Published in Star News, a publication for Law Enforcement personnel.
How many times have we asked that question of someone? How many times have we asked ourselves; “Why did I behave that way?” When we begin to look into the specifics of how we handle these questions in our personal relationships, something very interesting happens. Those two questions come from two very different perspectives and once you realize where they are coming from you are more able to understand and correct unhealthy perceptions about yourself and others. Allow me to explain. It starts with the difference between human behavior and human nature.
When we see less than admirable traits in ourselves, we tend to attribute those to external causes and explain behavior away because of the influence of that cause. For example, “I blew my top because that guy would not listen to what I was trying to say!” In other words, I behaved badly because of an external influence acting upon me… He caused my reaction.
Funny thing is…
We rarely explain other people’s behavior in that same way. Call it an excuse, a reason, a justification, call it what you will, but we fail to extend that same reasoning to another’s behavior when they act contrary to our expectations of them toward us. We sometimes fail to see the external causes and wrongly attribute the reaction to their very nature. We superimpose their action on what we perceive to be the way that person truly is. This is most unfair.
Put simply: When I am mean to another I am really a nice person who’s behavior is mean because of something they did to me, but when someone is mean to me it is because they are a mean person.” Get it? Our actions are simply bad behavior, but their actions stem from their bad nature. We do it all the time. We do it to our spouse, our co-workers, our superiors and we do it on the street. “It’s their nature.” They are not behaving in an evil way; they are evil. They are not behaving aggressively; they are animals. The shift is subtle but destructive. What we explain away in our own lives through grace given to self, we should learn to extend to others in grace given to them.
We have all come to learn that when you give respect on the street you get respect on the street. The same should apply to our view of people’s nature. Much of life is cause, effect, and reaction. I would hate for others to view me at my worst and attribute what they witness to who I really, deeply am as a person.
As a leader, I need to encourage you to move as far away from being a command and control leader as possible, and become a leader who understands the importance of empowerment. Empower and Release leaders are at the forefront of organizational discovery and there is a reason for it. Empowerment enables trust, freedom, autonomy and a feeling of worth in your direct reports. It also maximizes your time as a leader and allows you to move the organization forward.
One thing I am faithful to do with my leadership team is to have “the talk” and it always sounds something like this.
You are a ten at what you do and it is my job to empower you to do it. You will be your best when you are working in your passion and your strengths. Where you are a ten, I may only be a six… and if I tell you how to do your job, your ten will sink to an eight because of my six.
However, if you will let me empower you to be the best leader you can be… If you will allow me to release you to your own creativity, you may even work as an eleven.
Understand this next point. If I release you, you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s OK. I want you to know that I may pull you into my office and we may even have some words,… but out there with our people… I will support your decisions. You can trust that I will support you as a leader.
Now here’s the thing… I demand the same from you. If you feel I have made a mistake in leading you or this organization, I have an open door, let’s talk about it in my office. When we leave my office, we will be united in front of our people and I will be grateful that you had the courage to come to me rather than go to the others. Now get out there and change the world.
Every time I have that talk, I can see a feeling of relief wash over the face of that leader. You see, the leader that can instill trust and empower his or her people early in their relationship, and not destroy that trust by actions, will buy the loyalty, trust and respect of their people. In those very special cases, everybody wins.
Place: South America. Mental State: Exhausted. Alarm Clock: About to be destroyed!
I slowly awoke before the sun to begin one of the most impactful days of my life. There I laid, pillow over my head trying to ignore the alarm that was crying out for me to start my journey. As I peeked out, my eyes began to adjust. In that moment—the focusing of my eyes in dim light—three things began to stimulate my senses; the roar of the Vilcanota river, the ever-so-faint outline of my boots next to the wall, and about three feet above them, the room’s thermostat. The combination of these two visuals caused me to begin not only an adventurous day, but a pensive one as well.
Leaving that hotel in Aquas Calientes Peru, my brother and I began our final two days in our push to hike to Macchu Pichu, famed for its secrecy and its breathtaking ruins. While the leadership lessons learned on these two days are abundant, and I have written about them extensively, I want to convey the impact of the visuals that burned their way into my consciousness that morning; the thermostat and my boots. You see, it occurred to me that those two everyday items represented my life in many ways. More specifically, they represented a paradigm shift in my leadership perspective. Here is my epiphany.
As the thermostat came into view, my mind wrestled with it. If you know me, you will know that I am plagued with trying to make everything more efficient, whether it’s a person, an organization, or a system. So there I sat, in those brief moments thinking; that thing needs to be reinvented. Then a lateral thought… Forget peanut butter and chocolate, those hiking boots had just T-boned my consciousness and I realized that those two items, slammed together, represented both the leader I had been as well as the leader that I was becoming. Let me explain.
Truly impactful leaders are like the boots; comfortable, yet rugged. More importantly they are the greatest factor in getting the climber where he needs to be. The task of the day, Macchu Pichu—in all its glory—would be impossible without those boots. They propel me to take risks, they provide traction when I slip, and they protect me from injury. Those boots represented empowerment and the ability to stretch myself beyond previous capabilities. I remembered purchasing them with the expectation of where they might take me.
…eyes slowly moving to the thermostat…
The thermostat is always working. Always on call. However, unlike the boots, the thermostat puts all of its energy into keeping things the same, into maintaining the system. It only adjusts when there is a shift, and it spends its time making sure that things return to how they were before. While the boots love new adventure, the thermostat loves the status quo. It’s entire existence serves to maintain the most pleasant setting.
Our church planters, they need to be the boot. The days of status quo are gone. They can not succumb to the tyranny of the urgent just to maintain the system. The system is changing and if their desire is to sit there and maintain what is and what was, then they need stay right there on the wall. We, the boots, we’re hittin’ the trail. See ya!
Now, here is a conflicting thought… Have you considered that—for the leader—Bad News is actually Good News.
Think about it. If you are leading well, your staff has the confidence that they can bring the bad news to you as regularly as they bring the good. If however, you’re a leader that is finding out things have gone wrong… and it is too late to fix them, the breakdown is not with your people, the deficiency is with you.
Trust is the single most valuable possession that a leader has. The ability for your people to communicate problems, or forecast potential problems, is created when they trust your integrity as a leader. If they feel they can bring things to you and tap your wisdom for their solutions you will win the hearts and trust of your people. Furthermore, you will avert disaster, and increase motivation within your organization. You will also solidify your legacy as a quality leader.
If on the other hand, your people fear bringing issues to you because your normal reaction is accusatory, questioning, condemning, frustrated or angry, you have created an environment that will destroy trust and ultimately harm your organization.
Take a minute. What do your people proactively bring to you? Is the report always a good one? Do they eagerly report the negative things? Do you only “find out” about the bad after it has occurred? As you try to discover why that is… perhaps you simply need to look in the mirror.
Allow me encourage you to talk to your people. Build their trust. Let them know that you are open and that you will reward the discovery of problems and their ideas for solutions. Show them in your reaction that you will honor those words. It takes a hundred repeated mature responses to gain an individuals trust, but it only takes one immature response to destroy it.
In 2008 I was in Lima Peru with my brother Robert. We had met there to continue on to Cusco and eventually hike the famous ruins at Macchu Pichu. While in Lima, we made our way to the coastal suburb of Miraflores. We spent significant time seeing the sights and walking the famous cliff-side Larcomar shopping district that overlooks the historic La Rosa Náutica restaurant on the pier hundreds of feet below. Anyone familiar with the area knows that to the north is the beautiful Parque de Amor (Lover’s Park) and just beyond that lies one of the most spectacular views in all of Miraflores, the cliff-side park at Parapente. Standing there, in awe of the view, I had no idea that two years later I would find myself leaping from the two hundred foot high cliff on the southwestern edge of the park.
Like all cliff-side parks, this spot offers spectacular views of the ocean, the island in the distance, surfers that look like little bubbles on the water two hundred feet below, and the sky. Oh, the sky! The view of the sky here is amazing. There on the cliffs of Parapente you understand how small and how fragile you really are. In fact, the sky that you see from that place is unlike any sky you will ever see in your lifetime; It is riddled with paragliders. You see, the winds that rise from the two hundred foot cliffs can raise a paraglider to over one thousand feet without effort, making this one of the foremost paragliding spots on earth. It was amazing to watch the ease with which these daring men and women became a strange subclass of Aves. The wind would pick up these birds, and in what seemed a choreographed dance of wonder wove them, in and out, over and under one another in a ballet of spectacular color. It is a wonder to behold.
As leaders, we must remember that when we have the necessary skills to lead, from the outside our leadership can look choreographed and beautiful. Like the paraglider finding the balance in the wind, his own presence in the mix of others, and the sheer magnitude of the environment our leadership can be organized and beautiful. However, like the paraglider, if any one element fails, the ballet becomes a tragedy. Loss of wind, loss of any one other glider’s sense of presence and location, these things can change the makeup of the environment to be hostile or even deadly. Standing on that cliff, that beautiful ballet of color reminded me of how an astute leader has the ability to balance all the elements found in his or her organization and create a thing of beauty.
Fast-forward two years…
There I was, on that same cliff at Parapente, nervous yet excited as I waited for the wind to pick up so that I could paraglide for the first time. I had been here the day before, waiting. No wind, no ride. This was my last opportunity, I was leaving for home tomorrow. The wind, though the wait was excruciating, eventually cooperated.
I stood there after having paid my $35 and thought, “What on earth did I just do?” The apprehension grew a bit as they placed a helmet on my head and I told the pilot my weight. He gasped as he calculated the conversion to kilos in his head and I saw his countenance change… Not reassuring! I guess the wind was not strong enough for a 225lb., 6’-4” gringo. He hemmed, he hawed, he looked down at the $35 in his pocket and said, “Well, we can try!” … “Wait a minute… WHAT!” Clearly, he was not going to give back my $35 so that left only one option… Pray and GO!
So there I stood, fifty yards from the cliff with my pilot strapping me into a harness that is attached to the biggest kite one has ever seen. I remember looking at the cliff fifty yards in front of me, and thinking one solitary thought, “Like this helmet is going to help!” Then, he tapped me on the shoulder and yelled, “Run!” Hesitant, yet obedient, I ran toward the two hundred foot cliff hoping that the drag I was feeling was the fully inflated glider behind me. There was no way to know.
This was one of the few times in my life that a non-spiritual experience brought the diametrically opposed feelings of dread and tranquility and slammed them together in an instant. Running off that cliff, and the tightening of my harness signaled the beginning of forty-five minutes of elation, beauty, and indescribable wonderment. During that forty-five minute journey we ascended to over five hundred feet, smoothly traversed every manmade obstacle, mountain and valley within miles and above it all, the view was spectacular. There was not a hint of pre-Parapente fear. Once the final step was taken, the ride was bliss (the landing, however, was a bit less graceful).
Looking back at that experience I realize how many things could have gone wrong and I would not have known what to do. I was privileged to participate in a grand adventure that was only made possible by a highly skilled and trained pilot. As a leader, you must remember that at times your people will experience the fear of the unknown as they try to go with you on your journey. They must learn to trust your expertise and experience. As you sharpen your skill set and grow as a leader, you will instill trust in your abilities and provide excitement for the adventure. However, the trust of your people is paramount.
Had I not trusted my pilot that day I would have feared for the entire forty-five minutes of my flight. But because I trusted both his judgment and his skill set, I experienced a life changing, smooth flying adventure.
It is not appropriate, as leaders, to throw our people a helmet and strap them to our vision or action, without first earning their trust in our ability to lead. Should we attempt to do so, they will sit when we yell, “Run!”
Was there risk even though the pilot was skilled and trained? Absolutely. That is the way of leadership and that was the reason for the helmet. Not every decision is going to play out the way you anticipate that it will. Some—by luck—will gain altitude, but many of them will plummet. This fact is the reason why it is so important to constantly refine your leadership qualities. Either train and train hard or get off of the cliff!
If you are an insurance company or a personal injury lawyer, listen up. Your world is about to change. Your best bet over the next 10 years is to learn from the typewriter because your industries are about to fall even harder unless you make an intentional shift. Yesterday!
What are the ramifications of the next decade you ask? No more small lizard-like creatures telling us how to transform our financial status in fifteen minutes or less. No more phone numbers of all sevens or nines on billboards across America. No more free maps at AAA, and ouch… No more Flo. How shall we live without Flo?
Because the key to future success is forecasting market shifts well in advance and the automobile industry is about to radically change. Autonomous cars will change everything and the closer an industry is to the auto industry the more urgent the need for introspection. Automakers that fail to have an autonomous vehicle will disappear overnight or be relegated solely to niche markets. And while there is no excuse for an automaker caught unaware, there will be several other industries that will be saying; “I didn’t see that coming!?” Chief among them will be the three I mentioned; insurance, driver support, and legal.
That’s the great thing about entrepreneurship, it makes life better. With the imminent perfection of autonomous vehicles, personal auto insurance will fade away. Accidents will be so uniquely rare that insurances will be bundled with the vehicle akin to today’s extended service plan, that is if they exist at all. Law firms that guarantee customers huge payouts for vehicle injury will slowly fade away and in a third degree of economic impact affect the billboard advertising market outside of Las Vegas Nevada and every other big city littered signs of intense looking lawyers with easy to remember phone numbers. The world is going to change.
What’s the point? Your sector is going to change also. Will you be reactionary or proactive? When was the last time you gathered the team and asked these important questions?
What don’t we know that we need to know?
What trends are in our industry right now that could develop into trouble for us?
What trends in a related industry could adversely affect ours?
What does our organization look like in 5, 10, 20 years? Does it exist at all?
Who are the industry leaders and what are their strategies?
What steps must we immediately take to mitigate the damage?
You need to think about the transformation of the service or product that you provide. Once you forecast what developments and dangers the future has in store, go back and think some more. In our example of the automotive industry we can easily see how the changes mean a radical new reality for related industries. But, what if we take it deeper? What happens after cars are completely autonomous? I think I know. I believe we will probably, eventually, see the end to personal vehicle ownership. You will be able to take any car, to any place, at any time and conduct life along the way. Now, think about the industries will that affect.
Regardless of what you think, if they are not participating—or see your organization as an important part of their experience—then you are not relevant.
People are drawn to that which adds value to their life experience. However, people are needy and we can lose focus if all we try to do is appeal to their needs. As leaders, we must have a deeper sense of what is needed, and that can only be found in quality time under the organizational hood. Finding that balance—between what they want and what they need—is not easy. In fact, the pursuit of that balance has rocketed some organizations to the stars and destroyed others.
One of the most helpful ways to discern whether or not your organization is one of value to its members is to ask; “Who is the client?” If your organization is the client, you’ve got a mess on your hands.
The Organization as Client
With the organization as the client, difficult times are ahead. Examples of the Organizational Client might be a church that sees the member as an asset of the church and not as the church itself. It sees the member as a means to an end. The member’s value is found in their finances, their participation, and the numbers they bring to the organizational statistics. They assure that the leader gets his paycheck and that the lights remain on. Once an organization moves to this mode—one of survival and loss of identity and mission—the path is difficult to reverse. The leader can no longer chase his passion because he is chasing his pension.
Another example of this is a member association or convention that looks to its member organizations to sustain and promote the events of the association/convention. This places the association or convention in competition with the client. What member of an organization is going to participate in an event that competes with its own interests?
We have all witnessed businesses that have lowered product quality, replaced ingredients without health considerations, reduced customer service options or quality while retaining or increasing prices. When the organization is the client, something gets lost.
The Member as Client
The key to relevance is making the member the client. The majority of your mobilizations are for their benefit, not yours. Remember, “for their benefit” is much different that doing what they want so that they feel good about you. Healthy people will see value in doing what they need to do to grow, even if they do not like to do it.
From the example above, a church that loves its members and does everything it can to educate them in the truth adds value to its members. This type of church holds to their vision, speaks the truth in love, and provides the members with the necessary tools for success. This enables them to hear the message and take steps to implement what they know needs to be done in their lives.
In the member association, we must be equally careful to add value to our members. Think along these lines. A member of your organization asks you to hold an event similar to a common event that most of your members regularly do themselves, you say that you will. You have just placed the association in an awkward situation. Groups within your association are asking; “Where will the attendee’s loyalty be directed? Back to us, or to the greater association?” “Will they find more value in a sister organization than in ours?”
What we need to do as people who add value is to say; “As an association, we cannot do that. However, if you will take the lead, we will support it, drive people to it, and help you finance it.”
This will increase your relevance to the member/client, and the reports from the event will drive the value of the association. “Our association helped us with everything we needed…”
Seek the success of others, and by that act, succeed yourself. Serving the client rather than your own organization always builds value and relevance.
Last year I posted several Leadership Minutes about Proficiency and Competence in which I spoke of a leader’s need to work to the point where one knows their craft so well that their proficiency is based in the subconscious, that is, that they are unconsciously competent (a UC). You can review those videos online or at curtis.net [ Video 1 ] [ Video 2 ]
That being said, I recently heard a story that ties into this same idea of so deeply knowing what you do that the answers come quickly and easily, at time bewildering your direct reports. Simple answers come to the proficient leader that is always practicing, studying, and thinking about her craft.
The story was widely circulated in the early 2000s. It appeared online and in emails in many different versions. It goes something like this.
A philosophy professor gave an unusual test to his class. As they watched him, he lifted his chair onto his desk and wrote on the board: “Prove to me that this chair does not exist.” The class went to work, composing long complex explanations related to perception, existentialism, epistemology and the like. However, there was one student who took less than thirty seconds to answer and handed in his paper before many of the students even began to write. This obviously attracting surprised glances from his classmates as well as his professor. The following week the class received their grades for the test. The student who took less than thirty seconds to answer the test received the only “A” grade in the class. His answer was simply, “What chair?”
The story is one of a multitude of similar urban myths which poke fun of high-minded academia, in which an apparently very difficult or impossible question is destroyed by a terse comprehensive answer.
As a leader, proficiency in your craft comes only with long term, repeated exposure to the decisions, the systems and the circumstances with which you deal. The highly proficient leader can see the simple, encompassing answer within the complex. For the committed leader, proficiency — that is being an unconscious competent — is attainable if he or she is willing to put in the time.
I made a quick video related to this post. You can view it HERE. If you like it, please share it.
April was not a good month. A young leader that I thought had the charisma and talent to be one of our strongest church planters is gone. He left. Burned out, Quit, Stopped, Bailed, Fried, Skipped town, Crashed, Gone…
Those in his trust were left to speculate… What happened?
As an insider I will tell you exactly what happened. He’s gone because he didn’t listen to others and had a unique ability to make really bad independent decisions.
As a church planter, you need to carefully consider every decision that you make. The Word of God is clear, that “in a multitude of council there is wisdom.” If you fail to make good decisions it is nearly impossible to plant a God-pleasing church. The church belongs to Father, and the church planter is appointed to lead and guide His people in a way that is both God honoring and wise. Unfortunately bad decisions, made in isolation, can have ramifications that will last for generations.
I recently toured (for the third time) the Manzanar Detention and Internment Camp in the shadow of Mount Whitney, near Independence California. From 1942 to 1945 American citizens of Japanese decent were interred at Manzanar. Because the American government did not trust the Japanese they forced Japanese-Americans to leave their homes and businesses and detained them in California’s high desert. It is a decision that serves as a blight on the history of the United States of America. This great nation, based on freedom and liberty, made one really bad decision that altered the lives of innocent people, and is still seen as one of the great human liberty violations of our country’s history.
As you lead Gods people, remember that decisions have ramifications. and if those decisions are really bad, they can alter the lives of innocent people. Remember, you have an obligation to seek council and more importantly, the prompting of the Father in every decision that you make. Hold that path, and you may just create a future free from the regret of bad decisions and proud of what Father has done through you and your ministry.
If you are making your decisions in isolation, or void of council, stop. God’s people are too important for you to risk their spiritual health. Place wise individuals around you and allow the wisdom of the [godly] crowd to help shape and direct your future.
I write a regular article for STAR News, a publication for Law Enforcement Personnel. While directed at Law Enforcement I quickly realized how this applies to organizational leadership as well.
Any highly successful leader will tell you that the reason they were able to excel in their career and win the respect of their direct reports, is that they were able to foster an environment of trust. For some, this trust came easily, for others it was hard fought and won with time and a proven record. Regardless of which organization you represent, those that look to you as a leader must trust you. If they do not, you will fail as a leader, if they do there is no limit to the possibilities of success.
The problem? The realities of our culture and the many examples of broken trust place the leader in a position where distrust is the norm. For this reason, the leader must make building trust a priority. Trust must be built at all levels to succeed. Allow me to explain.
A man or woman of character builds trust at all levels; those below them, equal to them, and those above. This 360-degree approach comes naturally when one possesses integrity and has the character to respect and honor others.
That mandate to be a 360-degree leader is difficult in Law Enforcement. While it is easy to earn the trust of our superiors and colleagues, it is extremely difficult to earn the trust of the people we serve. While difficult, it is not impossible.
Each of us has a responsibility to earn the trust of others in three specific areas.
First, we must build Interpersonal Trust. Interpersonal trust is built when we keep our word and when our communication with others is civil, respectful and wise. Interpersonal trust is the foot in the door to the development of comprehensive trust. Without it, the other two trust areas are meaningless.
The second area of trust is one of Action or Application. Those we deal with must trust us to do the right thing, regardless of the circumstances. This is most important, especially in our field. We need the trust that we have each other’s back. We must know that one can be counted on when things get crazy. Trust of Action gives others the security that we care for their well-being and frees them to care for ours.
The third and final area of trust is Trust in Competency. This third area of trust brings with it a well-rounded relational trust to all parties. It is one thing to know you can trust an individual and their word. A new depth of trust is gained when you can rely on both their word and their deed. Comprehensive trust happens when you can trust their word, their deed, and their competency to accomplish what they set out to do. Competency instills trust. It is the capstone of the trio of trust.
While this triple trust relation is applicable to business, family and any aspect of life, it is clearly brought to reality with the following law enforcement example.
You have served for years with a fellow deputy that affirms that they will always be there for you. They have always kept their word, affirmed you on the job and encouraged you with their words. You have interpersonal trust! Eventually, you find yourself on the same shift and you roll to the same call. You enter a building with limited visibility, guns drawn, tactical light on, and he or she is right there at your side. You now have Trust of Action and the trust relationship deepens. Finally, the events of the night go south, you take fire. Your partner returns fire, as do you. His or her aim is impeccable and both of you get to go home tonight. You have Trust of Competency!
No matter how you apply trust, no matter the situation, all three areas are necessary to truly be a trustworthy partner. On the street, in the workplace, or most importantly in the home, you must work on trust.
I recently spoke with a newly married couple and grew in my respect for the husband. She had been married before and I admired them both as I heard the wife say: “He tells me he loves me all the time, and he shows me as well. He does the nicest things for me. He lets me see his love for me. Not only that, he has the ability to love. My first husband, though I think he tried, did not have the ability to love anyone but himself.
I saw it immediately: Interpersonal Trust, Trust of Action and Trust of Competency, a truly healthy relationship.
For the LORD God is my shield: the LORD will give grace and glory: no good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly. O LORD, blessed is the man that trusts in you. (Psalms 84:11-12)