The Truth on Leadership

I have spent the better part of twenty years in the field of leadership development. I have researched, studied, facilitated, coached, mentored, designed, and written on the topic. And I can tell you leadership development is big business. According to Chief Learning Officer magazine, leadership development spending is estimated to be as high as $50 billion annually. There are literally millions of articles, books, seminars, videos, assessments, and consultants available to help us become better leaders.

A search on “leadership books” at Amazon.com returns 70,000 results. One leadership book in particular is a best-seller. In fact, it sells the most number of copies per year…EVERY YEAR. Yes, the most successful literary creation of all time is a leadership book. Each year, over 100,000,000 copies are sold or given away. This book has become so popular that it is excluded from weekly best seller lists. That book is the Bible.

It strikes me how hard we look to find the seemingly elusive answer to the question, “What does it mean to be a good leader?” It is also notable how we have come to realize in this knowledge generation that the most admired leadership skills are traits such as humility, vision, vulnerability, listening, compassion, accountability, communication (ability to coach), authenticity, and purpose. For my money, no better example exists than Jesus. Why do we neglect learning the principles from God’s Word?

“For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

Looking to enhance your leadership skills? Consider diving in and reading the Bible. The most effective leaders I have encountered have a relationship with God. I am not suggesting you abandoned other revered leadership experts and their works. I greatly appreciate contemporary leadership experts for their ability to bring biblical principles to the masses in a way that is relevant and acceptable in secular environments. So while we live in a world where we are not bringing the Bible to the conference room table – we can look to His counsel when we retreat to our own home, office, or car.

His lessons are not a fad or the latest trend that will be replaced in a few years by a new model. His lessons endure. If you don’t currently read the Bible, it can seem overwhelming and intimidating. Seek out a mentor who has a solid relationship with God so you can see how he or she makes His teachings relevant day-to-day. Start with reading the daily scripture verses. From there, think about how you see the lessons present in your daily life and how you can apply those lessons to your work. Lastly, pray for the courage and wisdom to spot your moments and take advantage of them.

Do You Connect with Back to School?

It has been a number of months since my last blog. In full disclosure, I have been preoccupied searching for and ultimately starting a new job. Now that I have settled in, somewhat, I hope to get back on a more regular cadence of posting. Now, on to the good stuff! Thank you for reading.

It’s that time of year again: back to school. What, in May or June, seemed like a long and boundless summer ahead of us has quickly faded to cooler nights and yellowing leaves. At my house, back to school means my daughter will begin her sophomore year of high school; my son embarks on his freshman year of college; and my wife returns for her twenty-third year as a special education teacher.

LCM
Learner Connectivity Model

For me, back to school makes me think about renewal; fresh opportunities and new beginnings. It also makes me think about relationships and making connections. And, naturally, there are the nerves that can accompany the fresh start. For educators, it is a pivotal time to build rapport and inspire learning. And I am reminded of a framework for effectiveness in the educator role that I developed called the Learner Connectivity Model. Inclusive of all types of education – whether you are a teacher, instructor, trainer, facilitator, professor, coach, religious education leader, paid or volunteer – this model will help you make connections and increase effectiveness. It is composed of three parts: 1) Building connections between learners; 2) Building connections between learners and the learning content; and 3) Building connections between the teacher and the learner.

Building Connections Between Your Learners

LearnersMost learning – good learning – doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Whether your group size is 2 or 200, leveraging the connection between learners can catapult enthusiasm for learning. When learners feel a part of a group and empathy is established between learners who have differing perspectives, trust increases. As trust increases performance goes up. Additionally, you can maximize the effect of social learning. Experts argue that as much as 70% of learning can come from our peer groups. Social, or peer-to-peer, learning is happening whether the teacher is intentional about it or not, so why not jump out in front of it? If you don’t believe social learning exists, watch this classic Candid Camera video. Or, consider this scene from the blockbuster movie “A Few Good Men.” Tom Cruise’s character (Lt. Daniel Kaffee) asks Noah Wyle’s character (Cpl. Jeffrey Barnes) how he could possibly know where the mess hall is if it is not listed in the Marine’s training/operational manual. Cpl. Barnes responded by saying, “I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time.”

So how do you facilitate connections between your learners (or students)? Examples include: using icebreakers or get-to-know-you games, implementing classroom leadership roles, establishing learning buddies or accountability partners, maximizing diversity, using partner sharing, and assigning small group projects. Avoid becoming the center of attention. Aim instead to create an environment where students can keep growing on their own or with their peers. Whenever possible, step away and create moments of independence. How about you? What else have you done or could you do to promote peer-to-peer connections?

Building connections between learners and the learning

LearningLearning can be like a string of lights where when one bulb goes out, the whole strand doesn’t work. Learners are more successful when they can make connections between what they are learning and something they already know; it keeps the lights on. For example, when I began taking guitar lessons a couple of years ago I was able to draw on the knowledge of how to read notes from the piano lessons I took when I was in middle school. Whatever the learning goal or outcome is, and please share it explicitly with your students, if the learners can make an emotional connection to it the likelihood of being able to demonstrate proficiency skyrockets. Students want clear answers to the following three questions: What is it I am learning? Why am I learning it? What do I do with it? The more you can assist your students in finding compelling answers to those questions the better.

To help establish connections between your learners and what they are learning, try the following: frame up the learning by providing context and expectations, clearly state the learning objectives, establish relevancy, make connections to prior learning, empower students to make choices about about what is learned and when, allow time for reflection, use storytelling, and insert random knowledge checks. Great teachers don’t stand up in front and deliver motivational speeches (once and a while it is a magical happenstance). They stand alongside their students and deliver relevant information in small, meaningful chunks that encourage the learner to think critically.

Building connections between you and the learners

TeacherI know what you are thinking: it is not your job to be a friend to your students. And I won’t argue with you there. Yet it is clear and undeniable that if a student doesn’t like his or her teacher it will get in the way of their learning. Students will most likely remember you for how you made them feel, rather than how you instructed. Effective teaching – like most human interaction – is based on trust, which is established within the first few minutes of interaction. Before you can instruct, you have to show that you care.

To have inspirited learners, they need to see your passion and credibility. If something fires the student’s instinctive part of their brain to fight or flight, emotion runs high and their ability to exercise sound reason and judgement decreases. Allow me to share an example. My daughter arrived home from her first day of freshman year high school with a dislike for one of her teachers. That attitude didn’t change all year. What happened? The teacher’s first words to his students on the first day were, “This is the most difficult class you will take and most of you will fail.” Instinct…emotions…reason…“I don’t like this guy.” On the other hand, when a student believes their teacher cares about them and is an advocate for them then he or she will work harder in that class. Demonstrate your aptitude for compassion, forgiveness, and kindness; it matters how you treat your students.

How do you build connections between yourself and your learners? Examples include: connecting on an emotional level, smiling, listening, creating a safe environment for learning and sharing, celebrating achievements (even small ones), storytelling, and implementing “test and tells” to assess prior knowledge.

What works for you? What best practices can you adopt? Reach out to colleagues or friends who are teachers and learn from their successes and failures in establishing connections with their students. Make this the best back to school ever, and know that students and teachers are better together.

A Dad, a Decade, and a Dedication to Development

It is hard for me to believe, but this month marks the tenth anniversary since the death of my father. He would have turned 70 years old this month. His death was unexpected and I wasn’t prepared for it mentally. I got all too acquainted with the feelings of loss, regret, and frustration. And now, a decade later, my new normal puts up a stiff fight against the way things used to be as foremost on my mind.

The 2007 year-end review edition of “Wisconsin Grocer” magazine, the official magazine of the Wisconsin Grocers Association (WGA), contained both an article written by my dad and his obituary. Semi-retired from 35 years in the grocery business, he was working part-time for the WGA as its Member Services Representative. He had submitted the article titled “Coaching for Improved Work” prior to his death, leading to what in essence became advice from the grave. At the time when I first saw the magazine ten years ago, it seemed oddly normal to see both the article and the obituary; he did regularly write articles for the magazine, and he was most certainly dead after all. With death comes cold hard truths and I had no other means to process it. However, when I pulled out the magazine recently as I have been reflecting on my dad’s passing, it now struck me as being peculiar and unsettling to see both entries. It caused old feelings of anger and sadness to resurface in me.

I re-read the article (to be honest, I am not sure if I ever read the article when it was originally published). And doing so reminded me of many of the great qualities my dad had. His guidance in the article was indicative of the sage advice he often gave to family, friends, and colleagues. My dad understood the universal truth that organizations and the leaders who are trusted to run them must put time and effort into developing their employees.

There are many commonalities between the roles my father and I have held in the field of workplace training and development. He somewhat stumbled into the industry after working for many years in the grocery stores and then getting promoted to a corporate leadership position. I remember him telling me a story about the first time he facilitated a large workshop for managers and how nervous he was beforehand. He shared his concerns with his boss at the time who essentially told him to “suck it up.” He became very proficient in front of large groups as time went on, but he was more comfortable and impactful in an intimate setting. I, on the other hand, received a degree in education and have spent the majority of my career committed to helping employees perform at their best. I get awkward in one-on-one and small group settings, yet thrive when facilitating large groups. Similar yet different. Either way, we both appreciate the value of putting work in to the people side of business.

In his book “The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality” (Doubleday Books. 1999), author Ronald Rolheiser writes about staying in contact with our loved ones after their death. For Christians, Rolheiser writes, “we find our loved ones after death separates us by giving concrete expressions in our lives to those virtues and qualities which they best incarnated.” He goes on, “Just as Mary Magdala did not find Jesus in his tomb, we too will not find our loved ones there (though good to visit graves). We will meet the ones we can no longer touch when we put ourselves in situations where their souls once flourished. Simply put, we find our loved ones by entering into life, in terms of love and faith, in the way that was most distinctive to them.” In other words, if you want to feel more in touch with a deceased loved one who was characteristically compassionate – be more compassionate yourself.

When I visit my dad’s grave, it is a good experience and allows time for me to reflect and pray in silence. But, I do not meet my dad there; I don’t feel connected to him there. To achieve that connection, I need to go to the places that are most distinctive of my dad. And that means going deeper than just doing the same things that he did. It took me a number of years to learn that. For example, my dad had a love of cars…Corvettes specifically. I have owned a couple of Corvettes myself, and while they conjured up thoughts and memories of my dad, they didn’t bring us in contact. I needed to go more to the core of his character to those traits he incarnated – for which he was the living embodiment of.

My dad had a way of making people feel at ease around him. And he was especially adept at finding the one who was most isolated, alienated, or uneasy, and reaching out to them. I experienced it a number of times myself at large gatherings I would arrive at (such as a wedding) where I didn’t know many people and my introversion would take over. Then I would see my dad and he would come over and talk with me and make me feel special. Immediately I felt more comfortable. I have come to learn that when I am warm and gracious, and when I reach out to the lonely, lost, or excluded, I meet my dad.

And so, to that end, I want to share an excerpt from my dad’s article on coaching so as to help me, and perhaps you, stay connected to my dad by being involved in an activity that was distinctively him-coaching.

“Most employees want better direction from management. They perform their jobs in the best way they know how, maybe not the way you would perceive them doing the job.

Coaching is one of the most powerful one-on-one management techniques for increasing work performance. Coaching becomes a great motivational tool. It provides an opportunity to communicate a detailed plan for working together to improve operational goals, objectives, and enhance customer satisfaction.

One of the most important investments is to invest time and effort into one of the most important assets: employees. Employees are the key to customer satisfaction and profitability. Train new employees and coach key employees to accept responsibility for executing outlined process improvements.

Just a thought, if the work assignments that are to be accomplished on any given day represent 100%, what percentage would you estimate will be accomplished that day with you not present and all of your employees on the job? If you rely on coaching and developing your staff, the chances are a greater percentage of work will be completed in a manner which equals your expectations.

Focus on making positive change happen. If you continue to always do what you always did, you will always get what you got before.”

Good advice ten years ago…good advice now…and good advice ten years from now. My dad was not a prolific writer, he didn’t have an organizational development pedigree, nor did he have a college degree. But he understood people. Regardless of any technological advancement, automation, process excellence, or any other development, people and managing relationships are still at the heart of all successful businesses, communities, and families. So why aren’t leaders more effective at coaching people?

In my experience, leaders accomplish the things which they are held accountable for. Often those things are sales, production, and customer satisfaction. Leaders are not held accountable – I mean really held accountable – for coaching and developing their people. I challenge you to make 2018 the year of the employee, and invest time and effort in them. Hold yourself and others accountable for coaching employees and perhaps you will see their distinctive virtues and qualities come to life.

(Part II) Core Competence, CXO Style

In my last blog post, I wrote about the six core competencies preferred of a Chief Experience Officer (CXO). They are: approachability, positivity, authenticity, vulnerability, humility, and generosity. I suggested these six behavioral skills, technical skills, attributes, or attitudes will assist CXOs in carrying out the principal duties required of the role.

I asked the readers to participate in a brief online poll to identify which of the six competencies they had to work the hardest at on order to demonstrate consistently. The results of the survey showed that the most common competency identified was authenticity (40%). Now, as promised, I want to provide development resources to help us grow in that area.

First, let’s start with a reminder of what authenticity is. To be authentic means to be exposed, void of pretense, and genuine. When you are authentic you are true to you own personality, spirit, and character. Naturally, the opposite of all those things would be inauthentic. Authenticity can be a little hard to define, but I am confident you know it when you see it. We gravitate towards authentic people because we can trust and understand them. Thus, our defense mechanism is lowered and comfort level increases around authentic people. Second, I want to acknowledge survey respondents for their self-awareness. We cannot make strides towards being more authentic if we are not self-aware. By simply selecting authenticity from the list shows those respondents have self-awareness in acknowledging their room for improvement – that is a good foundation to start.

To be authentic, one must know thyself. We, as thinking and reasoning humans, must take time to understand our drivers, natural tendencies, preferences, values, beliefs, and biases. Without knowing our authentic self, we cannot hold our selves accountable to being that person. The challenge comes from trying to be your authentic self despite external influences and judgement.

To examine this, further, I solicited the help of Jim Love. Jim is a public speaker focusing on authentic leadership. Here is a summary of a short interview I had with Jim.

Q. Why is it so hard for people to be authentic? 

A. Especially today, there are so many forces that don’t support authenticity. People tend to rely on the opinions of others for their own self-worth. In a world where folks are defined by their next Instagram like and which version of the iPhone they own, it’s difficult to demonstrate who you truly are. “Heart-to-heart” conversations take a backseat to reading Twitter updates on your phone. It’s very easy to get caught up in the world and not focus on your authentic self.

Q. What would you recommend to someone to grow their authenticity?

A. The most important recommendation I have for someone to grow in their authenticity is to decide right now that they accept themselves and love themselves. That might sound weird (and perhaps boastful), but the minute you decide to love yourself and your style is the same minute you become a more effective, authentic leader. Decide that you are awesome just the way you are. With that acceptance in mind, you can begin seeking opportunities to develop your strengths. Become better at what you’re already good at doing. You will feel more confident, vibrant and, in turn, your authenticity will shine through. Hold that mindset and let it dictate your thoughts and actions.

 

To build on Jim’s recommendation, here is a list of additional things we can do to grow our authenticity. I present them to you in the form of a list; anyone who knows me can attest that lists are authentically me. Good luck as you become more authentically you.

  1. Lead with your values. Reflect on and identify what your top 3-5 core values are (find examples at Values.com). Having a defined, finite list will help you with accountability. Allow those values to guide your decision making, interpersonal behaviors, goal setting, and moral dilemmas.
  2. Appreciate the insignificance of collecting stuff. Whether the stuff is cars, clothes, awards, or promotions, in the end it is all insignificant when not aligned to our authentic self. Do you use the stuff to help you accomplish a goal or fulfill a purpose? Or do you use the stuff to impress others?
  3. Build relationships. Connecting with people is deeply at the core of authenticity. You will show your authenticity, and people will know your authenticity, by the quality of the relationship. You will get to know people beyond just casual small talk and engage in genuine discussion that sparks and emotional connection.
  4. Examine your motivation. Are you driven by image and what others think of you? Do you have a bigger house than you can afford to impress others? Do you promote your accomplishments on social media to make your colleagues jealous? Positive intent yields positive thoughts, which yield positive actions.
  5. Be mindful of whose language you are using? Some of the most inauthentic people I know often use others’ lingo. In the workplace, I call it “consultant speak.” These are one-liners, jargon, catch-phrases, and clichés such as “stay in your swim lane.” Which, as is often used in the workplace, has nothing to do with swimming. And the most common catch-phrases tend to change as someone introduces a new one into a culture (oftentimes consultants), and then others adopt it and still more go with the crowd.
  6. Say what you mean, in a polite way. It is okay to have an opinion or preference and share it. Some people shy away from authenticity for fear of being too bold, brash, or direct. So long as it is done in a polite and courteous way you can and should share your genuine feelings. As Stephen Covey said, “If two people have the same opinion, one is unnecessary.”
  7. Freely show emotion. Some people are cautious to show their emotions for how it will appear to others. It humanizes you when others know that you care and have feelings. Express your passion, show your love, and openly accept a hug when someone offers one to you.
  8. Let your work speak for itself. Be mindful of the conversations you are having and how often you recite your resume to others. If you are intelligent, experienced, and qualified others will know it. You may have “been there done that,” but without the requisite humility and self-assurance it just sounds like you are trying to promote yourself.
  9. Forgive yourself and admit your shortcomings. No one is perfect and we should stop trying to be. Apologize when you make a mistake, it will build your credibility rather than break it down. Are you your most harsh critic? Forgive yourself and take tender loving care of your own health and well-being
  10. Connect with something bigger than yourself. The fuel that can keep you forging ahead and maintaining your authenticity, even at the toughest of times, could just be your belief that you are a part of something bigger. This could be a cause that is important to you, a community of friends and family, or religion/spirituality. In all cases, you take the attention away from yourself and focus on serving others and a greater purpose.

Core Competence, CXO Style

Take our CXO competency poll, powered by dANIMATED, LLC.
When I think about the roles I participate in – whether it be parent, husband, author, speaker, golfer, or guitarist – I am intrinsically motivated to do them well. I have a desire to achieve proficiency. Each is a work in progress and I strive to improve each day. For me to get better and excel in my roles, I must possess or develop certain attributes or skills. For example, I need patience to be an effective father and perseverance to advance as a guitar player. The same is true for us in our workplaces. For us to meet our organizations’ expectations for our role, we should be able to perform various tasks and skills at a target level. These tasks and skills are often referred to as competencies, and collectively they make up a success profile. But when we are mismatched with the profile, or not given opportunities to develop and grow our competency, we struggle to meet expectations and fall short of achieving proficiency.

The global people and organizational advisory firm Korn Ferry explains it this way, “Like the periodic table of elements, it depends on what you want to make. Water is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen (H2O). The make-up of salt is NaCl (sodium + chloride). What is the make-up of a successful general manager, department head, or specialized individual contributor? This is where the practice of success profiling and competency modeling come into play.” I love that image; one part this, two parts that, and you can make the profile for effectiveness in any given role. Take my earlier example of being a guitarist and the necessary competency of perseverance. You could argue that perseverance is important to success at every and anything, and you might be right. But a part of competency modeling is to prioritize which elements are the most essential to getting the desired outcome from the role. Guitar players must have the discipline to practice, the persistence to fight through the initial pain in your fingertips, and the drive to learn new techniques; all which mandate perseverance. Mix in fine motor dexterity and you get an even more proficient guitarist; while  interpersonal skills may not be as essential to a guitar player. And perseverance may not be as important to my role as author or speaker if I am not first competent in written communication and presentation skills. Alas, getting the mix of elements right is critical or your NaCl wont taste like salt.

In my book, “I Am CXO, Now What?”, I spell out six competencies (elements) ideal for reaching high performance as a Chief Experience Officer. If you are not familiar with it, I summarize the role of CXO as delivering exemplary, life-changing experiences to others. Or to say it another way, a CXO strives to give positive experiences to others who interact with him or her. In this blog, I aim to define each of the six core competencies for a CXO. The competencies may be a behavioral skill, technical skill, attribute, or attitude, and will assist CXOs in carrying out the principal duties required of the role. For example, one of the principal duties of a CXO is to sacrifice your time, money, or effort for the sake of someone else. We are better equipped to do so when we possess the competencies of humility and generosity. And while there may be many other attributes and skills that would contribute to being a proficient CXO, I have prioritized these six as most important. And they afford us a finite number of measurable and achievable targets to focus on.

As you review the descriptions I assigned to each competency, I urge you to reflect on which come most easily to you and which you need to work the hardest at in order to demonstrate it consistently. That isn’t to say you can’t or don’t achieve that competency, it may just take more work for you or isn’t a natural tendency. In no particular order, here is the success profile for a CXO.

Chief Experience Officer Core Competencies

Approachability
  • Accessible and easy to talk to
  • Sensitive to the interpersonal anxieties of others
  • Puts others at ease
  • Knows how or when to be warm and gracious
Positivity
  • An attitude of optimism and hopefulness
  • Sees possibilities and opportunities
  • Sees the good in others
Authenticity
  • Pure, exposed, and genuine
  • True to your own personality, spirit, and character
  • Void of pretense
  • Self-aware
Vulnerability
  • Embracing emotional exposure and uncertainty
  • Openness to differing ideas, opinions, and cultural norms
  • Allowing others into your heart
Humility
  • Courteously respectful of others
  • Self-restraint and gentleness
  • Openness to having your mind changed
  • Putting others first
Generosity
  • Sacrificing time, money, or energy for others
  • Kindhearted and boundless
  • Belief that gifts are meant to be shared

How about you? Do you find yourself having to stretch and work harder to demonstrate one of these competencies more so than the others? Be honest with yourself; there is no benefit to being disingenuous here. Keep in mind, past mistakes and room for improvement don’t preclude you from being a CXO. In fact, they only heighten your potential for success. Please participate in the anonymous online poll and assess which competency you need to work the hardest at in order to demonstrate is consistently. I will be collecting data until the end of September and analyzing trends. Then, in a future blog, I will provide development ideas and resources for how individuals can increase their competence in the area most commonly identified.