proactive

Leaders Are Proactive

The above quote speaks of success, and I want to take a second to assert a disclaimer here. Success is relative. Success is measured by what you set. I don’t think there’s a universal rule that tells us what success is, and my idea of success is likely different than your idea of success. With that to say, you may take this post in the context of what you define as success.

I believe strongly in proactivity. I, and I think most people honestly, hate being reactive. Reactivity is when you are in a constant state of only reacting to situations. You only move if something comes up. Proactivity, on the other hand, is meeting challenges and making progress before anything even comes up. Proactivity focuses mostly on strategic planning and growth; it’s all about strategy at the proactive level.

You can’t be purely proactive, but I believe you can be purely reactive. There’s nothing more frustrating (to me) than a purely reactive leader. You know the one. Everything is urgent and time sensitive (“it needs to be done now, now, now!”), but nothing is important. Because your leader is reactive, you’re stuck in reactivity as well trying to address problems and put out small nuisance fires before they spread. This is no way to operate.

Healthy leadership is being proactive. Recognizing potential problems and incorporating them into your strategic plans. You can’t foresee everything (hence why one cannot be purely proactive), but you can prepare for a wide variety of things. As a proactive person, you spend most of your time doing important things that are not necessarily urgent, which gives you plenty of margin to handle issues as they come along.

It’s not easy switching to proactivity. You still have a ton of small fires that you need to put out on a daily basis, but you can start taking baby steps. This will add a little bit of work to your schedule, but once the transition to proactivity is complete, you will find you have more productive time.

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img_4997

There’s Something More Important Than Listening. Here’s what and why…

I listened to a podcast by Gary Vaynerchuk today, and he hosted one of my leadership heroes, Simon Sinek. Something they were talking about really stuck out to me, and that is that there is something more important than listening in leadership. That something is being the last to speak.

I’ve been reflecting on this statement for a good part of today and felt I needed to write about it. Here are three of my thoughts.

1. Leadership isn’t about coming up with the solutions. 

We must be secure enough to understand that we won’t have the best answer to everything.

2. Leadership isn’t about domineering a conversation.

If you’re doing a good chunk of the talking, that means you’re not listening. Foster an environment where your people can think and speak without fear of judgment.

3. Leadership isn’t about influencing another person’s idea when you face a problem. 
This is why you speak last. Since you’re in a position of authority, you’re more likely to change your peoples’ minds if you speak first or intermittently. The only thing you should be doing is asking questions to clarify a point.

Do you agree with their point about waiting to speak last? Have you ever felt implicitly influenced by a leader of yours in such a way that you changed your mind about contributing to a solution?

opportunistic

Leaders Are Opportunistic

This post can really be summed up in three words: Take a Risk.

My original intent was not to write about risk taking, but as I was researching the topic, that’s where everything was pointing. Every quote or quip I looked at that talked about being opportunistic really translated into being a risk taker. It really just boils down to the fact that you can’t be opportunistic without taking a risk. If you waited until everything lined up perfectly before you moved, chances are the opportunity is gone. The risk is in the gap.

Personally, I’m about a 5 out of 10 on the risk aversion scale. I’m not afraid to try new things, but I’m not as quick to jump in as other people. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I also don’t consider it good. As a leader, I have to make decisions that don’t only jeopardize myself, but also other people. When I take a risk, I have more than myself to think about. When I think about taking a risk, I have other input to consider than just my own – the input of those I lead.

There is a healthy amount of risk, and there is an unhealthy amount of risk. Healthy risk would look like a well informed decision with incomplete information, but still well-researched and discussed. It may not pan out, but that’s part of risk – it’s a game of chance. Unhealthy risk would look like a decision that could have been researched or discussed amongst the team but was not at all. You would be very lucky if the latter succeeded. I suppose the adage “failing to plan is planning to fail” could be used here.

One thing to remember about risk is that healthy risk is not taking a shot in the dark. Healthy risk is still planning, researching, and discussing, and only then making a decision even if information is incomplete; the goal is to shine as much light as possible on the decision before making it. Unhealthy risk would be related to taking a shot in the complete dark without having any idea where the target is. Unwise and dangerous.

We must be courageous risk takers as leaders. Only then can we successfully lead our people into risk and therefore opportunity.

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focus

Leaders Are Focused

Have you ever been distracted? If you’re reading this, chances are you have been – this post may even be what’s distracting you. Being distracted – I think we can all agree – is frustrating, especially being easily distracted. It seems to only happen when we’re determined to do something or remember something or write something down or commit to something; we never seem to be distracted from daydreaming, only when we need to focus.

This topic of an inability to focus for the individual is frustrating to the individual, no doubt. However, when a leader is unable to focus, it is frustrating for the organization. Now, I’m not talking about an occasional bout of self-diagnosed ADD. I’m talking about when a leader has a list of 6 or more things they want to do and no vision to do any of it. To express the severity of this problem in the context of leadership, I need to modify the above quote: If you pursue too many things, you will fail them all.

I’ve read that it is recommended that an organization (or individual) should not have more than five (preferably three) big and important goals (I’ve also read this figure for metrics). Anything beyond five will most likely be forgotten or treated as less important. To further drive the point home, consider this story. It’s fabled that when Steve Jobs returned to Apple after a brief hiatus, he sat down with all his staff and drew a large square with two lines through it to form four quadrants. On the axes he wrote “Consumer” and “Professional” on one axis, and “Desktop” and “Portable” on the the other. While Apple has several other products on the market, the main push will always be with these four products. Apple is a focused company.

I’ve been a part of organizations that want to measure everything and put in place measures to ensure that the metrics are met. However, if every metric is important, then no metric is important. If everything is important, then nothing is important. This is why we need to take time to differentiate what’s important to us and what’s not. We need to set goals, values, and metrics that matter in and to our organizations.

As the old Proverb says: where there is no [focus, vision], the people perish.

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Trust

Leaders Trust

I recently read the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling – I know I’m a decade late. One of my least favorite characters was Dolores Umbridge, who appeared in The Order of the Phoenix. The reason I hated her so much was because of her lack of trust for anyone (for my fellow book nerds, you can throw Fudge into that category as well). Despite previous faithfulness and the gained trust from others, she trusted nobody (not even Snape, who had “helped” her previously), which created a hostile environment in the castle until she was forcibly removed.

That’s fiction, but how true it is in the real world. Once I read about Umbridge in the series, I immediately tied her to one of my previous bosses. They trusted no one, personally monitored people’s computers, issued decrees (get it? Educational Decrees? No…?) that disallowed certain personal freedoms in the workplace, and overall destroyed the environment of trust in the organization. This was done in the name of results (the parallel is too real for me), but there was no change in results, just morale. The lack of trust, just as it did in Hogwarts castle, drastically lowered the morale, which in turn destroyed productivity (more in my blog about Fear).

I know this post seems rather fun and a little childish, but the truth of it remains: “Trust is the glue of life.” If we cannot trust our leaders and our leaders cannot trust us, then the organization will fall apart. In my real world example, trust left the department when the leader of the department decided to treat a room of adults as children who needed constant monitoring.

There’s another side to the story, however. Trust is important, but it must be built. It only makes sense that a new employee would be micromanaged to some extent as they learned the job and the culture of the workplace. As a new employee learns the ropes and earns trust, they should be given more freedom according to their comfort level, which should be compared to the leader’s comfort level for them. The way this gets unhealthy is when you try to micromanage a professional or give complete freedom to a novice. In short, it’s unhealthy to have too much trust in a novice, but it is also unhealthy to not have enough trust of a professional.

I encourage you to build trust up in your organization, this will help remove fear and squash the frustration of you and those you lead.

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