Saturday, November 26, 2011

Leadership comes in all forms and from all sources

No matter what your personal opinions on the wars and/or your political affiliations or your thoughts on the armed forces, the following video was an enlightening view into how leadership can exist in a variety of forms. Although we have been reminded of the strategic nature of military leadership, and the dominance of autocratic hierarchies, it is not only encouraging but also amazing to see glimmers of true leadership in structured governance structures.

Take General Welsh in this video, addressing the USAFA (United States Air Force Academy), and note some of the nuances he brings to bear in his lecture. He starts out trying to acclimate to his audience but he lets them know throughout the lecture what his expectations are, quite vociferously. He finishes off, in traditional military bravado by dismissing the class, but before that, take note of some of what he shares:

- ".. politics will change, technology will change, the enemy will change ..", " .. the most sophisticated piece of technology is .." - He talks of the individual. Think of change management, and the fuss that goes over it, now if only we could simply talk about this transparently and say that business may be conducted in a different manner, but the human factor does not change. People are the key to successful changes, albeit in different capacities.

- He talks about his son John and how the development of a new set of goals may lead you to wild successes. An interesting approach to failure & change, provides for a new paradigm of dealing with continued growth, a rebirth if you will from the ashes to rise well above what could have been. Sometimes the toughest decisions lead to the best outcomes.

- One of the statements he makes in the video is, " .. My dad made a difference, so will u.", ".. these people make a difference, so will u, don't worry about that .." : A leader reaffirms the positive, by providing for his confidence in those who he leads, but at the same token, informs them of what his expectations are. Leaders have a tough time articulating, beyond the job description/posting, what the expectations are with any role; but to do so in a fashion that clearly states it and provides for confidence in those he leads by knowing that they will achieve it, presents an interesting twist to the traditional. Affirmation & accolades do not need to succeed an action, they can be preceded by the action, thereby allowing for a higher percentage of a positive outcome.

- The chat about Thomas and how he takes charge by asking if he can address the team, shows courage in a team member. If a member of the team is comfortable enough to ask for the reins, even for something small as addressing his/her issues, shows a comfort level the leader has. Leaders support the growth of his/her team and allows for constructive dialogue that will not exist with a top-down approach to management, neigh what some refer to as leadership.

- The identification of Matt having credibility, speaks not only of the team member, but also the leader in the team. Credibility needs to exist to have true leadership that is not dictated simply by hierarchical or political structures.

- "Attention to detail; is it important? You decide." - Mistakes can happen, being a perfectionist is not necessarily everyone's forte, but to pay attention to the details allows the leader to keep the goals in check. I have said previously that sometimes, leaders tend to look up so much worrying about the big picture, when they lose focus on the here and now. Sometimes, if one were to worry about fixing the smaller things, they would find that the larger ones would naturally work themselves out.

- Sometimes you need to make decisions when you can't ask for help and you need to provide for inspiration when people need it. Two thoughts that speak to the leadership's responsiveness to the pulse of the team that s/he leads.

- The story of Laurie reveals leadership qualities that are identified through self-reflection; "I never asked him" - Vulnerability, "I almost cost him his daughter" & "I almost cost her a family" - Accountability, "4 days on the job and the tech sergeant knew about her" - Recognition. This is a 4 star General and to hear him say this to an audience on video speaks to his credibility as a leader. Would a leader today be this accepting? Do we know of the Laurie's that exist in our direct/indirect circle of influence? Have we even allowed for an environment to exist where someone can approach us with this type of a story?

- Do not let people down - this remains his message as he closes the lecture and he drives this home as his key expectation. Have we ever evaluated if we have let our people down, would a leader be comfortable doing so?

One of the consistent themes in his presentation was the celebration of the people, not the job or the task. Sometimes the task or the job is what presents a mechanism for celebrating people, but this leads to an incentive based style of leadership. True leaders lead consistently & transparently, which includes the celebration of people, for more than just the task, the job or the tenure of their career.

"leadership is a gift, its given by those who follow, but you have to be worthy of it" - This is no longer a question of nature vs. nurture; it is a question of how leadership is not a top-down but a bottom-up phenomenon. Managers may continue to remain but Leaders are everlasting. My personal belief requires me to surround myself with leaders in their own right. These leaders enhance my leadership, and the collaborative path is what I believe is the true success to our mutual growth.

Without much further adieu, do enjoy (please note that there are some troubling war scenes in this video):

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Excelling vs. Growth

I read this article ( that is specifically around the US and how mediocrity in comparison to some other countries is seemingly the order of the day. Although I do not buy that to the tee, what I do say is that there is a sense of "just getting by" in the world today that tends to be a rampant infectious disease that is creeping up at various levels.

I read yet another article a few months ago in HBR (Harvard Business Review - forgive me, I do not have the URL for the original) that spoke of how one leader/executive could not move ahead in her organization as she was considered to be a disruptor, a pusher, a go getter and sometimes did so to her peril. Her colleagues, her staff, etc. were so disenfranchised that the solution she was provided was to tone her capabilities down. She was passed up for vertical movements within the organization as she was seen as a lone ranger. Once again, although I do not agree with the tenets of the argument, i.e. be overly successful and disconnect with your team, I do concur with the thought that leadership needs to engender a culture of creativity, innovation, dare I say drive to achieve more than the norm.

As the first around mediocrity states, there is a sense of "just enough" around us; I would suggest that the corporate culture of push push push may have gotten a bit softer in this new era. I do find that with the advent of social media and this new focus towards social collusion, both private and corporate, there is a refocus in employee priorities and the penetration of the social dynamic is an important factor in the being of people today.

I would argue that whether we call it mediocrity, whether we strive for excellence, whether we want a refocus, whatever or however we phrase it, the growth phenomenon needs to be instilled within the corporate setting. All the Google'isms aside, whether it is a 80/20 focus on efficiency or a blend of corporate and social cultures, a highly caffeinated boost to our corporate micro-economies are required if we hope to make a dent on what I suggest is perhaps the key to a succeeding failure.

Corporations have been toying with new mechanisms to reengage their employees, and one of the common themes we continue to forget is that, the monetary and non-monetary methodologies we have used for decades still have some meaning left in them. The simplest options sometimes are the quickest ones with the most results. All the buzz words and the new age paradigms aside, people fundamentally want to enter a workplace they can work in, grow and perhaps earn some recognition while doing so. Nurturing this ideology while understanding that not everyone fits this mold, will perhaps get us further quicker and easier than all the techniques, self-help books would teach us.

Leadership, some say is a burden, I say its a privilege and to earn this privilege requires strength, creativity, innovation and a blend of caffeinated zen that allows for the creation & management of incremental growth within a state of calm. The challenge in this dictum is to ensure you not only do this, but to remain sustainable, engender it within your team; not recruit it, but engender it.