Friday, January 30, 2009

The Crucible

A recent book made me rethink leadership development. It's entitled Crucibles of Leadership: How to Learn from Experience to be a Great Leader and is written by Robert J. Thomas. The author's premise is that one must encounter real "experiences" in their leadership roles to learn - not only about leadership but about themselves AND about how they learn. My freshmen recently took an inventory that told them how they learned (auditory, visual, kinesthetic) - but Thomas goes way beyond that. Learning how one learns can occur most effectively when one experiences a difficulty - reflects on how they weathered that difficulty - and can look from the outside on what they learned from that experience. Sound confusing? I think it is...and that is why so many people never embrace their leadership potential, because this is a difficult exercise.

What I most appreciated about Thomas' work is that he doesn't advocate having to jump out of airplanes (though I still want to do that) or having your company fail and close down (I don't want to do that). He provides the alternative of having to look in the mirror and reflect deeply on who you are and what you believe and WHY you are the way you are. While an individual may be able to engage in that type of behavior by themself, it is often easier with a mentor or coach who will hold you more accountable to your answers.

My crucibles have been many - but one comes to mind that shaped my leadership for years to come. I was a mere senior in high school (17 years old) and I was sitting on my church's worship committee. At a meeting in the early winter, I asked with a "know it all" attitude why we never did anything neat like a Tenebrae Service on Good Friday. My pastor, who was a young buck at the time, turned it back to my and said that if I thought that was a good idea, I should go ahead and plan one. In my arrogance, I said I would. 3 months later, St. John's Lutheran Church in E;lgin, Illinois had their first tenebrae service. I actually came back my freshman year in college to make sure it happened for a second year. As I reflect on that time, my pastor could easily have either dismissed the idea or said that he would do it himself...I could have backed down and said that I was too young or inexperienced or busy...the rest of the committee could have laughed at me and my idea. But I took the challenge - I was supported by others to see it through - and to this day I still open my mouth, suggest new ideas, and end up seeing them through.

So what is your leadership crucible? Can you name one? Do you have to find one? Have you put yourself in a position to have one? Do you need to find a coach who will help you identify that crucible? And most important, are you willing to be a LEARNER who is not afraid of the crucible and what it wil teach you - about leadership, about yourself, and about learning!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Leader, Know Thyself

I recently had a new friend take me through my Birkman report - this was the second time in the past 6 months that I have had this done. I took the inventory about three years ago through a friend who owns Compass Settings. This time, the owner of Strategic Positioning took me through the report, and it just made me smile to realize how closely the report told me who I really am.

For example: in the area of Esteem, the report told me that I tend to deal with others in an open manner, balanced with an insight into their feelings (that is very true - sometimes that keeps me from being more forthright when needed). The report also told me that in this area, I need the respect of key individuals in my life - and that they are genuinely aware of my feelings (again, very true - so much so that I will even ask for it at times). The report finally told me that when I do feel under-appreciated, I will tend to be shy and/or embarassed (again, very true, which seems counterintuitive to the type of person I am, but that's what happens).

So the question I keep asking is how does this knowledge of self affect (read improve) my leadership? Almost all of the literature in leadership discusses that the better the leader knows themself, the more authentic and open they can be with others...the more the leader is comfortable with their own leadership style, the easier it becomes for them to act...the better one understands what makes him or her the person they are, the more empathy they can have for those they lead...the more I know myself, the easier it is to put myself in situations to be at my best when called upon to lead.

One final example: in the area of Acceptance, my most effective behavior by far is being friendly and easy to know with a strong outgoing manner (yes, that is what most people would say about me). On the flip side, I NEED time alone or time with a few people to renew and energize (nothing better than a Saturday morning with a cup of coffee, and good book, and no one else around). Finally, the profile tells me that I can become impatient with group interaction and will tend to withdraw from time to time (you would be surprised how often I have to go and find a cup of coffee during a meeting).

SO - do you know yourself? When was the last time you took a significant inventory that told you who you really were? Are you ready to hear the good, bad and ugly about yourself (which is really just a picture of who you are)? And are you willing to sit down with someone who can help you develop into a better leader throug the use of this type of tool? If so, check out either of the two organizations above or google Birkman, Myers-Briggs, DISC, or other inventories of which you might be aware. And get ready to learn and grow!

Monday, January 5, 2009

The OZ Principle

Part of my Christmas reading plan was to get through a series of business books I had collected on recent trips to Half-Price Books. One of these was entitled The OZ Principle: Getting results through individual and organizational accountability. Written in 1994 by Connors, Smith and Hickman, the book outlines a way to think about accountability - and to rid oneself and ones' organization of the BLAME GAME.

The authors outline a way to achieve accountability throug a 4-step process:
1. See it (having the courage of the Lion)
2. Own it (having the heart of the Tin Woodsman)
3. Solve it (having the wisdom of the Scarecrow)
4. Do it (having the will of Dorothy)

Though it is cute (and perhaps even a bit trite), the book resonated with me to look more closely at how I get things done personally and organizationally. The authors often use the idea of "above-the-line" leadership. Dropping "below the line" means that we will fall into the VICTIM CYCLE where we ignore or deny problems, point the finger at others, cover our own tails, pass the buck, wait for others to tell us what to do, and often just wait and see what will happen. Above-the-line accountability sees it, owns it, solves it and does it.

So what does above the line leadership look like? A few examples from the book:
1. I model accountability and set an example
2. I recognize victim stories when I hear them
3. I use accouuntability as a way to empower others toward results
4. I expect people to coach me to get "above the line" when necessary

The rest - and much more - can be found in this little gem (which is available at a real discount through Amazon Books - especially used editions). Go ahead and get a copy - read it quickly - and then pass it on to a colleague. Yet another way to stay above-the-line!