Archive for March, 2013
I originally wrote this post at the end of 2009, when I was just starting to work on writing Leading So People Will Follow. It’s still a good summary and explanation of the concepts in the book – I thought you might find it useful:
I’ve been thinking about leaders lately, and how good leaders are going to become increasingly important as everything in business gets flatter, faster, more disrupted. I’m noticing more than ever before how essential it is for organizations to have strong and flexible leaders in order to succeed. I watch as those organizations whose leaders are too inflexible, too cautious, too short-sighted or too fear-based continue to founder, while those whose leaders are far-sighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous and trustworthy seem to be finding their way much more quickly and easily.
And it just so happens that we at Proteus have and use a leadership model based on those six qualities, so it’s reinforcing our sense that these truly are the essential characteristics of good and effective leaders. We evolved our model based on “leader stories” from all over the world, going on the premise that folk and fairy tales tend to carry the “DNA” of our cultural expectations about what good leadership looks and feels like. If you’re interested, here is a little more explanation about the six qualities as they show up in these leader stories:
In these stories, the young leader-to-be can see beyond his current situation to his ultimate goal (save his father, win the princess, kill the monster), and can express it clearly and in a compelling and inclusive way – especially those whose help he needs – even when others lose sight of it, believe it’s impossible, or ridicule him for trying. He is Far-sighted.
Moreover, the leader-in-training doesn’t just go through the motions. He is deeply committed to his quest. His every action is directed toward achieving it. Nothing dissuades him, even the inevitable setbacks and disappointments attendant on any quest. He may not be loud about it, but he is relentless. He is Passionate.
Throughout the story, he is confronted with difficult situations. He may be afraid and lonely; he may feel like running away, longing for the comfort and safety of home. He often faces situations that are particularly trying for him personally. But he doesn’t turn aside; he doesn’t (unlike his brothers or others who attempt the same journey) make the safe and easy choices. He doesn’t wimp out. He is Courageous.
He’s not a cardboard action hero, though. His brain is tested, and he must be able to learn from his mistakes. In many versions of the story, he doesn’t initially follow the advice given him, and his mistakes create complexity and danger. The next time a similar situation arises, he behaves differently and succeeds at his task. He doesn’t deny or whine or blame; he improves. Finally, he uses his powers of discrimination to think through difficult choices and arrive at the best and most moral solution. He is thoughtful, appropriately humble, clear-headed and curious. He is Wise.
Along the way, the future leader meets people or creatures in need, and he helps them or shares with them even though his own supplies are low; even if helping them takes him out of his way or slows him down. In some versions of the story, he actually has to seem to sacrifice his life for those he loves or to whom he owes his loyalty (this always turns out OK in the end). And later on, when he is king, his people are prosperous and happy because he rules with an open hand — the leader is not stingy, miserly or selfish. He is Generous.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, his word is his bond. If he tells his dying father that he will find the magic potion to cure him, you know that he will. If he tells the princess that he will come back to marry her, she can send out the invitations. The hero does not equivocate or exaggerate. He is Trustworthy.
When leaders demonstrate these attributes consistently, they become a strong, safe point around which teams and organizations can coalesce. Their people turn to them and say, We’re with you – let’s go. And great things happen.
A colleague of mine sent me a really interesting article from the NYT other other day, about the importance of ‘shared narrative’ in making people emotionally healthy. About 20 years ago, some researchers noted that kids who knew a lot about their own families tended to do better in challenging situations. They then created something they called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children 20 questions, such as, “Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know the story of your birth?”
It turned out that the “Do You Know?” questionnaire was an astonishingly accurate predictor. The article goes on to say, “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
This reinforced a deep personal intuition I’ve always had as a parent: when my kids were small, we spent time talking about my parents and siblings; the experiences I’d had growing up; how their dad and I met; what we did in the world of work. We also talked about what they had been like as babies and small children, how they were alike and different from other members of the family. Finally, we told them about difficult things that had happened, and trials and tribulations overcome. Somehow I knew this was an important conversation for them to be a part of – and I was often surprised and saddened by how little the kids’ friends knew about their families: they often didn’t even know what their parents did for a living. We’re continuing that into the next generation, telling our granddaughter stories about ourselves and those who came before.
But it also reinforces something I’ve observed as a business consultant for the last thirty years: companies and teams that have a strong, mainly positive shared narrative about themselves also tend to be healthier, more flexible and more resilient in response to difficulty. For example, we worked with someone last year to help us further clarify our Proteus brand. She interviewed a number of staff members and consultants to find out about our current understanding of our own brand. And one thing she found is that each of us said very much thing same thing about what it was like working as part of our team, how we treat each other and our clients, what’s important to us. In other words, even though we needed to get crisper about our brand communication (we did), we had a really strong, consistent shared narrative about Proteus and ourselves as “Proteans.” I feel the power of that every day: it draws us together and helps us overcome the challenges of distance, the inevitable misunderstandings and disappointments of human interaction, and the ups and downs of growing a business.
We’ve been gathering around the campfire to share our stories since time immemorial…and it sounds like we need to keep doing it.
I wrote a post about mastery at Forbes recently, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the particular aspect of mastery that involves going beyond your self-imposed limitations.
Then I had an interesting experience of this yesterday. I was at my stepdaughter’s bridal shower, and she had just opened one of our gifts to her, which was a shawl I had knitted for her to wear at the wedding reception. I had made it out of a very fine mohair yarn in a lace pattern with tiny beads knitted into it. As people passed it around to look at it, one woman said, “I knit, but I could never make something like this.” And I responded that it looked more complicated than it actually was, and that it hadn’t been that hard to make. She shook her head. “No,” she said, “I’m sure it was really difficult.” And again, “I could never do this.”
As I thought about it afterwards, I realized how often we limit ourselves in this way. Over the past week, I been in conversations with people who said each of the following things: “I’m a terrible manager,” “I’m not good at planning – it’s just not who I am,” “I’m the most disorganized person I know,” and “I don’t believe in happiness.”
Imagine what could happen if we turned those negative predictive announcements we make about ourselves into questions. For instance, what if all those people I spoke to this week had gotten curious about their potential capabilities, instead of dismissing them: What if the lady at the bridal shower had said, “I wonder if I could make something like this?” What if my friends and colleagues had shifted their statements to questions: “Could I be a good manager?” “Could it be that poor-at-planning isn’t part of who I am?” “How can I get more organized?” “I wonder if happiness is possible for me?”
Now, it might be that the answers to those questions turn out to reinforce their previous assumptions. It could be, for instance, that the lady at the shower actually doesn’t have the patience or the hand-eye coordination to become a skilled knitter, or that my anti-happiness client truly is not capable of being happy.
But if they don’t ask the question, they’ll never know. I think we all talk ourselves out of so much joy and accomplishment; let’s explore the possibilities instead.
I would love to hear examples from you of times you’ve done this: gone beyond your limitations to achieve mastery at something. You can just reply to this email –
Till next time,
One of the groups I belong to on LinkedIn is called HR Matters (created by Rowena Morais, the editor of an HR-focused magazine by that name headquartered in Southeast Asia). Another member of the group, John Baldino, recently posted a link to an article on his blog called What Makes You Beautiful (the title, as I now understand, of a song by a band called One Direction – I can only assume that John has teenagers in his house).
The focus of John’s post is the fact that businesses are biased toward good-looking people, and that it’s a largely unconscious but extremely widespread bias. People who are considered more attractive, studies show, are more likely to get hired in the first place, get paid more on average for doing the same job, and are more likely to get promoted sooner. I only kind of knew this was true, but John’s post really brought it to my conscious attention. And a quick stroll around the internet yields dozens of articles and papers exploring this bias.
So – as I generally do when something new comes to my attention – I started to pull it apart. And I believe that what makes this particular area of bias difficult is that it’s a mixture of some reasonable and justified assumptions with some unreasonable and unjustified assumptions.
Reasonable and justified: part of what people consider “attractive” is simply good grooming, which is completely within a person’s control, and is – I believe – a marker for other positive traits. For example, if a candidate is showered and shaved, wearing clothes and shoes that are clean and in good repair, with clean hair that doesn’t look like he or she has just rolled out of bed – I would consider that attractive. And I would infer (I think reasonably) that his or her attention to these aspects of self-presentation implies a sense of respect for the meeting, an understanding of expected professional behavior, and a basic focus on order and excellence. Another part of what people consider attractive is behavioral (and, again, completely with the person’s control). That is, I find people attractive who look me in the eye, stand and sit tall, don’t fidget, listen well, can converse easily, have a sense of humor. These things demonstrate both self-confidence and emotional intelligence – both of which are associated with professional and interpersonal effectiveness.
Unreasonable and unjustified. Unfortunately, I believe most of us also make unwarranted positive assumptions about aspects of attractiveness that are congenital, and have little or no bearing on a person’s abilities. For instance, if a person is overweight, has thinning hair, has unsymmetrical or disfigured facial features, is older, is disabled in some way – I fear that many people automatically assume that person is less intelligent, less confident, or less capable than someone who is slim, thick-haired, young, smooth-featured and whole.
And that’s the part of this that we need to get conscious about; the assumptions we need to question. To the extent you or I are making judgments about people’s qualifications based on these “luck of the draw” kinds of physical attributes – we need to stop doing that.
And as a little mantra, to help remind yourself that these characteristics are a lousy basis for judging someone as a professional or as a human being, repeat after me: Abraham Lincoln, Eleanor Roosevelt, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
I just got back from a really lovely vacation; for the past 4 years my dear husband has taken me to Jamaica for my birthday, and this year we stretched our normal week to ten days.
This time, I noticed that it took me a while to unwind. Generally speaking, I can get into vacation mode pretty quickly; last week it was a bit of a struggle. As I reflected, I came to believe that it was because the last year has been by far the busiest, most demanding of my career. Doing work most nights at home and doing at least some work every weekend had come to be normal for me over the course of the year. I was simply “revving higher” and so it took me longer to untangle from that and come to zero.
A Complete Re-boot…
But eventually, I did arrive at that zero point, and once again, I was reminded how important that is for my overall well-being…and for my effectiveness in every part of my life.
You know how sometimes your computer or your phone start acting strange and you have to just completely shut them down and start over again? I think we humans are like that, too.
Yesterday was my first day back at work, and I notice the impact of my re-boot. Nothing feels too difficult; I’m back to being interested in how everything is going. I just got off the phone with a client; talking through the agenda for his meeting next week felt fun and useful…and I know two weeks ago I would have been dragging through it, having to work hard to stay focused.
I’m excited to re-connect with my colleagues. I’m ready to re-focus on solving some thorny problems. I’m looking forward to moving ahead in a number of new areas.
Overall, I simply feel rested, refreshed and re-aligned: like my processors are all lined up and operating at peak efficiency. And that makes me feel capable, confident, content – happy to be back.
So next time you’re on vacation and you’re tempted to “kind of” work, I encourage you to take the opportunity to come fully to rest.
Your brain, your body and your heart will thank you…