps us grow.

The ultimate trick is to find the balance between learning, finding the “silver lining” and benefiting from the error and not creating a catastrophe.  By understanding our own mistakes – we can learn from others – without necessarily making the same mistake (this helps in the preventing of the catastrophe).  As leaders – knowing what “safe” mistakes are is essential.  For example – making an error in a presentation to the work group is one thing – making that same error in a presentation to stockholders is another matter.

We as individuals have to become comfortable with admitting our mistakes.  We have to work to put things “right”.  We have to make amends.  Hiding our errors is hurtful – not only to us and our organizations but may be a catastrophe down the road.  Our “uh ohs” need to come out in the open – so that everyone can learn from them.  When we can laugh about them down the road – we know that we have learned and have found that “silver lining”.

 

‘Tis the Season

December is a time of transition, chaos, stress, etc.  For some businesses – it means year end closings, annual reviews, paperwork, summaries, and goal setting.  For many educational institutions – it means finals, short terms and preparation for the spring session.  For families – it means holidays, family reunions, celebrations, etc.  In general your home life, work life and personal life takes on a surreal appearance.  Time is compressed or expanded to fit the particular situation and you really begin to feel like you live in a different dimension.

This of course results in irritability, stress, competition, forgetfulness, frustration, and maybe a little joy and wonder.  It is a difficult balancing act.  And, this of course doesn’t even figure in the political correctness police.  So, as a leader just how do you handle the various priorities and demands?

My first tip is – don’t wait to the last minute.  If you find yourself in this predicament this year.  Make it a top priority for next year or one of your New Year Resolutions, to not have a year-end pile up.  If you know that the accounts for the year have to be closed on Dec. 31 – start working on getting things lined up in October.  If year-end performance reviews are due in December, think about putting in check-in times throughout the year so these are short and unsurprising meetings.  Set timelines to get the year-end reports started early, so you only have to add in the last few numbers in December.  Make your year-end deadline Thanksgiving, so all you have to do is a bit of clean-up and you can have December to begin to focus on January instead.

OK – it is too late for that – what else can you do?

  • Be understanding – Most everyone is in a similar situation as you are.  Take the time to be polite, smile, and provide a word of encouragement.  Sometimes that is all that is necessary to make a person feel better.
  • Use your favorite stress buster – Go for a walk, enjoy the sights, take a deep breath.  I am sure that you have a stress buster that is your go to.  Use it – getting flustered only makes matters worse.
  • Do something nice for someone else – Studies are finding that this may be more beneficial than we know.  Even just helping someone pick up items that were dropped or pushing the button to the elevator when their hands are full helps both you and the person being helped.  It may be just the pick-me/you up that is needed.
  • Keep your sense of humor – Look for the irony, or humor in the situation.  You may even be able to laugh at yourself.
  • Use words like “please”, “thank you”, and “your welcome”. Manners count.
  • Get some rest.

Leadership begins with yourself.  You will be amazed at how these little things may change the entire atmosphere of your office, home or store.

How do you handle …..?

As leaders, mentors, and sponsors; we are all faced with difficult situations.  Sometimes they are situations you are prepared and trained for like an accident, bomb threat, or process upset.  There are other situations where you aren’t or can’t even imagine how you could be prepared.  Examples of these catastrophic situations are the tsunami in Japan, the major typhoon in the Philippine’s. The emergency plans only went so far in these examples.  However for each of us, sometimes the unthinkable happens on a smaller scale – your boss is arrested for drug dealing or something worse, a colleague falsifies data which you have relied on for your grant or project proposal, your salesman promises that the production plant will meet the quality specification that will require violation of permit conditions, etc.

We all have a blind spot where we think that none of this can ever happen to me.  Yet, everyday there is the chance that this can happen to you.  In my personal history my greatest fear was being on the six o’clock news with an environmental incident.  Luckily for me, I had been planning for such an event, i.e. how would I handle the worst thing that could happen? Recently, this same type of thinking was presented in an anecdote by Canadian Astronaut Chris Hatfield.

Chris Hatfield was working with some individuals when they learned that Elton John was coming to their area.  They decided that they could use his fame as a International Space Station commander to meet Elton John.  He related this story – what was the worst thing that could happen?  Elton John would met them and learn that he plays guitar and had played David Bowie’s song “Space Oddity” on the space station, and would ask him to come up on stage and play something with him.  The likely candidate song would be “Rocket Man”.  So, he went home and learned the song.  Ultimately, he was prepared when just such a scenario played out.

While most of us would never think of Chris Hatfield’s situation as the worst thing that could happen, it does illustrate how we as leaders can prepare.  In my case, I had media training, and knew what I would be up against both internally within the company and externally with the reporters and the regulatory agencies.  No I did not have a specific plan ahead of time, but I knew how to buy those precious minutes that allowed us to pull a team together and develop a plan.

It is how we have prepared, even if it is not for the specific event, and how we “act” that defines us as leaders.  I have put act in quotes because there are many situations where we may have the best plans, and training but fail to act that gets us into trouble.  This is generally referred to as analysis paralysis or there are so many contingency plans – we don’t know which one to use.

So, these are my personal tips for preparing for the worst:

1) Define your worst.  What is the worst thing that can happen?  Some things are not under your control, but do you have an action plan for your worst?  You might also ask you what is keeping you awake at night?  This may help you define your worst.

2) What resources are at your disposal if the worst should happen?  If your worst is that your house may burn down in a wildfire – where would you go?  Who would you contact?  What insurance is in place? How would you communicate with family?  The list could go on.  From a professional level, what would you do if your company went bankrupt? What is your plan B?

3) What training do you have that you can utilize if the worst should happen?  In my case, it was media training.  In someone else’s, it may be logistics or counseling.  If you don’t have the skills currently, you might consider working on them or making sure that you have someone or some reference that you can access in the event of  worst happening.

4) What is your moral compass?  Let’s look at the worst being someone has falsified data or made a false reporting to a regulatory agency or maybe you are being asked to do something you feel is unethical or dishonest.  What are you going to do?  How are you going to balance the request with your personal values.  From my personal history, I found it to be quite liberating when I knew that I could find employment somewhere else if needed, e.g. I might be laid off, or I was fired.  I knew that I had a Plan B and could implement it.  Granted – I may have to make some significant changes in my lifestyle but I knew I would be alright.  Each individual has to assess this situation personally and discuss it with your life partner if necessary, but you need to know where your line is drawn.

5) Know your support system.  This is different than the resource item above as this relates to you as a leader.  No matter which path you take during that situation; someone is likely to second guess or point out your errors.  Even if history evaluates it as the most “perfect” of ways to respond, there will always be the advantage of hindsight and having more information than you had at the time.  You will have to act based on the information that you have at that point in time and based on your best analysis of the situation.  Because of this, there is and will be an emotional toll on you as a leader.  You will need to have someone to discuss your feelings, and be a sounding board.  You will need this personal support.

As we deal with events sometimes difficult and sometimes catastrophic, each of us has to make what we feel are the right decisions at the time.  Mistakes are likely to be made and hopefully there will be an opportunity to address those mistakes or that the mistakes don’t make the situation worse.  We have to assess and act based upon that assessment.  And, we have to evaluate our personal skills as well as those around us.  These five tips are not a “silver bullet” but they can help you to prepare and build up your personal emergency  response kit .

Welcome to Leadership in Practice

Just when you think you have a handle on things in your career – wham!  something happens and you have to adapt.  Yet, the skills that you develop over your career – whether you are just beginning, have 25 years, or even 50 years – will help you make what ever change is necessary.

These necessary skills aren’t taught in the classroom in the traditional sense.  These skills are taught one-on-one through mentoring relationships and practice in various settings.  You have probably found that there are safe places to practice these skills – within the family, informal groups, and volunteer organizations – and not so safe places – within the workplace.  These skills are related to your leadership acumen.

Every one has some level of “leadership” skill.  Yet leadership is made up of a number of skills that combined define your personal leadership style, success, and comfort.  There are multiple smaller individual skills such as networking, communication, technical knowledge, understanding personality types, reading of body language, etc. Developing these individual skills refine your personal leadership style.  And, continued development and practice are essential to your career advancement and personal growth – and ultimately your definition of success.

Over the past 25 years, I have been collecting leadership articles, tips, and tools of the trade.  There is a great deal of research and experience that goes along with much of this information.  This research has been done by experts such as the Gallup Organization, and other Leadership Institutes.  There are scholarly articles in the business literature like the Harvard Business Review.  Leadership advice can be found in children’s literature, movies, and even the daily newspaper.

But, what I have found is that leadership is developed and communicated through mentoring relationships, practice, and a sense of self.  Through out my career, I have tried to communicate elements of ways to enhance your leadership skills as well as the fundamental “nuggets” or “essentials” that are needed to help you in your personal career path.

Hopefully, this blog – will help to communicate these lessons and provide links to useful material.  There will be humor, frustrations, and mishaps shared.  But, the idea is to present leadership as not as a concept but as something you do everyday.  Hopefully, it will help you refine your personal style and let you learn from the experience of others.