What’s the difference between a great leader and an average one?
I’ve had the opportunity to observe dozens of leaders in my career. Some were exceptional, most barely passed for average. I’ve spent many hours tossing and turning on the idea of what makes for an exceptional leader, what makes them great. I’ve read books, had discussions with colleagues, watched videos and talked with people who are far smarter and experienced than myself.
After all of this wonderful introspection and discovery one characteristic continues to pop up which defines great leadership over average leadership. It’s a mindset, a willingness to do what others often won’t.
What makes great leaders is their ability and willingness to use ‘managerial courage’.
Managerial courage is the linchpin, the cornerstone, the apex for all things related to leading successfully. The word courage is of itself is an incredibly powerful word. The late John McCain had described courage as “that rare moment of unity between conscience, fear, and action, when something deep within us strikes the flint of love, of honor, of duty, to make the spark that fires our resolve.”
Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and best selling author is quoted as saying “Courage is the quality that distinguishes great leaders from excellent managers.”
George also said, “courageous leaders take risks that go against the grain of their organizations. They make decisions with the potential for revolutionary change in their markets. Their boldness inspires their teams, energizes customers, and positions their companies as leaders in societal change.”
If we apply George’s and McCain’s definitions of courage we can surmise that ‘managerial courage’ is the willingness to make decisions which we believe to be in the best interest or our employees or company, regardless of the popularity or risks involved.
A deeper look into managerial courage and we find that it can be further described as a set of actions and beliefs a leader possesses which define who they are and how they go about leading and inspiring others. These actions and beliefs include:
There’s no other word I can think of other than ‘courage’ to appropriately define good leadership. Primarily because it is so easy to not do the things listed above, especially when times are tough, yet to do them consistently it takes great discipline and resolve. It also means we will inevitably make decisions which don’t favor ourselves yet position our employees or company for better opportunities.
Here’s what managerial courage looks like in real life.
Scenario: A CEO of ABC company is pressing his VP of Sales to reach revenue targets by year end in order for the company to hit its financial goals. The VP of Sales has one sales rep in particular who singlehandedly drives 30% of the company’s revenue, consistently coming in as the #1 producer in the company, year after year. The company relies on this sales rep heavily to produce and as such the company has benefited handsomely. Unfortunately this same sales rep also causes a lot of problems within the company. He’s had several complaints against him by other employees, has a bad attitude, disregards company policy, has even been caught using his company expense account for personal purchases. If that wasn’t enough our lovely sales rep has also caused two other employees within the company to quit. Even though this sales rep is a cancer to his company, the company overlooks his problems because he’s a top performer. They’ve swept the issues under the rug hoping things will miraculously improve by themselves. Let’s face it, he makes the company a lot of money, how can they walk away from that.
Does this scenario sound similar to you?
Managerial courage in the above scenario would look like this. The VP of Sales provides a variety of opportunities for the sales rep to improve while demonstrating the employee is acting in accordance with company standards and the VP’s expectations. In the event these opportunities to improve and or employment warnings are not adhered to the VP of Sales must make a tough and unpopular decision to fire the sales rep. It’s a tough decision indeed because the VP of Sales knows she very well may lose her own job because she just went against the CEO and fired an employee that represents 30% of the company’s annual revenue intake.
In this scenario, our VP of Sales chose an unpopular decision because it’s what was truly best for the company and its employees, despite what her boss the CEO had advised. The VP of Sales fired an employee who is a cancer to those around him. Ultimately it doesn’t matter how good the sales rep is at their job, if they are causing issues and aren’t able to adjust accordingly after receiving feedback they don’t belong there in the first place.
This is managerial courage. The willingness to make a decision to do what’s right even when the outcome may be unpopular or damaging.
It takes great tenacity, strength, fortitude, mental determination and care to be a leader and do so successfully. Sure, anyone can be a leader, but those who do it successfully stand head and shoulders above their counterparts when they utilize managerial courage. The characteristic of courage is the very essence of what leadership is all about.
Key Take Away:
Standing up for what’s right and having the willingness to make tough decisions is key to being a great leader, even if the outcome may be viewed as unpopular.
Read the book ‘True North’ by Bill George. It’s an incredibly well written book that teaches people who to be themselves while acting and making decisions which are in accordance with your beliefs.
Back in December of 2015 I wrote on a topic that was near and dear to my heart as it is something I came across often in business, matter of fact still do today. It’s a challenge which all companies deal with quite frequently and seem to struggle creating a sound solution to the problem.
What is the challenge you ask?
It’s transitioning an individual contributor into a management role for the first time and doing so successfully.
Identifying a person, let alone the right person, to take on management responsibilities is becoming increasingly more difficult. HBR put out a stat recently which indicated companies fail to choose the candidate with the right talent for the job 82% of the time when hiring for management roles.
If it is so tough to hire for management than imagine the challenge and stress a person feels when they do get the job and are new to the role. I’ve been there and can share from direct experience that most often you get thrown into the deep end, left to tread water with a giant weight over your head. The majority of companies out there don’t offer formal training programs to their newly promoted managers therefore the sink or swim mentality is a very real and potentially frightening hurdle people looking to be promoted need to be aware of. Without the right training, development and mentorship it’s incredibly challenging how tough management jobs can be.
Have no fear my friends. Even if you find yourself in a management role without the necessary training and development there are many things you can do to improve your likelihood of success. If you follow these 13 steps you will be on your way to building a future that is purposeful and aligned for success as your lead your team to victory. (or a full write up and details of how each step below works click on the following links: part-1, part-2 and part-3)
1. Read “The Go-Giver” by Bob Burg and John David Mann
2.Have a 1:1 (One-on-One) with Your New Boss
3. Communicate Your Plans to Your New Team
4. Learn About Your New Role and How It Impacts the Business
5. Identify a Professional Mentor Outside of Your Immediate Company
6.Schedule 1:1 (One-on-One) with Your Team
7.Create Performance and Professional Development Plans
8.Develop Time Management Structure
9.Develop Relationships With Other Leadership
10.Create A Department Game Plan
11.Present Game Plan To Your Team
12.Create Systematic Communications & Follow Ups
13.Plan A Team Event
These 13 steps are to be used as an outline to reach success as you step into leadership. My best advice is to use this framework in combination with a style that is authentic to who you are as a person and who you want to be for others.
It is my belief that anyone CAN be successful in leadership so long as they have the right attitude, mindset and care for others. This is the foundation for which you need to be successful in leadership. Having a leadership game plan along the way merely keeps you on track, increasing your chances for success and happiness, providing you the best opportunity to serve those lead.
For many Americans career progression is as important to them as the air they breathe. When we’re at a point in our careers where we’re looking for the next best thing or a new challenge often times it means taking into consideration a management role.
To be successful in management, or leadership for that matter, it requires a completely different set of skills which are typically very different than the skills which were needed to be successful in a staff level role. When we are a staff employee, meaning we don’t have any direct reports, our focus is to ensure we do the best individual job possible. Regardless if we’re a part of a team or not, when we’re a staff employee we really have one main concern – make sure our butts are protected by doing a great job.
Being in a management role is very different. While it’s important the manager does a good job, she is also responsible for a number of direct reports and therefore is responsible for their contributions as well.
The transition to management can either be a dream come true or a living nightmare. Regardless of which camp you may be in it’s important to consider two things before you make the decision to throw your hat in the ring for the next management opportunity:
What the statistic above from HBR and Gallup tells us is that it’s incredibly tough to make a good decision on who will be successful in a leadership role. While the decision to hire or promote someone into a management role ultimate rests with the company, what happens thereafter is largely attributed to the individual in the role. Let’s make no mistake about it, a move from staff level to management can be an incredibly rewarding opportunity but to be successful in the new venture you need to know beforehand if you’ve got the foundation for what it takes to be successful leading others.
Before you consider a career in management think about how you deal with these five foundational leadership questions:
1.Do You Genuinely Care About Other People?
I’m going to take a hard stance here and simply say if you don’t care about others and aren’t willing to put others before yourself you’ll never be truly successful in leadership. I choose the word ‘never’ because you may see some success early on however in the long run a lack of genuine care for the people will always bring about challenges which are near impossible to overcome. The best leaders out there, regardless of their titles or the size of the company they work for, view leadership as an act of service and truly care about the wellbeing of their employees. “Leaders eat last.” – Simon Sinek
2.How will you handle ‘The Technician Syndrome’?
This is particularly important for people in a technical capacity to consider. The word ‘technician’ refers to a person who is in an individual contributor role focusing on hands-on work. When you make a transition into management you are stepping away from some or most of your daily technical hands on duties. There are some exceptions to this, for example if you work for a start-up or small company and are a ‘working executive’, however most of the time management roles focus their time and energy on their people and a strategy for getting work done. People who have technical backgrounds tend to struggle with this change as often times their original passion which has guided them to this point in their career was focused on being hands-on in their role, creating, building or testing things. (a Mechanical Engineer that designs new products)
3.Are You An Influencer or a Dictator?
What is your natural working style when you are in situations where you are working with others? Do you have a tendency to listen, support and coach or are you the type that would rather just tell people what to do? Successful leaders do more listening than they do talking. They understand the importance of giving their people an opportunity to contribute ideas, take risks, do things their own way, etc. Managers that don’t do this have a hard time motivating their employees as they view their employees as workers who are to be told what to do, when to do and how to do their work.
4.Can You Delegate?
Can you give someone else an opportunity to take on a project or work? Are you able to allow someone else the chance to take the spot light and recognition? Do you trust others to get the job done? These are all important questions which tie into delegation. Successful leaders delegate frequently because they know firsthand that it isn’t wise or feasible for them to do everything. Delegation also has a unique outcome which communicates trust and ownership to your employees whereas not delegating sends the exact opposite signal.
5.Are You Willing to be a Shrink?
It’s not the prettiest part of the job but a consideration nonetheless. A very real part of management is dealing with people problems, like a shrink would, and working constantly in conflict resolution. This aspect of the job often sends people screaming for the hills as dealing with people problems can be challenging and often viewed as a waste of time in the corporate world. Successful leaders view the people interaction part of the job as an opportunity for improving themselves and their employees while further developing a deeper relationship. They look forward to the moments to learn from, listen, coach and guide their employees. They do this because they genuinely care about the welfare of their employees both at work and home.
If you’re considering going into management take the time to think about how you show up with these five foundational leadership questions. What’s important to consider is that if you don’t have these intangible skills now can you develop them over time? The answer is most definitely yes, it’ll just take time, patience and a willingness to always be learning.
Employee attrition often times can be boiled down to one or two culprits. One of the largest contributors to people leaving their employer has to do with a lack of respect in the workplace. When employees' feel they aren’t valued for their contributions the thought of leaving their boss or their company becomes a daily reality. How can leadership impact their employees, increasing job satisfaction, career happiness and employee initiative? Through PRAISE. If you happen to be in a leadership role (noticed I chose the word leadership and not manager – there’s a big difference) you have the ability to directly influence, in a positive way, the experience your employees have in their jobs. When done with genuine care and appreciation, praise can have the biggest impact on an employees’ performance and mindset and the best part is providing praise is free. Zip, ziltch, nada…nothing out of your pocket or that impressive departmental budget you control.
Recognition in the work place boosts employee confidence empowering them to increase productivity. Rewarding and praising your counterparts or direct reports in front of their peers sends a powerful message that far surpasses any monetary reward. Don't get me wrong, plenty of us enjoy bonuses for a job well done but praise hits at a deeper level than just the pocket book. When employees know they’re respected and appreciated, motivation and individual morale typically surges upward accompanied by an increased positive work environment. If you haven’t read, “How Full Is Your Bucket?”, by Tom Rath and Don Clifton, I would highly suggest doing so. This book highlights the importance of recognition in both the work place and life, providing positive strategies to uplift those around you. 41% of job seekers identified a lack of recognition as the largest contributor to poor productivity, which in turn directly contributes to employee attrition.
Two rules of thumb to remember when giving praise: 1) make sure its genuine, and 2) make sure it’s not the flavor of the month. Giving genuine praise when it’s deserved is important to the health of any company and employee.
Those of us that lead know all too well that each and every day brings about a new challenge when it comes to leading people and teams. Regardless of a persons’ ability in the leadership arena, it takes guts to be a leader as it’s far easier to be part of the staff than step out and stand on your own. Leadership and its challenges come in a variety of forms and the method of leadership you choose when confronted with a challenge makes or breaks the outcome. That’s a lot of pressure for a leader, especially when you are faced with a difficult situation. Leadership is an evolving art form, incredibly difficult to master and has a tendency to remind us often how hard leadership is based on the mistakes we make. One thing is for certain, leadership is synonymous with conflict.
If conflict (or conflict resolution for that matter) is a natural part of being a leader, why is it so many leaders have a difficult time dealing with it? For starters, few people enjoy conflict. Life isn’t enjoyable, cheery or delightful when you’re neck deep in conflict on the daily. It’s only natural that we have an innate tendency to steer clear of conflict, especially if it isn’t a life or death situation. Unfortunately when we avoid conflict, especially in the workplace, it makes things worse as those conflicts have a tendency to fester, growing in size and organizational impact.
Another reason conflict is difficult to deal with is because you are dealing with people’s emotions, ideologies and perceptions. We might not agree with them, or understand it for that matter, but the mark of being a good leader is setting aside your personnel beliefs and listening to the other person, truly hearing them out. If we can’t listen and try to put ourselves in the shoes of the other person(s), coming to a resolution is nearly impossible as one party will often feel as if they weren’t heard or that they agreed to something they didn’t believe in in the first place.
Luckily if you step into conflict resolution with a strategy you’re far more likely to come out on the back end with a successful resolution. The five keys to successful conflict resolution are as follows:
Key #1 – Address Conflict Head On
Great leaders go into conflict willingly, not with the idea they’re going to change the world, but with the idea that they are going to listen and engage the people involved in an empathetic and caring manner. When we choose to face adversity we have a better chance of coming out on the other end with a successful resolution, happier colleagues and a healthier work environment.
Key #2 - Seek to Understand Before Being Understood
If you go into a difficult situation with your mind made up on ‘who did what’ it’s likely you’ll miss the bigger picture and leave your employees feeling like they weren’t heard, as if their side of the story doesn’t matter. Withholding your personnel feelings in these moments is tough, but a necessity. When we hear out everyone involved before coming to a conclusion we greatly increase our chance for making the right decision. Knowledge is power; when you've taken the time to hear out all sides involved in the situation before making a decision you establish an environment of respect as you gave each person or party an opportunity to speak their peace. I humbly thank my former boss and mentor Beau Pack who taught me this valuable lesson.
Key #3 – Everyone in One Room
I made a vital mistake early on in my leadership career in this department. I thought I was doing the right thing by listening to each party involved, individually, in the conflict I was attempting to mediate before making a decision. What I didn't realize in the moment but knew all to well afterwards was that my failure in successfully resolving this particular conflict occurred because I didn't bring everyone into the same room at the same time to squash the ‘he said, she said’ back and forth. If you’re attempting to resolve a conflict between two parties and their stories are completely different from one another, or their account for their part in the situation differs from what’s being said on the other side, bring them both in for an open discussion. When people have to speak up in front of the other person the conflict exists with you may find that their tune changes as they can’t make accusations that don’t add up or may be exaggerated. As the old saying goes, “there are three sides to every story - her side, his side and the truth”.
Key #4 - Seek Advice
Let’s face it, no matter how good of a leader you are there will be times where obtaining advice from outsiders is beneficial. A leader who asks for help, advice, or perspective from others shows the courage and willingness to want to make the right decisions. The key piece here is if you are going to seek advice on a sensitive situation it must be done from someone uninvolved, preferably outside the organization. This way you limit the blow back from internal gossip or side talk that occurs on the regular at the water cooler. Outside feedback is valuable as people who are uninvolved often provide clarity or perspective that is difficult to see when you’re at ground zero in the middle of the conflict.
Key #5 – Explain Your Decision & Ask for Feedback
When dealing with conflict resolution, once you come to the point where a decision is necessary it is vital to explain the WHY behind your decision to the people or parties involved. Once you have explained to everyone involved what your decision is you should then seek their feedback to better understand how it landed with those involved. Be prepared! It’s possible not everyone will be thrilled with your decision, but if you explain the process you took to come to that conclusion and stick to your guns thereafter you show that your ability to resolve conflict is one of process and care for each party involved.
Conflict resolution is a necessary part of being a leader. The more we willingly involve ourselves in conflict and the process it takes to navigate to a resolution the better you’ll be as a leader in dealing with conflict the next time around.
Leaders aren't born, they're created! While some people have natural traits and characteristics that aid in their ability to work with others, leading successfully is a skill that can only come with experience and training.
Leadership, an art form in itself, is incredibly difficult to master, even after years upon years of experience.
Good news! There is a way to speed up your leadership learning curve and do so successfully. With all the training, seminars, books, coaches/ mentors and leadership philosophies – where the heck do you even begin? The best advice I’ve been given is to keep it simple. Actually, what was really shared with me was an incredible scientific methodology called KISS, ‘keep it simple stupid’.
Keeping it simple means you’re much more likely to successfully understand, implement and retain the things you learn. As it relates to leadership, SQR1 developed a philosophy and way of leading, called STEP Leadership, which focuses on keeping things simple while removing all the scientific data and tough to understand language which often plagues leadership development, philosophies and training.
Focusing on the things you can control, STEP Leadership teaches leaders how to successfully lead any team or company through four easy to understand areas of focus:
For the full article click here...
Could your boss stand up to a Jedi from the movie Star Wars? Before you go dismissing it as if there’s no way in hell your boss could go toe to toe with a Jedi, let’s take a moment to see how GREAT leaders stand up to the defenders of the galaxy and beyond.
As you may know by now, Star Wars is back! Han Solo, along with Chewy, R2D2, and a whole list of other great supporting characters, reunited for a movie that is sure to break all sorts of box office records, sending fans screaming for more. Growing up in a generation where Star Wars was basically the second coming, I found myself oddly intrigued with the concept of the Jedi and that little green guy named Yoda.
With the new movie coming out in December I’ve spent some time reading up on what it’s all about and in the process I’ve stumbled upon an interesting parallel between the Jedi and present day business leadership. (Good leadership, that is) Weird as that may seem, it’s striking the similarities when you put them side by side one another.
Before we get into those similarities, it would be good to provide a little overview of who the Jedi are in the event you’ve been living under a rock for the past 40 some odd years and aren’t familiar with them. The Jedi are the protectors of ‘good’ and vanquishers of ‘evil’ in the movie saga, Star Wars, which was originally released in 1977 by George Lucas. Jedi live their lives to serve others and have an insatiable drive and focus on honing their craft, which is the search for knowledge and the development of the use of the ‘Force’.
Now that we have a basic understanding of our Jedi compadres, let’s take a look at their characteristics:
serving others, patience, humility, discipline, honesty, loyalty, responsibility, teaching others, listening, observing, preparedness, positive mindset, defending others
Now, think about your boss. Hopefully doing that doesn’t make you spasm with angst. Go back through the list of Jedi characteristics and see how many of them your boss possesses. If you’re part of the growing number of Americans in the work force which have underperforming leaders you may find that your current boss would get their rear end handed to them in a battle royale against a Jedi. We’re at a (good) leadership deficit in the States, and the gap only seems to be widening. That said, you may need to compare the characteristics of the Jedi to the best leader you know; in doing so, things start to balance out. It won’t be perfect but what you’ll see is the similarities between being a great leader in business and being a Jedi in Star Wars are one in the same.
It all starts with mindset. To be a Jedi, you have to master your mindset first, then you can move onto the incredibly difficult, life consuming task of training. If you are a Jedi you know firsthand it is impossible to be perfect therefore rigorous training and continuous development are essential. Being a great leader is exactly the same. To be a great leader one must have a positive mindset which then becomes the foundation for who they are, WHY they do what they do and what they stand for. Only then can a leader in todays’ business world successfully start to lead others.
It doesn’t stop with our mindset, it also has to do with our outlook on people. Both Jedi and great leaders serve others, viewing leadership as a servant role rather than a perch which one can dictate from. When we focus on serving others we find that we are more patient, humble about who we are and what our part is in the grand scheme of things and ready to take blame while defending others when need be. Great leaders spread the wealth and give praise to those around them rather than taking the kudos themselves. Their team is first, as they are a servant and only as good as those who make up the team.
Good leadership, like being a Jedi, can only be accomplished when we are sound of mind. Our self-health is a prime indicator to our success rate in leadership. When leaders focus on having an open positive mindset, are continuously developing themselves and lead by example, they are building the cornerstone for a present day Jedi, one which others will follow willingly not because they are told too, but because they believe in them.
Like being a Jedi, being a leader is a commitment often times larger than life itself and to be great you must CHOOSE to do so. One cannot just say “I’m going to be a great leader”, it’s your actions, not just words that make the difference. Once you develop the correct mindset, you will find your inner Jedi emerges, helping you lead successfully while serving those who are the most important – your team.
Zip it up! Not the fly on your knickers. (then again, if your fly is down please do zip it up)
Zip it, your mouth that is! Our mouths enjoy writing checks our bodies can’t cash and it’s going to catch up with us in a hurry, if it already hasn’t.
Are you getting a bit agitated that someone would tell you to close your mouth and listen? Don’t worry, I struggle with this as well, along with the large majority of leaders in business, politics, sports…you name it.
I’m writing this with a bit of tongue-in-cheek on purpose, but I promise my brazen efforts are only to share with you a great truth about leadership. That truth is the art of listening. As in, not speaking and allowing others to talk, a foreign concept for many of us.
Why is listening an important habit to develop to be a good leader? Those who possess the ability to listen earnestly experience deeper relationships, advanced awareness of how they show up and how others are impacted by them (EQ), are genuine in their care for others and are touted as being “leaders people would run through a wall for”. To become an exceptional leader, you must develop your ability to listen.
You may be thinking, “Well, that’s not very profound. I listen all the time.” But, do you really listen?
Let’s see how good of a listener you are. If you’ve done one of the following in the last week you’ll want to continue reading this article:
Why is it we don’t listen? Short answer – our egos get in the way of allowing someone else the stage to talk.
The long answer – Perhaps you’re the exception as your listening skills are top notch. For everyone else out there, which I’ll gladly throw myself into this boat, as leaders we struggle with listening. We tell ourselves that others are wrong; only we know the truth; “I don’t have time for this”; I can multi-task while we’re talking; my point makes more sense; they’re idiots; they must not see the big picture (love that one); they have to hear my side before we can move on, etc. With so much going on in the world today it’s easy to fall into the trap that you don’t have time to have a conversation, especially if that conversation isn’t of grave importance.
Leaders – read closely here. The success of your job depends on your ability to listen. Forbes writer Glenn Llopis says that when “leaders judge, they expose their immaturity and inability to embrace differences.” Did you know that your act of not listening actually sent such a strong communication to the person on the other end? Imagine how it made them feel!
How can we fix this?
Short answer – zip it (our mouths that is) and focus on the person in front of you.
Long answer – put away your phone, your work at hand, close your computer screen or turn it off, close your door for that matter and stop mulling over that rerun episode of Keeping Up With the Kardashians you watched for the sixth time last night. Do whatever you need to in order to give the person on the other side of the table your complete and undivided attention.
WHY should we focus on being better listeners?
If you haven’t come to the conclusion by now, we may need to get some backup in here asap. Let me get to the point then. Your job and career as a leader depends on it.
People follow and support leaders who live a servants’ mentality which means when their people have an idea, a question, a problem, or a wild haired suggestion, they listen as if listening is going out of style. Being a servant doesn’t mean a leader is weak, it means their people and company come first, before themselves. Conversation is the gateway to a persons’ mind, body and soul. Its best we listen or we’ll run the chance of missing out on some truly incredible moments.
The past 10 years in leadership has taught me many things, mainly that I still have much to learn. As the saying goes, ‘you learn something new every day’, I find this to ring true especially as I dive further into my career. The lessons I’ve taken in over the years, whether it was through the school of hard knocks or via someone who cared enough to help me, have all prepared me for an experience which is coming quickly.
The experience of being a parent.
Leadership doesn’t just exist in the workplace. There are many people around us who view leadership as a constant part of who they are, something they do at work, at home and even when no one is watching. My experiences with leadership have predominantly been focused in the office space up until recent when I got the opportunity to marry an amazing woman in 2014. Thanks to this new experience, I’ve learned much about myself and how I interact with others as a result of the perspective I’ve gained through being married. My leadership insights and abilities have also changed as a result thanks to the caring support my wife has shown me.
Fast forward to the start of 2016, my wife and I are now several weeks out from welcoming our first child, a girl, into the world. For those of you who are parents I’m sure you have all sorts of stories, memories and ‘watch out now’ warnings for my soon to be first time experience as a parent. I’m getting a lot of advice right now from those of you who have been there and done that, most of which has been helpful and much appreciated. Some of which has opened my eyes to a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before.
My wife and I are excited to welcome our daughter to our family, Miss Ava Rose Smith. Ava’s not even here yet and she’s already taught me so much, I can only imagine what I’ll learn once she’s actually here.
Which brings me to the reason I wrote this article.
Leadership, in my opinion, isn’t something that is turned on as you drive to work, then turned off once you walk out your office door. Leadership, good leadership for that matter, is a combination of a healthy state of mind, willingness to act and a care for others that goes beyond ourselves.
Strange, those very attributes are what I’ve been told are required to be a great parent.
I’ve had the better part of the last year to think long and hard about the type of parent I want to be. Similar to being a leader in an office setting, I’ve waxed on for some time now contemplating how I’m going to handle this new experience called parenting. Will I be able to rise to the occasion and help lead our family into the future? I certainly believe I’m fit for the challenge but must admit I’m a bit nervous. Nervous in a good way. Some of the things I’ve found myself tossing and turning on are:
If my soon to be daughter Ava could understand me now, I would tell her this:
Sweetheart, as your father my sole purpose in life is to do whatever I can to ensure you grow up with everything you’ll need to live happily, experience the many great things life has to offer and one day become a wild success of your own. When the day comes for you to start thinking about your own career or family I know I will have succeeded as a father if you know these five truths:
As one of the two leaders of our household I hope that by declaring my intentions I’ll be able to hold myself accountable to doing them consistently, even when times may be tough. I know it won’t be perfect but it’s a start. I learned this little trick when I was coming up in a leadership role at work. It’s one thing to write it down on paper but if you openly speak it to an audience, proclaiming your intentions, it has a very different level of accountability and often times results.
I look forward to being a parent for all the typical reasons people say they like being parents, but I also look forward to it because I view being a parent as an honor, something I’m humbly thankful to have the experience to do soon. I believe I’ll be a successful parent because interestingly enough, that’s also how I have viewed my leadership opportunities in my career. I didn’t always have this mindset. To give credit where it’s due I owe my parents more than what is possible to offer in this world for helping to instill this in me. I’m forever grateful for these life lessons and have tried my darnedest to implement them in my life, while sharing them with others as often as possible.
I’ve been told by many that parenting is a great experience but you must be ready for the inevitable ups and downs, moments of triumph and setbacks, but in the end if you believe in your family you will prevail. This advice has served me well in the professional setting as it’s important to know no one is perfect, mistakes will happen, but in the long run with the right attitude, care and determination we all can and will succeed.
As for my ability to parent, only time will tell what the outcome will be. My hope is that parenting is similar to leading professionally where you choose to care first about those you lead then help guide them to where they want to be, no matter the cost.
“At the end of the day, the most overwhelming key to a child's success is the positive involvement of parents [their leaders].” - Jane D. Hull
Last week I had the chance to reconnect with a former colleague and friend to get caught up on life over a brilliant sushi buffet. Heading into the meal, little did I know that our soon to be conversation would forever change my perspective on leadership. For the purposes of this article we’ll refer to my friend as King Salad. (weird to say this but he’s got impeccably styled hair [aka salad], and if you’ve seen a picture of me you’ll know why I’m saying this as I’m a bit lacking in this department)
Eventually conversation with King Salad drifted into the inevitable “how’s work coming along this year so far”. King Salad’s first comment both surprised me and caught my attention as he said, “I’m focusing my energy in 2016 on ‘Managerial Courage’. Not to say that I wasn’t interested in the conversation prior, certainly not the case, but without knowing it he had just triggered something in me which made me ultra-alert and increasingly interested to learn more about his perspective of Managerial Courage.
As I sat on the edge of the booth listening to King Salad share with me why he was focusing on Managerial Courage a thought jolted my brain which hit me like a lightning bolt. King Salad never saw any of this but he was probably wondering why I was so enthusiastically engaged in the conversation, no longer even eating.
What was the lightning bolt that stopped me from eating my precious sushi? I realized something that I had never thought of before:
Managerial Courage is the linchpin, the cornerstone, the apex for all things related to leading successfully.
It was so clear in that moment! In the absence of Managerial Courage all other leadership qualities and characteristics suffer as without Managerial Courage we can only hope to be mediocre at best when it relates to leading and influencing others.
What is Managerial Courage anyways? Simply put – it’s doing the right things as a leader, especially during tough times. Seems simple, yet it’s devilishly difficult to act on consistently. A deeper look into Managerial Courage and we find that it can be further described as a set of actions and beliefs a leader possesses which define who they are and how they go about leading and inspiring others. These actions and beliefs include:
The more I thought about it the more I realized that all this time I’ve missed the bigger picture as it relates to successfully leading others. I even laughed at myself because the notion of Managerial Courage has been in front of me for years yet I had failed to connect the dots leading to my current awareness on the matter. I always knew to lead successfully you had to care about those you supported as well as come to grips with the fact that the decisions you make won’t always be the right ones. I knew leading was an art, not something to be achieved at a moment in time, but something to work towards continuously throughout an entire career as a student of the game.
What I didn’t realize until this past week was that the genesis of leadership, the very foundation that exceptional leadership stands on, comes from Managerial Courage. It takes great tenacity, strength, fortitude, mental determination and care to be a leader and do so successfully. You can’t fake leadership, you can’t say one thing then act another. People see right through that.
Sure, anyone can be a leader, but those who do it successfully stand head and shoulders above their counterparts. It’s worth mentioning that few people fall into the category of great leaders which is why the concept of Managerial Courage is so important.
Courage is the very essence of what leadership is all about.
I am beholden to my friend King Salad for the awareness he brought to me over our sushi meal, it was an invaluable learning opportunity one which I’m thrilled to share and pass on.
What does Managerial Courage mean to you?
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.