Category Archives: Character-based Leadership

Is Hope A Leadership Trait?

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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)

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Are You A Critic Or A Cheerleader?

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There are two types of leaders.

Those who are critics, and those who are cheerleaders.

Critics are those types of leaders who feel their knowledge and experience give them a superiority over everyone else.

These are leaders who look down on others, and don’t believe anyone can tell them anything that they don’t already know.

One of the fatal flaws a critical leader commits is discounting someone’s input because they feel their experience is inferior and not qualified to matter. They discount the hourly employee’s input who is new to the job, the young manager who only has an associate’s degree, or someone’s view on workflow because they don’t work on the factory floor but in the office. They fail to realize that people many times have valid viewpoints based on their observations and collective experience.

These leaders don’t build others up or develop people. Instead, they put them down and find people with the similar critical spirit to enter into their circles, creating more of the same spirit throughout the organization. This enables toxic and untrustworthy behavior and is always short-sighted. They also usually make very poor personnel decisions due to their elevated sense of self and contempt for those they deem lesser than themselves.

The other end of the spectrum are those leaders that are cheerleaders. Cheerleaders are not necessarily a “ra-ra” motivational personality. Instead they are the steady leadership style that elevates everyone around them to grow and develop.

Cheerleading leaders give higher value to their people, their insight, and their development. They give each person and equal value and voice and cast a vision within them to inspire them to give feedback for the greater mission.

These types of leaders have no problem stepping aside and giving others credit, leadership in projects, and a platform for input. They are more tolerable and forgiving for mistakes, and while demanding a high degree of performance, know that their people need time to develop and learn.

They esteem others more than themselves, knowing that the best organizations are more than the leader but the sum of all it’s constituents. They usually make the best personnel decisions which lead to more sustainable growth and achievement of the company’s goals. Cheerleaders are the ones who better develop future leaders.

Work to be a cheerleader who looks up to your people, not a critic who look down at others. Only one mindset can make a positive, lasting impact.

(image: wikimedia commons)

 

How To Talk About The Elephant In The Room

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The dreaded “elephant in the room”. Those conversations that should happen, but most of the time do not. Or as explained by definition:

“A major problem or controversial issue that is obviously present but avoided as a subject for discussion because it is more comfortable to do so”

There are many reason why these conversations to address the “elephant” never happen:

  • Fear – that bringing it up could cost you credibility or your job
  • Comfort – that it’s easier to not make waves and just work around the problem
  • Underestimation – not realizing that the situation has bigger ramifications than one realizes
  • Apathy – not caring enough to address (“It’s not my problem.”)

By not having the tough conversation about the situation, the following fallout usually happens:

  • Fear culture persists
  • People gain undue and unchecked power and influence (colleagues, managers, shareholders, etc)
  • Decline in productivity, efficiencies, and other metrics leading to declining performance overall
  • Disengagement due to low morale and discontentment

In never addressing the “elephant in the room” a general uneasiness and untrustworthy environment settles in that can wreak havoc throughout the organization.

It’s imperative that any conversation that needs to be had to address those “elephants” needs to occur. In order to break the silence and overcome the anxiety to have straight talk, you should use these following guidelines to get the discussion out in the open:

  • Resolve not to be remiss. Omitting an issue causes more harm than good always. Purpose to start the discussion by knowing that you owe it to others to bring this topic to the forefront.
  • Foster professionalism. How you approach the conversation can ease the tension. Anger, outrage, and other non-professional conduct can greatly hamper the effectiveness of the discussion. Be calm and set everyone else at ease.
  • Make it constructive. Make it clear that you want to have a working dialogue of the issue at hand. Set the expectations early to get the most out of the talk and allow everyone opportunity for input.
  • Be objective. This can be tricky, especially when items such as harassment or bullying come into play. But having as much facts to back up what is being discusses can solidify the validity of the issue and not leave room for people to shrug it off.
  • Find other audiences. Sometimes the people that need to hear the message are the least receptive. By finding others who share the same opinion about the issue will make it not about you but about the issue and how much it impacts others.
  • Create a dialogue. Get as many others talking about it as possible in the discussions. It is important to also note that these talks may not be just once and over with. Constructive issue resolving may take multiple discussions to reach understanding and solutions. Keep it open at all times.
  • Get actionable steps. Have those involved including yourself take responsibility for a portion of the solution. Some people may have to take full ownership for their actions as no one else can. Others may need to help with processes, checks and balances. Everyone at least needs to work on fostering a culture of open talk without fear or apathy. Make sure those steps are being taken seriously and followed through.

Elephants in the room are not pleasant beasts. They need to be herded out and having everyone skirt around the issue only makes matters worse. Your culture may not be conducive to talking open, but it only takes one person and some of the suggestions above to start changing that in your organization.

(image: flickr)

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