All posts by scanlandk

Olympian-Style Leadership

The best way to move on is to acknowledge that moving on is hard. She put her disappointment on the table next to reporters’ recorders and let it breathe. [Olympian-Style Leadership] ~Michael Rosenburg, SI

I’m not an athlete, and truth be told, I’m not even a sports fan. But, I’ll admit there is something about Olympic athletes that I find especially compelling. They are hyper-focused. They train intensely for an opportunity that only comes around every four years. For most, all of that intensity culminates in a performance that lasts for mere minutes.

Examples of Olympian-Style Leadership

Skier Mikaela Shiffrin, a highly decorated champion of her craft. Literally, the best in her field. But even the best falter and experience disappointment, as she did this week in the first 11 seconds of the giant slalom. Her response to the media was honest and showed her true character. She didn’t scramble for excuses or things to blame. As the SI reporter stated so vividly, “She put her disappointment on the table next to reporters’ recorders and let it breathe.” It’s hard to imagine a more suitable picture of bold grace.


Too many leaders think that because of their position, they can never let anyone see them falter. They can never show disappointment in themselves. It takes a hefty dose of bold grace to reveal that while we may be leaders, we are still human.  

Focus and Discipline

Figure skater Nathan Chen and his coach, Rafael Arutyunyan. First, Nathan Chen is the consummate example of discipline. Many did not think it was possible to train and compete on the world stage and simultaneously be a full-time student at Yale studying statistics. Nathan has certainly proven them wrong. His focus and discipline is stunning.

Teach Others to Lead

Then there is Nathan’s coach. While at Yale, Nathan largely trained on his own and would consult via Face Time with his coach. Quoting his coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, “For nine years I have been preparing Nathan for independent work. I wasn’t training him but teaching him to train.” Imagine if leaders took the same approach to developing leaders in their organization—not leading others but teaching them to lead. What bold grace and Olympian-style leadership.

Get Out of the Way

My last example (but the list could go on for some time) is snowboarder Shaun White. When I heard Shaun’s name mentioned the first night of the Olympics, I thought they were referring to him as a commentator. He couldn’t possibly be competing?! I was wrong. Shaun White is competing in his fifth, and final, Olympics. I was struck by a quote from Shaun: “I’m so proud that I helped grow and shape the sport into what it is today. I can’t wait to see where the next generation takes it.”

What struck me about this quote was how I’ve seen so many leaders in organizations not recognize when it’s time to “see where the next generation takes it.” Many times, the most effective thing a leader can do is get out of the way; especially if they have assembled a great team. That requires bold grace.

To Re-cap Examples of Olympian-Style Leadership

  • Deal with disappointment openly and honestly, because you’re going to falter and make mistakes.
  • Focus and discipline helps leaders maintain balance and achieve their goals.
  • Spend less time leading others and more time teaching them to lead.
  • Recognize your contributions, and then get out of the way and cheer-on the next generation.

Are you guilty of setting unspoken expectations?

Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments. ~Neil Strauss

Photo by Kathryn Scanland

Unspoken expectations. When I think about the various scenarios of “conflict” I’ve come across over the years, it nearly always comes back to unspoken (or very ineffectively communicated) expectations. This is true if it’s a CEO who lets someone go who has accomplished everything in their job description and even hit their goals for the year. There was still an unspoken expectation that just wasn’t being met. Or if it’s two colleagues who seem to persistently rub each other the wrong way. They each have expectations of the other’s behavior, which is typically to act/think more like they do.

When the expectations aren’t met, disappointment follows. The more significant the expectations, the more significant the disappointment.

Brene’ Brown in her recent book Atlas of the Heart describes the disappointment of unmet expectations this way. “Disappointment is one of the most frequently experienced emotions, and it tends to be experienced at a high level of intensity.” She has codified an approach with her team to minimize unspoken and consequently unmet expectations. They call it “painting done.” This means to “fully walk through expectations of what the completed task will look like, including when it will be done, how it will be used, the context, the consequences of not doing it, the costs—everything you can think of to paint a shared picture of the expectations.”

3 Steps to Avoid Unspoken Expectations

Borrowing from the folks at Crucial Learning, here are three steps to better communicate expectations.

  1. Start with facts and what you expect, specifically (think “painting done”)
  2. Describe why it’s an expectation or concern
  3. Ask a question to invite them into the dialogue

It’s especially that last step, to invite them into the dialogue, that is very frequently skipped. Sometimes, that’s appropriate. However, many times we need to give our expectations a reality check, and that can happen through dialogue.

That dialogue can be challenging, which might be causing us to avoid it altogether. If that’s the case for you, I’ll borrow from Roger Fisher and William Ury in Getting to Yes, for how to keep that dialogue moving toward shared expectations.

4 Principles to Keep the Dialogue Moving Toward Shared Expectations

  1. Separate people from the problem/issue
  2. Focus on interests, not positions
  3. Generate options for mutual gain
  4. Insist on using objective criteria

As Neil Strauss said, “Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments.” I say, “Shared expectations are adaptive gratification.” And that requires leading with bold grace.      

Reflection is a leader’s superpower.

Reflection leaves us clearer, stronger, and calmer. ~Holley Gerth

Looking back on the past nearly two years during the pandemic, there have been benefits. One benefit that I’m fearful we may let slip back to a pre-pandemic habit is time to reflect. I remember meeting with a leadership team in the past year and asking the question. “What have you learned during the pandemic that you would like to carry with you into the future?” One of the answers was, “time to think.”

When the initial lockdown was put in place, nearly everyone was sent home to work, including leadership teams. Working from home enabled leaders to be alone (at least from co-workers), to shut the door and pause in solitude to just think. This leader found great value in that time, to be able to reflect, think, and plan.

A number of years ago, I recall another leader of a fast-growing consulting firm say to me, “I just need time to think.”

The Power of Reflection

Author Holley Gerth in The Powerful Purpose of Introverts explains the power of reflection.


In Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership through Solitude, the authors interview James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine Corps general. A man of action. Someone who knows pausing for a second can cost a life. A person with a career built on decisiveness. Yet Mattis says, “If I was to sum up the single biggest problem of senior leadership in the information age, it’s a lack of reflection.”

Our world keeps speeding up, yet those who dare to take time to think pull ahead. Slow is the new fast.

Reflection leads to insights and innovations, mended relationships and medical breakthroughs, spiritual transformation, and the art that takes our breath away.

Reflection leaves us clearer, stronger, and calmer.


Reflection reminds me of the Time Matrix as described by Franklin Covey. People who are more productive are able to distinguish between what is important versus what is urgent. And, prioritize the important (i.e., reflection and planning). If you wait until you have time to reflect, you are likely not going to find the time because something “urgent” will always take priority.

Prioritize Reflection

This topic felt especially timely as the year draws to a close and many of us consider New Year’s resolutions. Why not make 2022 the year you give reflection the importance it deserves. Pick a time, every day, to reflect and put it on your calendar. If it feels overwhelming, start small, with just 15 minutes. Pick a time you believe you will be most likely to commit to, whatever works best for you.

Maybe your reflection time will be spent reading, taking a short walk, listening to music, meditating, or just sitting and thinking. I don’t believe there is only one way, or a right way to reflect. Use Gerth’s description as a way to determine if how you’ve chosen to reflect is helpful. Ask yourself if your reflection time is leaving you clearer, stronger, and calmer. If not, then maybe try a different approach. Reflecting is just one means to develop bold grace leadership.

Leadership requires both ability and character.

Nearly all people can stand adversity, but if you want to test someone’s character, give them power. ~Abraham Lincoln

Photo by Blake Meyer on Unsplash

Ability and character: that’s the focus of a podcast I’ve been listening to recently. The premise is if a leader’s ability gets ahead of their character, eventually negative consequences will follow. Effective leadership—emphasis on the word effective—requires a balance of both ability and character.

Jim Collins, author of numerous books including Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall, concluded that “great enterprises can become insulated by success.” I would say the very same is true of individual leaders. Listen as Collins’ continues. “Accumulated momentum can carry an enterprise forward for a while, even if its leaders make poor decisions or lose discipline. When the leader becomes arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place.” That last quote certainly sounds like Collins’ is describing leaders’ character, not their ability.

Collins adds the consequences. He says, “When the rhetoric of success replaces penetrating understanding and insight, decline will very likely follow…Those who fail to acknowledge the role luck may have played in their success—and thereby overestimate their own merit and capabilities—have succumbed to hubris.” Hubris born of success is the first stage of decline.

Consider the news headlines accounting a leader’s fall. How many can you name where the leader’s ability was questioned versus the number you can name where the leader’s character was their downfall?

We have a tendency to promote people weighted by their ability far more than by their character.

Followers are Also at Fault

It’s not just about the leaders, we who are followers are at fault here as well. The podcast points out that we actually like narcissists as leaders. [I’m personally drawing the conclusion that narcissists lack character.] This phenomenon has been highlighted in HBR (Why We Love Narcissists by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, 2014).

Chamorro-Premuzic said, “Because of narcissists’ ability to accumulate power and influence, they enjoy a prominent spot in laypeople’s views about leadership. However, the idea that leaders must be overconfident, charismatic, or selfish in order to be effective is in stark contrast with reality. Yes, these characteristics help them emerge as leaders, but they are also the cause of their dishonest and incompetent behaviors once they get to the top.”

Bold Grace

This brings me back to the concept of bold grace that I’ve been focused on for the past two years. Leadership is a both/and concept. It requires both ability and character that stay in sync. It requires both boldness and grace, frequently at the very same time. I believe this is part of what makes leadership so difficult to define—there are more definitions than I can count. More importantly, it is also why it makes effective leadership so difficult to achieve.

Even if difficult, it shouldn’t stop any of us from continuing to pursue effective leadership, and lead with both boldness and grace.

To lead is to live dangerously.

To lead is to live dangerously because when leadership counts, when you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear—their daily habits, tools, loyalties, and ways of thinking—with nothing more to offer perhaps than possibility. ~Martin Linsky

Photo by pure julia on Unsplash

As Thanksgiving nears, I look out my window and see the few remaining leaves wafting to the ground. It’s a visual reminder of change. Of course, I know that the changing of the seasons is coming, as it does every year. Because of decades of experience, I also know that possibility is also coming, that spring will emerge in a few months and leaves will once again the trees will be abundant with leaves outside my window. Even still, having experienced this change for decades, I feel a bit of loss as another year begins to come to a close.

That’s why change is so hard. Even with real life experience telling us that new possibilities are in the future, we still feel a sense of loss for what is in our past and present. The past and present are known. The future is unknown. It is a possibility.

I have no doubt that a number of people reading this are thinking, “I love change. I’m even good at change.” If that’s you, I encourage you to keep reading.

Will you walk naked into the land of uncertainty?

One of my favorite books—which is obvious because it’s filled with highlights, dogeared pages, and sticky notes—is Deep Change by Robert E. Quinn. The title of the first chapter is “Walking Naked into the Land of Uncertainty.” I’ve highlighted on that first page these two sentences: “The deep change effort distorts existing patterns of action and involves taking risks. Deep change means surrendering control.”

In my experience, I have found that most leaders are good at suggesting and even requiring organizational change. But personal change, that’s another story; because that frequently requires surrendering control. Quinn states later, “To bring out deep change in others, people have to reinvent themselves.” In other words, Quinn argues that leaders can lead change, only when they first change themselves.

Are you currently asking people to change, offering them nothing more than possibility as a future? Then begin that change effort by asking how you, the leader, need to change.

Three Questions to Consider

Here are three questions (of course there are more) for you to consider as you live dangerously and lead people through difficult change.

  • What control do you need to surrender?
  • What kind of behavior(s) do others need to see from you to be willing to cross the bridge with you as you are building it?
  • When do you need to get out of the way so the change can really happen?

As Martin Linsky said, “To lead is to live dangerously.” When leadership counts, you lead people through difficult change, you challenge what people hold dear. In times of difficult change, lead with bold grace.