Leaders

That word!

So much attaches to that word.

Good or bad, empowering or disempowering, positive or negative, us or them.

How does “Leader” land on you?

I’m asking because I was in a learning session recently that brought home to me the power of leadership.

I started by recognizing how some leaders in my past had led from privilege, for the rewards of position, and how that had affected me.

Then I realized I could identify many of the same traits in my own leadership!

Ouch.

How about you?

Do you know what your leadership looks like? And do you know why?

How can we step away from disempowering behaviors to increase our leadership impact?

Here are three suggestions to start the journey:

  1. Make connections. Isolation leads to mediocrity, especially in leadership. Great leaders are insatiably curious about others, because they know that influence depends on connection.

  2. Have challenging conversations. Avoiding the hard stuff is never a good plan. Delegating tough tasks (like truth telling) to others is even worse. Connection grows when you step into honest, difficult conversations.

  3. Keep going back to vision and purpose. In the heat of the leadership race, it is tempting to look at the immediate and lose sight of the big picture. Leaders who keep their vision in focus and their purpose central, will have the orientation to succeed, influence, and lead well.

So what can you take away right now? What have you seen? What does it mean? What will you do first?

The Power of Others

I’ve had a full week of “othering” - interacting in various settings with other leaders, sometimes imparting, sometimes receiving.

Each experience was different from the others, all were valuable.

I have been reminded of the power of others in our lives. Those who seek truth, and those who speak truth. Those who want to grow, and those who want me to grow.

“No man is an island” wrote John Donne, with deep understanding of the human condition. We all benefit from the presence and influence of others in our lives.

But it’s not all wonderful; sometimes the power of others is negative. The grudge-holder, the unfair critic, the constant opponent, the hater, and the incessant drainer. These people are powerful too, if we allow them to be.

And that is the key, I believe; we get to CHOOSE our others. There is no law that says you have to tolerate a negative influencer, just as there is no law that says you must have positive people in your life.

The power of others is in your hands. You choose whose inputs you receive, and you can choose the inputs you give.

Don’t go it alone - but choose wisely who you engage.

Positive wins every time, especially when you find someone who will tell you the truth!

Here’s to interacting with others - for good!

Margin

If you do any kind of writing on your laptop or tablet, you will be familiar with margin; it is the space around the edge of your words, between your content and the edges of your page.

If you are in business, you will be familiar with margin; it is the difference between what you make and the cost of making it (with apologies to the economists and accountants who read this).

How about in life?

How would you define margin there?

Richard Swenson, in his book of the same name, defines margin as the gap between our load and our limits, between what is needed and what we can offer.

Now let me ask you how big is your margin?

Do you live (like most people) in the space beyond 100% capacity? Squeezing in one or two more things to show how committed or capable you are?

Maybe you feel like you have no control over your margins? The sales targets keep increasing, the relational issues soak up more and more time, the opportunities are just too attractive to pass up.

Well here’s a truth I learned years ago, when I worked in graphic design for a few years: the margin is essential.

It is the margin that makes text readable, it is the margin around a logo that makes it stand out, it is the margin of a table that makes the content clear , it is the margin within each cell that makes your spreadsheet data speak.

So if you are aware of a lack of margin, the costs may be higher than you see at first glance. There’s the cost in communication breakdowns, there’s the cost in relational capital, there’s the cost in lost connections with customers or clients, there’s the missed creative thoughts, the forgotten ideas, there’s the price of fueling your existence with caffeine or adrenaline; the list is almost endless.

The best thing you can do for a long document is to increase the margins. And the best thing you can do for an overloaded life is the same.

How do we increase our margins?

  1. Identify the pressures - which margin do I need to increase? (top or bottom, left or right, time or profit, rest or creativity?)

  2. Make a plan - map out your perfect day or perfect week, do a brain dump or mind map to capture all that is in your head, then start to arrange it in a new place (on paper, on your calendar, in your budget, wherever).

  3. Say no - what are the two or three least-productive or unfruitful things you do? Stop them.

  4. Set a rest budget. How long? When? Where? Daily, weekly and monthly. Give yourself the gift of margin by eliminating whatever steals from your rest budget. (Top offenders are TV, electronics, social media, and workaholism).

If you don’t protect your margins, you are robbing us of the full benefit of you. You are devaluing what you have to offer and treating yourself as a consumable not a commodity. Invest yourself with margins - and you will profit.

Why not drop a suggestion for others in the comments?

The Leaders in your life

Whether we aspire to lead others or not, we all lead.

Whether we recognize it or not, we are all led.

The way we lead is influenced by the ways we are led.

Do you see any of these influences in your life?:

  • Control of every detail

  • Self-inflation (also known as narcissism)

  • Insecurity and indecision

  • Acceptance or promotion of toxic attitudes and behaviors

If you see these in someone who is leading you, what can you do?

  1. Self-assessment: often we take on the influences around us without realizing. Addressing a negative in myself starts the process of changing it in my environment.

  2. Understanding: learn all you can about the causes and sources of these negatives. The answer is seldom as simple as intentional malevolence. Usually everyone is doing the best they can with what they have.

  3. Communication: changing how we communicate with those who lead us can often address negative influences, either by highlighting an unseen need in the other or by adjusting perspective in us.

  4. Community: if possible, involve someone else besides the two of you to help you both learn and grow. I have learned more by assuming that the issue is with me than I have by pointing fingers at another, and that process has always been helped by outside input (coaching, mentoring, counseling).

If you see one or more of those negatives in your own life:

  1. Awareness is half the battle. Toxicity is usually invisible to the one affected.

  2. Awareness fosters desire to learn and change.

  3. Desire can overcome the temptation to isolate, justify, or shift blame.

  4. If desire for change is lacking, relational pain will increase to promote movement!

  5. Relational pain is only resolved relationally, often with the help of skilled outside input.

May the leaders in your life be increasingly healthy, influencing your leadership of others to constantly increase and improve.

May you lead yourself well in light of all these factors: YOU are the most consistent leadership voice to which you listen.

Smart teams win

I seldom repost other blogs, although I do mention some of the more helpful blogs I follow, but this week is an exception. Earlier this week, as the Women’s World Cup was moving toward its conclusion (and my current nation was beating my original nation), Dan Rockwell posted about teamwork on his Leadership Freak blog. Specifically smart teamwork.

I was struck by Dan’s insights, and so I am linking you directly to Dan Rockwell’s blog post, where you can read the whole article.

In summary, he listed five keys to having a smart team, rather than a stupid team:

  1. Team members disagree with the team leader.

  2. Conversations feel unscripted and spontaneous, not directed by the leader.

  3. Team members engage in vigorous debate.

  4. Team members notice emotional states, creating stronger connection.

  5. Smart teams explore crazy ideas.

I love these keys, because they are mostly counterintuitive (and thus overlooked by many team leaders). Of course, it is a rare team that is secure enough to be smart in the ways Dan suggests. Safety is one of his three ideas for developing smart teams, along with eliminating monologues and practicing social sensitivity.

In my experience, social sensitivity comes from emphasizing transparency and understanding among team members - and this causes safety to increase dramatically. These two become a positive feedback loop; tangible safety allows demonstrations of sensitivity - “something seems to be troubling you”, and this invites honesty in communication which reinforces safety.

These teamwork benefits are why I became a leadership and communication coach. I’ve always wanted to be a team player, but I’ve seen too many instances of insecure or poorly-informed leadership hindering effective teamwork. Since communication is at the heart of teamwork, that’s where I focus.

Smart teams are led by smart leaders, and smart teams win.



Don't Box Me In

High-level leaders focus on emotional intelligence, investing in understanding themselves and those they lead. The Harvard Business Review has even suggested that such skills are worth more than an MBA. Best practice calls us to be continual learners in communication and relational skills, in order that our other competencies are not wasted in interpersonal confusion. A whole branch of B2B consulting has grown up to serve this universal need.

There is a weakness in many of the tests and assessments available: they categorize more than they equip. My results may be accurate, but they distinguish me from my peers at the expense of training me to collaborate and lead more effectively.

You may be able to tell me your results from multiple tests: “I’m a D”, “I’m a 4”, “I’m ENTJ”, “My strengths are Maximizer, Strategic, Activator, Connectedness and Woo” “I’m a Golden Retriever” and so on. But these results don’t tell me how to relate to you or communicate clearly with you.

For communication success, we each need to answer two questions: What Do You Need From Me? and How Do You Need It? The second question is just as important as the first. Adapting to others is an investment in their success. Effective leaders develop their skills in self-awareness and in understanding of others.

For these reasons I recommend the Life Languages Communication IQ system. I use this in all my coaching, and in my daily interactions with others. It is a world-class communication analysis tool which validates your own unique wiring and enables you to intentionally connect with any other person more effectively.

If you dislike boxes as much as I do, why not take your profile and see what you learn? Click here to begin!

Keep Learning

Next week I’ll be taking my recertification training for LIFE Languages™. I’m looking forward to this because Life Languages International have made some major upgrades to the profile and accompanying materials, which I’m excited to learn about. But I’m also looking forward to the training because I have learned to love learning.

Our early experiences of learning, at school and college, have clear endpoints. These tend to focus the mind on the coming graduation, both as a motivator to work beforehand, and a motivator to choose anything BUT learning afterward!

Later in life, we either settle for what we already know, or we rediscover the joy of learning again. This latter option is the lifeblood of leadership, because it keeps the leader inquisitive, humble, and future-focused. Some are naturally wired for learning, and desire knowledge for its own sake, while others embrace learning as an aid to more effective action, a way to connect with others, or the source of better planning. Whatever descriptor fits you best, I encourage you to keep learning. You will benefit and so will we!

Fulfilling Your Potential

It took me a long time to realize it, but I learned some years back that it is OK to be different from others, because what I bring to situations is unique, and valuable. Since that realization, I have focused on understanding myself and others, and I’m learning to invest what I have learned in helping others grow and succeed.

I have been in two settings recently where I experienced the joy of knowing I was helping others from the wealth of experience I have gathered as I seek to fulfill my unique potential. These moments of satisfaction highlighted the value of fulfilling your potential.

The first was coaching a team of young people preparing to travel the world making a difference wherever they go. Seeing their passion is inspiring; seeing their gratitude for encouragement and mentoring was humbling. I found myself close to tears several times during our week together as I saw the significance of passing on the lessons of my own journey whilst expecting the outcomes to be different for each of them.

The second was working with a close-knit team at a local organization interfacing with the community to address current issues. As we unpacked the facets of their LIFE Languages profiles it was funny to hear “that’s EXACTLY how she reacts” and “He definitely does that” from the participants. The validation received from their personal profile enabled each team member to own his or her contribution to the whole, while the keys to understanding one another will prove fruitful in their common mission as they affirm each other’s strengths and understand each other’s needs.

Your unique potential won’t take you into those settings, but there are causes and gatherings that need your contribution to become all they can be. Do you have a clear grasp of your individuality? Can you communicate your strengths to others? And your needs for success?

If your answers are mostly yes, I applaud your courage and honesty. You are already embracing the input that can help you fulfill your potential. If you are less sure, let me encourage you to begin the journey of self-awareness that will allow you to show up, speak up, and lift others up.

I’ve experienced great joy doing that recently - now I’m inviting you to fulfill YOUR potential. I’d be honored to help you.

Summer Leadership

Here in Myrtle Beach, the spring catapulted into full-on summer mode around the Memorial Day weekend. Temperatures are in the low 100’s (that’s the high 30’s Celsius). Tourists are everywhere. College students are primarily part of the workforce, rather than studying. Schools will be out very soon. There are more out-of-state license tags than local ones on the roads. And the traffic is a challenge!

This is the new “normal” for the next three months.

All this set me thinking: what does leadership look like in summer?

Or to ask the question another way: do we embrace change, or resent it?

There’s plenty to like about the change to summer: sunshine is almost guaranteed, the beach is calling, a warm breeze at sunset can turn even the most mundane setting into something more magical, the pace of life can be slower (or at least routines are different).

But these benefits of the changing season can easily become causes for complaint: it’s too hot, the beach is crowded, it’s light too early, it takes forever to get anywhere.

I’d like to suggest that leadership is found more in positivity than complaint. Complaining reduces influence fast; most folks will follow a positive leader more readily than a negative one.

I have found that leadership embraces or accepts change as the start of a process of movement.

Summer leadership looks for opportunities more than irritations.

This approach moves us from being victims of circumstance to purposefully engaging with our current situations on the path to making them better.

What has been frustrating you as the seasons change?

What leadership opportunity do those changes offer you?

Every problem has a possibility

Whatever your business, problems are a given; they take a myriad forms but they are ever-present. We have all tasted the frustration of tackling these constant challenges; an exercise that can easily lead to a jaundiced attitude throughout the working day. 

The scenario goes something like this: I encounter a problem (a project goes off-schedule, a supplier lets me down, an employee has an infectious bad attitude, a customer is dissatisfied, you can easily fill in the blank). I resent the problem because it interrupts my plans, or the flow of my work. I turn to tackle the distraction, and before long I find myself interrupted by a different problem. If I am not vigilant, my work day is soon characterized by a negative outlook that is just waiting for the next unwelcome intrusion. 

Having experienced this cycle, we all recognize how draining it can be! If unchecked, this can suck the life out of your enterprise, leaving an empty, grudging shell where vision and possibility used to thrive.

Clearly this is a danger we must address, but not by avoiding or ignoring problems. Instead, we can approach problems from a different perspective.

I want to suggest that every problem has a possibility within it: the wayward project is an opportunity for teamwork to shine; a disgruntled employee can be challenged and coached, a dissatisfied customer can become an advocate for improvement, an unreliable supplier is a diagnostic for purchasing processes (and you can fill in the blank again).

I can turn almost any problem into an opportunity if I can find the possibility within it. In this way, even problems can become life-giving to your business!

Suggestions to maximize the turnaround:

  1. Multiply the inputs: when a problem crops up, share it with others to gain different perspectives on the opportunities within.

  2. One size fits one: no two people are alike, neither are two problems. Do all you can to define and respond uniquely to each issue, and to discover unique opportunities in each.

  3. Personalize, then professionalize: start with the personal aspects of each problem (why is this customer unhappy? How does this employee’s personality influence his or her attitude?) then formulate your response as professionally as possible (avoiding personal bias or reaction).

Looking for the possibilities in your problems can be rewarding and profitable!


Cultivating Character

Following from last week’s post, I’ve been thinking about what we grow in our lives. We develop skills, we gain experience, but we grow character.

The character I grow is not just about me. Yes, there is self-awareness and self-regulation in this picture; I can’t cultivate character until I know myself (strengths and weaknesses) and develop the skill of thinking before I act. Character is rooted in who you ARE. You can’t be true to your character if you don’t know who you are.

However, character is not all about me: social awareness and empathy also have an important place in character. These traits impact our hearts more than our heads, and we need both to cultivate character effectively.

Character encompasses what you believe, and what you do as well as what you say and think. When all these factors align, we recognize your integrity; you are the same on the inside as you appear to be on the outside.

We develop this consistency by listening well and observing the details of the challenges we face, especially interpersonal challenges. This is how we learn. Integrity also includes the courage not to stray from your principles. The unprincipled leader may get ahead, but they also get beheaded by their lack of integrity in the long run.

Another word that you will find growing in the soil of character is Accountability. Not simply answering to a superior for a wrong action, but having the courage to recognize your own mistakes, and the humility to address the consequences with those affected by your failure.

Many of these character-cultivating choices are small. Each one alone seems insignificant. They resemble the acorn that grows into an oak; simple choices and small steps in the areas of character, integrity, and accountability will eventually multiply into a strong foundation that becomes visible when tested by major events. To quote Winston Churchill: "Character may be manifested in the great moments, but it is made in the small ones."

What choices will you make today to cultivate character?

Who else needs to be in that picture?

Trees or weeds?

When I started my coaching business, I knew I had something valuable to offer. Since I had insights that help leaders flourish, I thought I would soon be deluged with clients. The reality was more a drip than a deluge. It has taken much longer than I thought to build up a base of clients.

This has caused me to take time to reflect on this: is delay failure? What did I do wrong? Why do those who can benefit from coaching hesitate to take advantage of what I (and others like me) can offer? Why do so many overlook the value of coaching?

As I reflected, I realized that what I am building is not a weed, but a tree. Weeds grow fast. Weeds germinate quickly. Weeds spread rapidly. Weeds are successful, if you measure in days. But trees are different.

The roots go deep, the branches spread, the leaves sprout in spring, and fall in season. There is a cycle of growth, and the strength to stand strong in storm or drought. Many species of animal, bird and insect can live in a tree. A tree is worth much more than a weed.

A coaching business is a tree, bearing fruit and giving life to many. It takes time to grow, but the investment is worth it. The same is true of your calling; the time it takes to grow is worth the wait. You are not growing weeds!

Busyness is not a compliment

How’s life?
Busy!

That’s a fairly common water-cooler or social conversation. But increasingly we are recognizing the “Busy” is not a cause for compliments or kudos.

Busy indicates a person who is under the tyranny of the urgent, who finds value in activity rather than purpose. Busy tends to indicate I am at the mercy of circumstances or the demands of others.

Busyness is not a compliment, but an indictment.

I have lost sight of my purpose, or my destiny. If I can recover a focus on what truly matters, I will be willing to patiently and determinedly focus on what is important, rather than just on what is next.

That is what will make my life count, what will make me fruitful. Knowing my purpose will help me turn away from busyness and toward intentionality. It’s not an easy path to walk, but it is truly rewarding.

What kind of person do you want to be?

It is worth asking yourself this question regularly!

What kind of person do you want to be? We are living in a world where identity is increasingly unfolded and discovered over time. Gone are the days when your identity was set by your birth circumstances: a slave, a nobleman, a tradesman, a factory productions line worker.

Now the question is truly open: who do you want to be?

Identity is a developing narrative. So what will you choose? Who do you want to be?

The next question is equally important: who will be alongside you becoming who you want to be? Identity is more relational than ever; my friendships, my family, my connections influence the development of the narrative that is me.

You can pick who speaks into your developing identity, and you will be affected by the company you keep. So choose wisely, after reflecting on the key question: who do I want to become?

And how can I facilitate others becoming who they want to be?

It’s the 21st century iteration of the golden rule: Do unto others as they want to be done to. Or to put it in more prosaic language: help those around you become everything they can be.

It’s a worthy and rewarding calling.

How can I help YOU?

Blind spots

What am I missing in my self-awareness? What isn’t going as well as I think it is? What do I need to know about my team to lead them better?

I DON”T KNOW!

Isn’t that frustrating? None of us knows what we don’t know! We all have blind spots where we miss key information or understanding that would help us. So what are we to do?

We start by finding truth tellers! This is an aspect of what I wrote last week: “A flourishing team will be characterized by each member investing in others.” I look for people who want me to succeed (or who believe in what I’m doing) and ask them to tell me what they see. If I’m insecure about myself, I’ll ask for good feedback first, but there’s no such thing as unhelpful feedback if I’m willing to learn from it!

The challenge is to resist becoming defensive! When my wife tells me a shortcoming she sees in me, my default reaction is defensive, but that nullifies the value of the input. Instead, I am learning to accept the observation, and seek to adapt through it, becoming better.

I think the defensive reaction is partly a function of the element of surprise. None of us expects to find a lack in our leadership; it’s like checking your mirror then changing lanes on the highway, only to be shocked by a blaring horn from a vehicle in your blindspot. Our first reaction is always defensive, but we benefit most when we can temper defensiveness and cultivate learning.

The shock of discovering a gap in my talents lessens as I get used to identifying my shortcomings!

It’s only when ALL the information is on the table that I can lead myself into a better place. Tell me what I don’t know. Speak truth to me (lovingly if you can)!

There are other steps in the journey to discovering our blind spots, but adding a truth teller or two is like buying those little mirrors to add to your door mirrors: suddenly you can see much more, and you get fewer surprises!

Here’s to truth-tellers. And to you finding yours!

Teams That Flourish

I work with individuals and with teams, and help each to fulfill their potential. In my coaching, I love to see the changes that come when a person gains new insight into themselves; why they act, think, and feel the way they do. This empowers a person of goodwill to make intentional changes in the way they approach life, and in how they interact with others. In these ways I can help them achieve clarity of purpose, and authenticity in the daily ups and downs of work and life.

Working with teams is a little different; one size does not fit all! But the principles are the same. A team that is willing to embrace honest reflection, a team that encourages one another to act on those reflections, will always do better than one where differences are overlooked or ignored.

So what are the characteristics of teams that flourish? Here are some initial thoughts:

  1. Start with trust: the leader(s) demonstrate trust by encouraging open communication, getting to know each team member as a unique individual with strengths to offer, and refusing to push blame for failure off to others. The chief executive of FedEx was reported as saying “At the end of the day, we are essentially selling trust.” The is true in any endeavor, not just the logistics business.

  2. Build on trust by focusing on fit: not gym-rat fit, but jigsaw fit! Match roles on the team to each team member’s strengths. Experience and talent play a part, but engaging each one’s strengths is crucial for a team to flourish. For more on this, read “Go Put Your Strengths To Work” by Marcus Buckingham.

  3. Grow leaders by challenge: start with encouraging each team member to increase their trust in others on the team who differ in strengths and personalities. Help them identify and understand others’ uniqueness, and challenge them to bring out the best in others. A healthy team is about everyone, not just someone. A flourishing team will be characterized by each member investing in others.

  4. Cultivate culture: Peter Drucker rightly said “Culture eats strategy for breakfast every morning.” A culture of servant leadership (cultivated by characteristics 1 through 3) will shine brightly in any organization, leading it to high productivity, high morale, and low turnover. For more on this, I love Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Advantage.”

All these characteristics fall into the realm of interpersonal relationships. That’s why teamwork is so powerful, when it works!

I have never met a person who had no room for improvement in interpersonal skills. That is why I focus so much on emotional intelligence and self-awareness. Teams that flourish are comprised of those who know they can grow, and are willing to work at it. If you are leading a team with room to grow in this area, it may be helpful to invite an outsider to help you apply and develop these characteristics. I know many skilled “outsiders” in these areas - let me know if I can help you find one!

Here’s to teams that flourish!

Thoughts on Love

While I disagree with the commercial exploitation of Valentine’s Day, with its manipulation and emotional pressures, I do think it is good to think about love. Not just on February 14, but throughout the year.

You see, we have an innate focus on love: every human needs to be loved. It’s like oxygen, water, food, and sleep. You can’t go long without it.

Love is not confined to an exclusive romantic relationship, nor is it found in multiple romantic or sexual encounters. It is much more than giving a feeling to another, or getting something from someone. Love is foundational in business, education, commerce, and our social worlds. In fact, love starts in me.

Until I love myself, I can’t love others. Love is a two-way street; giving and receiving. Acceptance, affirmation, encouragement, correction, service and self-sacrifice are all facets of love. These are all given and received. Until I accept myself, I can’t love you. Until you love yourself, you will struggle to accept love from me.

Yet love is not just an internal awareness or personal wholeness. Love is inherently interactive. The golden rule counsels us to love others as we would love ourselves. The focus is on how the love we have embraced for ourselves overflows in the way we express love to others. Love is only love if it is given and received.

Receiving takes courage, it is a vulnerable action. I can’t receive from you if my defenses are up, or I have rejected your contribution for some reason. I can only choose to be vulnerable if I have already come to peace with myself; who I am in the present, and who I am created to be (my purpose). In that love of myself is the power to choose vulnerability, to receive from others. What I receive may be pleasant or ugly: I can learn from both. Input from others is treasure, if we will seek and receive it.

As I reflect on what I receive, I can put new understanding into action toward a unity of purpose, strengthening my love for myself. And I can also offer my whole self to those around me, loving them as I love myself and doing all I can to make my offerings to them beneficial and affirming. This pays dividends in business, education, government, and all of society. There is power in interaction, and love is the fuel source.

How will you love yourself more fully? Who will benefit?

Leadership is a choice, not a position.

A common misconception of leadership is that you have to wait to lead until you are given a position. This is entirely false. In fact, leadership is tarnished by those who are placed in "leadership" positions without first being leaders.

If you are waiting for that new position, or promotion, or permission to lead, you are misunderstanding the nature of leadership. You don't become a leader by being made a leader.

So is leadership innate? Are some born leaders and the rest of us had better get used to following? Not at all. There is no such thing as a born leader. Rather, those who lead from a young age have a combination of the right opportunities and the traits to take advantage of them. Neither of these assets guarantees leadership prowess, nor do they exclude those who initially lack them. Instead, leadership is like money; you can grow it, invest it, and maximize it, or waste, mismanage and lose it. The choice is yours.

The key word is CHOICE. To be a leader, you choose to lead. In other words, your choices make you a leader. 

The first choice is to stop excusing yourself by blaming, or hiding behind, others. When you choose to lead, you are bringing yourself to the table. You bring your strengths and weaknesses, you bring your experiences (good and bad), you bring your learning, you bring your uncertainties and fears, and you place them on the table for the sake of the team or setting in which you choose to lead. Leaders cannot use others as a reason for not offering themselves. 

A second choice a leader makes is to learn to lead. You never stop learning, unless you stop leading. Learn from those who lead you, learn from those around you, learn from those you lead. Most of all, learn from those who know more than you!

And a third choice follows: choose truth-tellers. A wise leader who mentored me once said: "If you can find someone who will tell you the truth, pay them!" Truth-tellers come in different forms: data, current trends, 360° review, learning and experience, to name a few. But the most valuable truth teller is an unbiased person who knows you and wants you to succeed as a leader. Those are the people to cultivate in your life! Watch for counterfeit truth tellers: those who tell you what you want to hear, or those who tell you their version of the truth for their advantage, to help you fail. 

Having the courage to choose trustworthy truth tellers is a quality that sets great leaders apart.

There are many more choices of leadership, but these three have been the most prominent in my experience. Which choice challenges you the most? Why not make it (or renew it) today?

Teambuilding Around Strengths

In my experience, teams are usually built around skills: “we need a finance person,” “let’s add more sales reps,” “where can I find a better leader?”

These approaches are not wrong, but they can be akin to buying a car based on the number of wheels it has, or purchasing the first pack of cheese you see in the grocery store! You will get a car, or some cheese, but it may not be the best fit for your needs. There are details within those ‘skills’ that matter a lot. On a team, the most important is the strengths that team members bring within their skills; such as passion to encourage, desire to raise standards, or attention to detail. These “soft” factors can help or hinder a team’s success far more than team members’ skills alone.

The wise leader will consider these areas when building, or growing, a team:

  1. What are the existing strengths on the team? Are any under-developed or unused?

  2. Can the team meet its goals with the current mix of strengths?

  3. If skills are missing, and need to be added, what strengths are needed with those skills?

  4. If we are adding a person or two, how will their strengths mesh with the rest of the team?

  5. How do my strengths (as the leader) challenge, develop, and incorporate the strengths of my team as we pursue our goals?

The answers to these reflection questions take the leader a step beyond Valuing Differences and move the team further toward their goals.

Valuing Differences

A key aspect of team building is learning to value differences, and it’s an art that is becoming more challenging in a society that is increasingly tribal and polarized.

Although media and news sources divide us into “us” and “them” to create conflict and increase engagement, this is not a good way to build teams!

We need to develop the skill of seeing differences as a strength, not a divisor. Valuing differences starts with understanding the value of our own strengths, because insecurity feeds polarization. Then we can also learn to recognize the individual strengths of those in our teams, and plan to maximize the benefits of each contribution to the team’s goals. Successful sports teams use this strategy, as do successful business teams.

A factor that we often overlook is the importance of time: snap decisions or responses in the moment are common in this social-media-driven age, but successful team building requires time to reflect on strengths (as well as weaknesses) and to develop strategies that help us win.

One reason why I love coaching is that none of us can see the whole picture of our teams, but a supportive outside observer can be invaluable in broadening our understanding as we take the time to value differences.

Here’s to all that becomes possible when every member of your team plays a unique part and fulfills his or her potential!