Archive for the ‘Leadership matters’ Category

“We have met the enemy, and he is us”

December 16, 2014

Like Pogo said in the comic strip by Walt Kelly that bore the protagonist’s name, we, as citizens of the USA, must recognize our part in the torture documented in the Senate report on CIA torture post 9/11.  This fact struck me after reading William Falk’s editorial in December 19, 2014 edition of The Week:

“On 9/11, I watched the towers collapse into a billowing volcanic cloud from The Week’s offices, and vividly remember the terror that subsequently seized the city and the country. It was widely believed that it was just the first of many attacks—with planes, dirty bombs, nuclear weapons. Police and National Guardsmen armed for warfare filled train stations, airports, and public places. Airline traffic plummeted. When the anthrax letters began arriving, frantic mothers bought up gas masks and antibiotics for the inevitable biowarfare attack, and families began stocking up on food, water, and duct tape. America lost its collective mind. It was amid this mass hysteria that the Bush administration crossed a line that the U.S. had never before crossed, not even in fighting Hitler’s Germany. In order to deliver us from evil, our intelligence agencies tortured people with a persistent, sadistic brutality that, we know now, left even CIA officers nauseated, shaking, and crying.

This is terrorism’s sick genius. Terrorists invite us—seduce us—to share their Manichaean worldview, to respond to savagery with savagery, to join them in madness. “Make us safe!” Americans demanded. And so our elected leaders launched two wars, saw WMD where there were none, launched surveillance programs with virtually no limits, and embraced “enhanced interrogation.” As justification, the White House and the CIA joined Machiavelli, Marx, and Stalin in insisting that the end justifies the means. Lots of individuals bear responsibility for the horrors detailed in the Senate committee’s torture report. But if we are honest, that journey to the Dark Side was a collective failure—and sobering evidence of how fragile our principles really are.

We Are All Liars: The Confessions of Lance Armstrong

January 18, 2013

“You can pay me now, or you can pay me later”  This old adage comes to mind after having watched the first of two installments of Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey last night: he had used performance enhancing drugs since 1995, including all seven of his Tour de France victories.

Lance is paying big-time now.  In light of the many years that he vehemently denied doping, the confession was incredible.  This is truly a sad story.  For Lance, of course, but more importantly, the sport of cycling, and beyond that, our faith in all heroes.

The “Lost Generation” is how the cycling racers of the last 20 or so years are being described.  We will never know who the truly best racers were during the time period 1990 to 2010.  All the time I spent listening to, reading about, and watching bicycle racing was the equivalent of watching pro wrestling: totally farcical and rigged.  The difference is that I think most of pro wrestling’s fans knew and accepted the farce!  We cycling fans were duped, pure and simple.

We wanted to be duped.  Lance’s story of coming back from cancer was incredibly compelling.  Some of us saw enough smoke several years ago to believe there was a fire.  I stopped wearing my yellow Livestrong bracelet about 2007 after I read David Walsh and Pierre Ballester’s LA Confidential.  That book, and the many other rumors and allegations flying about, pushed me over the edge.

Even so, it was still shocking to hear Lance last night.  The greatest sadness I have is for the human condition: how people can delude themselves so completely.  Lance confessed, not just to doping, but also to truly not thinking, at the time, that he was cheating.  A lie to the world that was as complete as Lance’s could not have been perpetrated unless he was totally duping himself.

It’s a type of schizophrenia, if you ask me.  All of us do this to a greater or lesser extent.  Yes, all of us.  The difference (or not) between Lance and the rest of us liars rests on a twofold continuum: first, the degree of self deceit; second, the impact on the rest of humanity.

The first continuum: we lie to ourselves out of fear, and our degree of fear determines the extent of our lie.  Lance has plenty of fears, perhaps the greatest of which was of being abandoned, as he was by his father at the age of two.

The second continuum: some liars may not affect many people, but some of us affect millions, as did Lance, including all those that believed in the miracle of his recovery, and the inspiration of his commitment to succeeding.

I am left to examine the lies I have told myself over the years, the fears that lie beneath them, and who I have hurt and disappointed.  That is the gift of Lance Armstrong’s confession for me.

Postscript: Lance’s troubles continue.  Travis Tygart, CEO of the US Anti-Doping Agency, told Sixty Minutes’ Scott Pelley that Lance was lying to Oprah about when he last used PEDs.  On February 6, 2013, federal prosecutors reopened the investigation they mysteriously closed a year ago.  Lance may face criminal charges of obstruction, witness tampering and intimidation.  Additionally, Lance faces civil suits that could cost him about $90 million, should the claimants prevail.

The Myth of Leadership, or, Who’s Driving This Bus?

March 20, 2012

Barbara Kellerman and Carl Jung share a unique view of leaders & followers.  Kellerman, a Harvard lecturer, and author of many books, including Followership, feels that leaders are largely at the mercy of their followers.  She proposes that a leader who does not pay attention to the types of followers in their organization is not likely to succeed in the long run.

Carl G. Jung, the noted Swiss psychiatrist, believed that hubris is the downfall of many a leader, and that the image of the mighty leader engaging the hearts and minds of doting followers is not reality.  He viewed organizations as he does individuals: as having a conscious and an unconscious, the latter having a powerful influence on behavior and outcomes.

Just as with individuals, organizational success is related to the willingness of the enterprise to acknowledge less evident, perhaps darker, forces, and strive to bring them to consciousness.

Let me add a third name to this list of opinions on leadership I respect: Adam Weinberg, past President and CEO of World Learning, an international nonprofit organization that runs exchange, education and leadership development programs in more than 75 countries.  Dr. Weinberg became President of Denison University in 2012.  I heard Mr. Weinberg speak at a luncheon in January of 2012.  His four main points:

  1. Rarely is leadership correctly defined.  Agreeing with Kellerman and Jung, Mr. Weinberg defines leadership in part by what it is not: an individual on a white horse leading the charge while yelling, “Follow me!”
  2. Everyone needs to be a leader.  At a minimum, we must lead ourselves through self-management.
  3. Institutions are rarely training individuals to be the leaders we need. For instance, leaders are rarely taught to be introspective, but how can you understand the values and needs of others if you do not deeply understand your own values and needs?
  4. Organizations are human creations, and thus the three preceding issues are creating institutions that are becoming less and less “leadable.”  The US congress – enough said.

I leave you with one of my favorite management quotes, attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but probably first stated by A. A. Ledru-Rollin, a French politician of the 19th century:

“There go my people.  I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

Personal Factors in Leadership Success

September 26, 2011

When coaching leaders in the importance of

  • Engaging others in what they are trying to accomplish
  • Seeking the input of those who express contrary opinions
  • Earnestly understanding opposing points of view
  • Appreciating a different approach to problem solving

my words often fall on deaf ears.  Frequently, successful people believe their continued success depends upon rigid adherence to what they perceive has caused their achievements so far.  If command and control has been their ticket to success so far, they may have a difficult time understanding that changes in circumstance may render that style of leadership useless.

This is when I pull out a study done by Leadership Performance Systems, Inc., The Relationship of Personal Qualities to Leadership Success.  While the study was done in 2003, the literature is only more emphatic today that building relationships with others is the key to leadership success.  The study synthesizes the data from over 800 articles on factors that contribute to leadership success or failure.

For many leaders, presenting them with clear and convincing data is the first step to changing their minds.  The chart below illustrates the results of this survey.  An example of the information contained in this study: the juxtaposition of how little “Technical Expertise” contributes to leadership success or failure, versus the significant the impact of “Relationship Building”.

The Relationship of Personal Qualities to Leadership Success

(Ranked by Derailment)

Percent Related

Percent Related

Behavior Cluster

to Success

to Derailment

Relationship Building
Caring, showing interest, fairness and trustworthy, understanding, displays empathy and vulnerability, seeks feedback



Career ambition, courage, adaptability, perseverance, self-awareness, time management, perspective taking, discernment, attention-focus, acts on feedback



Cognitive Complexity
Managing ambiguity and paradox, creativity, managing diversity and system complexity, seeks to understand unintended consequences



Technical Expertise
Functional skills, specific business acumen



Supportive, informing, confronting skills, presentations, writing clarity, demonstrates no pre-judgment, collaborative inquiry



Action orientation, command skills, organizing, prioritizing, results orientation



Meta Competencies:

Flexibility – Ability to evaluate and adjust response.

Learning – Ability to learn from experience.

The Study:

In a study of 937 published research articles, an analysis is reported that indicates the percentage (%) of articles on topics related to success and failure in organizations.
Articles published in every major journal or bulletin since 1985 are included in the analysis.
Studies selected are listed in social sciences indexes related to leadership and management behavior.

Articles on Success Factors: n=683      Articles on Failure Factors: n=254

© 2003 Leadership Performance Systems, Inc.

Trust your Gut?

May 8, 2010

How many times have you been advised to “Trust your gut?”  I read today that Scott Brown, the newly minted Senator from Massachusetts, told the graduating class at Nichols College that “…when you set a goal and everyone tells you that it cannot be done, if your gut tells you otherwise, then go with your gut.”  Sure, that’s easy for Senator Brown to say: he defied those who told him that he, a Republican, could never win the Senate seat left vacant by the passing of the iconic democrat, Ted Kennedy.

But what about those who have trusted their instincts and made the wrong decision – with sometimes disastrous results?  These folks are not always given a stage to tell others not to trust their guts!  There is something more to success than just trusting your gut.  Sometimes those who are telling you it cannot be done are right.

How do you know when your instincts are correct, and when they are not?  The confusion may lie in semantics.  What some may call their “instinct” is really a highly developed sense of reality developed from years of experience and study.  Decisions that emanate from such simmering wisdom may come so easily to experts that even they are unaware of all that lies behind their successful choices.

A talent is something that comes easily to someone, and can be so effortless that talented people are puzzled by the envy of others: doesn’t everyone do it this way?  Scott Brown has political talent that comes from years of experience: as a lawyer, as a town selectman, in the Massachusetts legislature, in the JAG Corp of the Massachusetts National Guard.

It was a disservice to those young minds in the audience at Nichols College for Scott Brown to tell them to simply trust their gut.  At an age when they desperately need the guidance of a mentor, Mr. Brown tells them to ignore the naysayers if their gut tells them otherwise.  On too many occasions, “trusting their gut” has ended tragically for high school and college age young adults.  This is because the prefrontal cortex, the “logic region” of our brain, does not fully develop until the mid-twenties for men, and a year or two earlier for women.

Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, and more recently in his January 18, 2010 article in The New Yorker “How Entrepreneurs Really Succeed,” talks about the myth of the successful risk taker.  Gladwell‘s research has shown that what really underlies success is hard work, the relentless search for facts, and the constantly sought advice of wise counsel.

Sources of Upset, Part Three: Thwarted Intention

January 26, 2010

This post is the last in a series about the three sources of upset between people.  The first two were:

  1. Withheld communications
  2. Unfulfilled expectations

The third source of upset, thwarted Intention occurs when we wish to take action and, for a variety of reasons, cannot do so.  Our inability to take intended action could originate with ourselves.  We could:

  • Lack the skills or knowledge to achieve our intended action
  • Not follow through with our intentions

Others could squash our intentions by intentionally or unintentionally blocking our action, perhaps replacing it with their own action.

Let’s look at how we thwart our own intentions.  Most often, we can avoid sabotaging ourselves with proper planning and forethought.  This includes asking such questions as:

  • Have we defined the task?   We often lack a clear objective or understanding of what it is we are setting out to do.
  • Do we have the right resources to accomplish the task as defined?  This includes having the necessary skills: yours and those of others assisting you.
  • Do we have the time to accomplish the task?
  • Do we have the will to see our intention to completion?

Once we are on the path to fulfill our intention, the ability to assess our progress and adjust our plan can help us to reach our goal.  Reassessment can include the decision to abandon our intention!  Be honest with yourself and ask: “If I continue on this course, what is the cost and probability of failure?  If I stop what I’m doing right now,  what is the cost to me, and how does it compare to the cost of continuing and failing?”  It can be painful to admit that you are not on the right path, but failure to consider even the harshest of options could result in greater pain and expense later.

Planning should also consider the potential reactions of other individuals and organizations, for they can also thwart our intentions.  A clear-eyed assessment of not just what others are doing, but what they will do in response to our actions, is important.

Referencing the four temperaments described in the preceeding post on unfulfilled expectations, you can see that individuals will be successful or challenged by what is described above, depending on their core psychological needs.  For instance:


  1. Will be quick to take action, but such haste may lack proper planning and thus jeopardize a successful outcome.
  2. Are cool-headed and tactical.  They often find solutions to problems that seem insurmountable to others.
  3. Can be perceptive about what is happening in the moment.  They are usually flexible, and can use flexibility and awareness to adjust their solution or quickly abandon a doomed intention.
  4. May have such a focus on the moment that they miss the bigger picture and what lies ahead.
  5. Can be good negotiators with others who stand in the way of their intention.


  1. Will not proceed with action until they have analyzed what past experience says they should do.  They seek a clear, logical plan to follow.
  2. Are skilled at keeping the plan on track, bringing the right resources to bear on the process.  May hunker down and apply the rules more rigorously when faced with obstacles.
  3. Are usually very aware of the here and now, yet may be so focused on the plan and the rules as to be slow in adjusting to new information.
  4. Focus on tradition, thus their view of the future might be based upon what the past says is likely to happen.
  5. May react to others who block their intentions with rigid resistance, not flexible negotiation.


  1. Are often quick to strategize a plan, and quick to put their plan into action.
  2. Anticipate obstacles and ways to surmount them.  Alternatively, they may try to roll right over obstacles.
  3. Can be persuaded to change or abandon their strategy if new and trusted information comes to light.
  4. Focus on the outcome, and may not attend to the details of the plan.
  5. May appear ruthless to those who get in the way of their plans.  Others may perceive them as visionary.


  1. Create a plan ranging from vague to detailed, but they are not likely to act until they have buy-in from others.
  2. Diplomatically seek a solution that includes everyone’s input and, ideally, agreement, when faced with an obstacle.
  3. Are generally very tuned into the mood and needs of the group, thus are able to shepherd others in an effort to achieve a goal.
  4. Focus on the process, and the meaning and significance of the intention.
  5. Can shift from inclusion to intensity if the values of the catalyst are threatened or disregarded.  In the extreme, think of a mama bear protecting her young.

As I concluded this three-part series on the three causes of upset, let me rhetorically ask, “Why?”  My answer: because only when we understand what underlies our emotions, our anger, our happiness, our sadness, etc., can we gain control over those feelings.  By understanding the cause of our emotions, we are taking the first step toward promoting those that are productive, and changing those that are not productive.  As we gain control over our feelings, we can begin to understand the emotions of others.  Our empathic understanding of others can then be used to help them gain control over their emotions.  Thus, the foundation has is laid for more satisfying relationships at home, at work, and in all social settings.

Sources of Upset, Part II: Unfulfilled Expectations

January 12, 2010

In my last post, I proposed that all negative emotions, or upsets, could be attributed to three sources:

  1. Withheld communications
  2. Unfulfilled expectations
  3. Thwarted intentions

Part one of this series described withheld communications while focusing on family gatherings and workplace dynamics.  I will again relate this information to our personal and professional lives.

Unfulfilled expectations occur when we expect something to happen, and it doesn’t.  The term expectation refers to some action that originates from others.  This is in contrast to intention (as in thwarted intention), which refers to an action that originates from ourselves.

For those of you familiar with Temperament Theory, you will recognize the following four descriptions in the work of David Keirsey, Ph.D. and, more recently, Linda V. Berens, Ph.D. I have found that what constitutes an unfulfilled expectation to each of us depends upon our temperament.

Individuals favoring the Artisan (Keirsey) or Improviser (Berens) temperament are inclined to act quickly, often with only a brief contemplation of that action, and with an expectation that others will, eventually, agree with the plan they initiate.  They have a strategic intelligence.  The freedom to act and having an immediate or near-term impact are core psychological needs for this temperament, making them excellent in a crisis or emergency situation.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when they are blocked from taking action and having an impact (thus unfulfilled).

  • They become frustrated, then work to persuade others to agree with and follow their action; or
  • They proceed recklessly without consulting others in anticipation of disagreement, and deal with the consequences later; or
  • They become angry, sarcastic, and then withdrawn; or
  • They quickly shift to another plan in an effort to get agreement on a new course of action.

Unless folks of this temperament are tied down and boxed in, they are not sitting still long enough to dwell on the anger of being unfulfilled. Instead, they move quickly to their next idea. They are known to take risks, so strong is their need to act and have an impact.

During family gatherings, these folks can defy tradition, suggest wild alternatives to the status quo, and say things that “stir the pot”.  They can be the life of the party, and may act outrageously to ameliorate their boredom.  They are often perplexed as to why others don’t see the humor and excitement in their ideas. While they are perceptive of the moods of others and the dynamics of the group, they often choose to ignore such nuances as a distraction to their efforts to take action.  If the desires of the artisan/improviser temperament are repeatedly unmet, they will become depressed, despondent and/or withdrawn.


Individuals favoring the Guardian/Stabilizer temperament are inclined to follow the rules, honor traditions, and seek affiliation with a group(s) they find meaningful.  Such groups could be familial, social or professional.  A sense of belonging and a belief in responsibility are core psychological needs for these individuals, making them the most consistent, loyal and reliable of the temperaments.  They have a logistical intelligence: bringing the right resources and personnel to bear on an issue.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when their values of loyalty and duty are not honored, and thus go unfulfilled.

  • They become angry with the person or group defying established norms and traditions, or
  • They use criticism in an attempt to change the behavior of others, or
  • They demonstrate resistance and become controlling of people, processes and things in order to get their intentions fulfilled, or
  • Simply withdraw, becoming stubborn and righteous about their anger and perspective.

The attachment these individuals have to the rules and traditions of a group they believe to be meaningful can prevent them from seeing the world through the eyes of others.  The impact this has on their relationships then serves to perpetuate the very frustration and unfulfilled expectation they so dislike.

During family gatherings, these folks find comfort and enjoyment in the predictability of family traditions.  They are happiest when serving the generations-old holiday meal and putting family heirlooms on display.  When others don’t respond with the same respect for rules and traditions, the guardian/stabilizer temperament can become angry, critical and/or forlorn.


Individuals favoring the Rational/Theorist temperament value a clear goal, and a well-reasoned plan for getting there.  Competency and self-control are core psychological needs for these individuals.  They are often viewed as natural leaders because of their strategic intelligence and their ability to be articulate and persuasive.  People of this temperament have a variety of reactions when their preference for a well thought-out plan with clear objectives is resisted, therefore unfulfilled:

  • They can become angry and controlling, or
  • They can question the competency of others, or
  • They can be embarrassed by their own perceived lack of competency and/or control, or
  • They can become argumentative and push obsessively with more logic, or
  • They become uncharacteristically mindless.

Once a plan has been made, and a course of action is underway, these individuals can be persuaded to change that course if presented with the logic that supports a change.  Contrary to what you might think, this temperament does not always need to be in control, but they will be watching to make sure that someone with competence is in control!

During family gatherings, these folks will elevate the dinner conversation to a discussion of world affairs in search of a good argument.  They argue not to fight, but to hone their own knowledge and challenge their intellect.  This desire can upset the group dynamic, especially if old wounds or dysfunctional patterns surface.


Individuals favoring the Idealist/Catalyst temperament value cooperative relationships and authenticity.  Meaning, significance, and recognition of the unique identity of both themselves and others are at the core of their psychological needs.  They possess a diplomatic intelligence. People of this temperament can react in several ways when others impede their desire for harmony and a purposeful life, leaving them feeling unfulfilled:

  • They can become worried or depressed if their life is chronically unfulfilling, or
  • They can become flustered and angry in a situation where disharmony evolves, then
  • They will work to rescue the victims of disharmony or unfair treatment, or conversely
  • They will remove themselves completely from the situation

Despite the conciliatory nature of these folks, they can become quite incensed when expectations go unfulfilled, or feelings are not taken into account.  It is the irony of this type: their strong reaction to an upsetting situation can make it worse.  However, they are usually quick to regain their focus and become the catalyst for reconciliation.

This is especially true during family gatherings, as these folks have their radar focused on the group dynamic.  Are people enjoying themselves?  Are any old and unpleasant dynamics emerging?  If so, they will use their diplomatic skills to avert this possibility, fearing the harmony of the group will unravel. If their efforts fail they may lose control and become angry, blame themselves for not being able to affect harmony, and/or take themselves away from the situation.  Yet, when all is well with these individuals, the kindness, compassion and coaching they display makes them a comfort to their friends, family and co-workers alike.


In the situations described above, substitute “family gatherings” for “at the office,” add a little imagination, and perhaps you can see yourself in some all-too-familiar workplace dynamics.  There is truth in the aphorism, “Wherever I go, there I am!”  Well-adjusted adults are generally successful at modifying their behavior to the context of the moment, but under stress, we can all fall back on behaviors that are most familiar, and “familiar” does not necessarily mean “appropriate.”  Who we are as a result of growing up in our family of origin eventually seeps out into other aspects of our lives.

So what to do with this information?  I suggest that:

  • you first identify which of the Temperaments you most identify with.  This is often best determined by reflecting on how you react when under stress.
  • Next, focus on the individual or group you are interacting with.
    • Are there any clues as to their expectations?
    • What are their likely reactions to having these expectations unfulfilled?
    • How can you fulfill their expectations and your own?
    • Where are the opportunities for compromise, growth and change?

While this is a tall order for many of us, information and self-awareness provide a great place to start.

Stay tuned for the final post in this series, thwarted intention!

Sources of Upset Heightened by the Holiday Season

December 15, 2009

I was somewhat disbelieving when my friend and fellow organizational consultant, Ellie Byers, told me there are really only three sources of negative emotions, or upsets:

  1. Withheld communications
  2. Unfulfilled expectations
  3. Thwarted intentions

However, after thinking about this for a while, I came to agree with her.  Ellie was unsure of the source of this wisdom, so I would be glad to give attribution if someone knows the creator.

Most of us are familiar with the tensions and upsets that can accompany family gatherings at holiday time.  I will use such family occasions to explore each of these sources in separate writings, beginning with the first on the list.  I will also relate this information to the organizations we work in.

Withheld communications can occur in any form of communication, be it spoken, written, or implied with body language.  It does not necessarily mean that no communication has occurred.  Rather, it means that the communication that has occurred is not clear, direct, or complete.

  • Communication that is not clear occurs when we do not take into account how the person we are communicating with will hear what we have to say.  Correcting this involves learning to speak to the listening of our audience.  Not everyone thinks as we do, or knows what we know, so what we say is not always understood as we intend.  Not communicating clearly can lead to conflict through misunderstanding.
  • Communication that is not direct occurs when we fear there will be a consequence for speaking our truth. Direct communication may have brought criticism or anger upon us in the past, and therefore we learn to temper our honesty to prevent that from happening again.  Indirect communications often carry the label of being “passive-aggressive”, meaning the indirectness, which is a passive behavior, leaves the listener feeling badly, which is an aggressive outcome.  Negativity or disapproval conveyed through body language is often a type of passive-aggressive, indirect communication.  Not communicating in a direct fashion can lead to conflict and resentment.

  • Communication that is not complete combines both unclear and indirect communications.  The speaker makes assumptions that the listener will “fill in the blanks” either because they assume the listener thinks as they do or because the avoidance of all details protects the speaker from the judgment or anger of the listener.  In other situations, incomplete communications are designed to set up the listener for failure.  This style of communication can be confusing at best, and dangerous at worst.

Withheld communication is typically self-protecting, even when it seems to be just a case of laziness.  However, attempting to avoid conflict by withholding communication usually backfires and creates an even greater conflict.  Generally, the tendency to communicate this way has roots in our family of origin.  A punitive work place culture can also foster withheld communications as people strive to protect their position and ego within a team or organization.

A suggestion for good listening, particularly when there is the potential for upset: repeat in your own words, and without emotional weight, what the person has just said to you, then verify you have heard them correctly.  This will accomplish two things: The person will feel validated by the fact that you are sincerely listening to them, and you will be certain you heard them correctly.  You can reverse the process by politely requesting someone repeat back to you what he or she just heard you say.

As we enter the holiday season, return to our family of origin as an adult, and possibly add extended family to the mix, experiment with being direct and honest in all interactions.  Honesty does not equal rudeness, it means taking into account the listener, and being absolutely clear about the result you wish to create through your conversations.  When extended family comes together, there is usually a grace period when everyone is on his or her best behavior.  Eventually a button is pushed, a trigger is tripped, and the family falls back in to the communication patterns of yore.  Directness, tempered with a caring tone, can defuse this dynamic.

Speaking one’s truth is freeing and far less complicated, as one never needs to remember the nuance of previous interactions.  People often have a greater capacity for the truth than we give them credit for.  Training them that you are a clear communicator will elevate the respect you receive in the family, and in the work place.

Stay tuned for my next blog on the second source of upset: unfulfilled expectation.

Leader, Know Thy Self

November 23, 2009

As an executive coach, I enjoy reading what others have to say about leadership: leadership styles, what it take so to be a leader, the (insert #) most important leadership traits, etc.  If you were to try and take all the various musing on what a great leader should be as truth, it seems to me that the only thing you would come away with is a strong sense of inadequacy. Those that manage just a few people all the way up to CEOs of large enterprises ask themselves such questions as, “Did I show enough empathy in my conversation with Mary this morning?”  “Am I “visionary” enough?”  “Are they following me because they respect me, or because they fear me?”

I advise my clients to read all they can about leadership, but to not get caught up in emulation at any cost.  I believe that the single most critical thing about being a leader is to know thy self.  We are all different, and we all have our leadership strengths and our challenges.  We are different at our core, at the level of our genetic heritage, the way our brains are wired, our appearance, our nature.  We are also different in our experiences, our backgrounds, our family systems, our education, our nurture.

I could no sooner be a leader in the style of Winston Churchill than I could be an Olympic gold medalist.  However, if I posses self-awareness, I can be aware when a leadership situation plays to my strength, or if the situation will be a challenge for me.  If the circumstance requires a style that is powerful for me, I can take action with confidence.  If the style required will be a challenge to me, I have two choices.

The first is to focus on what is required in the situation to see if I can shift to the mode required.  The answers to two questions will tell me if I can make this shift: do I have the knowledge of what is needed, and do I have the energy and capacity to stretch to that less than familiar role?

If the answer to either of these two questions is “No”, then my remaining choice is to decide who does have the power to do what is necessary under the circumstances.  This can be a hard thing for a leader to do: recognize that someone else may need to take the lead on a particular initiative or crisis.  However, the best leaders are those that mentor others to be leaders themselves without requiring the acolyte to be a replica of the boss.

5-D Leadership is one of the best books on this subject.  Written by Scott Campbell and Ellen Samiec, the examples of leadership success and failure as a result of self-awareness, or the lack thereof, are fascinating.

One of my favorite aphorisms is, “You cannot be someone you are not until you know who you are.”  Truer words, in my opinion, were never spoken.  In future writings, I will explore a method to gain self-awareness.