Living a Recon Leadership Life: Self-Care

Now that you’ve hopefully taken time to read and review the various elements of R-Leadership, it’s time to put them into practice.

The first step involves looking at yourself, which may be difficult. After all, many leaders spend every waking moment, looking outward: ensuring the team is functioning, being forward-facing with customers and clients, watching the metrics, addressing the needs of Board members or other higher-level leaders.

The problem is that if you aren’t caring for yourself, you can’t care for others. That may seem like a saying more suitable to family life, but various studies over the years (do an web search and you’ll likely find more than you’d like to explore) suggest the average adult will spend one-third of their life at work. Other research indicates the average person spends one-third of their life sleeping. That leaves you one-third to do other things.

If you work more than 40 hours per week or if you bring your work home, you are reducing that last one-third. Possibly quite significantly.

If you have a family, you might justify the extra work — after all, you’d like to do a bit of remodeling or home repair, or maybe you’re in the market to purchase a home, or a larger home if you’re having children. Maybe you’re thinking ahead for those children — say you have three — and what you’d like to contribute to their future education or training pursuits. Perhaps your children are not yet school aged and you would like to send them to private school, or you live in a part of the world that education is not free.

Those are all great reasons to take on the extra duties.

However, if you are in a leadership position, chances are you are a salaried, non-exempt employee. Those extra hours won’t add to the bottom line of your paycheck, but will certainly reduce the percentage of your non-work time, either what you’d spend with your family or what you’d spend sleeping.

While there are times when it makes sense to take on extra hours, or even an extra job, R-Leaders learn to weigh the costs.

These costs include things like those suggested above:

  • Time away from family and friends
  • Time away from hobbies
  • Time away from spiritual practices
  • Increased health (physical, emotional, mental) stressors
  • Increased taxes (if income increases)

In the leadership role, you conduct risk-benefit analyses, so it makes sense to consider doing so for yourself.

R-Leaders not only learn to count the cost but also how to keep the job in perspective, recognizing that if we aren’t there, the organization will continue. If it won’t, we need to put some other things on pause and look at the succession plan.

In the meantime, what are you doing to care for yourself? Need help thinking about what that means in your context? Let’s talk more.

Superpower #11: Regularly Reviewing and Renewing Useful Practices

There’s a popular saying that gets tossed about in personal and professional spaces — if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

While it sounds catchy, the idea of the saying seems to suggest that if a thing works, we needn’t worry about it. However, many a person has found out the hard way what happens when they don’t check the fluids in their vehicle. Even an electric car has to be recharged eventually: it was running fine but once the charge was gone, it stops.

I once had a wonderful little (gas-powered) vehicle. I loved it and thought I was good with maintenance upkeep. I followed the guidelines for oil changes, didn’t let it run too close to empty with fuel, and checked the tires often. However, it let me down one day while I was on a highway.

It wasn’t the car that let me down but I let the car down: I never paid attention to other engine elements and the timing belt failed.

R-Leaders recognize the importance of reevaluation. They do not take the if it ain’t broke path, because they recognize everything breaks eventually. More importantly, they don’t just kick the organizational tires but pop the hood often.

What Does Regular Organizational Maintenance Look Like?

It is vital to review organizational processes to ensure things are working and in order. Every organization, from single-owner-employee businesses to multinational conglomerates have a strategic plan. Even if that plan isn’t in writing, it exists in the mind of the leader.

And if there is no plan, the business is going to run into bigger problems!

However, on a regular basis, the R-Leader is thinking about current and next steps. They may not be the one responsible for things like overall succession planning, but they are mindful of employee turnover (lateral and vertical moves, exits, new hires) as well as their own longevity in the position and organization.

They examine processes to determine of they still work in the same ways.

Consider the changes that many organizations had to make because of the pandemic. Companies that weren’t prepared to pivot immediately (to virtual work for team members, for example, or different ways of connecting to customers) had challenges. Some of those businesses haven’t made it back to market since the initial shut-down period more than two years ago.

Even for organizations that were prepared to go to an entirely virtual existence ran into challenges, particularly as fuel and product prices increased. That created an overall increase in cost from production to delivery, elevated shelf prices, and inventory limitations.

Yet without a pandemic, there were other negative impacts during the period, most notably to the supply chain. In 2021, the Ever Given, a container ship, ended up blocking the Suez Canal for six days, creating a massive bottleneck. Then, in March 2022, the Ever Forward (sister ship to the Ever Given) got stuck in the Chesapeake Bay, creating another series of shipping delays.

R-Leaders work hard to combat these challenges, most of which are out of their control, by regularly assessing practices and changing those that no longer add value.

Do you need help, thinking about current practices within your organization? Let’s brainstorm together.

Superpower #10: Energizing Teams Through Corporate Social Justice

There are many definitions or descriptions of social justice. It is a term that conjures a plethora of emotions, from pride to anger to discomfort. The concept of social justice has been politicized in terms of community and education. It relates to equity for all, regardless of culture, gender, gender identity, age, ability, economics … the list goes on because these are all areas of our intersectionality — the parts of us that make the whole. For example, I could identify myself by reference to my age, but there are other pieces to the puzzle of who I am. I could supplement that description with my gender, height, education level, where I live (or have lived), and where I work. In fact, there are many other facets to who I am that are not listed here.

Taking all the components of people’s selves into account when it comes to the ways they are treated is just a small part of what social justice is about, especially for the R-Leader and the organization they work for.

R-Leaders go beyond human resources basics, like expectations of equal pay for equal work or diverse hiring practices. These are important, but R-Leaders dig below the surface of those expectations, giving careful thought to the big picture. From a corporate perspective, leaders have to consider the organizational space and place, and how the institution ‘fits’ in the community.

How Does Corporate Social Justice Energize the Team?

Every company had an energy. When customers or videos walk in, they feel the joy, tension, hurriedness, fear, or other emotions of the people who work there. Even if they never see anyone beyond the people who they see once they cross the threshold, those feelings permeate the atmosphere.

Employees feel it every day and carry it on them like clothing. Those emotional residues however are not as easy to take off and can either empower people or give them stress and anxiety.

Corporate social justice, when put in place as a positive measure, empowers team members because everyone is encouraged to be themselves and to use their skills for the benefit of the organization, the surrounding community, and their colleagues in the workplace.

Have you ever worked for an organization where the leaders didn’t know your name, what you do, or what department you work in and when you tell them, they reply with a generic ‘Oh, that’s nice — thank you for being part of our team!’? If not, you are very fortunate! Such an experience makes a person feel like a number, like the ‘brick in the wall’ that Pink Floyd sang about so many years ago.

R-Leaders see each person they work with as individuals, rather than viewing everyone in a bunch as ‘Employees of Company X’. R-Leaders are not shy at having a variety of team members represent the company to the community. R-Leaders invite colleagues to serve on community boards, lead local events in the name of the organization, and lead other internal and external opportunities.

Seeing people from across the organization serving in these ways gives hope to all people working there that they too could lead in some way, could represent the company in some way. It helps everyone feel valued as well.

What is the ‘Corporate’ Component of Corporate Social Justice?

Corporate responsibility has also received more attention these last few decades as well. The ways organizations present themselves, function in society and community, and stand for (or against) a cause is the way the institution has a face to the world.

An example that can be viewed now, three or so decades since the incident, relates to Denny’s. What occurred resulted in the restaurant coming under scrutiny for their treatment of Black patrons. The issue was so severe that a California federal court intervened to inform company leaders that they couldn’t refuse service to Black people. The same day their judgment came down, several Secret Service agents in Maryland alleged that they had been discriminated against in a Denny’s. Needless to say, the reputation of the company in those areas and beyond were not so positive.

Unfortunately, negative examples like this one, where people face ill treatment because of their culture, religion or religious expression, gender or gender expression, dis/ability, or other visible or invisible element of their being, are not new or infrequent. Such incidents create tension for the people who work in these places as well, particularly if they have faced challenges from within (the Abercrombie and Fitch example from an earlier post includes a discussion about this sort of experience).

Corporations that, as a unified group of people — meaning the ways they face their communities through messaging and presence — support inclusion, diversity, equity, and access provide positive examples. Further, corporations that take a stand on broader issues, like food insecurity, water rights, treatment of the unhoused, economic instability, and many of the other societal challenges also create opportunities to potentially empower or disempower the people who work there.

R-Leaders are open to talking with their Board members to encourage opportunities for a positive social presence. Further, they want to hear from their team members, to gain a broad understanding of their needs, wants, and experiences to ensure the message is supported by the largest percentage of the constituency.

How do you advance social justice and responsibility as a leader, and support the diverse groups of people in your organization? What is the impression of your organization in the community? If you’re not sure, let’s talk it through.

Superpower #9: Translating Practice Into Process for Shared Knowledge and Understanding

One of the most challenging experiences for anyone is to have to do something without understanding the purpose behind the action.

Sure, there are times in every person’s life when they are taught ‘lessons’ and the process of learning is in itself the answer. Think about joining Greek and non-Greek letter organizations: often, there are onboarding steps that the person joining doesn’t understand.

However, the workplace should not be like that.

Employees want to understand that what they do has a purpose and the purpose needs to resonate with them in a positive way.

While it may not seem that someone working a difficult or unpleasant job would be so motivated, we all are. Somewhere inside us is a desire for good to come of the work we do.

In recent years, crowdfunding has become a popular thing: a creator develops a product or service and bunches of people support it to help it come to market. Two years ago, I backed a particular service because, based on the description of it, I felt it would be something I’d like to use regularly. The service went live because lots of people seemed to have the same idea and desire — great, right?

Well, as it turned out, many of us felt swindled. Some people didn’t find any use for the service, while others discovered in addition to the crowdfunding (which suggested the supporters would get special perks that the general public would not because we backed these creators), the developers had a public website and were offering the same so-called perks to non-backers. As if that wasn’t enough, the service changed its name, started offering things way outside the originally described parameters, and charged us all a subscription fee, even if we’d cancelled.

While all that may seem convoluted and frustrating, there are a couple of tweaks that could have made the whole thing work:

  • First, the developers could have given those of us who supported the crowdfunding campaign some kind of super special perks (like it seemed they were going to).
  • Second, they very well could have had a public website — one that offered different things from what the crowdfunders got.
  • Third, cost and payment expectations and practices could have been clearer for all; anyone wanting to either sign up for a subscription or cancel one should have been able to do so easily.
  • Fourth, having a clear explanation available somewhere about the overall business goal and trajectory would have helped potential backers make informed decisions early on.
  • Fifth, providing clear information to employees and customer service personnel, who in turn deal with customers and backers, would have aided in understanding for all.

Those last two points are important to R-Leaders because how leaders act is what guides what organizations do.

If a leader (or group of leaders) isn’t clear about expectations, team members won’t be clear either. The problem then is that they will be more likely to not understand the process or be able to engage customers or constituents in a way that increases the bottom line for the organization.

What Does Translating Practice to Process Look Like?

Let’s use an example of John, who is the leader at Widgets, Inc. (WI). For years, the widget industry has been all about selling round widgets. Suddenly, John finds out there will be a switch to square widgets. At this point, John has two choices:

  1. John could walk out to the production team and announce there will be a refit of the line to accommodate the new shape, expecting them to then connect with customers and obtain new ones.
  2. John could take several steps before, during, and after talking to the production team:
    • Before …
      • He connects with the Board to understand why the switch is happening and how soon. In his discussion, he also requests help in understanding the Board’s expectation for the time frame of making the changes necessary to a) re-tool the line, b) inform existing and potential customers, and c) how they might help those customers understand how to use and what it will take to incorporate the new widget form.
      • Once John has gained these pieces of information and knows the Board’s expectation, he identifies the benefits and costs (human, financial, and time).
      • John develops a plan for moving forward in a way that includes all constituents in the conversation.
    • During …
      • John has regular meetings with directors and managers. He usually pulls together an agenda with their input, but this time adds an additional item for special discussion.
      • John and the group of leaders discuss the regular matters and when they get to the special discussion item, he provides them with the Board update about the widget change and they talk through the opportunities and challenges.
      • John attends the department meetings to support each director and manager during their conversation with members of the production team. He guides the conversation back to the directors and managers, letting them know he’s just there to answer questions.
    • After …
      • As the dust begins to settle, John does some in-between check-ins with the managers and directors as well as the members of the production team.
      • He works with them all to identify what challenges they are hearing from customers. John then calls, visits, and does video conferences with the customers who have deeper questions than other members of the team feel comfortable answering.
      • The entire team comes together to discuss remaining opportunities and challenges. They celebrate the wins and at the same time seek further solutions for the stalemates.

The second option — with a before, during, and after steps — takes more time to read, just as it would to put into action!

R-Leaders are willing to devote the time because showing the team by being present, being willing to engage in the difficult tasks, and publicly recognizing their own areas of growth and needs for understanding. Doing those things shows their human side as well as their belief and support of the team.

Need help strengthening your connections to your team and larger community? We’re here to work with you.

Superpower #8: Intuiting Needs for Organizational Advantage

Superpower #6 was about the business niche — one of the descriptions of a niche is a wall indentation where a vase could sit, which is a great segue. What better way for an R-Leader to think about the next moves for their organization than sitting?

There are occasions when time in the office moves at breakneck speed and innovation and ideas arrive apace of it all. However, that’s not sustainable, as has been evidenced by the ups and downs of Silicon Valley: not everyone can be a Google or an Apple. Even Microsoft, a company that was a juggernaut in the 1980s through 2000s, has become something of a ‘comfort brand’.

So, if corporate giants like Google, Apple, and Microsoft hit slow patches when it comes to their business niche, what chances do R-Leaders working at smaller or less-well-known organizations have?

Plenty.

R-Leaders who take time to put themselves in the indentation, who sit and think, who consider the costs and benefits of change management, new product development, innovative customer service process, and all the other things that bring organizational advantage … will find it.

What Does It Mean to Intuit?

Intuiting is to the brain what feeling is to the hands or the body.

Here’s an exercise to illustrate this point: Find the softest blanket in your house. Touch it. Feel the fluff and warmth. Better yet, wrap yourself in it. What happens? Chances are, you closed your eyes and let out a deep breath. You might have even smiled.

In other words, you felt comforted.

Now, remember a time when you had a great idea for a product or process in your organization. It doesn’t have to be one that you put into action. As you let your mind rewind to the moment of realization that you’d thought of it, of the thing that — in that instant — was the answer to a business prayer, chances are your physical reactions were pretty similar to what you felt wrapped in that squishy soft blanket. You probably smiled, closed your eyes, let out a deep breath.

And then you got to work.

R-Leaders love that feeling and are excited to share it with others. Even if it doesn’t work this time, they still cheer on the team who tried to take it to the finish line.

But What If Intuiting Doesn’t Yield Fruit?

Some might think that the leader who sits, thinks of a way to bring innovation to the organization, but whose idea falls flat has wasted their time. Not only that, they seem to have wasted the team’s time as well — the people who also got excited, who bought into the dream, and after who knows how many hours of trying to bring it to life ended up watching it not work. That seems like a tough sell to Corporate, right?

Hold on a moment.

R-Leaders recognize that organizational advantage is not just an external line item. They know that organizational advantage looks different, depending on the sector. Sure, it’s always nice to see the lines on the bar graph going up each quarter, but there’s tons of intrinsic value in seeing more smile lines on team member’s faces because they love their jobs more and more with each passing day.

Organizational advantage may take the form of an award or recognition as a great place to work. Such accolades often translate into extrinsic value (such as revenue increases) because customers like putting their money behind companies with solid reputations.

Solid reputations come not only from superior products but through positive internal reviews and word of mouth from insiders — team members.

Positive internal reviews don’t just magically occur.

R-Leaders look to create a positive work environment, which leads to organizational advantage, by intuiting the needs of their internal and external constituents.

How’s your intuition these days? Let’s connect if you need to build it.

Superpower #7: Observing and Reporting From the Basement to the Balcony View

Superpower #6 was about developing a niche. However, there are nuances that must be clarified, because it’s very easy to cross the line into an area that make the populace (i.e., the customer or constituent base — in other words, the people who keep the business afloat) say ‘Ew!’ in a very loud voice.

Netflix recently showed a documentary called ‘White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch’. Here is one of the comments in the article linked here that stands out:

“You can actually see concretely not just how [the company’s exclusionary plan and presentation] hurts people [in the film], but how it’s been implemented and weaponized against them.” (para. 4)

One of the comments from the documentary that hits at the core of the problem is that the company highlights ‘the worst parts of American history … everything we want America not to be.’ (1:20:00)

There is the rub of the niche — when a company or organization sets itself up in a way that is opposite the way it should be. Instead of creating a unique brand or process that could be attractive to any customer or constituent, they exclude internal and external customers and constituents alike.

R-Leaders help their companies avoid such challenges by taking a basement to balcony view of the organization and its plans. To describe this view, let’s use the example of a multi-floor house: picture a home with a basement or lower level, a main floor, and a balcony.

The Basement

The basement is the floor that includes usable space but is underground. This underground area might have exercise equipment, a playroom for the children, musical equipment, or serve as a family room with computers for games or a large television for movie night. The laundry room might be down there too, or the pet area. For whatever reason, this is a work space, no matter how good it looks. We might invite the boss over and serve drinks and snacks in the front room, or formal dining room, but we don’t take the boss to the basement because our teenager is playing World of Warcraft down there in pajamas and it’s four in the afternoon. Plus, the dog is eating and sloshing water from the water bowl and there’s an overflowing dirty clothes hamper to be attended to.

The basement view that the R-Leader is looking at is where the physical and intellectual grind happens. It includes the areas that don’t always get a spotlight shined on them. Think the IT department, the administrative and executive assistant pool, the business office, the maintenance crew — the people and places where many of the processes move along after decision-making (more on that in a moment).

The Main Floor

If we continue with the floors of the house motif, we next come to the main floor. Here is the front room, kitchen, and dining room. It’s what most people see. When the neighbors pop by for conversation on a nice summer evening, we might invite them into the front room, or sit at the dining room table or bar stools next to the kitchen counter for a lemonade and a chat.

In business, the R-Leader might view the main floor as the lobby, where it’s most common to find customer-facing team members and managers, for example. It is the part of the company that is most visible to the most people. It’s where the processes from the basement are put into action for all to see.

The Balcony

A balcony on a house is typically like a porch, but it’s up high. Some balconies have stairs, where people could walk up from the outside. Others are private and only accessible from a master bedroom or other second (or higher) floor area.

The balcony might represent the R-Leader’s executive suite or private office, where strategic forecasting happens. It is a space that not everyone can see and where the final answer comes from. Those processes that began in the basement are often the result of decisions that were confirmed on the balcony before making it into action on the main floor.

How does a Basement to Balcony View Work?

R-Leaders who are respectful provocateurs and advance creatively the commitment to growth through channels of open communication that help bring joy to their organizations as they build that business niche are well aware of the ‘floors of their house.’

While the R-Leader might feel at times stuck on the balcony as they (and the other members of the executive team if there are any — like board members, CFO’s, COO’s, or others that meet the ‘C-Suite’ description) make decisions, they know people are in the basement ensuring there are processes in place and that others on the main floor are working hard to action the decisions and processes.

R-Leaders, in their desire for open communication, will always find a way to incorporate voices from all the floors of the house. They do it by going to those areas — to the people at the various levels of the organization — and by having an open door through which their colleagues at all levels can come to meet, share, and give feedback.

R-Leaders may make the decisions, but when they report out, they incorporate viewpoints from basement to balcony.

Doing so ensures a cycle of continuity that keeps a flow of innovation and helps R-Leaders identify opportunities for improvement.

If you need help as you ‘map your house’ and identify the various viewpoints, let’s get in touch.

Superpower #6: Niche-Building for Innovation

What is a niche?

There are several descriptions or definitions. A historical description is of an indented portion of a wall where someone would put a vase. There is also something known as a biological niche, which is defined as the role an organism plays in its community.

But, there is also the business niche, the market niche, which represents a specialized sector in the sector. Starbucks represented one of those specialized sectors in the sector: coffee. Another example would be UPS, when it appeared (or maybe it was FedEx … which company provided rapid shipping first?).

While it may seem like the business or market niche is for standalone or boutique sorts of business ventures, R-Leaders look for the niche in their markets.

Say you are a consultant for small business professionals: what sets your business apart from others? That’s your niche.

Even if you aren’t the CEO of your own company, you are a leader and thus must make decisions that keep the organization you work for in the green, budget-wise. To do that, you make choices that advance your products and services in the market. Every leader and their teams use creativity to identify where they can make a difference.

If they don’t, the business is likely faltering. Every day, business tactics must change. For example, in this lifetime, we could see the movement from human to A.I. regarding writing and teaching. Don’t believe it? There is an article that just came out in the New York Times about Large Language Models (LLM) in machine learning and how one such computer can answer open-ended questions and write unique clear responses. Such a device could put teachers out of business one day (or worse: Terminator, anyone?).

The idea of a super computer taking the place of our school leaders is extremely unlikely, but put in other contexts, it’s easy to see why every leader has to consider innovation as the key to staying relevant.

What are you doing to build your business niche?

R-Leadership is here to help you find it.

Superpower #5: Normalizing Workplace Joy

One of the benefits of access to so much media is that it provides many examples — either through fiction or dramatized versions of real stories — of both good and poor leadership and decision-making.

A couple of interesting snippets come from two recent dramas: The Dropout and WeCrashed.

The Dropout is on Hulu and provided the story of Elizabeth Holmes, founder of Theranos, a company that offered a medical device, touted to revolutionize blood testing. In the third or so episode of the show, there is a scene where the design team quits.

The whole design team.

They leave some books (the main one is titled The No A**hole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t — which is a real book, written by Dr. Robert I. Sutton) for Ms. Holmes, with a message: learn some management skills. As the show progressed up to and beyond this point, it’s obvious that the people who work closest to the project are absolutely miserable. There are several scenes however that make the entire story very creepy, like the celebratory organizational gatherings, with Ms. Holmes, sporting very Steve Jobs-ish attire, With upbeat music playing, the crowd dances with uncomfortable excitement. It’s difficult to tell who in the crowd really believes they are in a good workplace. No spoilers, but as the show goes on, it becomes obvious that joy is in short supply at Theranos.

Apple TV+ offered the story of juggernaut WeWork in its series called WeCrashed. WeWork was (is?) a shared workspace company that in about a decade managed to develop a net worth of about US$47 billion. Its CEO, Adam Neumann and his wife, Rebekah Neumann (who, for some reason insisted on keeping her maiden name Paltrow as prominent as possible while reminding people that Gwyneth was her cousin). It is not quite clear what work was being done within the WeWork space, since according to the Apple TV+ series, much of the time involved lots of partying. However, and again no spoilers, there are a couple of key scenes that suggest joy was also not a regular experience for several key stakeholders.

So the question of the day is

Why normalize joy in the workplace?

There are various estimates about how much time the average adult will spent working over the course of their lifetime with most coming in at 30%. The website 20 Something Finance provides a series of provocative challenge points, including

  • information on the maximum length of the work week, which more than 130 countries have established — but the United States has not, meaning there is no end to a U.S. work week.
  • an overview of data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that indicates employees in the United States work nearly one-tenth more hours per year than other OECD countries. While .1 of an hour may not seem significant, it equates to about 400 more hours than workers in the United Kingdom and nearly 170 hours more than workers in Japan.

Tonerbuzz provided some collected information from 2022 on burnout: one of the most powerful points may be that half the workforce in the United States needs help with burnout and one quarter of workers indicate they are approaching burnout … which seems to suggest only 25% of employees in the country are okay.

It is important to recognize that providing opportunities to advance joy in the workplace is not the same as eliminating stress.

The person or group that eliminates stress in the workplace will likely win several Nobel prizes. Stress is part of all areas of life, so getting rid of it all together is more than a pipe dream. Reducing stress is possible for sure and increasing joy is one way to do it.

As indicated by Alex Liu, three elements lead to workplace joy: harmony (working together), impact (toward a goal), and acknowledgment (while recognizing collective effort).

Put together the parenthetical items and what is the result?

Workplace joy results when people work together toward a goal while recognizing collective effort.

R-Leaders are mindful of collective engagement. They are interested in hearing the voices of those around them and encourage others to do so as well. Conversations are not random but are goal-oriented. While R-Leaders care about the people they work with and seek to understand when individuals are struggling, the day-to-day questions and discussions are geared toward encouraging the individual and also advancing the organizational purpose. R-Leaders also highlight individual and group efforts and encourage others to do the same.

And they are always up for office celebrations, to commemorate individual and collective successes.

Doing little things like recognizing birthdays with a card, offering sandwiches and punch when the team hits metric, and hosting a shindig at the end of the year are several ways to normalize joy.

Are you interested in developing strategies to make your workplace a location known for joy? Let’s work together.

Superpower #4: Openly Communicating with All People

There are times when serving in a leadership position feels like one of the loneliest jobs in the world, particularly when the person is the sole decision-maker.

It then may seem like a mystery how such a leader might openly communicate with all people, since there are things the leader may not feel like they are able to discuss.

Before getting into the open communication element, let’s consider a few points about leadership first. Think about the following questions:

First, how has the leader been trained up for the position?

Learning to lead is key. Understanding the elements, the tools, the flow of leadership all help a person comprehend what leadership is about. Reading texts on leadership theory is one way to get at these components. Attending workshops or trainings, taking up a leadership degree, and watching videos are also great steps to take.

The challenge is that some leaders stop there: they take the courses, read the books, watch the videos, or attend the trainings, but they haven’t made the leap to living out what was learned.

Think of it like learning to ride a bicycle: it’s possible to learn how to pedal a bike and go by learning the science behind centrifugal force, gravity, and speed. However, a person who reads about riding a bike hasn’t actually rode one.

Similarly, a person who has only read about being a leader hasn’t done any leading — even if they carry a leader’s title.

Training to lead is vital, which leads to the next question:

Who is mentoring the leader?

Reading about leadership or taking up courses and training about leadership are very important, but like getting from the bottom to the top of a mountain, it takes more than one step.

Being a leader means being open to receiving support, not just giving it. Leaders need to be connected to other leaders for mentoring, and so they can see leadership in action, because it doesn’t always look the same in every circumstance.

Mentor-leaders may take one of two forms.

  • The exemplar. This type of mentor is a person who exhibits the qualities other leaders want to emulate. An exemplar mentor-leaders may live out the qualities other leaders have read about in their books and courses. They are willing to have other leaders shadow them at meetings and in the workplace to see what they do. They are open to questions, give open answers, and will admit when they don’t know. They will share stories of poor decision-making as well as the tales of success.
  • The antipode. The term ‘antipode’ means opposite, as in ‘as far as east is from west’. This type of mentor-leader is actually an anti-mentor, one who shows other leaders what they may not want to do or be. The anti-mentor-leader does what is indicated in the texts or workshops as what a leader should not do. They are not open to questions or their responses to questions do not help other leaders grow. They are not willing to explain and re-explain. Their sharing includes the greatest of sacrifices and success on their part. An observer, if invited to their offices, will pick up on the reactions of the anti-mentor-leader’s colleagues and likely will find the relationships are not as stellar as presented.

Choosing a mentor is not easy but there are ways to engage that won’t take a lot of extra time, reviewing resumes and job histories. Seeking professional groups to join and asking questions at conferences is a great way to start the process.

How does mentorship relate to communication?

Think about the exemplary mentor-leaders you’ve had as well as any antipode mentor-leaders you’ve worked with: chances are, the exemplary ones listen and talk.

The order is purposeful: listen and talk.

Communication requires both and not in equal measure. There is a verse of scripture that suggests people should be willing to do twice as much listening compared to how much they talk.

The superpower here isn’t rocket science. Willingness to listen is one of the most important ways to exhibit open communication with colleagues. The second component is speaking with necessity.

If you need a partner in your leadership journey who will help you think about communication as it relates to you and your team, let’s connect.

Superpower #3: Consistently Committed to Growth

The last post may seem the opposite of having superpowers.

Or is it?

If you ask author Joe Badarracco, he’d likely suggest that stepping back, maybe shedding a tear or two, and taking a break are without question the stuff superheroes are made of. In his book Leading Quietly, Badarracco suggested that what he calls ‘quiet leaders’ are the result of ‘the sum of millions of small yet consequential decisions that individuals working far from the limelight make every day’ and they select ‘responsible, behind-the-scenes action over public heroism to resolve tough leadership challenges’.

But to make those decisions, to sit far from the limelight to make behind-the-scenes actions, a leader has to be able to sit with themselves. So often, we fight, push, struggle, and attempt to get things done, to the detriment of our own health and sanity.

I read this great piece about self-care a bout a week ago. The tl:dr (too long, didn’t read) of the matter was that the term self-care has become synonymous with ‘some thin gruel, sufficient for enabling the person to experience the unsustainable conditions for one more day’, a way to get past the horror of this day to survive to reach the horror of tomorrow.

Maybe that’s how you feel about your current personal or professional situation.

The remainder of that post related to people’s relationship with their faith practice, but the point is well-made as it relates to leadership as well. There must be more of a ‘why’ to what we do, something more than ‘fake it til you make it’, something more than ‘if I just [finish this report … get done this meeting … fill in the blank].

R-Leaders want to see their businesses grow but also want to see their people grow. They invest in professional development, mentoring, conferences and presentation opportunities, and advancement opportunities to develop that succession pipeline (more about that in a future post).

Sometimes however, one of the areas R-Leaders may not be so good at is looking at their own growth. It’s important to help others, but the leader must also help themselves to grow and thrive.

When was the last time you took a professional development course, a training to update current or learn a new skill, or enlisted the support of a trainer or mentor?

Now might be the best time to (re)evaluate your leadership position. Let’s connect today to explore your opportunities.