Friday, December 31, 2010

Leadership Philosophy

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Stephen Covey

Have you ever had a boss who asked you to oversee a project or perform a task without giving you much, if any, information on what they wanted?  How about a boss you thought would respond a certain way to a given situation, but they caught you off guard and responded totally differently to what you expected?   Did you enjoy working for them?  Do you know what their leadership philosophy is?   I would guess not.  However, you could probably make an educated guess as to what it is based on how you were treated.

How about you?  Do you have a leadership philosophy? Have you even thought about a leadership philosophy? Until recently, I had never really thought about it.  I knew what I believed about leadership and the values that I subscribed to, but it was never written down.  A business coach that worked with me while at Owens Corning sent me a book titled the The Leader's Compass published by Academy Leadership. It's probably one of the best books I have read on leadership.  It focused on the development of a leader’s personal leadership philosophy and is told in the form of a story.

After reading the book, I was motivated to sit down and write my leadership philosophy.  Why is a leadership philosophy important?  A well written philosophy gives you clarity on what you stand for as a leader.  It will also bring consistency to your leadership that your team can trust. Your leadership philosophy affects your behavior and ultimately your leadership effectiveness. 

In developing your leadership philosophy it should describe these key beliefs:

  • What do I believe about people and about life?
  • What are the principles by which I will operate as a leader?
  • What are do you believe about groups that make organizations effective?
Drafting your philosophy will require time and considerable thought, but once it has been developed it will serve as your road map to your success as a leader. Everything you do will be filtered through you philosophy, so be honest with yourself.  Don't write it if you don't believe it.

Your philosophy should consist of the following:

  • Your purpose: Why are you here?  What are you most passionate about?
  • Your vision: Where are you going and how are you going to get there?
  • Your values/principles:  What do you believe in.  A set of guiding principles which influence the way you live and lead.

One last important thing, your philosophy should be published and shared with your team.  It is amazing that so many leaders will not develop or publish their philosophy because they do not want to be held accountable for living by it.

I challenge you to be a different kind of leader, one that is willing to be held strictly accountable and will not compromise on the things you say you believe in.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

There is Iron in your Words

A promise kept is invaluable to the person to which it was made.

n the Clint Eastwood movie The Outlaw Josey Wales, two men in Josey Wales’ traveling party are captured by Sioux Indians.  Josey Wales meets with Ten Bears, the leader of the Sioux Nation, to negotiate their release.  During the conversation Ten Bears speaks about the white man (U.S. Government) not keeping their word.  After hearing Josey’s reply, Ten Bears utters a strong statement, “There is iron in your words.”  They make an agreement that is sealed with blood as the two men cut their palms and then shake hands.  The two prisoners are released and a peace is forged.

Do you keep your word?  Is there “iron in your words?”  In a world where many leaders make promises that they do not keep, it is nearly impossible to believe what they say.  When asked why they back-tracked on a promise, they immediately go into spin mode, deflecting blame and never really answering the question.

“You  lie” was shouted out in many of the town hall meetings across the country by Americans wanting to hold their elected officials accountable to the promises they made.  The words “politician” and “liar” have become synonymous. 

In times past a man’s word was his bond.  Before written contracts, many deals were sealed with a handshake.  No more.  It must be in writing with addendums and exhibits to the contract.  Trust is out the window.  Even when contracts are binding, they only ensure an offended party has recourse if the contract is broken—Ten Bears had it right when he said, No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men.”

What happened?  Why are we as a people so untrustworthy?  I believe greed, deception, self-preservation and a lack of character has led us to a place I don’t know if we can ever come back from.

So many people say character does not matter, “can he or she do the job?” is all that matters.  To many, even marriage vows don’t mean anything.  Divorce rates are in excess of 50% and are not getting any lower.  Keeping your word is important only if it is convenient.  

In a small church in Oakland, CA, twenty-two years ago I made a promise to my wife to be her husband for life.  It was one not taken lightly, and after all of these years I am still committed for life.  A promise does not have an expiration date.

Leadership is about saying what you are going to do and doing what you say.  When people can believe what you say a trust is built that will be hard to tear down.   Keeping your commitments and being held accountable for what you have committed to is the hallmark of true leadership.

Real leaders always speak with “iron in their words.” 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Leadership Is About Influence

"Leadership is influence" John Maxwell

During a recent talk I gave I asked the attendees how many of them thought they were a leader.  Only a few raised their hands.  I shared with them that I believed that all of them were leaders.  The question was what kind of leader were they?

Leadership is not just about leading people to accomplish a specific business result or leading a sports team.  It’s about influence.  If you have an influence on someone’s thinking or the decisions they make, you are a leader.  That means if you have children, belong to a club, church, neighborhood group, you are most likely influencing others.

The influence you have over others should not be taken lightly. How you communicate with others who look up to you can be the difference between succeeding and failing.  I believe there are so many leaders who are not aware of the impact their leadership has on others.

As a parent what kind of leadership are you displaying to your family?  How do you communicate with your spouse?  Are you short?  Dismissive? If you have children, you are modeling a behavior that can have a lasting effect on their lives.  Young men that see verbal and emotional abuse from father to mother can take that as the proper way to communicate with their future wife.  Young girls can take away the thought that it is normal for a man to abuse them emotionally or physically.  Conversely, are you loving to your wife or husband?  Are you respectful?

Leadership is not just about the behaviors you project at work, but in every area of your life.  How do you lead in your community and what do your friends say about you?  Authentic leadership then is representative of who you are in every aspect of your life.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Does Character Matter?

Authentic character is not turned off and turned on when it suits you. It’s who you are deep inside, and is revealed in everything you do.

Yesterday the Heisman organization voted on the 2010 Heisman Trophy winner. “The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity.” On the morning of the vote two sports commentators were discussing Heisman finalist Cam Newton, quarterback of the Auburn University Tigers. Over the past year Cam has been under investigation for possible NCAA violations. The two commentators were in an intense debate over whether Cam should win the award in light of these allegations and other off field issues.

One commentator stated that if the mission of the Heisman organization was to select an athlete who exhibits and pursues excellence with integrity, then clearly Cam should not be selected. The other commentator said that the award should be based solely on what is done on the football field and the off field allegations should not factor in the Heisman’s decision.

For me the question then becomes DOES CHARACTER MATTER?

In this post-modern day era many people have redefined the meaning of character. For those of us who were around at the time of President Clinton, many people thought that his infidelity with an intern had nothing to do with being President of the United States of America. His supporters said it was his personal business and being President was separate from his personal life. Even today he is very well thought of in both political and private circles for his work as President.  In their minds a leader could live by two sets of standards.

For the record, I believe that one cannot be a true leader and live by two sets of standards, one at home and one at work. If you are unethical at home, you will be unethical at work. I do not see how you can turn it on and off.

What happens when character is not valued?  Presidential candidate John Edwards' infidelity cost him his family and a promising political career.  Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme bilked billions from investors that cost not only the investors, but this week his son apparently committed suicide under the weight of ongoing allegations of his possible involvement in the scheme.  The choices made by these two men revealed their true character. 

My question to you is does character matter?  The answer for me is a resounding yes!  How about you?  Are you willing to live by a set of positive standards that you will not compromise? 

Below are few of the character traits that I most admire in leaders:
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Humility
  • Self-control
  • Respect
If we are going to get better, we must demand better from our leaders.  When men and women possess positive character traits, the result is trust.  You know you can count on them to not only do what they say, but to live their lives in a manner consistent with the things they believe in.  Character is the essence of authentic leadership.

What are some of the positive character traits that you most admire?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Demanding Leadership

True leaders demand excellence from themselves, before they ask it of others.

Before you can demand something from others, you must demand it from yourself.  You have to practice what you preach.  If you are going to ask someone to be on time for a meeting, you have to be on time.  Leadership that is demanding is not about being a dictatorship, it is about excellence.  It is about eliminating mediocrity and pursuing excellence in everything you do. 

During a conversation with the CEO of a fortune 500 company he was talking about his commitment to safety.  He stated that if he was going to demand that his team practice safe work habits that he needed to make the same demand of himself.  This is a critical element missing in many leaders today.  “Do as I say, not as I do” seems to be the mantra of the day.

As a leader how can you demand anything from anyone if you do not hold yourself to a higher standard of conduct?  Have you ever had a boss tell you to do something they have never done before?  And yet, they assign you a task that may not have ever been done.  I remember a quote that a former supervisor told me and I will never forget it:  “nothing is impossible to those who do not have to do it.”  I remember sitting down with one of my billing clerks to learn more about the billing process.  My reason for doing it was to gain a better understanding of what they were doing and how they did it.  This allowed me to set more realistic goals for my clerks because I now knew what it took to get the job done.

Our job as leaders is to create an environment that fosters trust, integrity, credibility, and a successful work team.  If you set the right example by serving as a role model and having your actions speak loader than words, you will be a better leader.