Author Archives: Paul LaRue
We like to hear of lessons in leadership, and look for relevant examples in all mediums. Whether reading articles, books or watching movies, there is always a leadership tip we can gain, whether from good or bad displays.
An example of this is one of my favorite movies – Apollo 13. One of the reasons I gravitate to that movie is not just the story itself, but Ed Harris’ character in the film.
Harris plays Gene Kranz, the NASA Flight Director in charge of the moon mission that has been derailed by an internal explosion aboard the ship. Some of the lines Kranz says helped calm the anxious flight command crew and give them hope of bringing the astronauts safely home:
“Gentlemen, at this moment, I want you all to forget the flight plan. From this moment on, we are improvising a new mission: How do we get our people home?”
“We’ve never lost an American in space and we’re sure …not gonna lose one on my watch! Failure is not an option!”
“With all due respect, sir, I believe this is gonna be our finest hour.”
“Let’s work the problem, people. Let’s not make things worse by guessing.”
These statements serve as an example of mission-oriented leadership. Through them, Kranz was able to rally his team, giving them direction and the hope that would resolve the crisis. His skills in knowing what the team needed to accomplish it’s charge allowed everyone to do what was needed to succeed.
The question that this poses for leaders in all fields is: “Is the ability to instill hope a necessary leadership trait?”
Leaders deal with people. People bring to the table skills, vision, insight, and emotions. The first three of these may be constants in anyone’s day, but it’s our emotions that ebb and flow with the circumstances we’re faced with.
Leaders must have a solid EQ to deal with people’s emotions. There are many factors, both internal and external to the organization AND the individual, that make a person’s belief in the mission waver.
For instance, a military commander may be outnumbered in forces and face daunting environmental challenges that shake up their troops. A volleyball coach’s team may shrink at the notion that they must play the state champs the next day.
So what leadership traits keep their teams engaged and committed to the mission at hand?
This is where hope is necessary.
Hope is a feeling of trust, an expectation for a certain outcome. It is akin to faith, a confident trust in someone or something. It’s the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hope intersects the emotional needs that your people have at any given moment. It’s not a buzzword or a catchy slogan, but a real genuine feeling of possibility that comes from doing the right things.
Hope is not always a guarantee for success, but a leader will take the slightest amount of hope to chip away at the barriers of reality and impossibility. An astute leader will dove-tail hope into the vision and mission of their organization. They will work to make sure that everyone is “laser focused” on the task at hand. More importantly, they will make the vision bigger than the obstacles that threaten the mission itself.
But where does the ability to instill hope fit into the list of leadership traits?
If you peruse many of articles on the top leadership traits – even those form leadership teachers like Peter Economy, John Maxwell, and Brian Tracy – the closest you find to this is optimism, positive attitude, and confidence. Yet none of these qualities are the same as hope.
- Optimism is an everything will work out in the end mantra. It doesn’t always factor in the inevitable crises such as what happened in the Apollo 13 mission.
- Positive attitudes tend to root out the reality. Gene Kranz was not a cheer-leading type in what he did during the aborted moon mission.
- Confidence, while a key trait, will not alone get it done. Napoleon’s confidence got the best of him when he rushed into the Battle of Waterloo. Confidence is usually centered on self and does not easily impart to others.
Giving hope to your people combines the alignment, engagement, and vision of the organization. A leader’s ability to do so will reap enormous benefits for your organization and your people.
Hope is telling your team that getting this difficult proposal done on time will open up new doors of business. Hope gives your people the drive to keep going when they don’t see the results coming together. Hope is reassuring the employees that you’ll all get through this rough financial patch intact. Hope drives doctors to cure patients, teachers to educate students, and public servants to protect their communities.
If not for the ability to instill this in their people, where would leaders such as Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King have turned to? What would the people they led have become?
(this post first appeared on Lead Change Group)
(image: The Blue Diamond Gallery)
A number of years ago there came to light a scientific case study called “The Dilution Effect”
It posited that an increase in species to create a greater biodiversity could greatly reduce the risk of Lyme disease in humans. Thus, generating a broader spectrum across an ecosystem could prevent the environment that allows Lyme to reside and infect ticks that spread the disease.
While the research is still being done to prove this study, there is a laboratory where dilution can help mitigate a toxic environment. The workplace.
A toxic culture is usually the presence of counter-cultural individuals and/or teams within an organization that threaten to poison the current environment.
While many times the wisdom is to prune and remove these individuals it is more necessary to replace them and grow the organization with those who are more pure with the work culture you are promoting.
There are times when you need to separate or allow attrition to remove toxic people from your company. This is vital to ensure the culture stays intact and is not corrupted. Yet even more important is to replace them with people who are closely aligned with your core values and culture and will keep the culture intact. Otherwise you will run the risk of introducing toxic behaviors and attitudes and return to the same, or worse, state that you were originally in.
Another steps is to continue to hire and grow the organization with people who are more closely congruent with your culture, creating a larger and larger dynamic that can minimize the toxic impact of others. In some cases, as I have discovered in my own leadership career, gaining a broader base of employees who are culturally instep can actually change some peoples’ toxic behaviors into champions of the culture – a kind of FOMO (fear of missing out) workplace transformation.
Think about it this way. You have a beaker of pure water and introduce a drop of raw sewage into it. That pure water is tainted and now needs a larger influx of pure water to flush out the sewage and mitigate the harm done by the impure substance. This represents lessening the impact of toxic individuals by replacing them with more culturally sound people.
In addition, you can also dump the beaker and refill it with pure water, akin to removing the toxic individual.
The premise is simple but you need to exercise discernment in keeping those who are culture champions engaged as you build around them, and not replacing them as well. This is a challenge to keeping the right mixture and balance in your organization of tenured people who have grown the culture and newer, culturally-aligned individuals graft in sometime later. Having the right focus on building complimentary teams and creating harmony and engagement adds to the equation, so keeping this in mind is vital to growing the culture without dividing it inadvertently.
Back in my formidable days of being a twenty-something manager, Jack, one of the senior leaders of our theme park department, would spend time throughout his days discussing various leadership and operational strategies with us. Whether you agreed with him or not, his insight was usually based on foundational truths and we had the utmost respect for him challenging our leadership mindsets.
One of the lessons I learned from Jack was how to seek team members who complemented each other. As a young manager emerging to be a more effective leader, my tendency, as was most of ours, was to hire or promote people who had a certain style, demonstrated a particular personality, or fit a specific mode. Jack worked with us to show how shortsighted that approach really was.
Building a team, he said, is like putting together an engine or a puzzle. Not every piece is cut the same, nor does every part have the same function. In applying his teaching over the years, I’ve come to learn how valuable this pearl of wisdom has become. Here are the values of why we should focus on a complementary team-building approach.
WITHIN A TEAM, NOT EVERY ROLE IS THE SAME.
In our food and beverage department in the theme park, we had many roles. Cooks, cashiers, stockers, supervisors, and prep cooks. Each required a different skill and a different focus. We needed to understand these roles intimately in order to realize the traits needed to perform the job properly. Just putting any person into the role could mean forcing a round peg into a square hole.
WITHIN A ROLE, NOT EVERY PERSON HAS THE SAME TALENT.
I would staff 15 cashiers at one of my restaurants on a given shift. As much as I would like them all to be great at suggestive selling, some of them were more focused on the customer experience, and others on speed. One of the strategies I used in helping build their skills was to schedule a strong salesperson next to a customer focused one, in helping them learn from each other in the course of their work. Not everyone can fire on all cylinders, but if I had enough salespeople, expediters, and smile makers, I could cover all my bases of what I hoped to deliver on any given day.
LEADERS NEED TO COMPLEMENT THEIR STAFF.
In the many years since, my focus has been on developing leadership teams that matched the needs of their people. One of my foodservice operations had a pretty well rounded team that focused on quality, efficiency, customer service, and regulatory compliance. But when the opportunity came for us to promote a supervisor, we chose a bright young woman for the position who was a stickler for rules and ethics. Many bristled at her promotion, but her growth and alignment within our team showed she could make a positive impact. At first, it was rough. But over time, the team took to her so well that they responded to her high standards and raised their game willingly. They admitted that Caroline was just what they needed to help them get to the next level of standards. Not only did the staff need her insight, the rest of the management team did as well as they stepped up their performance to stay on par with Caroline’s.
COMPLEMENTARY FITS EXTEND TO BEHAVIORS AS WELL.
If you have a basketball team of all great shooters, but none who want to pass to their teammates or help play defense, what percentage of games do you truly expect to win? A team of people whose behaviors fits together works more effectively than those who try to stand on their own. Finding behaviors such as teamwork, a willingness to share their skills, and abandoning the “it’s not my job” mentality will create a far better winning strategy than those who have an “eight-and-the-gate” mindset.
DON’T NEGLECT COMPLEMENTARY VALUES TO ROUND OUT YOUR ORGANIZATION.
Hiring the right people, who embody your core values, is vital to organizational development. What if your values were Respect, Customer Service, Creativity, and Serve Others but not everyone is strong on each one? If your candidates have the basics of your values in place, you might have an organization where your people who are great at Customer Service fill certain roles, and those who excel at Creativity work in a differing capacity. Or, as mentioned before, you might align complementary strengths within a team to round out the strengths of each value and ensure each team has people who champion all of your values within those spheres.
Set your organization and each team up to cover every base through complementary team-building. Fill in the holes and make the pieces come together. The best organization may not have the best people, but people in the right roles working together in a greater capacity for success.
(This article first appeared in Lead Change Group)