Category Archives: Leadership

Quick summaries of practices to increase leadership capacity and capabilities.

Trust is the lubricant for transactions.

Trust is the lubricant for transactions. ~Don Peppers

Growing up with three older brothers on a farm, I was more than encouraged to learn a thing or two about auto mechanics. Of course I needed to know how to check my oil, change a tire, and I was also given a thorough course in how to change my own oil (which I never actually opted to do). Understanding the importance of well-maintained lubricants so engines run efficiently is something I’ve been familiar with for quite some time.

For decades, business academic curriculum and organizational practices have focused heavily on transactions – systems, production, processes, policies, project management, etc. All of those transactions represent the metal parts of an engine, which are necessary, but without any grease, oil, or lubricant, it’s just metal rubbing against metal. Not efficient, and a really good chance the engine won’t even run. Don Peppers, with thoughts by Faisal Hoque, describe the new era of organizations.

Trust is the lubricant.

Trust is the lubricant for transactions. We no longer work in an era in which we try to make everything as efficient as possible; rather, we’re trying to be more agile and more innovative, to move more quickly with our iterations. Relationships are the bandwidth within an organization, which means we need to be deliberate in forming them.

I spend a great deal of time working with organizations on strategic planning. I’ve learned, maybe the hard way, that effective strategic planning is supported by deliberate and intentional leadership development and coaching. Or, said another way, forming the relationships (i.e., bandwidth) so the strategic plan can gain traction and move the organization forward.

It’s still very common for individuals with innate strategic thinking and analytical skills to move into leadership positions within organizations. Strategy is still critical. However, strategy without attention to relationships and culture—the lubricant that builds trust and enables the transactions to take hold—is short-lived with only minimal success. It’s like metal rubbing against metal; inefficient and many times painful. 

Relationships are the bandwidth.

Trust is the lubricant for transactions and relationships are the bandwidth within organizations. Trust is the lubricant for transactions and relationships are the bandwidth organizations. That’s not a typo; I intended to repeat myself because I think it’s worth repeating. 

I frequently watch executives study numbers, charts, and data in an effort to create a business strategy to turnaround or re-invigorate their organization. They do this with the belief that if they can make the numbers make sense, then everything will easily fall into place. And the numbers are important; I’m not intending to discount sound financial and analytical management. However, that’s simply not enough, not today. The real bandwidth of today’s organizations is not balance sheets and cash flow statements. 

Just in case you missed the point I was trying to emphasize: Trust is the lubricant for transactions and relationships are the bandwidth within organizations. It’s another paradox of leading with bold grace.

Lead with Mercy

We’re so desperate to be understood, we forget to be understanding. ~ Beau Taplin

There are so many things in life, and leadership, that are much easier to say than do. Mercy is one of those. The definition of mercy that I’m thinking of includes synonyms like empathy, understanding, and forbearance (which means patience, self-control, restraint, and tolerance).

Now that we’re able to meet in person again, I worked with a leadership team last week to help them move towards alignment. Some had joined the team during the pandemic so this team had very little in-person face time. One of the activities we worked through was the DISC assessment. I’ve done this many times and what I witness continues to be quite similar from organization to organization.

I reveal the behavior styles of the members of the team, and in this case they were very diverse. This is good in terms of having the potential for the best team outcomes. However, it also presents a challenge because it means everyone will need to demonstrate some empathy and forbearance to truly understand one another. In other words, they need to give each a bit of mercy.

Then, for example, I will hear people say they are trying to be more patient with those who need far more detail and information than they do. And others will say they are trying to be more flexible for those who like to keep options open and not be tied to particularly specific plans.

As the outsider in the room, what I see is people’s intention to adapt to others, but actual behavior that still reflects their own preferences. And, I also see a smidgen of frustration because the “other” is not adapting as much as they would like. This is where we need more mercy.

Celebrate Differences

Adure Lorde said, “it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” And I think in order to do just that, we need to lead with mercy.

The challenge I see many leaders struggle with is the fact that they see their own view as obvious. They believe it’s so obvious that it baffles them that others don’t see it that way as well. Which then leads to impatience and frustration. Leaders forget, people aren’t necessarily “disagreeing” with the leader’s perspective, they just simply aren’t “understanding” it.

Lead with Mercy

This is not the first time I’ve written about the hard work of first seeking to understand if leaders truly want to be understood. In fact, as I’m writing this I feel somewhat like a broken record. But I’ll keep repeating this same chorus over and over because it seems to be one of the most difficult and most necessary aspects of effective leadership. Understanding doesn’t mean you have to “agree.” Understanding means you’ve truly listened. It means that you’re aware of others’ feelings and thinking. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with their point of view, but it means that you’re willing to understand and appreciate it. Adapt your own behavior style and lead with mercy.

Grace and mercy are very close cousins. Showing mercy is an example of leading with bold grace.

Two Ways to Sabotage Your Leadership

Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you. Complaining becomes your default behavior, which changes how people perceive you. ~Travis Bradberry

There are two behaviors that I have watched leaders practice that sabotage their leadership. Yes, we could certainly list more than “two.” However, I think these two behaviors begin very subtly, and then snowball into default behaviors that can be destructive and go undetected by the leader. They are complaining and blaming. The two are interrelated and possibly interdependent.

Sabotage Leadership with Complaining

You may view yourself as a fairly positive and optimistic person. Yet what others see might be quite different. Complaining can become a blind spot, even for CEOs. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if you’ve subtly become a complainer.

  1. Are people frequently slow to return your calls or emails?
  2. Do people listen to you for a few polite minutes and then need to go to an appointment or take another call?
  3. Do others vent to you, or are you always the venter and never the ventee?
  4. Are you complaining about the same thing now that you were six months ago?
  5. Following a meeting, presentation, event, etc. do you talk first about what everyone did poorly?

Sabotage Leadership with Blaming

I recall a CEO who was providing a corporate update at an all-employee meeting. In his effort to be “transparent” he said he was going to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly. When he got to “the ugly” part of his presentation he zeroed-in on one specific department. Essentially, he said that the organization’s lackluster bottom line was all their fault. He put the blame squarely on a department that actually depended upon his participation in order to be successful.

Peter Bregman wrote in HBR (April 8, 2013): “Take the blame for anything you’re even remotely responsible for.” Bregman says:

This solution [taking the blame] transforms all the negative consequences of blaming others into positive ones. It solidifies relationships, improves your credibility, makes you and others happy, reinforces transparency, improves self-esteem, increases learning, and solves problems.

It takes courage to own your blame, and that shows strength. Being defensive makes you slippery. Taking responsibility makes you trustworthy.

The CEO in my example believed he was doing a good thing, being transparent. Transparency is a good thing; however, it’s unfortunate that he sacrificed the credibility of being transparent by pointing fingers, blaming others, and not taking any personal responsibility for something he really was partially responsible for.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to consider how you might be defaulting to blaming without even realizing it.

  1. When you debrief with others, does your name rarely appear on the list of whose responsible for mistakes?
  2. Do you communicate who the “culprit” is for unsuccessful efforts, rather than identify how you will take responsibility?
  3. Are you still trying to solve a problem that was identified months ago?

John Maxwell said, “A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit.” That’s a really good example of leading with bold grace.

What are your beliefs? Really.

Your beliefs are THE master commanders of your behavior and your results. ~Marie Forleo

Belief -> Thought -> Feeling -> Behavior -> Result

When I’m leading any kind of a planning session, our ultimate goal is to achieve some type of results. If we work backwards from achieving those results, we need people to change their “behavior,” and they’ll change behavior if they “feel” that they should, and in order to feel they should they need to “think” they should, and even prior to that they need to have the “belief” that they should.

Forleo says, “In order to solve any problem or achieve any [result] we must first make a change at the level of belief. Because when you change a belief, you change everything.”

I won’t provide all of the details that Forleo lays out, but imagine this research involving a placebo surgery! The surgery was orthopedic, so it was not life threatening, but it did involve people wanting relief from very real pain. The placebo group received a sham surgery. They went into surgery, were under anesthesia but received shallow cuts and were discharged with  protocols and painkillers. One-third of them reported pain relief, the same portion as those with the real surgery! Even more amazing, at one point within the study they had better results than those who had the real surgery!

This is just one of a number of studies that demonstrate the power of our beliefs. As Forleo states, “our beliefs tell us what to notice, what to focus on, what it means, and what to do about it.” That means, when planning, we can identify challenging visions, goals, objectives, etc., but if we don’t also address what people believe, we will likely fall short of actually achieving the results.

How to change beliefs?

1. Ask people to state what they believe except replace the word “believe” with “assume.” Then follow that with “what has caused me to make this assumption is…” and keep doing that several more times. In other words, what are their assumptions about their assumptions.

This may uncover two things. One, they may discover that some beliefs are based more on habit or history than on actual evidence. And two, they may identify ways that they really can control something they thought they had no control over.

2. Ask a group, if we want X result, what do we need to believe? (Note, I said believe not know.) Then make a list of all the evidence that would support that belief. Now try asking the group, why wouldn’t we believe this?

Challenging our beliefs is hard work. There’s a reason Forleo says that our beliefs are the “root” of our reality. Roots hold tight, even the worst of storms. Nothing is easily up-rooted. Challenging and then changing beliefs requires bold grace.

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.