Category Archives: Leadership

Quick summaries of practices to increase leadership capacity and capabilities.

What’s your compelling vision?

Visionary leaders have a compelling vision for their organization. They can see beyond the ambiguity and challenges of today to an empowering picture of tomorrow. ~Scott Jeffrey

Photo by Matt Noble on Unsplash

Just imagine… That’s how a former boss would frequently begin strategic discussions. He was always imagining what a new future could look like. When he took the helm, this organization was not at all thriving, and it was just barely surviving. Many thought his vision was a little “pie in the sky.” A few years later, this organization transformed itself from surviving to thriving, and that not-so-believable vision became reality.

It all started with a consistent posture to “just imagine.” He was always willing, and capable, of seeing beyond the ambiguity and challenges. And he just kept telling that same story of “just imagine…,” over and over.

Some people believe that when a leader sets a clear vision that it feels authoritarian or dictatorial. It’s anything but that. They aren’t seeking control over their employees. As Jeffrey says, “they provide freedom to employees to determine the best path to actualizing this vision.”

I believe that a clear vision provides a necessary constraint to spark creativity. When employees are given a blank slate and then asked to be entrepreneurial, I see employees who feel paralyzed. The possibilities are endless; therefore, they crave direction to narrow the focus and provide a path to guide their thinking.

Vision work is hard, maybe some of the hardest. A leader may have a clear vision in their own mind, but translating that vision into something with real clarity is a whole other challenge.

A Few Tips for Articulating a Compelling Vision

  • Keep it very simple. A good test that is frequently suggested is to explain your vision so that a 12-year-old could understand it. Don’t include unnecessary details. Keep it simple.
  • Practice articulating it and see if you can do it in three sentences or less. If it takes more than three sentences you may be making it too complicated.
  • Paint a picture. Consider using visuals, photos, illustrations, diagrams; something that visually paints a picture of the future you are trying to create. [Personal note, I’ve often found it helpful to force myself to draw, not write, anything that I’m trying to clearly explain. This has been a significant help to me on a number of occasions.]

Creating a compelling vision is bold. Describing that vision in way that others can easily understand and buy-in to, takes grace.

“Make your vision so clear that your fears become irrelevant.” (Anonymous) And keep leading with bold grace.

What’s your relationship with time?

Returning to in-person work cannot be simply about vaccinations, air hygiene, and testing protocols. This is less about revisiting hiring strategies or cultural competency training and far more about intentionally reorienting our relationship to and expectations of time. ~Alaina Kleinbeck

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Now and then I stumble upon an article that not only encapsulates something I’ve been contemplating but also hits me right between the eyes with an added challenge. That happened today. As I slowly return to in-person meetings with clients I’ve been thinking about “time.” Will my view of time be different in the coming months? Do I value time differently than I did 14 months ago? How will others value time? My list of questions about time is constantly evolving.

Alaina Kleinbeck described time over the past year as “feeling like a pile of pudding on a hot sidewalk – ill-defined, shape-shifting mush. The difference between one day and another has blurred, marked most clearly by how many hours we sat in front of Zoom.” Oh, so true.

Our Relationship with Time and White Supremacy

Then, what she said next sort of stopped me in my tracks. She said, “Specifically, I need to consider the way my relationship with time is a function of the values of white supremacy.” Okay, now she had my attention.

In a typical predominantly white U.S. culture we tend to put a high value on precise schedules . We treat time as if it’s a limited commodity. We reward employees who stay focused and complete tasks in a linear sequence. However, Kleinbeck says there are other cultures that blend tasks, relationships, and responsibilities into one moment. For example, the start and end time of a meeting is less important than the relationship with the people in the meeting. Timely completion is not innately valued. What’s valued far more is the relationship with the task and the collaborators.

Our Cultural Norms about Time

As I think about my own relationship with time, what better opportunity to also think about my own white cultural norms that I may be forcing onto others. Here are just a few reminders for me from Kleinbeck’s list that I’ve modified to fit my work.

  • Prioritize collaborative decision-making about timelines that takes into account individuals’ professional and personal demands.
  • Reframe interruptions and distractions (professional and personal) as everyone doing their best to respond to the multiple callings in their life.
  • Facilitate meetings that are more like conversations and less like running-through talking points.

We’re at a rare moment in history when we have the opportunity to rethink our relationship with time. So lead with bold grace and consider how your relationship with time is communicating your need for others to accommodate your cultural norms.

Curbing Your Negativity Bias

Our brain has a negativity bias, making it like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. We have to learn to weave the positive into the fabric of our brains. ~Rick Hanson, PhD

Over the past week I was reminded how easily we gravitate toward the negative. It’s our default and it takes deliberate effort to circumvent the negativity. I’ll share a couple of specific examples.

One example is simply my walks through the neighborhood. It’s finally spring so more people are out in their yards and some are anxious for a conversation. When I looked back on some of those chats, I realized that we want, or maybe need, to share what’s not so good in our lives, what’s frustrating us, or just a little good old complaining.

A second example is something I’ve heard frequently and it came up again last week with a client. I was leading a discussion about the ratio of positive to negative feedback to create the most effective team performance (the ratio by the way is 6 positive for every 1 negative). And I received pushback with the comment, “why should I give someone a compliment (positive feedback) for doing their job.” Which was followed by, “I don’t want to stroke their ego.”

Negativity Bias

The negativity bias is a tendency to have greater sensitivity to negative than to positive events. Some psychological researchers suggest that negative events weigh close to three times more than positive events. This may also be known as positive-negative asymmetry. This negativity bias means that we feel the sting of a rebuke more powerfully than we feel the joy of praise.

If we want symmetry, then the positive and negative needs to be 3 to 1. One to one creates asymmetry that’s not in your favor, whether you’re the one on the giving or receiving end. So while 6 to 1 may sound excessive, it’s really slightly tipping the scales in your favor because as humans, we suffer from negativity bias.

Rethinking Symmetry

I’d like to take this a step further and address complimenting someone for “simply doing their job.” Well, let’s say that you have a significant other in your life and for the past five years, you have dutifully completed a mundane chore like taking out the garbage. Not once has this person thanked you, because, well, that’s just your responsibility. How does that make you feel?  Now imagine if every now and then they acknowledged how much they appreciate your consistent completion of this mundane chore. How would you then feel about the person, and even, about yourself? How might that impact your relationship? How might you feel when they do need to address something negative with you?

Sometimes I think we need even more positive feedback about the things we do that are simply parts of our job because many times those are the most draining because they might be mundane, uncomfortable, or so routine that they require no challenge whatsoever. So, yes, we do need to give others positive feedback for simply doing their job because that might be some of the most “thankless” work that they do. Are we then stroking their ego, or just recognizing their humanity?

Practice leading with bold grace and help others to weave the positive into the fabric their brains.

Is your leadership languishing?

Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021. ~Adam Grant

Have you ever said something like the phrase “it’s so close I can taste it”? That’s kind of how I’ve been feeling about the end of the pandemic. The combination of vaccinations, warmer weather, and spring blooms makes me feel like I can almost taste the end of the pandemic. But, then I have to deal with reality, that we need to endure a little longer.

It’s hard to concentrate, it feels risky to get excited about 2021, and we continue to stagnate. I’m not depressed, but I’m also not thriving. Well, I’ve learned there’s a word for this: languishing. Adam Grant authored an article in The New York Times last week titled “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”

It’s been a grueling and exhausting year. I’ve had numerous leaders tell me that they’ve never worked harder than they have in the past 12 months. Just because you are in a leadership role does not mean you are immune from languishing.

What’s the antidote for languishing?   

  • Grant suggests a couple antidotes, like simply “naming it,” it’s languishing. Labeling an emotion is many times the first step to work through it. And, telling others that you are languishing may give them the means to name what they’ve been feeling as well.
  • Another suggestion from Grant is to look for ways to create “flow.” That “elusive state of absorption in a meaningful challenge or a momentary bond, where your sense of time, place, and self melts away.” How to create “flow”? First, start blocking uninterrupted time on your calendar, at least several times a week for at least 90-minute blocks. Second, during that time choose a project you find interesting, a small goal you want to achieve, or a conversation that could be especially meaningful. Then both encourage a practice of time blocking across your organization and honor others’ time blocks.
  • When I’m having a hard time concentrating, I practice something I learned from Chris Bailey in The Productivity Project called productive procrastination This seems to help when I’m feeling a little brain fog. I shift gears to something that doesn’t require a lot of thinking that I can accomplish quickly. This gives me the sense of achievement that I was craving but was not getting from my “thinking” work. I have a list of quick projects that require a little physical activity and not a lot of concentration, like organizing a drawer, updating some files, or dusting my office. Don’t just do this yourself, but encourage others to step away from their fog and do something different that will allow them to step back into their flow.

As a leader, it’s a bold move to admit to those you are leading that you are languishing. And it requires grace to allow others the space to deal with their own languishing as well. We will get past all of this, including our languishing, with a little, or some days a lot, of bold grace.

Has the past year revealed your core?

A visionary leader does not seek mere balance between its organization’s ideological core and progress; they seek to be both highly ideological and highly progressive at the same time, all the time. ~Jim Collins

Photo by Mak Flex on Unsplash

I’ve thought about this quote from Collins frequently over the past several weeks. What it means to be “both highly ideological and highly progressive at the same time, all the time.” In short, Collins describes this concept as “preserve the core and stimulate progress.” I hear people talk about what their organization has learned from COVID. Then I hear them describe intentions that sound like they plan to return to pre-COVID structures, processes, and expectations.

Do you really know your core?

This causes me to wonder, do we really know our core? And, do we have our core—our ideology—confused with our means—how we enable and reinforce our core?

Here’s more explanation from Collins. “The core ideology enables progress by providing a base of continuity around which a visionary organization can evolve, experiment, and change. By being clear about what is core, an organization can more easily seek variation and movement in all that is not core.”

A core ideology answers why, not what or maybe even not how you do what you do. Ideology is your belief, your creed, your philosophy, not what you do. If an organization is not crystal clear about its core, emerging out of 2020 processes, structures, services, products, etc. may not only be challenging, but could put the existence of the organization at risk.

Is your core really clear?

The past year has brought sweeping change that has enveloped all organizations. Thinking about the past year, a few questions can help determine if your core ideology is truly clear.

  • Has your core ideology become even more clear? If so, can you articulate how?
  • Is it clear how your core ideology will drive organization decisions in the coming year?
  • Can you point to situations over the past 12 months where your core ideology did, in fact, cause your organization to make specific choices about what you would, or would not, do?
  • Are leaders throughout your organization leaning on your core ideology to make decisions in their areas of responsibility?

Do your key leaders have a shared understanding of your core ideology? No, I’m not asking if everyone can quote your mission, vision, and values verbatim. I’m asking if they understand your ideology in a way that provides a base of continuity across the organization that drives decision making.

I see some organizations coming out of 2020 hibernation stronger, energized, and motivated. Then, I also see organizations limping along, hanging on by a thread, and hoping for a miracle. I recognize there are many factors contributing to an organization’s success. But the organizations I see thriving are those whose core ideology is crystal clear to everyone in the organization. As Collins said, when the core is clear, organizations can “seek variation and movement in all that is not the core.” They can adapt and change because their core ideology is clear.

Preserve the core and stimulate progress, at the same time, all the time. That’s leading with bold grace.