Self Leadership

Leadership starts with self.

I woke this morning to two things. First, a notification on my phone of motion on my home security system. It turned out to be a moth buzzing the cameras. Second, news coming out of Milwaukee that riots are taking place because of the escalated national violence and sensitivities that mark the day.

It strikes me that the polarization we are undergoing as a nation is nearing the point of no return. It seems everyone is looking in the wrong place for leadership. Leadership stars with self.

When leadership is looked for through dependence it is never healthy. When we entrust others to define and implement our futures we subjugate ourselves. We must each define the future that we want to see for ourselves and it does not start with blowing up the system, but becoming part of the system.

I am privileged to work with many different associations to help them define their future paths and roles among their members. One thing remains constant, the newer members of the organization see the old guard and define the gap. The elder members see the gap as well, and their approaches to change rarely find common ground. The older members must seek to include the younger and benefit from their input and participation. The younger members must seek to engage and allow their voices to be heard. What typically happens is that the older exclude the younger, and the younger want to blow up the system. This leads to a passive aggressive—or sometimes aggressive—struggle for change. This season of “Storming’” can be detrimental to the organization if not handled well. Each individual in such a situation needs to refrain from being part of a group voice and seek their role as diplomat in that situation. The harmony in an organization is more important than individual need or agenda. But most people are sheep. They seek another’s leadership to get behind. I contend we all need to be leaders starting as leaders of one… self.

Back to our current reality…

While the nation struggles, I wonder how things would change if everyone would take a leadership role in their own life and not subjugate themselves to a group.

Are you waiting for a political party to solve your issues? A movement? A business? A house of faith? Another person? None of those people care for you like you do. They don’t wake up in the morning and think “I need to make sure Rick is well provided for today and feels a deep sense of security!” No, that’s Rick’s job. The world is cruel and doesn’t give a lick about Rick.

Until we are happy with who we are, and refuse to be dependent on a system or another, we will not be free to pursue self fulfillment. Take stock, who do you depend on for your sense of purpose and wellbeing? If it is other than God and family you are not free and you cannot blame that on anyone but yourself. Lead yourself.

Here’s my final thought. What I am watching in Milwaukee today represents the moth in my home. I know that for the rest of the day that moth is going to fly around and activate my alarm system. So today, my alarm system is worthless. I will need to fight the tendency to ignore it because by ignoring it I am vulnerable. But, I will unfortunately ignore the moth.
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Modeling Accountability

As a leader, you have an obligation to model personal responsibility. I love the old phrase:

Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks better than your talk talks.

The attitudes we express, the actions and behaviors that we model, all illustrate to our direct reports the type of behavior that we believe in and expect for the organization. The leader that personally commits to transparency in their leadership style will instill confidence and excellence in their team.

One of the hardest things you can do is a leader is to self evaluate. Giving those whom you lead the opportunity to evaluate both the organization and you as their leader. Placing yourself in this situation is both humbling and trying. I have found that a yearly evaluation serves the organization, and me as a leader, in that I learned things about myself, seen from someone else’s perspective, that if addressed make me a better leader.

As I prepare the evaluation, there is one ground rule that I put in place, and it has to do with respect. This ground rule serves to create an environment where communication can happen at the highest level, avoiding hostility and/or hurt feelings. The reality is that there are things that others see in you as their leader that you are unaware that they see. In many cases, you may not even know they have that perception of you. You need to know!

Those things can hinder your effectiveness, or even disqualify you as their leader.

It is your job as a growing leader to explore, unearth, and improve upon those things. The problem is, unless you solicit feedback that enables you to see those things for yourself, you may never know that they exist.

Here is my ground rule

I tell everyone that their evaluation of me, or any individual in the organization will be personally reflected upon, that I will take what they have to say to heart. I promise them that I will act on any constructive information that they give. For that reason, I ask that all responses be respectful, and seeking the best good of the individual. No flaming allowed.

This understanding has led to a lifestyle and organizational culture that allows my direct reports to feel comfortable telling me what I need to know. If it is personal, and they are not comfortable telling me directly during the course of the year, they wait until the yearly evaluation. That is fine with me. I have shown that no comment, respectfully given, is ignored and that I move on every constructive recommendation. In fact, I go public with the evaluation.

It was hard for me to publish one year’s evaluation when I had the following comment: “Rick needs to spend more time on the team building he talks about, and less time personally taking on as much as he does.” OUCH! However, by making these comments public, it serves the organization in multiple ways:

1. It shows that I take comments seriously.

2. It puts accountability to the forefront (they will wait to see if I start building teams).

3. It inspires them as they see the teams being built.

4. It gives me an item of improvement to report upon.

5. It makes me a better leader.

6. It allows me to model how to publicly handle, and implement constructive criticism.

By the way, when you are open and transparent, and your people know that you will take evaluations from them anonymously, and that you will act upon them, they feel that they have a voice.

Rest assured, if you as a leader do not give your directs a voice, they will find their voice elsewhere. Usually it will be laterally, and then the problems really starts…
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