Great Reminders for Courageous Leaders from Randy Conley

More times than I care to admit I have gotten a little full of myself, as my mother would have described it, only to have a humbling reality check follow. Thank goodness for the servant leaders who have gone before us, raising the standard, showing us how it’s done. Thank you for this fabulous reminder, Randy!

Leading with Trust

Memorandum

To: Leaders Everywhere

From: A Fellow Sojourner

Subject: Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Dear fellow leaders,

It has come to my attention that we are our own worst enemies. The lack of our effectiveness and success is primarily due to our own stupidity and failure to get out of our own way. We tend to get wrapped up in our own little worlds and forget that our primary goal is to influence others to higher levels of performance. We forget that the energy we bring to our team through our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual presence is what sets the tone for their morale, productivity, and well-being.

It’s time to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. Here are three key checkups I suggest you perform:

Check your attitude — If you come to work acting like Mr./Ms. Grumpypants, how do you expect your team members to…

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It’s All In the View

It's all in your viewpointFunny how different things look from the air.  Several years ago, to celebrate a significant birthday, I went skydiving.  It was a blast, most exciting thing I’ve ever done. (Aside from marrying my sweetheart and raising a few sons.)  Of course jumping out of the plane was invigorating, but the ride down after the parachute opened was breath-taking.  It was amazing to see the curvature of the earth and the Cleveland cityscape from15,000 feet.

Fast forward to my life today in a job that requires quite a bit of travel.  I spend a lot of time looking out airplane windows.   I love looking at the farm fields.  Did you know that out west the fields look like a square with a huge circle in the middle?  Yep.  It is the square farm field and the result of the round, rotary long-armed, irrigation machine. For a Buckeye, home of 5 mile-square farm fields as far as you can see, it’s an interesting site. Coming home, if we’re approaching the Port Columbus International airport from the west, I spend time trying to locate my house.   A few weeks ago our flight path placed the approach such that we flew over the town where I live.  I was able to identify the high school and football field.  Then I noticed something I’d never seen before.  A pond.  Previously, I had not known that it was there.  I could identify the cross streets and made a mental note to drive by next time I was in town.  Things just look different from the air.

The same things apply in positions of leadership.  There is a natural change in view that occurs when you move into a role of accountability.  Perspective also changes when you earn credibility and become an influential leader.  Folks that don’t recognize the view has changed, soon find themselves without a leadership role.  There are several reasons that smart leaders should quickly look around and assess the situation from a new perspective.

1.  Leaders have the bigger picture to worry about. They are held accountable for all the pieces of the puzzle, not just one.  Courageous leaders understand that active visibility to inter-dependencies is key to wise decision making.  Consideration of what will break if we do this is critical to delivering sustainable solutions.  To act from a myopic viewpoint is to deny the existence of multiple inputs and an interactive series of data points, resulting in missing pieces.

2.  Leaders will have different viewpoints to consider. Either they will seek and find, or others will thrust unsolicited barriers into the mix.  Courageous leaders intentionally seek out others who see things from a different vantage point.   The key is developing a competency involving clear judgment and decision making by leveraging these different inputs, and maximizing the field of contributors.

Most of my career has been spend in manufacturing.  It is common in production facilities to have a cat-walk; a walkway above the production floor.  I always enjoyed going up on the cat-walk.  I could see who was truly engaged in the task at hand, see supervisors problem solving with their folks, and watch the material handlers whip those forklifts around.   Conversely, from the floor I missed half of these observations.  We could use the cat-walk as a metaphor for intentionally seeking new vantage points from which to examine business problems and create solutions. Courageous leaders intentionally approach their view differently.

In his book, The Next Level, Scott Elbin talks about taking time to step out on the balcony.  This premise is an intentional movement to a different viewpoint.  The way to do this is to invest the time to stand back and take a different look at a problem or decision.  Seek out alternate perspectives from folks with whom you would not normally hear. Leaders who invest this time, making this activity part of their management routine, create an atmosphere of collaboration and innovation. They also increase the speed of decision making, and decrease time wasted fighting unforeseen barriers.  The opportunity cost of not investing this time on a regular basis is high, measured in loss of decision quality and agility.

Nehemiah is a Biblical model of a leader demonstrating this competency.  This historical account of the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, during the reign of the Persia’s King Artaxerxes, is found in the Biblical book named for Nehemiah.  Skilled in strategic planning, Nehemiah encountered many barriers throughout the life of this project.  He not only assigned work according to skill set, he intentionally stationed folks at various vantage points along the wall.  His management routine included a regular walk on the top of the wall to learn what folks were seeing from their unique views.  This approach afforded him the ability to detect problems early, and created an Andon system for rapid problem solving.  The result was that Nehemiah led the team to on-time, on-budget completion of the project despite numerous problems and barriers.

What about you, have you developed the discipline to regularly look at things from a different perspective?  And, what advantage has this capability provided you?

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Unto Me – Part 2

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At the risk of raising some criticism, I’m re-posting this thought with a few edits.  I’m just stuck here.  This thought of doing everything for Christ, taking myself out of the equation, has really impacted my decisions lately.  So, if … Continue reading

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The Sound of Silence

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Have you ever thought about silence. You know, that awkward silence when the boss asks a question and no one answers. Or when someone says something inappropriate. Or that moment in a meeting when a co-worker makes a statement that … Continue reading

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What are you doing tomorrow?

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Today is a beautiful early spring day in central Ohio.  March Madness abounds. The sun is shining and daffodils are in bloom.   Our business has moved through making tough performance management decisions that resulted in a re-energizing enthusiasm of … Continue reading

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Measure This!

A particular individual contributor I know is constantly hammering her manger to know when she will be promoted to manager.  It is a consistent cry, “I’m ready to be promoted to manager, why won’t you promote me?”  The thing is that this individual is a pretty good individual contributor.  Her work is trust worthy, she delivers work on time, and gets along well with everyone.  So, what’s the problem you might ask?  Why not promote her to manager?  Here is an example of the reason for her manager’s reluctance.  A client decided to in-source some work.  The result was fewer hours of work for her business unit, and a negative impact to employees.  When the business asked this individual for counsel on the process of moving through this transition, her first response was, “Well, since I didn’t know anything about this, I can’t tell you.”  Recently I needed some records for reference in a legal matter.  I called on this individual to provide me her records. She didn’t quite understand the urgency which resulted in a fire drill, so to speak.  When I explained that I was in the midst of a legal discussion, her first comment was, “I hope it is not because of something I did.”  Here is the problem. This individual sees herself as a victim.  Nothing is her fault, and everything is her fault.  She thinks the world revolves around her.  Things are done to her. She feels no sense of ownership, no thought of providing a solution.

So, what’s the problem? Her work is reliable. She’s friendly and enjoyable.  The problem is that she is good at managing processes but she is does not exhibit the qualities that this business has decided are crucial to the success of its people leaders.  How do you determine whether or not someone exhibits desirable leadership behaviors?  You get out and observe.  Leave your office.  Sit in on manager staff meetings.  Observe leadership during meetings.  Talk with their direct reports and peers. Observation is the key to understanding competency in leadership behaviors.   And why are leadership behaviors so important, you might ask?  Employee engagement is one important answer.

Why Should We Care?

A 2005 study by the Gallup organization found that disengaged employees cost American companies between $250 and $350 billion a year. (BlessingWhite.  2008.  The state of employment engagement – 2008:  North American overview.  Princeton, NJ)    High employee engagement increases employer return on investment on human capital.  An engaged employee is loyal, invested, more innovative, willing to take risks.  My experience has tested and proven that one of the most effective ways to positively impact engagement is to improve the employee value proposition.  And, one of the most significant pillars in that employee value proposition is the relationship with their manager.  So, given these proven factors, it follows that the behaviors of people leaders are foundational to the employee value proposition, and thus impact return on investment in human capital.

Just What Does Leadership Look Like?

Okay, now that we’ve taken a scholastic look at this, let’s talk about the practical.  Employees just are not going to go beyond robotic movement to emotional investment in success of the organization unless they believe their leaders truly care.  What leadership behaviors convey this message?  Scads of employees have recently shared this list of desirable leadership traits with me:

  • Convey a vision
  • Foster an environment of innovation
  • Trust your team
  • Integrity
  • Hold people accountable
  • Consistency
  • Inspire others
  • Influence

Measure  Leadership Behaviors

To increase leadership skills in your organization, I recommend a   6 – step structured process:

  1. Define desirable leadership behaviors
  2. Articulate what each behaviors looks like
  3. Define how you will identify the behavior
  4. Define what the behavior looks like demonstrated in three specific phases:   developing state, maturing state, and sustainable state
  5. Grade leaders on their progress, giving a current state value and rating through observation of demonstrated behaviors as part of your management routine at a defined cadence
  6. Hold leaders accountable to changing and developing in the defined desirable behaviors through these three phases.  Provide opportunities for leaders to develop up, or out.

No doubt about it, the investment in time to work through this structure takes time and energy.  But it is an investment, and with applied rigor you will experience a return of significant proportion.

Biblical Model

Now, you know this blog is about applying Biblical principles to practical 21st century leadership. So let’s look at a Biblical model of what it looks like to hold leaders accountable to demonstrate observable desirable traits. From the historical account in 2 Kings chapter 5 Elisha had a team member, Gehazi, who defied his orders and practiced dishonesty.  The consequence was that Gehazi ended up with leprosy.  Of course, in 21st century America we don’t experience the physical ailment of leprosy.  However, we do experience loss of credibility.  Once a leader has exhibited behaviors that result in a loss of credibility and trust, they have leprosy; in a metaphorical sense.  Folks just won’t follow these leaders any more. They’re no longer effective. They never move from the developing to the sustained phase of maturity in leadership.

Back to this individual contributor bent on promotion without an equal willingness to invest in herself relative to developing leadership skills.  Until she understands the difference between managing processes and leading the way, we will be happy to maintain her contribution as a reliable tactical individual contributor.  It is her choice.

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Unsung Heroes – Part 2 of 2

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This is a picture of courageous leadership.  To move yourself from first to last.  From most important to least important. To put someone else’s forever needs in front of your temporary embarrassment.  I wonder how many of us could make … Continue reading

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Unsung Heroes – Part 1 of 2

She got the call at work. The call, not just any call.  The call for which they had been waiting so long.  “We have a baby for you”, they said.  “You and your husband come quickly to pick her up.”  … Continue reading

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A Little Challenge For You

Interested in learning more about courageous leadership and enjoy a group setting?   In a comfortable, fun, and engaging setting we discuss leadership topics from a Biblical perspective.  And, we spend time talking about how to apply what we learn to influence our 21st century culture.  Join us at Crossroads Community Church, 9:30 a.m. Sunday mornings, 62 E. 2nd Street in London, Ohio 43140. 

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Get Out! Get Out!

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A few years ago my husband, Thad, and I were on our way home from a great weekend at the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky. We had driven our 1981, red, C-3, t-top ,“Shark” body Corvette from Berea, Kentucky … Continue reading

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