Effective Leaders Surrender

Leaders who surrender are not giving in, they are giving over.  ~Kathryn Scanland  They recognize that their successes are with and through others. They don’t need to take the glory with them when they leave; they intentionally leave it behind.  ~Susan Debnam

For most people, the idea of “leaders surrender” is the opposite of what they would think or anticipate. If you’re leading aren’t you controlling, commanding, directing, and winning? Not surrendering?!

Lay Down Your Arms

Well, hopefully your organization is winning, but many times (and I’d argue most of the time), the organization wins because the leader surrenders. The most appropriate definition of surrender in this context is to lay down your arms. What are your arms? Author of Mine’s Bigger Than Yours, Susan Debnam suggests a list of traits that I believe fall into the category of what leaders need to surrender to be truly effective. Here are just a few “arms to lay down.”

Invincibility: They ignore cautionary words and take flagrant risks.

Sensitivity to criticism: They say they want teamwork but really want yes-men.

Lack of empathy: They crave empathy but are not empathic themselves. They can be brutally exploitative.

Intense desire to compete: They are relentless and ruthless in their pursuit of victory, often unrestrained by conscience and convinced that threats abound. 

Tendency towards grandiosity: They over-estimate their own abilities.

Addiction to adulation: They have a constant and often petulant need to be told of their greatness.

Inability to learn from others: They like making speeches, telling, transmitting and indoctrinating, but are less open to hearing others’ views and suggestions.

Distaste for personal development:  They don’t want to change and as long as they are successful, they don’t think they have to.

Leaders Surrender Through Self-Sacrifice

In my conversations with various leaders one of the aspects of leadership that frequently enters the discussion is self-sacrifice. Many people in leadership positions define self-sacrifice as giving up personal time or time with their family. What sacrifice really means in the context of leadership begins with the above list of traits. It’s not about patting yourself on the back because you never see your family or have no personal life. Sacrifice is about surrendering your need for self-admiration (being right, getting the credit, never failing, always having an answer, etc.). 

Leaders who surrender are not giving in, they are giving over. They recognize that their successes are with and through others. They don’t need to take the glory with them when they leave; they intentionally leave it behind. They lead with bold grace.

Give Thanks and Be Available for Absorption

Spiritual attentiveness is less a matter of concentration than contemplation. It is releasing distractions, preoccupations, and prejudgments and being available for absorption. ~David G. Benner

Thanksgiving—a day that we might look forward to, or not, particularly in 2020. Face-to-face gatherings of friends and family are exchanged for Zoom calls and outdoor walks at a distance. For some, COVID is a welcome excuse to avoid the annual family anxiety, especially in a year fraught with a host of issues with polarizing points of view.

Quoting an article in U.S. News, “The reality of Thanksgiving for some Americans is rife with family tension, arguments, sorrow and loss. Others face the stress of hosting, or the dread of being asked questions about their lives that they are not ready to answer.”

Be Available for Absorption

The point I want to make here is not to get everyone depressed before the Thanksgiving holiday. Instead, I want to encourage leaders to take a few moments to pause and consider David Benner’s quote to “release distractions, preoccupations, and prejudgments and be available for absorption.”

I periodically use a TED Talk, 10 Rules to Have a Great Conversation, by NPR host Celeste Headlee when teaching about effective communication. Three of the rules I think are especially relevant as we all gather (in person, by phone, or Zoom) on Thanksgiving.

  • Don’t pontificate – assume you have something learn.
  • Don’t equate your experience with theirs. It’s been a tough year for everyone, let them have their experience.
  • LISTEN. Celeste says this is the most important of all 10 rules, and maybe the most difficult. One additional quote about listening that really caught my attention. Alan Alda said, “Listening is being able to be changed by the other person.” Wow, that’s really listening and being available.

Prepare to Be Amazed

Celeste closes out her brief talk on how to have a great conversation by repeating the statement, “be prepared to be amazed.”

If we can release distractions and prejudgments and make ourselves available for absorption, then we’re much more likely to be amazed. Thanksgiving can be a time of encouragement, hopefulness, and being available for others.

Leaders, this week be thankful, be attentive to others, listen, and be prepared to be amazed. In other words, lead with bold grace.

Leaders: manage your baggage.

When people’s brains are in defensive mode, it becomes harder to see common sense. Small disagreements can end up holding back progress beyond reason. ~Caroline Webb

Covid fatigue may require you to manage your baggage a little more frequently. I’ve seen two extremes as we head into another round of intense covid surges. Those who are going out of their way to be helpful, kind, etc. And those who have hit their breaking point and go into fight or flight mode.

Manage Your Baggage

Manage your own baggage. That’s the header author Caroline Webb used to introduce this section of her book How to Have a Good Day, which combines the sciences of behavioral economics, psychology, and neuroscience. I believe that the most effective leaders have the emotional intelligence to “manage your baggage.”

We all have triggers. Those things that consistently set us off. We feel our blood pressure rise, our palms may sweat, our breathing changes, a sense of anger begins to form deep in our gut, etc. Our brains move into defensive mode and if we are not careful, we will likely regret what we say next.

Hit Reset

So what do you do in the heat of the moment? Hit the reset button. We can each develop our own personal reset routine. It only takes two steps and a few seconds. But they can be very critical seconds that will significantly impact how a conversation continues and the ultimate outcome of that conversation. Here are the two simple steps to deploy when you feel your temperature rising.

  1. Step back. What small, personal routine or action can help you to stop and take a deep breath. It might be a specific breathing technique (breath in for a count of three and out for a count of three, etc.). Or maybe what works for you is doing something physical like taking a pen and roll it between your fingers while examining it. Another example could be a phrase you say to yourself like, “Easy does it.” Whatever you do, it will likely only take a few seconds, but it’s the action you will always take in order to force yourself to mentally take a step back.
  2. Reset. Ask yourself a curious question that will be your go-to question when you begin to feel your blood boil. Examples could be: “What is my real intention for this conversation?” “When I look back on this conversation what will I feel good about having done?” “What really matters?”

Leaders Have Triggers

Leaders, just like everyone, have their baggage, the triggers that set them off. But effective leaders manage their baggage by quickly, and instinctively, hitting the reset button. They first have some way of “stepping back,” followed by the “reset” question they ask themselves.

In a new frame of mind with a calmer physical presence, these leaders shift their tone and perspective as they re-engage in the conversation.

We likely all know people who seem to be unflappable. They are calm and cool even when conversations get heated. I believe that they too have triggers, and those triggers are set off periodically. They haven’t eliminated their triggers, but they have learned how to “manage your baggage” because they have a reset routine that has become instinctive.

It takes bold grace to manage your baggage. And that may be needed, now, more than ever.

The New Path to Stability

The more nimble, adaptable, and flexible we are, the more quickly we can move and change. ~John C. Maxwell

Photo by Chris Henry on Unsplash

For many people stability is a virtue. It is a desirable and sought after state of being. I’m working with several organizations whose employees highly value stability. There is nothing wrong with that. However, I believe that the path to stability has significantly shifted.

Let’s pause for a moment and revisit the definition of stability. Merriam-Webster tells us that stability is the quality, state, or degree of being stable; such as (a) the strength to stand or endure, (b) the property of a body that causes it when disturbed from a condition of equilibrium or steady motion to develop forces or moments that restore the original condition, and (c) resistance to chemical change or to physical disintegration.

This tells me that for many, the idea of stability may likely conjure up images of enduring, restoring the original condition, and resisting change. However, in the 21st Century, it actually demands the exact opposite!

Stability Requires Change

Our current environment is one of rapid change. There is nothing indicating that this pace of change is going to diminish any time soon, if ever. Going forward, the people and organizations that will “endure” or be “stable,” are actually those who are really good at changing.

John Maxwell tells us that, “The more nimble, adaptable, and flexible we are, the more quickly we can move and change. To go forward, we need to move faster. And as leaders, we need to stay ahead, we need to see more than others, and we need to see before others. Because of the pace of change, we need to be flexible.”

This puts leaders in a quandary. Their employees who believe stability is a virtue, actually need to become more flexible, adaptable, and open to change, something they likely don’t really want to do.

Leading to Stability

Maxwell also said, “Adaptability is the positive quality of being able to sense the shift in wind direction and proactively adjust one’s course to take advantage of that wind shift. Leaders, by definition, have followers. Followers need direction. Direction requires decision-making. Decision-making requires consideration of options. And consideration of options involves dealing with uncertainty.”

I don’t believe that the idea of stability should be considered any less valuable as we maneuver through a rapidly changing environment. But I do believe that the path to stability is fraught with uncertainty, adaptability, and flexibility.  

For leaders, this may mean that they need to be bold by being far more deliberate and intentional about reminding those they are leading that the end goal hasn’t changed; it is still stability. However, the path to stability has shifted. The journey is going to require grace, from both the leaders and their followers. Grace to be adaptable and flexible along the path to stability. Keep leading with bold grace.

Generosity of Spirit, Right Now!

He just went about his ordinary routine, one that happened to be expressed through uncommon kindness, grace, and generosity of spirit.  ~description of Max DePree, former CEO of Herman Miller

Every morning for me begins with a brisk walk. My walking schedule coincides with the man who delivers the newspapers to my neighborhood. It has become our custom to greet one another with an enthusiastic wave and cheerful “good morning.” It’s a small gesture. But lately, I’ve thought more about the undeniable significance of small gestures.

Exhaustion and Tension

When I join yet another Zoom call with a client, I see the exhaustion on their faces. They are tired. Not only are they sitting in front of their screen for hours, but for many the intensity of their work has actually increased. That doesn’t take into account that they may have children at home who are also faced with the arduous task of sitting in front of a screen and “engaging” in remote learning. Layer onto that the stress of simply going to buy groceries and witnessing an altercation between individuals arguing over mask wearing. Some have had a spouse or partner lose their job, or have had their pay reduced.

The holidays are approaching. What are we going to do? The traditional homes filled with friends, family, food, and frivolity may not be possible this year. The options are limited. A year when gathering together would certainly be an elixir for our souls, not to mention our mental health, may be yet another item to add to the list of what represents the “new normal.”

Of course, the list of challenges doesn’t end there. We are now one week from a presidential election like no other. Tensions run high. Doesn’t matter who you support or who you are against, it’s tense, plain and simple.

Generosity of Spirit

Max DePree (author of the classic Leadership is an Art) said, “Leadership is much more an art, a belief, a condition of the heart, than a set of things to do. The visible signs of artful leadership are expressed, ultimately in its practice.”

Max was known for his generosity of spirit that was his practice. We live in a season when all organizations — or even just society in general — could use leaders with generosity of spirit, with uncommon kindness and grace.

It’s time for leaders to rally and practice generosity of spirit. To roll up their sleeves and grab a pen and paper. Compose handwritten notes of encouragement to staff. Schedule on their calendar time to check-in with people face-to-face. Even if that “face-to-face” check-in requires a quick Zoom call.

Getting Practical

And now I’m going to get super practical. Show generosity of spirit by making extra effort to express some humanity at the beginning of Zoom meetings. For example, start with a question that allows you to see the “person” not just the “position.” Not good at coming up with these questions? I’ve got you covered. One option is Vertellis (thoughtful conversation starters and questions). Another option is TableTopics. While it may feel like a waste of time, you’re actually going to be more productive if you first connect before you get to content. And that may take some grace and generosity of spirit.

Now more than ever, lead with bold grace by practicing generosity of spirit. We can get through this season with leaders who offer uncommon kindness and grace. Even with small gestures, like an enthusiastic wave and cheerful “good morning.”