Yesterday, my husband and I were talking about the human will to mastery. The conversation started as a discussion of the attraction people have toward precision tools as they advance in a craft. For instance, I was noting how, as I get deeper and deeper into my knitting hobby, I get pickier about the needles I use, and I find I’m accumulating a variety of little tools (row counters, cable needles, stitch holders, needle sizers) that I didn’t even know about – and wouldn’t have understood the use of – when I was starting out.
Sometimes we gather tools in the absence of expertise: I think of all the guys who have expensive and complex garage workshops they never use and probably couldn’t, or the people who have a huge variety of unused cooking implements in every drawer. Perhaps we think if we have the apparatus, we’ll become experts by osmosis (or perhaps we just want to convince others).
But then we went on to talk about how most people really do love to get good at something. Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, cites research that shows the opportunity to build mastery is one of the three most motivating things for most people, professionally. (The other two are autonomy and purpose.)
I can completely relate to this – I love getting better and better at things. The process of finding out how an endeavor works, and then working through limitation and frustration to build skills and knowledge, and then being able to operate at ever more challenging levels – I love that. For example, over the past few years, I’ve learned to do Sudoku. When my step-daughter Kate first showed me some simple techniques, 3 years ago, it was the first step. I started with easy puzzles, realized that the core of solving was logic (which I’m good at) and patience (which I’m not, but am always trying to get better at). A few months later, she gave me a book called Absolutely Nasty Sudoku. I confidently began the first puzzle – and I was unable to get even partway through it.
So I got serious. Over the next few years I did a tons of Sudoku. I discovered lots of approaches, learned some from books and online, created my own little system of notation. I worked gradually harder and harder puzzles, and every few months I’d try my ‘absolutely nasty’ book again. Still couldn’t finish any, but I was getting further and further in the puzzles I tried before my expertise ran out. And I was having a lot of fun.
Then finally, last month, I picked up the ‘absolutely nasty’ book and made it through a puzzle. Then another, and another after that. It was wonderfully gratifying.
I think sometimes we resist the process of mastery because it can be so uncomfortable along the way. I was pretty embarrassed that first time I tried (and failed completely) to work that ‘absolutely nasty’ puzzle. And it was frustrating to pick it up along the way and still not be able to complete them.
But the the benefit far outweighs the cost. I have a hobby now that’s really good for my brain (I can almost feel the synapses firing when I do a tough puzzle), that’s a lot of fun, and that I feel proud of having mastered. And I know I can keep getting better and better at it.
And the results, when we are willing to put our minds to becoming truly good at something, can be much more than fun and entertaining – they can be gorgeous and powerful. As witness this video.
Romancing the Wind – Ray Bethell
We had the launch party for Leading So People Will Follow on Monday night, as well as the Fully Accepted Leader award ceremony. At the same time, we held our yearly all-Proteus meeting on Monday and Tuesday, and conducted a further development session for a smaller group of “Proteans” on Wednesday (yesterday).
It was all a love fest – high energy, lots to do, not much sleep, but a love fest nonetheless. I spent three days feeling grateful. Grateful for the people in my life, grateful for the work I have the opportunity to do, grateful for the high-quality human beings on the Proteus team, grateful for all the embarrassingly positive things people said about me at the party. Grateful that the work we’re doing with our clients is so helpful to them, both personally and professionally.
Grateful that my children are such lovely and impressive people.
Grateful to be alive, and healthy, and loved.
Grateful to be so full of energy and hope at this stage in my life.
Grateful for my best-of-all-possible-worlds husband.
I could go on. And it reinforced for me the positive power of gratitude. Gratitude is that experience of recognizing something as a gift; being aware that it’s not a given, and feeling thankful for it. It’s the opposite of complacency, entitlement, greed, neediness. It opens your heart and your mind.
Gratitude lubricates all relationships and all endeavors. When people on a team feel grateful for the opportunity to work together, their appreciation creates an environment of trust and hopefulness: it’s easier to solve problems, resolve miscommunications, make sound decisions. When people feel grateful for the work they do, they’re inspired to do their best, and to learn and improve.
And, all practical considerations aside, it just feels so damn wonderful to be grateful.
So here’s to the power of gratitude, and may you cultivate it in your life every day.
I’ve really loved writing these last twelve posts about the leaders in Leading So People Will Follow. I’m fond of and have great respect for every one of them, and some of them have become good friends over the years.
Tomorrow night in New York City we’re having a launch party for the book, and we’re also giving each of these leaders a Fully Accepted Leader Award. I’m really looking forward to it, on a variety of levels. I’m especially excited about the opportunity to publicly thank and acknowledge these folks for making the effort, every day, to be good and worthy leaders.
As the ‘book team’ has been preparing for this party and for the book’s launch, we’ve been talking (as you might imagine) about good leaders, and how profoundly they can affect their followers, their companies, even the world. Rusty Shelton had a great idea last week, which we evolved in collaboration, and which I want to share with you here.
Let’s declare October 16th Fully Accepted Leader Day. Let’s make it the day, this year
courtesy Andrei Shumskly
and every year, to publicly celebrate and thank the great leaders in our lives; those people who we’ve experienced as consistently far-sighted, passionate, courageous, wise, generous, and trustworthy in guiding and directing us. It could be a parent, a coach, a teacher, or a manager. It could be the company CEO, or the executive assistant who organized a disaster relief effort single-handed. It could be someone who stepped up in an emergency, or someone who shows up as a quiet, inspiring leader day in and day out.
On the 16th, I encourage you to thank these people publicly: on your blog or through facebook or Twitter; with a photo essay on Pinterest; by sending an email to the person and cc-ing your larger circle. And of course, the 16th is just an excuse: how great it would be if we took the opportunity any day, all year, to thank those people who have impacted our lives in a positive way.
Too often, we talk as though there are not good leaders – as though all organizations are run by self-aggrandizing fools, everyone in public office is slick and cynical, and any person who’s in a position of power is corrupt. Let’s let everyone know about the good, worthy, followable leaders who’ve inspired us, helped us grow, and made our lives better.
Viva la Fully Accepted Leaders!
“David Seltzer is another trustworthy leader for whom I have great respect. David is the managing partner of Management 360, an LA-based artist and literary management company. In an industry often characterized by questionable dealings, loose lips, and a pronounced lack of ethics, the folks at Management 360 have made integrity one of their key competitive advantages. David is extraordinarily discreet; I’ve known and worked with him for a number of years, and he has never once revealed to me a single piece of information about any of his celebrity clients. He doesn’t even drop seemingly harmless pieces of intel about who’s he’s traveling to support or meet with, information that could make him look cool but might possibly compromise his clients’ privacy.
He also has high standards of discretion internally; if one of his colleagues tells him something in confidence – it stays confidential. I’ve noticed how his colleagues, most of whom have worked with him for many years, rely on his discretion; they share sensitive topics with him without hesitation. They feel safe to do so.
As with the first two elements of trustworthiness, when leaders keep confidences, it creates an atmosphere of safety and calm; people are more likely to be able to focus on doing the work, as opposed to figuring out how to protect themselves from the leaders’ indiscretion.”
— From Chapter 8 of Leading So People Will Follow
I really like working with David: I feel completely confident that he will always tell me the truth as he understands it. Over the past few months, I’ve been talking with David and one of his colleagues about some work we may be doing with their partners. It’s a huge relief knowing that if he commits to doing this work, it will happen. And if he doesn’t think it’s a good idea, he’ll tell me why, and it won’t happen.
I suspect that he deals with his clients in the same way (I don’t know for sure, because as I noted above, he never talks about them!) Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a mega-popular Hollywood artist, and every day most of the people you deal with suck up to you and tell you what they think you want to hear. Let’s say you’re not the kind of person who wants that; let’s pretend that you actually long for the people around you to be supportive and helpful without being sycophants. That you want people to be reasonably straight with you. How refreshing and reassuring would it be to have someone like David as your manager? Someone who would be willing to say “I don’t know if that’s a good script for you” or “I’m not sure that would be a great career move.” And if that person, as your manager, said, “This project is just what you need” – even if you disagreed, how great would it be to know that it was exactly what he or she believed, vs. what he or she thought was politically expedient?
As I noted above, I see David’s ethical approach, and that of his partners, as a huge competitive advantage for them. Especially when your industry doesn’t have a great reputation for trustworthiness (think Hollywood, car sales, insurance, diet and exercise, etc.) if you’re seen as the trustworthy provider, your starting point is miles ahead of the competition.
And trustworthiness has the same impact internally: if you, as the leader, have a reputation for straight dealing, discretion and delivering on your promises, it’s reassuring and comforting to your team in the same way.
Having the opportunity to work with leaders like Pat Langer and David Seltzer has really reinforced for me that trustworthiness isn’t only a moral imperative – it’s a powerful business driver.
“Pat Langer is a calming presence. Partly it’s because she’s very thoughtful and measured in her responses; partly it’s because she’s such a great listener. But I’m convinced that it’s primarily because she’s so entirely trustworthy: in dealing with her, you immediately relax – you feel safe.
The first time I ever met Pat, she had just been brought on as the head of HR, Legal and Business Affairs for Lifetime Television. I knew nothing about her or her background: all I knew was that some woman named Patricia had been hired to oversee these key staff functions.
We spent most of that first fairly brief conversation talking about the work that Proteus had been doing with Lifetime over the preceding 3 or 4 years. As we said goodbye, and I left her office, I realized two things: I had complete faith that she would respect the confidentiality of anything I had told her, and I was quite sure that she would follow through on her commitment to set up a second meeting.
Over the years, that initial sense of Pat’s trustworthiness has been affirmed again and again. And it’s not just my sense: when I mentioned to one of her colleagues that I was planning on using Pat as a “trustworthy exemplar” in this book, this person’s response was, “Good choice – Pat’s picture should be in the dictionary under the definition for the word ‘integrity.’”
— From Chapter 8 of Leading So People Will Follow
I enjoy seeing and experiencing the effects of Pat’s trustworthiness. Since January of 2011, Pat has been the EVP of HR for NBCUniversal, and it’s been a wild time. She joined right around the time Comcast became the majority owner of NBCUniversal, and so walked into a situation that involved huge change, massive uncertainty and high anxiety for all involved.
I was sure, though, that those around her would quickly come to see her thoughtfulness, honesty and fairness, and that it would have a profound positive influence on the situation. I’ve seen that happen: both the HR community at NBCUniversal and the folks in the business units now regard her as a core point of stability and clarity as they continue to define their new world.
Observing and working with Pat in this situation has really reinforced for me the importance of having trustworthy leaders during times of great change. Change is tough for people, and one of the things that makes it hardest is the heightened level of ambiguity. When a leader is trustworthy people can rely on the fact that he or she will tell them the truth about what’s happening and what will happen – which reduces the degree of ambiguity significantly. A really trustworthy leader will even tell you when he or she can’t tell you! I’ve seen Pat do this a number of times over the past couple of years, saying some version of, “I’m not free to talk about this yet because of confidentiality issues (or legal issues, or personnel issues); I’ll speak more about it as soon as I’m able.”
Knowing that you’ll get the straight story when everything is up for grabs is enormously reassuring. It frees people to keep moving ahead and go through the needed change, vs. getting paralyzed or resistant. Given the level of change in nearly every industry right now, trustworthiness in our leaders seems more important than ever before.
“Another generous leader with whom I’ve worked for many years, and for whom I have great affection, is Doug Herzog, the President of Viacom Entertainment Group. Doug is much more likely to assume positive than negative intent – he believes that people generally want to do good work, and that you should hire smart, capable people and assume that they’ll then be smart and capable. I’ve noticed over the years that most people really like working for him: they tend to blossom in the sun of his regard. They feel motivated to fulfill his positive expectations. Of course, sometimes people don’t fulfill his expectations, and then he can be disappointed, and sometimes even has to let them go – but the vast majority of the time, I’ve seen his hopefulness about people bear fruit.
For example, at one point many years ago, Doug was having some difficulties with one of his direct reports. This guy – let’s call him Joe – was running programming for one of the channels Doug manages, and while he was creative and smart, he was uncommunicative and hard to read. Rather than assuming that Joe had some hidden agenda or was being secretive, Doug assumed that he simply didn’t understand how his lack of communication was affecting those around him. He offered Joe an executive coach; Joe took advantage of the opportunity and improved his communication and his focus on teaming with others. Now, almost ten years later, Joe is running the network: he and Doug have a strong and positive working relationship.”
— From Chapter 7 of Leading So People Will Follow
Doug was the first client with whom I shared the six Accepted Leader attributes, in 1996. I had been working on the model for about a year, and felt as though I had something important – simple, true and useful. I explained to Doug how I had been observing the differences between ‘appointed’ and ‘accepted’ leaders, and how I had come to believe that we have a kind of radar for good leadership built into us from ancient times as a group survival mechanism. I laid out the six attributes – and he started applying them instantly, thinking out loud (very accurately) about some of his direct reports and which of the qualities they did and didn’t demonstrate. It was exciting for me; his immediate adoption was my first indicator that I had found something core to our perceptions of leadership.
But it also said something to me about Doug as a leader. I had already noticed that generous leaders tended to ‘assume positive intent’ – to believe that people want to do good work and be strong team members, and that when those things aren’t happening, it’s more likely to be the result of a misunderstanding or a lack of skill or knowledge, rather than of a malicious or selfish agenda, or a permanent inability on that person’s part. What I understood that day with Doug was that this generosity of spirit doesn’t make leaders naive or pollyanna-ish. Doug was quite clear about the leadership deficits of the folks working for him. Assuming positive intent, when well-practiced, is hopeful but realistic: you see people for who they are, and you believe that they can grow and want to grow.
It’s the essence of ‘reasonable aspiration,’ and it provides a great developmental environment for the followers of a generous leader.
“When Danny Meyer smiles, other people smile too. His good humor and hopefulness are highly infectious. Danny and I are walking along a Manhattan street, coming back to his office from a webcast we’ve just taped for Forbes.com about how to be a good people manager. Danny’s talking about the speaking gigs he’s been doing lately, and he’s excited. I notice people looking at him and breaking into spontaneous grins – it’s fun just to be around his energy. The good vibes continue when we get back into the Union Square Hospitality Group offices – the company of which Danny is founder and CEO. People seem genuinely glad to see him. As he walks toward his office, each little encounter is full of life: a shared smile; a brief greeting; a moment spent telling someone that he liked a graphic she had created; a quick question and response with one of his partners.
We’ve been working with Danny and his team for 20 years – they’re our longest client relationship. When I began developing this leadership model in the mid-nineties, Danny was the first person I thought of as an exemplar of the generous leader. And as I watch him make his way through the USHG office on this occasion, I see it again: Danny is generous with all the things a leader has to offer. He’s generous with time, attention, praise, resources, trust, information, knowledge, and – perhaps most notably – power.”
— From Chapter 7 of Leading So People Will Follow
It’s been both inspiring and educational observing Danny over the past twenty years; I love the opportunity provided by long-term client relationships to watch businesses and people grow. When I first met Danny in 1993, he had one restaurant – Union Square Cafe – and was in the process of moving toward opening his second, Gramercy Tavern. Now Union Square Hospitality Group, the company Danny and his partners formed to tie together all their establishments, is a NY-based world-spanning collection of fine dining restaurants, barbeque/jazz joints, a catering company, fast food emporia and upscale concessions at major sports arenas. And though these venues are hugely disparate in terms of menu, price point and locale, all of them have generosity at their core, as a bottom line value. Each of the enterprises is founded on Danny’s philosophy of ‘enlightened hospitality,’ which consists of five simple tenets: take care of each other; take care of our guests; take care of our vendors; take care of the community; and take care of the shareholders.
And he really means it. I’ve watched, over all these years, as Danny and his partners have made consistent effort to ensure that these principles of foundational generosity live in every person they hire and every business they run. It’s always tough to balance growth with maintaining a strong positive culture – it’s easy for core principles to get lost in the imperatives of profit, especially when you’re adding lots of new people to the mix all the time – but Danny and his team are doing a remarkable job.
Generosity in a leader is a wonderful thing to observe. It has almost mystical properties. I’m reminded of the quote from Saint Francis of Assisi, “For it is in giving that we receive.” I used to think that was meant to refer only to the experience of giving; that we receive the benefit of feeling spiritually and emotionally great when we’re genuinely generous. And it’s true that being generous feels wonderful. However, I’ve noticed that those leaders who give consistently – who are generous with time, belief, hope, resources, power and knowledge – also receive on a practical material level. They receive people’s loyalty, commitment, and effort. Because their followers give back creativity, hopefulness, energy, collaboration, and hard work, their generosity becomes a powerful catalyst for growth – their own personal growth, but also their people’s growth, and the growth and prosperity of their business.
As an investment, generosity gives great returns on every level. Leaders – take note.
“Wonya Lucas is another wise leader. Last year I was facilitating a vision and strategy session for an organization called CTAM (Cable and Telecommunication Association for Marketing); Wonya is a member of the board. At one point in the discussion, we were talking about how and whether CTAM should change the focus of some of its offers to better serve its members. One person was very enthusiastic about how a particular offer would appeal to the membership. Most of the other participants in the session were getting caught up in the person’s enthusiasm. I saw Wonya listening carefully, not yet responding. A few minutes later she spoke up, noting that while she agreed that the membership would love the offer, she wasn’t sure about their bosses – that it might be a harder sell to convince them of the value of it – and that they were, ultimately, the ones who would have to pay for the members to use it. Her balanced insight changed the flow of the conversation, and the group ended up agreeing on a more robust and universally appealing offer.
I’ve often seen Wonya be the “fair witness” for a group; she seems to have a real gift for keeping her objectivity, even when all around her are losing theirs. People rely upon this ability in their leaders. We look to our leaders for guidance, and when we don’t respect the quality of our leaders’ insight, when we don’t believe that they can stay objective about important situations – we question their decisions.”
— From Chapter 6 of Leading So People Will Follow
Recently, Wonya and I were talking about a situation where she had made a decision as a leader that turned out not to have been the right thing for her team and the organization. I really appreciated her “fair witness,” objective approach. She was able to say, “here’s what happened; here’s how that didn’t work; here’s what I’ve done differently; here’s what’s happening now.”
Being able to reflect on and grow from successes and mistakes as a leader is the essence of wisdom. Too often, leaders just keep moving: good things happen, bad things happen, but they don’t stop, take a breath and think – dispassionately and objectively – about what it means, and use their understanding to improve going forward.
In order to do this, though, you have to cultivate the skill of being a ‘fair witness’; of being able to look at situations – even those in which you have a strong emotional stake – as objectively as possible, so that your decisions are based in reality, rather than denial, hope, avoidance, or wishful thinking.
I recently read a wonderful definition of wisdom, from Aristotle: he proposes that wisdom is the understanding of causes. That is, knowing why things are a certain way, which is deeper than merely knowing that things are a certain way. Wise leaders look for the “why” behind events, and it helps them to make decisions that will benefit them, their teams and their organizations.
“I saw Kathy Dore do this again and again during the years when she was a client. I noticed that when something didn’t work the way she’d hoped – a program, a sales effort, a business process – she’d sit down with her team and have an honest post-mortem. She’d ask, “Why didn’t this work?” or “What held us back from even greater success?” Then she’d help guide the conversation so that people could discover those elements of the effort most likely to be the source of any problems. Once they had gotten clearer on the “shape” of the problem, she’d ask, “What do we need to do differently next time to make this work (or make it work even better)?” And I know from speaking to her that her self-talk about this process was generally hopeful and practical: We can figure this out. We can make this better.
And the results? Kathy built strong, loyal, capable teams who deeply respected and supported her as their leader – and together they were able to build new businesses, turn around failing businesses, drive existing businesses to achieve much higher levels of success.”
— From Chapter 6 of Leading So People Will Follow
The first time I met Kathy, 16 years ago, I was immediately impressed with her wisdom. The way she gathered and reflected on ideas and input before responding gave the sense that she was giving important issues the consideration they deserved.
However- and this is key – she was not slow or indecisive. In fact, she made tough, complex decisions well and quickly…she just didn’t rush, or decide in an arbitrary or superficial way.
Sometimes it seems we assume that wisdom is a quality best left to philosophers and academics – those who aren’t bound by the deadlines and financial constraints of business.
But in my experience, the opposite is true, and Kathy’s a great example. When a far-sighted, passionate, courageous leader is also wise, it strikes a great balance. Wisdom is the counterweight to the forward motion of those first three traits; it keeps far-sightedness from becoming unrealistic, passion from turning into dogma, and courage from drifting into foolhardiness.
And now I have the great good fortune of benefiting from Kathy’s wisdom on a daily basis: in 2009 she went from client to colleague. Since then she’s served as a senior advisor at Proteus, and her wisdom is helping us grow well, and helping our clients create clear vision and strategy. Her wisdom simply has a new vehicle for driving businesses and catalyzing strong, thoughtful, successful teams.
Turner supported her in this effort (she’s also passionate, so I’m sure she made a great case for it), and her decision to move in this somewhat risky direction has paid off handsomely, in terms of both ad sales revenues and cementing relationships with important clients. But she had no guarantee at the time; it required leadership courage to commit to this direction and stay committed to it until it could have a chance to bear fruit.”
— From Chapter Five of Leading So People Will Follow
I suspect most of the people who work for Linda Yaccarino consider her fearless. But I know she has doubts and anxiety as anyone else does – it’s just that she doesn’t let them stop her.
And that’s part of real courage as a leader: moving forward in spite of your fear. Doing things that feel risky, or are personally uncomfortable, when you believe they’re necessary for the good of the enterprise.
I love working with Linda – it’s always a breath of fresh air. She’s bold, and she’s honest, and she takes full responsibility for her actions. In her new(ish) job as head of Cable and Digital Ad Sales at NBCUniversal, she immediately set a high bar for herself and her team when she arrived – there was a lot to do, and not nearly enough time or people to do it. In the first meeting she held with her senior team, I could tell they were excited, but a little overwhelmed by the challenges before them. Then I had the privilege of being a part of her first national sales meeting, a few months later, and I could feel her courage infusing each one of the 400 people in attendance; making them feel more capable, more willing to move beyond their own limitations.
Courage in a leader is a bracing thing: it strengthens and invigorates everyone it touches.