Abraham Lincoln really was born in a log cabin. The fact that he went on to become President — and to lead the country through the most difficult period of its history — is truly remarkable. It’s even more amazing when you consider what it took to be an important leader in the middle of the nineteenth century. Although we hear a lot about people like Lincoln or Andrew Jackson or Ulysses S. Grant — people who came from nothing to wield great power — these were most definitely the exceptions who proved the rule. And the rule was, most successful people started out with all the advantages. Financially, it was much harder to get rich a hundred and fifty years ago than it is today — and if you failed, it was much harder to get back on your feet. There was no safety net from the government or from anywhere else to make sure that you didn’t go hungry. In those days, it was every man for himself.
With that in mind, let’s look for a minute at some of the things that Lincoln faced and overcame. You’ve probably seen lists similar to this, describing Lincoln’s failures, but I’d like to go through it again in order to make some important points, which we’ll take up immediately after the list. As you’re listening to this list, I’d like you also to think of setbacks you’ve faced in your own life, and how you responded to them.
In 1832, Lincoln was working in a general store in Illinois when he decided to run for the state legislature. But the election was some months away, and before it took place the general store went bankrupt and Lincoln was out of a job. So he joined the army and served three months. When he got out, it was almost time for the election — which he lost.
Then, with a partner, Lincoln opened a new general store. His partner embezzled from the business, and the store went broke. And shortly thereafter the partner died, leaving Lincoln with debts that took several years to pay off.
In 1834, Lincoln ran again for the state legislature, and this time he won. He was even elected to three more terms of two years each. During this period, however, Lincoln also suffered some severe emotional problems. Today he would have been categorized as clinically depressed.
By 1836, Lincoln had become a licensed attorney. At that time, a law degree was not required to pass the bar exam, and Lincoln had been studying on his own for years. He later became a circuit-riding lawyer, traveling from county to county in Illinois to plead cases in different jurisdictions. He was one of the most diligent of all the lawyers doing this kind of work, and between 1849 and 1860 he missed only two court sessions on the circuit.
In 1838, he was defeated in an attempt to become Speaker of the Illinois legislature, and in 1843 he was defeated in an attempt to win nomination for Congress. In 1846 he was elected to Congress, but in 1848 he had to leave because his party had a policy of limiting terms. In 1854, he was defeated in a run for the U.S. Senate. In 1856, he lost the nomination for Vice President, and in 1858 he was again defeated in a race for the Senate. Yet in spite of all these setbacks, in 1860 he was elected President of the United States.
What can we learn about leadership from looking at this chronology? To me, the most remarkable thing is how every time Lincoln failed at something, he was soon trying for something even bigger. When he loses his seat in the state legislature, he runs for the national congress. When he loses a bid for the Senate, he tries to become vice president — and when he loses the Senate race again, he winds up President of the whole country.
Lincoln saw himself as a leader long before anyone else did — and this is the first key to his leadership genius. He may have failed many times, but somehow he always failed upward. He was propelled by a sense of mission, and he was willing and able to do whatever it took to get that great mission accomplished.
From the very first, Lincoln saw himself as the savior of the country. Not just as a successful lawyer or a judge or the owner of a general store. To him, all those things were way stations on the way to something much bigger and more important. Lincoln saw himself as a leader long before he was one. In fact, he saw himself as the leader, right from the first. This wasn’t arrogance or empty ambition. It was a sense of ultimate purpose in service of a worthy cause.
How can you bring that sense of mission into your own life? What are your big, worthy dreams? Are there are goals that you recognized from the first, which you’ve continued to pursue no matter what setbacks have intervened? If that’s the case, then you’re already a leadership genius — you’ve already mastered the art of leading your life in the direction you want it to go.
On the other hand, you may be one of the many people who have put aside any ideas about changing the country or the world. That’s fine — but I do want to repeat the question I asked a moment ago: What are your big, worthy dreams? And I want to emphasize worthy. Having a big car or a boat doesn’t count. Those things are great, but can you see the difference between wanting material success and wanting to make a truly big difference in the world, the way Lincoln did? It’s the difference between just being successful for your own sake, in very conventional terms — and being a leadership genius, not just for yourself, but for other people too. In Lincoln’s case, it was for all people.
Think about your life in terms of a mission – a great purpose that inspires you to leadership — first leadership of yourself, and then of others. If you’ve identified that purpose, the next step is thinking practically and realistically about how you’re going to bring it about. And sometimes the practical side has to be dealt with first, in order to make the larger purpose feasible.
Is there anything about yourself that you suspect might disqualify you from being an effective leader? What are they? How can you turn these perceived weaknesses into your strengths? It’s tempting to think that our leaders should be without weaknesses, but that’s by no means the truth. Leaders should not be without weaknesses that they’re unaware of. Leaders should not be out of touch with what’s going on in their minds and hearts. That awareness in itself is much more important than what challenges it reveals. These are questions that will take more than a few minutes to answer — but I urge you to reflect on them to improve your leadership genius.
Dr. Tony Alessandra
is a behavioral and communication expert, and author of 17 books including The Platinum Rule
, Collaborative Selling
and The Art of Managing People
. Today he is a leading business motivational speaker on communication
, customer loyalty
After spending the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, shame, and worthiness, I’ve come to believe that leadership has nothing to do with position, salary, or number of direct reports. I believe a leader is anyone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding potential in people and processes.
Contrary to how we traditionally think about organizations, leaders are developing strategies and shaping culture across all levels. And, contrary to the myth of the "all-knowing-all-powerful" leader, inspired leadership requires vulnerability: Do we have the courage to show up, be seen, take risks, ask for help, own our mistakes, learn from failure, lean into joy, and can we support the people around us in doing the same?
In our culture, vulnerability has become synonymous with weakness. We associate vulnerability with emotions like fear, shame, and scarcity; emotions that we don’t want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, parent, and lead.
"Across the private and public sector, in schools and in our communities, we are hungry for authentic leadership – we want to show up, we want to learn, and we want to inspire and be inspired. We are hardwired for connection, curiosity, and engagement."
To reduce our feelings of vulnerability, we wake up every morning, put on our armor, and rarely take it off – especially in our work lives. We use invulnerability as a shield to protect us from discomfort, anxiety, and self-doubt.
The invulnerability shield takes on many shapes and forms. Some of us protect ourselves with perfecting, pretending, and pleasing. We convince ourselves that making everything "just right" or keeping everyone around us happy will minimize our risk of feeling blamed, judged, or criticized. Even though perfecting is exhausting, suffocates innovation, and ultimately leads to resentment and blame, we keep thinking, "Maybe this isn’t working because I’m not perfect enough. I’ll just work harder to be a little more perfect."
Invulnerability can also take the form of disengagement. We protect ourselves by never quite being "all in." We never get too excited or too invested or too hopeful. We’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. The motto becomes, "It’s easier to live disappointed than it is to feel disappointed."
Not only does the invulnerability armor fail to protect us from experiencing hurt, never taking it off means never letting ourselves be seen. Invulnerability means self-protection over self-expression, fear over courage, blame over accountability, and safety over innovation.
Why is being vulnerable worth the risk?
Because vulnerability is indeed at the core of difficult emotions, but it is also the birthplace of love and belonging, joy, creativity and innovation, adaptability to change and accountability – the experiences that bring purpose and meaning to our lives.
I know it’s hard to believe, especially when we’ve spent our entire lives thinking that vulnerability is weakness, but it’s true. Vulnerability is simply uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Vulnerability is a part of all emotions – light and dark.
Leadership is all about relationships and to be in relationship (with anyone) is to be vulnerable. Every single day, leaders are called to navigate uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure – the only choice is to do it consciously or unconsciously; to lean into the vulnerability or to push it away.
Across the private and public sector, in schools and in our communities, we are hungry for authentic leadership – we want to show up, we want to learn, and we want to inspire and be inspired. We are hardwired for connection, curiosity, and engagement.
When leaders choose self-protection over transparency, when money and metrics are more valued than relationships and values, and when our self-worth is attached to what we produce, learning and work becomes dehumanized. People disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs: their talent, their ideas, and their passion.
The equation is simple: Invulnerability in leadership breeds disengagement in culture.
Re-humanizing work and education requires courageous leadership. It requires leaders who are willing to take risks, embrace vulnerabilities, and show up as imperfect, real people.
That’s what truly, deeply inspires us.
Dr. Brené Brown
is a researcher, writer, and a unique speaker whose reputation is built on her ability to explore vulnerable topics with tremendous honesty, warmth, and humor. She is a leading expert on Authenticity, Vulnerability and Courage
; and the author of Daring Greatly
, which debuted at number two on The New York Times Best Sellers
. She is also the author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are
We get so engrossed in our profession and work, that we don't take time to "think." As a leader that is one of our most important responsibilities, some quiet time to reflect, ponder the future and clear out the mind webs.
Here is a suggestion that has worked for me over the years.
Bring someone in once in a while "to help you think." No, not an employee or someone who reports to you, that may tell you what you want to hear. Go outside the organization and engage an opposite of you. I am a pragmatist and I need someone who can theorize and stretch me.
At Southwest Airlines and at Braniff International, I utilized the brain and thinking powers of Dr. Don Beck, a former University Professor in Texas. He is an academic, a very strategic thinker and from an entirely different background than me. I would pose the question and he would go off and ponder it and come back with a proposed alternative or solution. It worked time and again.
And today, we are still friends and stay in contact with each other. If you don't have time to think, bring someone in to help you think.
What are other strategies have you tried to schedule time for reflection or strategizing?
Howard Putnam speaks on leadership, change, transformation, customer service, teams and ethics. He is the former CEO of Southwest Airlines and the first CEO to take a major airline, Braniff International, into, through and out of Chapter 11, getting it flying again in less than two years.
Tags: Tony Alessandra, leadership, Leaders, Mentor, Mentoring, genius, mentor, mentoring, be a mentor, role models, inspiration
There’s one thing that all geniuses have in common, and it’s something critically important too.
Despite the myth of the isolated loner writing a great novel in his log cabin, geniuses are almost never solitary individuals. On the contrary, they’re usually deeply involved with their families, their colleagues, and quite often with their enemies and rivals. Geniuses are usually surrounded by other people. Not just by yes men, either. Indeed, a quality of genius I want to mention — and it’s far from the least important — is the power to bring out the genius in others.
How can you accomplish this? Well, many personal development programs stress the importance of finding role models or mentors. That is very important — but for bringing out genius in the people around you, the perspective needs to be reversed. You should be a mentor. You should be a role model, not just find one for yourself.
Geniuses in every field have certain characteristics in common. They’re inspired, they’re resilient, they’re focused –and most of them read a lot! Think back over the people we’ve discussed in this program. What characteristics do you share with Einstein, Edison, Churchill, and Lincoln? It would hardly come as a surprise if you were to choose one of those geniuses as a role model. But here’s a more pertinent question: when it comes to role models, would people choose you?
These common characteristics do not occur by chance, they are an integral part of goal attainment. It is worth your time to analyze the constructive characteristics of people who are now where you would like to be– role models. These are people to admire and emulate. Your choices can include people who are dead or living as long as you are familiar with their personalities and accomplishments.
Harry Truman knew the value of role models. When he was in the White House, he often went into the Lincoln bedroom, looked at the late president’s picture and asked, "What would Lincoln have done now?" The answers gave Truman the insight and direction he was seeking. It worked because Truman felt Lincoln was a man worth emulating. Do people feel that way about you?
In becoming a role model that can inspire genius in others, the following guidelines can really help:
First, keep off the pedestal. People will admire and emulate you because of what you’ve accomplished. That’s good. What’s not good is putting you above them, and trying to appear larger than life. We are all human. We all have strengths and weaknesses. You must not lose this perspective on yourself, or others will turn away from you. And remember: isolation is contradictory to genius.
Second, focus on people’s strong points. To ignite and inspire genius, you need to see what an individual might need to emulate, and make a conscious effort to model those qualities. It’s a responsibility — not unlike being a parent — but it’s one that so many geniuses have willingly taken on. Edison had a whole army of assistants and colleagues, as did Walt Disney. Many of them went on to do great things in their own right.
Above all remain yourself — and give others freedom to do the same. Often the tendency when admiring someone is to try to become his or her clone. A genius doesn’t encourage that. A genius wants to be around other geniuses, not wannabes. That’s why the ability to bring out the genius in others is so rewarding.
So — go for it! Put this and everything else we’ve talked about genius into action and let it take you where you’re destined to go. Make the journey your intention, not the outcome. As the great Irish writer James Joyce put it, "Persons of genius make no mistakes. Their errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery."
Dr. Tony Alessandra is a behavioral and communication expert, and author of 17 books including The Platinum Rule, Collaborative Selling and The Art of Managing People. Today he is a leading business motivational speaker on communication, customer loyalty and sales.
This article originally appeared on Dr. Tony Alessandra's blog. Check it out for more on the topic of genius.
Steve Farber asserts, "True leadership has everything to do with who you are. It’s about how you approach your work and personal life. Most important, it’s about your unique ability to influence and motivate the people around you to change the state of things—your piece of the world—for the better. And not by taking a few new steps, but by taking a Radical Leap."
Join Steve Farber and eight of his closest colleagues, including the founder and guitarist for Twisted Sister, for an exciting interactive 3-day event in San Diego August 17-19! Learn about the principles of Extreme Leadership, AND practice and apply the tools and techniques with fellow participants.
To learn more and register, visit http://www.stevefarber.com/landing/three-days-that-will-change-your-life/ where you can also preview the 3 day, action packed agenda!
As an added bonus, enter SPEAKERSOFFICE as the coupon code and you’ll receive a 10% discount!
, author of Greater Than Yourself: The Ultimate Lesson of True Leadership
, the president of Extreme Leadership, is a leadership consultant and speaker, and the author of the national bestseller The Radical Leap
, and The Radical Edge
, and the newly released The Radical Leap Re-Energized: Doing What You Love in the Service of People Who Love What You Do.
Leaders by their very nature are under pressure to have advanced intellectual and emotional intelligence. In today’s economy, they better add one more – VQ, The Vision Quotient. The pace of change is speeding up. Each and everyday, the competition grows a bit smarter, and more of them from all over the world, extend into your territory. New technologies come on the market and mutate the foundational ways that organizations connect with prospects and complete transactions. Governments tax, regulate, dictate interest rates, and prosecute, and each time they do, the playing field changes. The more accurately you can see into this future, the more prepared you can be when we get there. This is just logical, however…
Sadly, we have bred a generation of leaders who are very execution focused and for whom the term "future" simply means the next quarter. Blame Wall Street, blame greedy shareholders or just blame greedy CEO’s if you choose, but the reality is, we have very few organizational leaders today who burn much energy really understanding where their industries will go in the next decade. They simply want to be successful within the boundaries of this year. On the other end of the spectrum, we had a great example in Steve Jobs of a leader who had an accurate vision of the future, and was willing to stick with it for years. He also had the courage to play out his vision of the future while competitors tried to copy products like Apple produced and failed. Steve won by simply designing his products better – and as we have learned, accurate vision plus great design – wins.
If I were a "follower" in a company and got the choice to pick my muse, I would pick having an accurate future vision as one of the top skills I would want in that leader. This is a skill by the way; it is not a God given talent. People that develop the ability to make accurate predictions on where an industry will go over time do so through extrapolating facts and trends, and adding innovative thinking to fill in the gaps. Emotional Intelligence must be learned over time as you become wiser about relating to others at a heart level. Vision Intelligence must be learned over time as you become wiser about how trends extrapolate, and how industries evolve. Only a handful of leaders out of any sampling of 100 actually have developed this ability. The others just step onto the gerbil wheel of their careers each day and deal with whatever is close at hand that will get them the largest bonus by the next measuring date.
I call having an accurate vision of the future being a "high beam" leader. One that can see the twists in the road a little better and a little earlier than their brethren in the industry. There seems to be around 1000 books a year that get written about some aspect of leadership, yet rarely do I see one that holds leaders accountable to have seen major industry changed before they happened. Consequently, we have a steady stream of large and well-known brands that simply laid down and died in the market because their leadership teams seemed to flat miss a major strategy change that needed to be made in their organization. Think I am being overly harsh? How many newspapers have we lost? Borders? Blockbuster? Kodak? Churches? Post Office locations? The list goes on.
And the list will go on until we get a generation of leaders who have a better ability to accurately see where their industries are going, how the underlying variables will change, and then have the courage to do something about it. The strangest thing to me about all of this is this… If you asked me for a good model of an industry that saw the future and did something about, I would have to point out the tobacco industry. They saw the demise of cigarette smoking in the US, and redeployed much or their cash into the food industry. Laugh all you want, at least they were willing to see the writing on the wall and survive. Many leaders in other markets have simply "led" their teams right off the cliff.
Even the mundane streets department in most cities does a better job of understanding the future and building roads to support future growth. One would think that our high paid leaders in the business word could at least do as good a job as the transportation departments!!
Powerful, passionate and creative, Scott Klososky is one of the first successful Internet entrepreneurs and is a highly sought-after technology and future trends speaker. You can read this article and others on Scott's blog Technology Story.
It's probably true that most people who work with us will never care as deeply as we do about building our business and serving our clients. If they did, they'd probably be working for themselves.
Yet there's a great deal we can do to raise the level of their commitment and inspire them to peak performance. The operative word in the preceding sentence is inspire. You can demand that people who work for you be punctual, or that they perform at a certain level of output, or even that they do things reasonably well. Yet real commitment can only be inspired. And, inspiring people is what great leaders like John F. Kennedy and Lee Iaccoca did best.
How do great leaders such as these inspire others to commit themselves to their goals? It's not just that they have charismatic personalities, or that they give a lot of high-powered motivational talks. What they do is communicate their vision so forcefully that other people adopt it as their own vision.
For example, in the early sixties, President Kennedy set his sights on putting a man on the moon, and told the American people "We can do it!" He said it with such conviction that masses of people believed it, and committed themselves to making it happen. And, sure enough, in less than a decade, the first human being had walked on the moon.
Lee Iaccoca stepped into the ailing Chrysler Corporation and said "We're going to turn this company around!" With clear goals, a solid plan of action, and a strong conviction, he was able to inspire enough commitment from the U.S. Congress that he secured the largest loan ever made to a private company. Then he inspired enough commitment in thousands of Chrysler workers to enable the company to pay back the loan ahead of schedule.
That's the formula for any leader to inspire commitment -- clear goals, a solid plan of action, and a strong conviction. If you can communicate that to the people who work with you, you will have the kind of loyalty that makes them go the second mile. And the third and fourth miles if that's what it takes to get the job done.
Of course, it takes more than inspiration to run a successful organization. The people who work with you have to consistently perform at very high levels. And, to get that kind of performance, you have to gain their trust. They have to believe that you will always be fair in your dealings with them, and that you are concerned about their best interests.
One of the most helpful insights I ever learned about leading others is that people do things for their reasons, not for your reasons or for mine. So the goals, the plan of action, and the strong conviction have to be communicated in a way that directly answers the question: "What's in it for me?"
When people honestly believe they will benefit directly from their efforts, and that the more they give the more they will benefit, they will perform at peak levels. So it's crucial that you show people how they will grow as they work individually and together to make the company grow, and then back up all your promises with solid actions.
People don't back good causes. They respond to clear opportunities for personal and professional growth. If I may paraphrase the Hallmark slogan, when people care enough, they'll give their very best!
But how can you move past the empty rhetoric and translate your vision into concrete actions your people can identify with and get excited about? Let me suggest ten proven techniques for building a solid team:
(1) Tie compensation, in every conceivable way, to the income people create. Profit sharing is one way you can do it, but that tends to reward everybody equally, regardless of how much effort they put into making the company profitable. A better way is to structure all or a part of everyone's pay, from the janitor to the president, around a mutually beneficial incentive plan. That way, the better job they do, the more money they'll make.
(2) Give constant public recognition for outstanding performance. The fact is that we all like to look good in the presence of our peers.
So, if you can document that someone has done a job very well, give him or her a public pat on the back. If it's really good, throw in a tangible benefit. It will make everybody feel like giving more of themselves to the team effort.
(3) Constantly ask for input and ideas. People are usually much more enthusiastic about supporting decisions and plans they help to make. So it helps a great deal to get ideas and input from any staff person whose job will be affected by any up-coming decision. When your staff members quit talking about the company, and start talking about our company, you know you've got a team.
(4) Promote people on the basis of abilities, not just because they've performed well or have been around a long time. Make sure that anyone you promote has the skills and knowledge they need to do well in the new position.
(5) Assume that everyone needs to be trained for every new assignment. If you're lucky, you'll have one or two people who can plow into almost anything and do well at it. But most people need initial and ongoing training.
(6) Constantly play the role of coach and mentor. Encourage people to keep growing and taking on new challenges. Guide their growth in ways that benefit your organization. Deal with mistakes and problems quickly, tactfully and forthrightly.
(7) Practice good human relations. Make people feel valued and important by treating them with dignity and respect.
(8) Provide plenty of opportunities for people to grow, both personally and professionally.
(9) Keep your personnel policies simple, clear and fair -- then firmly enforce them. It doesn't help to have policies that no one understands, and it's even worse to let people constantly get away with violating them.
(10) Weed out the prima donnas and poor performers before they spoil the whole team.
It takes a lot of patience and effort to build a solid team of people who will share and help you fulfill your vision, but the results will be well worth all you put into it.
Nido Qubein is an international speaker and accomplished author on sales, communication, and leadership. He is president of High Point University which has an enrollment of 4,000 students. He is also chairman of Great Harvest Bread Company with 220 stores in 43 states.
As a vulnerability researcher, I’ve noticed a pattern in my conversations and interviews with leaders and entrepreneurs. Within a very short period of time, our discussions become deeply personal and there’s an evolution that moves from This is how I lead to This is who I am to These are the people I love.
We often start by discussing issues like transparency in high-performance cultures, but invariably we land on issues like authenticity and values in leadership. These topics give way to deeper explorations of what it means to let ourselves be seen and to cultivate meaningful connection with the people in our lives – especially our families.
As someone who is intimately familiar with overachieving, I recognize the angst behind the questions I hear from men and women who have accomplished so much professionally but struggle to stay connected personally. Questions ranging from "Why am I so engaged at work, yet I feel increasingly disconnected from my wife and children?" to "How do I turn off the self-critical instincts that serve me as a leader? I don’t want to be that kind of mother."
Many of us have spent the majority of our adult lives in jobs that train us to outrun and outsmart the experience that underpins love and connection – vulnerability. We wake up in the morning, put on our armor, and march into the office thinking, "I will protect myself. I will not let you see my self-doubt or my fear. I will put on my ‘boss’ face."
We manage a slew of employees and relationships, act serious in business meetings, send Blackberry messages from bed at 3 a.m. We perform, perfect and prove ourselves all day long. In fact, I often call perfectionism the 20-ton shield. We lug it around thinking that as long as we look, live, act and work as though we’re perfect, we’re protected from criticism and blame.
This emotional armor we bring to work is heavy, and the weaponry takes a long time to assemble, so when we get home in the evenings, we don’t put it away. It’s too much trouble and, frankly, it’s too risky. Home can also be a place where performing and perfecting are expected. With everyone’s vulnerability shielded, our families are together, but we really don’t see one another.
We start to manage situations and micromanage the people around us, not just at work but in the rest of our lives as well. We make what is uncertain certain, no matter what the cost. We basically stay so busy that the truth of our lives can never catch up. We look confident on the outside and feel scared on the inside.
One of the most commonly held and dangerous myths about vulnerability is that being vulnerable means being weak. Yet vulnerability is simply the uncertainty, exposure and emotional risk we face every day, from asking for help at home to asking for help at work. The problem is that most of us have lost our tolerance for it. But when we push vulnerability away at work, we tend to unknowingly push it away at home as well—and end up pushing away all of the experiences that bring meaning to our lives.
Vulnerability is indeed the center of difficult experiences like fear, disappointment and shame, but it is also the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, creativity, innovation, authenticity and engagement.
It is not weakness, and the uncertainty we face every day is not optional, whether with our families or with our careers. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage, the clarity of our purpose and the fullness of our life. As Madeleine L’Engle writes, "When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability . . . To be alive is to be vulnerable."
This article was originally published on The Washington Post.
Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher, writer, and a unique speaker whose reputation is built on her ability to explore vulnerable topics with tremendous honesty, warmth, and humor. She is a leading expert on Authenticity, Vulnerability and Courage; and the author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Letting Go of Who We Think We Should Be and Embracing Who We Are.
What is your freakout point? USA Today posed that question to several CEO's and former CEO's. I replied that years ago when I was under a lot of stress taking Braniff International Airlines through chapter 11 in Texas, I was really tired and uptight. Our daughter Sue, signed us up for a parachute class and then a jump. It was great. I was totally focused on the training and the jump and for 36 hours forgot all about my stress and Braniff. It took me outside my comfort zone and gave a great feeling of accomplishment when the fear subsided and the jump was over.
So USAToday, said would you do it again? Hmmm, the challenge had been issued. So I called Sue and she said: "Let's do it."
I contacted David Hart in Lebanon, Ohio, who operates a skydiving school there and is also a member of the National Speakers Association.
To add to the drama, we planned the tandem skydives for Friday the 13th. It was a clear and cold day at 13,500 feet when we jumped. I jumped with David who has made over 2500 jumps and is very professional.
Again, it was an exhilarating experience and very satisfying to reach "my freakout point" and deal with it in a positive way.
What were the lessons learned and value to me?
1. It gets you away from your day to day stressful moments.
2. You totally focus on the moment.
3. Great for your internal ego.
4. Push the envelope, outside your normal routine.
5. Fine tunes your decision making, for a business crisis later.
6. Gets the adrenaline flowing.
7. Teaches the value of being proactive and being decisive.
8. You have to test yourself to grow, otherwise you will shrink.
9. Builds your confidence to handle future setbacks and failures.
10. Was a great Father and Daughter experience.
11. Face down fear.
12. When you dive into cold water, do it, don't tiptoe in.
Anybody can be a desk jockey. If you want to be a leader and grow, then find something outside your comfort zone and test yourself. I recommend it.
Have you ever reached your freakout point and dealt with it in a positive way? We'd love to hear from you!
is a speaker on leadership
, culture and customer service
, and ethics
. He is the former CEO of the highly successful Southwest Airlines and the first CEO to take a major airline, Braniff International, into, through and out of Chapter 11, getting it flying again in less than two years.
Practicing The Platinum Rule--treating others the way they want to be treated by adapting to their behavioral style--can quickly make you a more sensitive, effective leader.
Indeed, this rule can have a positive effect on every aspect of managing and leading. With each of the four behavioral types, there's a different way to communicate with them, delegate tasks to them, compliment them, correct them, motivate them, and counsel them. The Director style tends to be direct and guarded; the Socializer style tends to be direct and open; the Relater style tends to be indirect and open; and the Thinker style tends to be indirect and guarded. You can be more effective with all employees, regardless of their behavioral style.
Your power to influence employees springs from two sources:
- Positional power comes from position--you are the CEO or manager, and some power comes from being anointed by the hierarchy. Positional power is a starting point for influencing people, but the best you will get from them is compliance.
- Personal power comes from earning and developing it. It turns mere compliance into real commitment, cooperation, and collaboration. You can't really lead until you are genuinely accepted by those led. Thus, personal power--your skill in dealing with people--is crucial to you. If you honor your employees' individuality, their essential differences, they'll feel that they're on a winning team and will work harder and better for you. But you must empower them rather than seek power over them. You can do that by learning to listen, observe, and talk to them. And then adapting so they'll feel important, wanted. When you put The Platinum Rule into action, you'll see less tension and fewer conflicts and have a more effective, motivated workforce.
The Best Leadership Style The best leader isn't someone with a particular behavioral style, or some ideal blend of styles. Instead, the best leader is someone who realizes what a job or task requires--and then does it! That means working well with all behavioral styles in all sorts of situations. As firms restructure and put new emphasis on teamwork, leaders who understand behavioral styles will have a leg up. As situational leaders, they may wish to act in their natural style, using their intrinsic strengths. At other times, they may choose to adapt to others, using The Platinum Rule principles. Or, when they sense a clash of styles, they may opt to pick a third person to handle a certain situation, or to change the work environment--realign a worker's duties, alter deadlines, or revamp priorities--to allow people to play to their strengths (you can't mandate productivity).
Organizations need all four styles. You can't just say "We're a sales organization, so we need all Socializers." Or "We're an engineering firm, so we just need results-oriented Directors and Thinkers." You need all four types, and you need them in the right spots. In all cases, you (manager or leader) should be aware of your style and how it affects others. Being aware of the extremes of your style will enable you to become a leader, not just a boss, and make your primary style more palatable.
Here are some ways you can hone your personal style and become an effective situational leader:
- If you're a Director, ratchet down a notch. Remember that people have feelings, and that your hard-charging, know-it-all style can make people feel inadequate or resentful. Accept that mistakes will occur, and try to temper justice with mercy. You might joke about errors you make, rather than trying to always project a super-human image. You can encourage growth in others by praising them when they do something well and by giving them some authority and then staying out of their way so they can use it. Whatever you lose in control, you're likely to gain in commitment and improved competency. Try not to be quite so bossy! Ask others' opinions and maybe even plan some collaborative actions.
- If you're a Socializer, your people depend on you for ideas and coordination. So anything you can do to be more organized--making lists, keeping your calendar current, prioritizing goals--will pay big dividends for you and them. Nothing's so dispiriting as seeing the boss drop the ball on important matters. If you fail to follow-up, procrastinate on tough decisions, or make pledges you don't keep, your people will lose faith. Even though you don't do those things purposely, they'll see you as letting them down. Your charm and warmth can't compensate for unreliability. Realize that conflicts will occur. Try to deal with them up front, not sweep them under the rug. Organize your time better, and keep socializing in balance with your tasks.
- If you're a Relater, you're well-liked. Your goal should be to become a more effective, well-liked boss. Learn to stretch by taking on more or different duties and trying to accomplish them more quickly. You may want to be more assertive and more open about your thoughts and feelings. Experiment with a little risk, a little change. Being sensitive to people's feelings is one of your strengths. But you can't be knocked off balance by the first negative comment or action that comes your way.
- If you're a Thinker, your high standards are a two-edged sword. Your people are inspired by your quest for excellence, but often they feel frustrated because they can never seem to please you. You might lessen and soften your criticism, spoken or unspoken. You can seem so stern sometimes! Ease up on your need to control. Walk around; spend more time with the troops, chatting at the water cooler or lunchroom. You can have high standards without requiring perfection in each instance.
Whatever your style, being adaptable can help you to build bridges to your people and make them feel valued. By learning to best respond to their interests and concerns, strengths and weaknesses, you'll get the most from your people and leave them more satisfied.
How can you hone your leadership style?
Adapted from THE PLATINUM RULE: Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities--and How They Can Lead You to Success, by Tony Alessandra, Ph.D., and Michael J. O'Connor, Ph.D. (Warner Books, 1996) Dr. Tony Alessandra is a behavioral and communication expert, and author of 16 additional books including Collaborative Selling and The Art of Managing People. Today he is a leading business motivational speaker on communication, customer loyalty and sales.
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