One of the key ingredients to being a successful leader in the 21st century is collaboration. In fact, developing collaborative leaders is a core part of SGR’s mission. Perhaps that’s why it seems to stand out so much when I see a person’s approach to leadership centered around “us against them.”
This kind of attitude can be about “young vs. old,” “conservative vs. liberal,” “management vs. council,” “supervisors vs. employees,” and so on. It doesn’t matter what the teams are, the common denominator is an “us versus them” mentality.
Some leaders do this thinking that they are “challenging the process.” It’s a real temptation because it can elicit immediate response, and it can elicit strong emotions. Together, these things make a leader think that momentum is building. However, wise leaders recognize that momentum is not always synonymous with progress.
The problem with “us against them” leadership is that it contains within it the seeds for its own destruction. Once the battle lines have been drawn, it won’t be long before the other side recognizes the situation and responds accordingly. Once that happens, it’s going to be downhill from there. Everyone loses, especially the constituents that you are supposed to be serving.
Seeing life as an “us against them” game causes leaders to dismiss any idea from “them” regardless of merit, simply because of where it came from. It also causes the leader to be suspicious even when there is no cause to be.
Furthermore, it is an addictive response. Once you begin to see things as “us against them,” everyone fits into one of those categories, and the criteria to be “us” gets more and more stringent. Not only that, but the creativity of the people in your group can become severely restricted because they become afraid of saying anything, doing anything, or even thinking anything that can be perceived as disqualifying them from being on the “us” team. In spite of the immediate appeal of it, this is a paradigm that cannot be a formula for effective leadership.
How can you avoid this trap?
- Seek to expand the team—not shrink it.
People who feel like they have a seat at the table are less inclined to take on an adversarial role.
- Seek people’s advice who seem to lean toward being antagonistic.
You may not desire to follow all of it, but there may be something they say that deserves serious consideration.
- Seek the win-win.
This is the heart of collaboration. It is the opposite of “us and them.” It’s a more mature way to lead; it’s a less volatile way to lead; and it’s a more successful way to lead.
That’s not new news. There are plenty of statistics to support that. In fact, there’s also plenty of research showing why women would actually be better choices for leadership positions.
So the question is: why aren’t more women getting appointed to those higher-up positions?
For one, although our world and culture are ever evolving, there are people living in a 1950s mindset who will exercise discrimination and be a lifetime member of the “Good Ol’ Boy” club.
Thanks to that way of thinking, there’s a lingering stigma placed on women bosses. If they’re nice, they’re pushovers; and if they’re stern, they’re called hormonal and a few choice words that I can’t repeat.
Despite discrimination, there’s still a lack of knowledge on how women can successfully earn genuine respect in the workplace, which will ultimately position them to be placed into roles of leadership.
- Have a voice and use it wisely.
You have an opinion, so say it when you need to. Idly sitting through every meeting is the last thing that will get you noticed.
- Be confident.
Even though a woman might not be confident in her physical appearance, she must be confident about your skills. Realize that you can do the job just as well as anyone else, and don’t start second-guessing that when the pressure is on. Never be afraid to take on the hard tasks.
- Know the difference between passionate and emotional.
It’s okay to be passionate about an issue—that’s what drives you to do your best. But being emotional is when you take those issues a bit too personally and start making decisions based on how you feel rather than what you know. Women are already perceived as being too emotional. Don’t feed into the stereotype.
- Be vocal about your career plans.
Make your goals clear. You don’t want to get overlooked for a promotion simply because no one knew you wanted it.
Women are different than men, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Use those differing traits to your advantage, and you’ll be one step closer to breaking the glass ceiling.
Successful leadership depends on what you don’t see – secret decisions that are spread out over time and go nearly unnoticed.
What you see when you observe successful leaders in action is the result of small, private, unremarkable choices.
Small decisions determine destiny. A leader’s trajectory is unnoticed at first; but the congealing of small, insignificant actions makes leadership. On their own, individual choices often feel insignificant; but the piling up of insignificant decisions forms you.
Little things make us who we are.
Six small choices:
- Stop using others as excuses. You are smaller than the people you hide behind.
- Choose vulnerability over wall-building. Barriers keep you in, more than they keep others out. The more you hide the more you lose yourself.
- Pick initiative over comfort. Don’t worry about a life of initiative. Just choose action today over action tomorrow.
- Select service over ease. Serving others seldom fits neatly into schedules. Ease is the enemy of meaning.
- Tip toward gratitude rather than greed. Small souls have small impact. Just keep saying thank you.
- Transform complaining, frustration, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness into opportunities to make a difference.
Big choices become small when you add the word “today.” For example, Stop using others as excuses, today. Choose vulnerability over wall-building, today.
Dull comes before dramatic. Boring choices, that no one sees, make leaders. The path to remarkable begins unremarkably.
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
– Arthur Ashe, professional tennis player
What small choices make leaders?
“The best test (of a servant leader) and difficult to administer, is: ‘Do those served grow as persons; do they while being served, become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, more likely to become servants?’” – Robert Greenleaf
This post is the final installment in a blog series on Servant Leadership. Greenleaf’s hypothesis is that this particular servant leader characteristic is both a “best test” and “difficult to administer.” Let’s take a closer look.
To be a “best test” of any outcome is quite a feat. The test criteria include observable behaviors such as: growing as persons, becoming healthier, wiser, freer, and gaining autonomy. But perhaps the most desired outcome (at least for perpetuating the framework) is observing those served becoming servants. In other words, you know you are being successful as a servant leader when you witness those you have served beginning to serve others. I’m not just talking about replicating it—I’m talking about owning it, then watching the cycle repeat itself until the organization embraces a servant leadership culture.
Difficult to Administer
To my knowledge, Greenleaf did not claim any aspect of servant leadership as easy. Serving others may open the door to attempting to take advantage of someone or engaging in any number of unethical behaviors. A servant leader may do so in name only. The reality may be that he or she simply uses servant leadership as ruse for personal advantage versus genuine life and organizational change. There will always be those who talk a good game, but that characteristic does not appear in Greenleaf’s framework, nor will it ever describe an effective servant leader.
The truth is: there is no leadership framework that fully accounts for the most unpredictable element of all—us.
With that said, servant leadership is:
Worth the Effort
Servant leaders believe that people have intrinsic value beyond their noticeable contributions as employees. In essence, those who work for servant leaders approach their work with confidence because they know that they are far more than commodities. It may sound corny, but they love their work because they know they are loved. Don’t believe me? Then take it from someone who knew a thing or two about servant leadership.
“Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve… You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
Want your people to love what they do? Then serve them, which is loving them, which prepares them to serve, which prepares them to love; and before you know it, an entire generation is in a better place. And that may truly be the greatest legacy you as a leader could possibly ever leave.
“Because he believes so deeply that he is right, a severely self-righteous person doesn’t realize that he is behaving in a self-righteous manner.”
– Bob Johansen, Get There Early
“The three primary derailers are difficulty handling change, not being able to work well in a team, and poor interpersonal relations.”
– Susan Scott, Fierce Leadership
What will do you in? If you are in a leadership position at all, what will do you in, making you utterly ineffective? What will reach up and cause you real harm?
I was revisiting some books I have presented earlier and was struck by these four problems—these “derailers.”
The first comes from Bob Johansen in Get There Early, and the next three come from Susan Scott in Fierce Leadership. Both books are worth reading. (But if you want to laugh out loud at her “directness,” read Susan Scott. She is a hoot!)
So, here are the four derailers. (The word derailer comes from the Susan Scott quote):
- Derailer #1 – Self-righteous arrogance.
When a leader makes a mistake—and he/she will make a mistake—we need a leader who is capable of saying, “I’ve made a mistake.” To make that kind of admission requires humility, and self-righteousness is a pretty big enemy of such humility. In my view, we’ve had enough examples of leaders who will not admit their mistakes. Such self-righteous denial can undermine credibility in a hurry.
- Derailer #2 – Difficulty handling change.
Change is now arriving far more quickly, with additional changes coming at shorter and shorter intervals. If you have difficulty handling change, you are truly having difficulty functioning in this VUCA world: a world of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. Yes, difficulty handling change in this kind of world can certainly derail you.
- Derailer #3 – Not being able to work well in a team.
There is little that can be accomplished alone these days. The ability to collaborate well with other members of a team is a true survival skill. Failure to do this will put you pretty close to the ineffective end of any scale.
- Derailer #4 – Poor interpersonal relations.
This is related to #3 (teams), but it applies to all interactions. Leaders have to like people. You have to get along with people and communicate effectively with other people to build good effective relationships. Poor interpersonal relations will certainly lead to a long list of troubles.
So, to stay on the rails, rather than be derailed:
- Work on humility – combat any inclination toward self-righteousness.
- Embrace change — don’t reject, or even strongly resist, change.
- Be a good team player and play well with others — don’t be a complete loner, or a team underminer.
- Cultivate interpersonal relationships and work on building more relationships – do not “stay away” from other folks.
So, how are you doing? Are you safely on the rails, or are you on the verge of being derailed?
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis
Watching the USA in their second World Cup Soccer match against Portugal caused me to think about what it’s like to rebound from disappointment. Just when it looked like the Americans were going to win and advance to the next round, Portugal made a last-second goal and the game ended in a tie. The American team was… well… disappointed. They can still advance to the next round by beating Germany, but it will be difficult to bounce back.
As a leader, you will either be at your finest or your worst when you have to respond to disappointment. We expect a certain maturity from leaders, and part of that is the ability to deal with disappointment and be resilient. Undoubtedly, every leader will face many disappointments.
The City Council will flip-flop on what seems to be a “no brainer” decision. An employee will miss an important deadline. You will make a dumb mistake. A recruit will take a different job for more money. Your boss will veto the best idea you ever had. A customer will cancel a contract. There is no end to the list of both small and great disappointments. One thing is certain: a leader who cannot bounce back cannot expect to be successful as an innovator or early adopter.
For a leader, it’s not just how you deal personally with disappointment; it’s also how you lead your team to respond. They will take their cues from you. You may feel devastated inside, but you cannot make your team feel as if they have to talk you off the ledge. The leader has to manage his/her emotions. Your team needs to see your passion; but if the team senses a loss of self-control, it can also cause a loss of respect. How should a leader respond to real disappointment within the context of the team?
- Perspective – You may be deeply disappointed, but you must find a way to put it into a positive perspective. Leaders define reality, and that’s never more important than in the aftermath of a loss.
- Appreciation – Regardless of the outcome, there were people on your team that gave their best effort to succeed. Don’t get so caught up in your own grief that you neglect to acknowledge it properly.
- Resolution – Winners never quit, and quitters never win. Period.
- Improvement – Setbacks provide a marvelous opportunity to analyze what could be done better next time. That’s what winners do. While others may blame a host of things or people (including their self), that’s not what real leaders do. Leaders skip the blame game and find the way to improve. That’s the maturity we expect and need from leaders.
It’s pretty easy to figure out what to do with your bad employees. Get rid of them! But what do you do with your top-notch employees?
Yes, you have to develop them into leaders, but that sounds too abstract for some supervisors. In the “here and now,” you’ll probably make those select employees your go-to people for everything. Besides, they’re so reliable—how could you not?
Sounds good on the surface until the tasks start piling up for those employees, and their work hours start getting longer to get everything accomplished.
Not to mention the message it’s sending out to your mediocre employees. (Didn’t think of that, huh?)
If your default solution is to give everything to your high-performing employees, average employees may see it as a reason not to raise the bar, fearing that they may also become bogged down with work. Besides, in today’s workplace, the odds are pretty high that those top performers don’t get paid that much more, so workers who “just get by” become even more unmotivated.
Leaders don’t take the easy way out. If you have employees who are struggling with a task they are capable of doing, encourage and coach them through it. It takes more time; but the reward will be having a solid team as a whole—not just a solid top tier. And if certain employees aren’t capable of doing the tasks they were hired to do, why are they still part of your organization?
Just like a sprinter can’t run at top speeds for a long distance, your top tier can’t operate on overdrive for too long without losing stamina and enthusiasm.
Be mindful not to burn out your star employees with the workload you place on them. Otherwise, their loyalty to your organization may start to dim—ultimately causing them to leave.
Research demonstrates that professionalism is associated with increased innovation in the public sector—meaning that as public managers exhibit more professionalism, they are more likely to engage in innovative decision-making.
Public managers use innovative techniques and exercise their discretionary power when creating public policy in an effort to create and implement policy that is efficient and effective. Because of their professionalism, public managers often possess the technical knowledge and skills necessary to successfully navigate the intensity of public problems and goals.
Professionalism refers to a number of characteristics of an individual such as: level of education, tenure in a position, membership in professional associations, association with a network of peers, pledge to a code of ethics, and on-going training.
Innovation leading to greater efficiency and lower cost is thought to be commonplace in the private sector; and even though the public sector has lagged behind in achieving these increased efficiencies, there is now a greater focus on its need to be innovative.
Some recent examples of innovation in the public sector include: updating 911 communications systems to allow for pictures and text messages to be sent to emergency operators, using GIS and cameras so that citizens can see live traffic situations to avoid construction and accidents, creating wiki manuals, and developing offices of innovation at all levels of government.
Obviously, innovation doesn’t just happen by accident. In order to create a culture that encourages innovation, public managers can try some (or all) of the following techniques to see what works in their communities.
- Look at issues from many different perspectives.
Consider and ask how your citizens view your agency. Social media allows us to interact with the public in ways that never before would have been imagined.
- Allow for mistakes and let your staff know missteps are expected.
- Allow staff members to participate in training opportunities and be involved in their professional organizations.
This will naturally lead to more innovative decision-making.
- Divert a small part of departmental budgets to innovation.
While innovation does not have to (and perhaps shouldn’t) cost even a penny, this action will demonstrate the commitment of the organization to innovation.
- While it may seem counter-intuitive to this discussion, don’t reinvent the wheel.
Many organizations offer a wealth of information when it comes to innovation in the public sector. For example, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard’s Kennedy School provides a robust marketplace for ideas and examples of government innovation.
How do you encourage innovation in your organization?
“All that is needed to rebuild community as a viable life form for large numbers of people is for enough servant-leaders to show the way, not by mass movements, but by each servant-leader demonstrating his or her unlimited liability for a quite specific community-related group.” — Robert Greenleaf
“Rebuilding community” implies that community once existed and needs to be restored. Although a sense of community exists in many workplaces, recent survey data related to Americans and job satisfaction indicates that which once was, may no longer be. That is not necessarily a bad thing. Individuals now actively, and in many cases, purposefully seek community outside the workplace.
Regardless of how we differentiate community, its definition is worthy of pursuit: “A feeling of fellowship with others as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
Notice community is a “result” of sharing. That is not to say that sharing cannot increase a sense of community, but the actual definition seems to indicate the reverse. Being in the trenches together leads to a “this is our organization” mindset versus a “this is his, her, or their organization, and I always feel like I am on the outside looking in” mindset.
Servant leaders inspire others to work together toward a common goal.
In other words, “Do as I say not as I do” is not in a servant leader’s vocabulary. He or she is in it with employees. Servant leaders may be on the sidelines when the play is run, but they are purposefully engaging with employees as a means of inspiration. If this is not happening, then it is important to note that no inspiration leads to desperation, and no organization can survive that long term.
Servant leaders build community within organizations.
The servant leader understands that community is only possible through strong relationships. I am not just referring to peer-to-peer relationships. Managers who wish to be servant leaders must be committed to performance review, coaching, giving and receiving feedback, etc. They are committed to integrity—not just talking about it. They refuse to fall into traps such as scapegoating, finger pointing, idealizing, and infatuation with gimmickry. Instead, they long for developing substance in others and themselves. Actually, they refuse to settle for less.
Servant leaders build community among organizations.
Servant leaders value collaboration. They refuse to be so profit hungry that they forget to be prophets of industry, innovation, and inspiration. Last week, I read that Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, announced the company would “clear the path to the creation of compelling electric vehicles” by not enforcing its patents. I don’t know if that one move qualifies Musk as a “servant leader” or not, but I think it certainly goes a long way.
What about you? Can you think of one way you can build community within your team or other circles of influence this week? We would love to hear your success stories and/or insights related to this topic.
Every failed presentation fails in one of two ways: the presentation had little or nothing worthwhile to say; or, even if the content was worthwhile, then it was delivered very, very poorly.
Would you like to deliver successful presentations? It is simple (not easy, just simple). Have something really worthwhile and useful to say, and then say it very, very well.
That’s it. Every other tip (and step and piece of advice) simply elaborates on these two.
If you want the academic terms for these two elements, they go all the way back to Aristotle’s canons. He had five—invention, arrangement, style, memory, delivery. (You can read about all five here). But, I think these two really are the whole ball game:
- Invention: involves finding something to say. (HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!)
- Delivery: concerns itself with how something is said. (SAY IT VERY WELL!)
The invention part requires a host of elements: good, genuine, deep preparation; checking out opposing viewpoints and deciding why your view is correct and the other views are incorrect. Have more to say than the time allotted, thus forcing you to edit effectively; fill your time with great and useful content. Choose the most effective order for your main points, the right illustrations, the best stories, the right words.
Follow the principles set forth in such books as Made to Stick by the Heath brothers and Words that Work by Frank Luntz.
And be sure to select the best possible topic. Choose one that you care deeply about, one that really does matter to your specific audience. And don’t forget the techniques of the great speakers. Use repetition—a lot of repetition—on purpose. In a written essay, repetition can be your enemy. In a presentation, repetition can be your friend.
Start in a way that compels the audience to pay attention, and end in a way that sends them forth with a clear understanding of “what next?”
It takes a lot of serious, focused preparation to have something worthwhile to say.
The delivery part requires a lot of practice (rehearsal) with deliberate practice/work on specific elements. Start with your posture. Then your voice. Then your eye contact. Then your gestures.
When you actually deliver your presentation, make sure these things happen:
- come across as knowledgeable, but not arrogant
- come close to electrifying the room with your energy
- be perceived as deeply caring about this topic, and these people
- genuinely connect with this audience
Whatever else, don’t fail. Succeed. Have something to say, and say it very well.
Professional Speaker & Writer
Co-founder, First Friday Book Synopsis