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Leadership Thought #468 – The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make

The biggest mistake leaders make is to think it is all about them.   They believe that success or failure is a direct result of their own personal behavior rather than a team effort.  Show me a successful leader and I will show you a person surrounded by good people who each do their own jobs exceedingly well.  While it is common practice in this country to celebrate the individual, no one builds a high performing organization by themselves.  This doesn’t mean that the leader isn’t an essential ingredient; however, he/she needs other ingredients to complete the recipe.

We all have strengths and weaknesses.  There are situations in which we will naturally thrive and others where we will inevitably struggle.  A leader’s job is to maximize the organizational benefits of their talents while minimizing the impact of their weaknesses.  The best way to mitigate individual limitations is to seek out other people who supplement our own deficiencies. Visionary leaders often need colleagues who excel at focus and implementation.  Detail-oriented people often require team members who push them to be more decisive and think outside of the box.  Someone who has great people skills may lose sight of harsh business realities.  If you’ve worked for any considerable amount of time, you will notice that your favorite leaders often knew where they were lacking and made sure they dealt with this reality rather than ignored or overcompensated for it.

In addition, there are limits to what any one person can physically accomplish.  You can only personally sell so much or manage a finite number of clients.   No one person has the market cornered on good ideas.  As smart as you may be, you won’t have the requisite knowledge to effectively address every issue that pops up.  Moreover, there are only so many hours in a day. Anyone who pushes too hard for too long will burnout and start making bad decisions.   The first growth roadblock for most businesses is when they’ve exhausted the professional capability of the leader.  Sadly, many companies don’t get too far beyond this point due to ego issues and/or short-sightedness.

A leader’s job is not to be a superman or superwoman, who can personally overcome any obstacle strewn in their path.  Their job is to build organizational resilience through teamwork, shared commitment and sacrifice, building and leveraging the talent base available to the company, establishing critical operational redundancies, and maintaining the ongoing pursuit of common objectives (despite obstacles).  If you take a prolonged vacation, the business shouldn’t fall apart. Employees shouldn’t panic at the first sign of a crisis and look to your strong leadership to solve all the tough problems.  The biggest mistake is to place yourself at the center of the organizational universe and view others as simply inhabiting your orbit.  Instead see yourself as part of a constellation of stars serving a more important purpose.



Leadership Thought #376 – Play To Your Strengths

When I used to work for Gallup many years ago they had a great saying, “you can’t put in what God left out.”  Many of us spend far too much effort trying to be what we are not instead of focusing on what makes us truly special.  We all have natural weaknesses and strengths.  Some people are great at details while others seem to effortlessly grasp the big picture.  Some people are great thinking on their feet where others thrive using a more methodical approach.  There are a few of us with the physical ability to be a professional athlete while others are better at reporting and analyzing the events taking place on the field.  The list goes on and on.  Of course all of this happens on a continuum, but I believe each and every one of us has gifts and talents that separate us from the pack (if only we are paying attention).

When we are doing what comes naturally and plays to our strengths, life tends to go a bit smoother.  There is less stress and angst over outcomes.  Instead of struggling with what’s required, we feel self-confident on our ability to get the job done.   Unfortunately most of our education and work experience is about others identifying where we are falling short and pushing us to improve in areas where we could be mediocre at best.  I’ve always believed to be exceptional at something you must not only enjoy it and have a passion for it, but also feel like you have the potential to be great in the first place.

Of course, there is certain general knowledge we all need to have.  In addition, when you work for someone else it is rare you only ever get to do what you are good at.  However, smart teachers and bosses understand that if they identify and play to someone’s strengths they will get better results.  We also need to take personal responsibility for our own levels of self-awareness and be honest with our self and others about where we thrive and where we struggle.  If you only ever do your job to get a paycheck, you will inevitably lose interest, get frustrated and achieve less than stellar results.  If you show up to work every day with a purpose and feel you are well suited to what you are doing and making a positive difference you will be amazed by what’s possible.  Life shouldn’t be lived passively.  It is much easier to focus on what was put in rather than what was left out.

Leadership Thought #231 – 7 Tips To Prevent and Minimize The Impact Of Adversity

No one is ever completely protected from the bad things that can happen in life.  Each of us will have to deal with disappointment, loss, grief and despair at some point.  All we can do is protect ourselves as best as we can through a reasonable approach to risk management and an ongoing commitment to personal growth and development.  There are obviously many things we can’t control in our external environments including the actions of others.  However, we can increase our internal capacity to manage whatever comes our way.

There are seven key things each of us can do to prevent and minimize the impact of adversity:

First, follow Shakespeare’s advice “to thine own self be true.” Very few people I know are self-reflective enough.  We all thrive in certain situations and struggle in others.  Our personalities and passions are suited for certain occupations and relationships and predestined to fail in others.  Life is hard enough without making it more difficult.  Try and set yourself up for success as often as possible.  It’s important to know when to say “yes” or “no.”

Second, invest in your strengths and manage your weaknesses.  Take those parts of you that make you special and proactively cultivate them through ongoing education and practical experience.  Mitigate those parts of you that hinder you potential by being open and honest with people about them and developing appropriate coping mechanisms. And, know when to ask for help.  When confronted with any major challenge, the best path is always through leveraging your strengths and the complementary strengths of others.

Third, make financials decisions that allow you some margin for error.  If your options are limited economically you may be prone to acts of desperation and settle for less than ideal outcomes.  Living month to month becomes a draining existence and saps emotional and physical energy that could be better spent elsewhere.  Moreover, many solutions often cost money.

Fourth, stay up to date and well informed about those things which have a direct impact on you personally or professionally.  The sooner you recognize a bad trend or a major bump in the road coming the more able you will be to take corrective or preventative action.  Surprises will happen but they should be few are far between. 

Fifth, tend to you health and well being.  Stress takes its toll on the body and our ability to manage adversity and persevere is directly related to our lifestyle behaviors.  I also believe that a fit body and balanced diet enhances your clarity of thought and increases your energy level.  Every day we make decisions that lead us towards better health or sickness – it really is a choice.

Sixth, allow yourself some downtime.  If you are constantly going at full throttle then eventually the engine will break down from overuse.  Hyperactivity can become a bad habit and after awhile you begin to lose your sense of proportion.  Everything can’t and shouldn’t require the same level of intensity. All crises aren’t created equal.  It is no coincidence that “Type A” people have more heart attacks and other major health issues as they get older.    The body simply gets worn out and loses its capacity for resilience. 

Finally, pick you peer groups carefully.  People will either elevate you or hold you back.  It’s never wise to aspire to be the smartest or most capable person in your professional or social circles.   You should constantly strive to upgrade the quality of people you interact with.  Who else would you rather ask for advice or lean on for help than the best and brightest people you know?  At minimum you will make fewer and better mistakes. 

Leadership Thought #201 – Leaders Are Still Being Cultivated Every Day

I finished teaching my MBA 501 class last night and as with many things closure is bittersweet.  You just start to get to know a group of students and then the experience is over.  It never ceases to amaze me how diverse and interesting a classroom full of graduate students can be.  I also admire their ambition and willingness to make the sacrifice to sit in a classroom at night after working all day.   It also can’t be easy completing the assignments required for the class on top of work deadlines and responsibilities.  You can’t fake commitment – it either exists or it doesn’t.

When you teach leadership at a graduate level (which I do part time) it’s easy to be an optimist.  You get to see the vibrancy and drive in people.  These are individuals who are proactively investing their money and time to better themselves and create a more hopeful future.  Some students automatically rise to the top while others shine in different ways depending upon the assignments/discussions.  If you are paying close enough attention, it does support the management philosophy that every individual has a strength to share and will step up if they are properly motivated and given the opportunity to do so.  No one at this level wants to fail.  It’s important to remember this reality as the instructor.

I don’t subscribe to the theory that our future is bleak and our country is on the downside.  Sure we have our problems but that is to be expected.  Democracy and Capitalism can be messy.  Previous generations fought for our independence, lived through a civil war, managed through two world wars, pushed through desegregation, persisted through a cold war, dealt with health epidemics and managed through a great depression and dealt with countless other issues.  In each case, groups of talented and committed people rallied together behind a common cause, put aside their individual differences, leveraged each others skills and talents, and focused on meaningful work with a higher purpose.  More often that not, they put the good of the group ahead of their own self-interest.

What we need now and always are leaders to help get us through whatever obstacles are strewn in our path.  Last night was a small step in that direction.  I’m certain the scene played out in my classroom these past 7 weeks was replayed all over the country in classrooms both big and small.  A group of dedicated working people were spending time, effort and brainpower to learn how to become better managers and leaders.   They were listening to lectures, reading books, watching videos, sharing experiences, completing assignments and building relationships that will help them create a brighter future for themselves and others.  I am grateful for each and every student making this sacrifice and know that our companies, communities and nation will benefit in the long run.  

Keep the faith and don’t succumb to the leadership cynicism that’s out there.  There are still many good people who are continually striving to grow and make a positive difference.  I encourage you to always be on the lookout for them and give them opportunities whenever you can.  Just remember that true leaders always put the common good ahead of their own self-interest.  Sadly, the media seems to herald the exploits of those leaders who are clearly in it to feed their ego and fill their wallet.

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