Leaders give people space and grace for cultural whiplash!

What sews nicely in one culture may cut in another. But with a little effort and creativity, you can find many ways to encourage and learn from alternative points of view while safeguarding valuable relationships. ~Erin Meyer

I was exhausted at the end of last week. On Friday evening when I looked back on my week, I discovered what was causing me to say, “I’m so glad it’s Friday.” I had cultural whiplash.

My week started with facilitating two days of training with a small group of individuals and each one was from a different ethnic background. The next day I was with a group where they all shared a common ethnic background and I was the clear minority. Then I ended the week working on a project where you would think I had more in common with this group, on the surface they look a lot like me. However, they are in a geographic region that still represents a strong influence from one specific Anglo-Saxon group, different from my own.

As I made my way through the week, there were certainly times when I wanted to hit “rewind” and get a second chance at some of my interactions. I took comfort in thinking about examples author Erin Meyer shares in her book The Culture Map. This is her area of expertise and she describes scenarios where she too, goofed up.

Leaders educate themselves.

Meyer says, “Millions of people work in global settings while viewing everything from their own cultural perspectives and assuming that all differences, controversy, and misunderstanding are rooted in personality. This is not due to laziness. Many well-intentioned people don’t educate themselves about cultural differences because they believe that if they focus on individual differences, that will be enough.” 

I would argue, that you don’t need to work in a global setting to have differing cultural perspectives. Various neighborhoods of a metropolitan city or the east side and west side of the same state can have differing cultures. This is something we all need to be more intentional about learning and become more culturally flexible.

Listen more. Speak less.

Meyer also says, “When interacting with someone from another culture, try to watch more, listen more, and speak less. Listen before you speak and learn before you act.” Sometimes we may be a little too anxious to try and fit in. We may need to give ourselves more time to just watch, and just listen. It takes practice and persistence, much like developing physical flexibility.

Give others space and grace.

I would add to Meyer’s suggestion, that when we see and hear others messing up, as I did last week, that we give them some space and grace. We’re not going to get it right the first time, or every time. Many of us find ourselves in situations where we are trying to understand a number of cultures within a short timespan as I experienced last week.

Leaders: When do you need to listen more and speak less? When do you need to give others a little space and grace?

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How’s your mental hygiene? Are you a mindful leader?

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will.  ~William James

Have you ever worked with someone who frequently became defensive? What about the person whose mind seems to wander quickly in meetings? Or the colleague who is always trying really hard but continues to struggle with time management? Have you ever worked with someone who seemed so focused, clear, creative, and compassionate in the midst of a fast-paced and complex organization that you wondered if they could be for real?

All of these scenarios have something in common – mindfulness. This is what William James described when he said “voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again.” In recent years, mindful leadership has gained momentum. Effective leadership requires self-knowledge, self-awareness, and centeredness. Research tells us that the best leaders have some method to manage the barrage of information, data, possibilities, perspectives, and opportunities to sustain their presence of mind and overall health. 

A mindful leader trains their mind to turn off their autopilot. The American Psychological Association says “The inability to focus for even 10 minutes on any one thing at a time may be costing you 20 to 40 percent in terms of efficiency and productivity.”

Here’s the really good news, at least for me, mindfulness can be learned, with practice. One of the most common ways to learn to become more mindful is through the practice of meditation. If I just lost you, hold on for one minute. For many of us, meditation may have been labeled or defined as thinking about nothing. As I now understand it, that’s not really accurate. Meditation is a practice that enables just what William James described, the ability to bring your mind/attention back to center, over and over again. When you meditate your mind will wander; that doesn’t mean you’re unsuccessful or doing it wrong. When you recognize that your mind has wandered and you bring it back to center, you are very much meditating.

Through meditation, you learn to become mindful. When you are mindful of something, you are observing it, not caught up in it, and not identified with it. You release any judgment about it. By releasing judgment, you are able to be more focused, see it with more clarity, and become more creative because you have no preconceived notion as to what is.

If you think that mindful leadership sounds like a lot of gobbledygook, I’d suggest you give it a test drive for a couple of weeks and see if you can sense a difference. Organizations like General Mills, Target, Intel, Mayo Clinic, and United Way have invested heavily in training their leaders to become more mindful.

We brush our teeth every day because we believe that dental hygiene is important. Our mind and mental abilities are key to successful leadership; so what are your mental hygiene practices? 

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The Power of Introverted Leaders

As quiet and thoughtful leaders, introverts gently guide their people toward success. Their subtle power inspires without intimidating. Instead of flaunting their own greatness, introverts encourage their followers to find greatness in themselves. ~Michaela Chung

The Chicago headlines last week flooded the national media. Historic Chicago election draws national spotlight, Two candidates going into April runoff in Chicago’s historic mayor race…, etc. What made the mayoral election historic? There were 14 candidates on the ballot and no one was a clear frontrunner. Chicago will have its first African-American woman mayor. One of the 14 candidates was a Daley (political legacy family of Chicago) and he didn’t make it to the final two elected for a runoff.

I have another historic fact to add to the mix.

I believe both of the candidates now in a runoff for mayor of Chicago, are introverts. We’ve had U.S. Presidents who are introverts so this certainly isn’t the first time an introvert will hold an elected office. But in Chicago’s recent history going back decades, we’ve not had the benefits of introverted leadership. So I simply could not pass up the opportunity to tout the power of introverted leaders.

What are some of the benefits of introverted leaders?

  • more likely to hear and implement suggestions (Source: Susan Cain)
  • creates a virtuous circle of proactivity (Source: Susan Cain)
  • motivated by productivity, not ambition (Source: Ilya Pozin on Inc.com)
  • solve problems with thoroughness rather than in haste (Source: Ilya Pozin on Inc.com)
  • tend to be strong planners, more motivated by long-term goals than immediate rewards (Source: Everwise)
  • great at managing people who can take initiative (Source: Everwise)
  • great listeners, they ask for and consider opinions of others (Source: Everwise)
  • value differences in opinion (Source: Everwise)
  • think before they talk (Source: Everwise)

This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it begins to paint a picture of introverted leaders.

I’ve written about introverted leaders before and that topic resonated with a lot of readers. That response sent me on a personal mission to encourage introverts to be introverted leaders, and to stop succumbing to the pressure to be a pseudo-extroverted leader. There are too many leadership strengths that are unique to introverts that are sorely needed in every organization, and in this case, a major metropolitan city!

If you’re an introvert, stop holding back on seeking and accepting leadership roles. If you’re an extrovert, stop trying to turn introverts into extroverts believing that will make them better leaders. And, hang on Chicago. We’re in for a change in leadership style, regardless of who wins the runoff race in April.

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How is your strategy uniquely better?

Every industry (for-profit and not-for-profit) has shared assumptions. Every industry is “stuck.” However, somebody, somewhere is messing with the rules to the prevailing model. Someone is creating a uniquely better strategy. ~Andy Stanley

I immediately thought of the idea of uniquely better referenced by Andy Stanley when I read an article on Forbes.com about the basketball coach from my alma mater. I apologize for offending any sports fanatics reading this, but I never imagined there could be such an amazing example of a uniquely better strategy coming from basketball?!

Here’s a quick synopsis of the uniquely better strategy.

The administration at Greenville University asked the men’s basketball coach, George Barber, to add a junior varsity program and attract more athletes to the small Division III school. They wanted Barber to create more interest and make basketball more attractive to recruits. That’s quite the challenge for a Division III university.

So here’s what he did. Barber implemented something called “The System.” The System is a very fast-paced style that emphasizes shooting as fast as possible, pressuring teams full-court on defense, and continuing the breakneck speed the entire game. In more practical terms, this means attempting to shoot within 12 seconds of getting the ball, and taking at least 100 shots per game.

This strategy, The System, means more players get to (really have to) play in every game. The only way to maintain this pace through an entire game is to change players far more frequently than a traditional strategy. Therefore, everyone gets to play; that’s going make basketball more attractive to recruits.

This strategy didn’t come without its critics. “It was a complete risk,” Barber said. “Everybody said, you won’t win, you’re gonna embarrass yourself and your school, and defense wins championships.”  The first year was hard, with a losing record, Barber nearly gave up on The System, mid-game. But his assistant coach encouraged him to stick with it, he’d invested too much.

And sticking with it paid off, big time!

  • The team is averaging 134.7 points per game and is on pace to break the NCAA record of 132.4 points per game.
  • They won the conference tournament last season and qualified for their first NCAA berth.
  • They scored 200 points in a game (one of Barber’s goals). Earlier this month they won 200-146, the most combined points score in a Division III game.

So what’s to learn from Coach Barber’s use of The System for creating a uniquely better strategy?

  • It’s about more than “winning.” It’s about finding creative ways to achieve multiple goals.
  • It’s risky. It’s not a sure thing; if it was, it probably wouldn’t be uniquely better.
  • You have to stick with it. You can’t give up if it’s not immediately successful.
  • It reinvigorates leadership.

How are you leading your organization down a path of a uniquely better strategy?

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4 Leadership Lessons from Our Presidents

Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.  ~President Abraham Lincoln

Leadership, management, is there really a difference? There are some people out there who know, asking that question or making that statement is one way to really get me fired-up during a training. I say yes, there’s a HUGE difference. In honor of a number of our former U.S. Presidents, here’s what some of them had to say on the topic of leadership.

In periods where there is no leadership society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better. ~President Harry Truman

President Truman believed that leaders change things for the better. Changing things doesn’t mean increasing profits or employee retention or any other number from X to Y. Changing things means creating something new, a change is a revolution. Management increases numbers. Leadership ignites a transformation.

People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives. ~President Theodore Roosevelt

In this context, when I think of drive I don’t think of a car, I think of a herd of cattle (keep in mind, I grew up on a farm in Kansas). A cattle drive consists of cowboys on horses (or in my case, farmers in trucks and tractors) behind or alongside cattle herding them in a specific direction. Teddy Roosevelt understood that to lead you need to be in front, inspiring others to follow. Leaders lead. Managers drive; they dictate and control, they push people forward.

The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things.  He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things. ~President Ronald Reagan

Reagan knew that in order to achieve great things, it would happen because of the people. It was his job, as the leader, to get people to do great things. Leadership achieves extraordinary things through others. Management accomplishes the expected through processes and systems.

If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. ~President John Quincy Adams

President Adams clearly believed that leaders strive for more. If you are a leader, you aren’t content with the status quo. You are focused on something more, a vision of what could be. If you’re a manager you focus on the present situation and stabilize what is.

My attempt to use our past Presidents to draw out the difference between management and leadership is not to equate one as better than the other. We need both in organizations. Recognizing the difference and knowing when to manage and when to lead is a critical step toward creating a thriving organization.

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