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Leadership Thought #463 – You Need To Have Thick Skin To Lead Others

Leadership is not for the faint of heart.  It certainly has its ups and downs and can test anyone’s emotional fortitude.  However, this is the very reason so few people can do it well.  If you take every small slight and failure personally, the job will eat you alive.  Whenever you assume a position of responsibility, you automatically also assume a roster of critics and malcontents who aren’t always aligned with your leadership vision.  Since you can’t realistically fire everyone who disagrees with you (nor is this advisable), then you need to figure out other ways to handle the pressures and scrutiny.

I’ve found that the best leaders I work with welcome the criticism.  They don’t always like it, but they accept that a key aspect of leading people is harnessing disparate points of view and feelings.  I don’t care how smart you are, no one person has all the right answers.  And, since we are all human, we will inevitably make mistakes.  To some extent, your critics keep you on your toes.  They help you maintain your ‘A game” and not take your position for granted.  If you are willing to listen to and embrace their feedback, you will definitely make better decisions.   Of course, there will always be points of diminishing returns, but don’t be too quick to assume you’ve reached this level of dysfunction.  Getting better often involves hard work.

In my life I’ve found that if you can navigate the rocky waters of professional disagreement effectively, then  you actually end up building new advocates for your point of view.  Sometimes the people who were most resistant initially end up becoming your most loyal colleagues.  Give me someone who is up front and honest with their opinions over someone who is more passive-aggressive any day. Healthy relationships are only ever possible if people can be authentically honest with one another.  I’ve also found that much of the initial angst and tension between two people is often due to poor communication and misunderstandings.

Leadership means embracing the spotlight not withering under it.  The very act of putting yourself out there and assuming others will follow is an act of unusual self-confidence.  Most people are hard-wired to follow not lead.  However, everyone can be a critic.  So be it.  As they saying goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” As a leader you will have good days and bad ones.  You will make great decisions and have many others you would like to take back.  You will trust people who disappoint you and lose good people to your competition.  You will be forced to make decisions with imperfect information and sometimes fail as result.  Many external market forces will be beyond your control to predict and/or influence. Some of your employees will make your life easier while others will require more work than you’d like. Not everyone will always think you are wonderful.

However, when all is said and done, leaders are in the minority people in this world who get to actually influence the future.  They ultimately reap what they sow as a business and individual.  Leaders have the opportunity to make a real positive difference in the lives of their family, employees and community. Maybe even this world.  Leaders get to stretch their personal capabilities in ways others will never experience.   Theirs will be a life of their own making.  Aren’t the benefits of leadership worth a little scrutiny and criticism?  You need to have thick skin to lead others and it is almost always worth it!

Leadership Thought #428 – There Will Always Be Naysayers; Move Forward Anyway!

If I had a $100 for every time sometime told me something couldn’t be done by me or others, I’d be a rich man at this point in my life.  The cold reality of life is that most people are followers and more comfortable with the status quo than the prospect of changing anything.  There is also a big difference between rhetoric and action.  I’d be equally wealthy if I had a $100 for everyone I met who talked a good game but then failed to follow-up with any real action.  It seems as if a majority of people are content to sit on the sidelines of the game that is their own life and leave their fate to the decisions/actions of others and then complain about it.  Like most fans, people have strong opinions about what should or should not be happening, but then they don’t have the courage, talent or fortitude to play the game themselves.  It is a vicious circle and misery does love company.

Don’t ever let other people talk you into mediocrity and out of success.  Instead of just focusing on obvious obstacles such as time, money and talent, spend your energy on reaching your goal regardless of the inevitable constraints.  This doesn’t mean you become foolhardy and take silly or unwise risks.  However, depending on your risk profile as a person the definition of what this means is certainly open to individual interpretation.  What it does mean is that at some point you have the courage to bet on yourself and follow your passion and/or lead with your talent/ability.  Just because something hasn’t happened before doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.  Just look at the history of mankind and you will easily come to the conclusion this is not true.  If the world was run by naysayers we would still probably be living in caves and dying before we reach the age of 30.  The biggest obstacle to progress is our own thinking.

The next time you find yourself thinking about a better way of doing something or elevating your personal/professional status, go ahead and think through how to get it done, come up with a plan, and then do it.  Of course, you should solicit feedback from those around you, but filter this information based on who it is coming from.  Pay the closest attention to the input from others who have actually achieved something with their lives.  Don’t be unduly influenced by the always available crop of naysayers.  Do your best to surround yourself with “can do” people who will properly balance reality against opportunity and potential.    Listen hard to what the latter group has to say, then look in the mirror, check your gut, and move forward anyway, if it still makes any sense whatsoever. What’s the worst that could happen?  Even if things don’t always turn out as planned, you are building your character, learning from your mistakes and better equipped to be successful the next time.  It’s your life, live it proactively!  Avoid the naysayers….and move forward in the direction of your future happiness.

Leadership Thought #301 – President’s Day Is A Special Day

Today is a very special day.  We take time to honor two great men and past presidents: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.   A case could easily be made that without the influence and leadership of these two men our country wouldn’t exist or at least wouldn’t be as strong and united as it is today.  In their own way they contributed to building a strong national foundation which required great personal sacrifice and the willingness to make bold decisions focused on the greater good.

George Washington was a man who could have easily remained a loyalist.  He had much to lose and little to gain by standing up to England at a time when it was near the peak of its military dominance.   His life could have been filled with wealth and privilege if he just went along with the status quo.  He certainly wouldn’t of had to spend so much time away from his beloved wife Martha and their beautiful home/farm at Mount Vernon. 

When you read about Washington you get the sense that he knew he was predestined for greatness. It is clear he felt it was incumbent upon him to live a life that warranted this responsibility.   He strived to build the personal fortitude to step up when the time came regardless of the circumstances.  He led the Continental Army for the duration of the long war without pay only asking that Congress reimburse his relatively meager expenses.  He lost more battles then he won, but was keenly aware of his resource/skill disadvantages and won when it counted.  It is said that when he walked into a room he earned instead respect and made all of those around him better.  Moreover, when they wanted to make him a king, he voluntarily gave up power and stayed true to the democratic origins of the movement.  Just look at world politics today.  How many leaders or revolutionaries walk away from power once they achieve it?  A rare man indeed!

Unlike Washington, Lincoln was born to very humble circumstances.  With only one year of formal schooling he managed to become one of the most widely quoted leaders in modern history.  His childhood was filled with much adversity and his path to leadership a very difficult one.  Lesser men would have given up at many different times, but Lincoln persevered.  He always persevered.

At a time where our country was coming apart at the seams and some would say the very morality of our nation was being tested, Lincoln stepped up to the challenge. He chose to do what’s right rather than what would have been easy or politically convenient.  He suffered constant personal attacks and second guessing of his leadership abilities but soldiered on anyway.  When times looked dark and it would have easy to give up, he stayed the course and never lost sight of what was most important.  He literally risked everything and gave his life for a cause he believed in which was keeping our relatively young country united and committed to the value and dignity of all human life.

So far our country has been very fortunate that throughout its history we have been able to find leaders both willing and able to step up to whatever big challenges confronted us.   I believe that this leadership has been what has kept us strong and united at time when it could have been easy to dissolve or come apart.  The growth and trajectory of the United States as a world power and beacon of democratic principles is unprecedented in the history of mankind.  Let us hope we find similar leadership as we need it in the future. Washington and Lincoln cast a big shadow and raise the bar considerably on what we can and should expect from our leaders.   Greatness may be rare but it is often required to keep a community, organization, society, nation or mankind on the right track.

Leadership Thought #207 – Bad Things Do Happen

I opened up the paper this morning and the first thing I saw was a headline indicating that a father had run over his 3 years old son when backing out of their driveway.  What a terrible tragedy.   It is every parent’s worst fear.  I cannot even fathom how the family is coping with the situation.  I only hope and pray they can find the strength and compassion within each other to make it through the darkness of their grief.   Bad things do happen in life.  Sometimes they test our emotional and physical fortitude but we have to persevere anyway.  There really is no other acceptable choice but to be resilient in the face of pain and adversity even when it really hurts.

I have no idea why certain things happen in life.  The randomness of why some families have to deal with extreme tragedy while others make it though comparatively unscathed can be hard to comprehend.  Of course, everyone ultimately has to deal with grief and loss at some point.  All livings things come to the same natural conclusion.  Even someone as wealthy and capable as Steve Jobs must face his own mortality.  Thankfully, he understands this and has used his own communication platform to speak eloquently on the topic.  If you are fortunate you get a reasonable amount of time to live your life well, do good work and enjoy the love and company of other people.   When someone leaves too soon or abruptly, all we can do is cherish the experiences we had with them and make sure we make the most of our own borrowed time.

I have no idea what lies on the other side of life.  It is a great unknown.  Many people claim to have the answers but like all great mysteries we won’t ever fully know the truth until we experience it ourselves.  All we can do is live our life in a way that appreciates our time is finite.  I also find it helpful to think in terms of the legacy and impact I want to leave through my children, other close relationships and my work.  Every day is truly a gift and chance to make a positive difference in someone else’s life. 

Sadly, bad things will continue to happen but they are only ever part of the journey.  Ultimately we get to decide how both good and bad situations will define us and whether or not we gain wisdom and give love through the experience.  It also helps to have faith in something bigger, better and beyond the realm of human experience but that is entirely up to you.  Of course, while you are mired in the immediate depths of grief and despair these are hard concepts to embrace but ultimately it is the only way to heal and move on. 

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