"Leaders See Possibilities and Enable Others to Seize Possibilities"
Leadership is a universal connector in life, but often is most accentuated in business and academia. It is a complex topic as it is all too easy to confuse management with leadership. Management is the production of acceptable results within known constraints and conditions. Leadership is all about 'changing the order of things' - providing a vision to those you lead that is so powerful and convincing that it ultimately allows them to overcome the two greatest forces that work against change and progress:
- Fear of the unknown; and,
- The desire to maintain the 'status quo' - the notion that the way it has been done is the way it always should be done.
Perhaps a leader's greatest recognition is the presence of fear. If you are trying to drive a program or a team, it is essential for you to recognize the presence of fear. All people are afraid of change - it is uncomfortable because it does not have defined results. But, you have to drive change because of the age we live in. We live in an era where we have more capabilities than ever before (largely driven by technology) - we have the power to feed every person on the planet if we want to; we have the power to connect every person to each other via a network; we have the power to innovate to make things better, safer and more 'routine' for people....in short, we have the power to harness technology to drive more dramatic results in our respective professions than our predecessors - it is not a linear curve by any means.
So the question becomes, how can leaders harness the age we live in to drive change for those that they lead? I would summarize it with the 3'C's:
"Courage is not the absence of fear; Courage is acting in spite of fear."
Capability is not so much about one's technical abilities, a measure of IQ, or even about productivity. It is about recognizing the importance of "asking the question, and waiting to hear the answer". Great leaders always harness the capabilities of those they lead, but they have to be able to listen to know where people stand - what are their fears? what is their vision for the future? what are their motivations (e.g., what do they want out of 'this'?)
You have to ask the right questions. No matter how good the answers have been in the past, there will become a time when those answers will no longer be good enough. And the only way to address that plateau when the answers of yesterday are not the answers of today is through change and risk-taking. You cannot allow those you lead to 'settle in' is the biggest failure of a leader. Managers perpetuate the status quo; leaders drive their students down a path to destroy the status quo through calculated risk-taking and an ultimate desire to ask the ultimate question, "is there a better way to do this?".
"Leaders drive change, but collaboration EMPOWERS change."
All the capability and intellect will not create a great leader. Great leaders leverage the power of collaboration to bring together diverse points of views to generate rigorous (sometimes contentious) decisions that have tangible impact. The worst thing in this world is 'group think' - surrounding ourselves with those who think like us, act like us, share our same point of views, etc. - think Election 2016. 'Group think' is very dangerous because you eliminate the opportunity to see possible solutions to problems when viewed from different angles, which is all about diverse perspective.
When you only surround yourself with people like yourself, you're going to miss something very big. Diverse experience, cultural backgrounds, and life perspective is a huge part of unlocking human potential. Back to the coaching analogy, during his days with the Chicago Bulls, Dennis Rodman was an outcast in the NBA - a misfit that nobody wanted to bother with. Phil Jackson did - he saw Rodman's talent, not in isolation, but rather, as a critical link to something much bigger - a piece to a large puzzle. When you only look at things in isolation, you ignore the reality that one plus one....can equal three or more. But, you have to be willing to encourage diverse perspectives to come forward...even when you don't necessarily agree with them; you have to create forums where perspective from everybody is not only heard and encouraged, but required.
"Teach people the importance and consequences of their actions when nobody is watching."
Character is about judgment, perspective and ethics. We live in an age of incredible amounts of information at our fingertips - all of the technology and information we have access to encourages us to 'speed things up' - opinions and facts all compete for the same legitimacy. The wonderful power of technology enables the proliferation of information - some of which is useful and legitimate, others of which is downright dangerous. Judgment is ALL about knowing when to act, and when to pause...the wisdom to know when more information is needed to make a sound decision. It sounds very easy, but with all the resources that often prioritize efficiency over efficacy, leadership is about having the courage to push the 'pause' button, but everything around you is saying 'full speed ahead'.
Perspective is all about having the discretion to differentiate 'the merely interesting' from 'the truly important'. Diversity and creating discussion that brings forth different opinions enables perspective, and it becomes a vital piece of the filter that will enable you to 'edit' down the vast amounts of information that saturates our lives.
Ethics is about values...and values matters. Ethics is all about what you do when nobody is watching. The natural tendency is to allow yourself and those you teach to constantly slip a little closer to that 'boundary' between right and wrong. The problem is that those little steps towards 'that line' are accretive - they are cumulative and they don't reset. So allowing people to slowly get away with more-and-more eventually drives ever closer to crossing that line. The line between right and wrong (insignificant versus consequential) is always going to vary, but you have to believe that people have a general sense of the types of behaviors and actions that fall on each side of 'the line'...but you have to decide what is truly consequential. You cannot micromanage every indiscretion because most of it is petty and not your highest and best use of time.
5 Key Traits That Make Great Coaches, TEACHERS and Mentors (NOT ROCKET SCIENCE):
- Self Awareness & Trust: This whole topic of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) that has become so popular as of-late is, in my opinion, all about self-awareness - understanding how your actions are perceived by those that you are trying to guide and influence. You have to build trust with your students - creating mechanisms for honest and productive dialogue is critical when things are going well, but more importantly, when things are amiss. If this type of trusted channel does not exist, there is no way to help. So create that channel - get out of the classroom, go have a drink or a cup of coffee...go take a walk. Put people in their comfort zones where they can share and you both can collectively discuss solutions to improve the situation. Be a mentor - pose questions, listen, and refrain from simply providing directives. By posing questions, providing perspective, and listening, you enable others to 'own' their decisions.
Phil Jackson was a master of knowing when to 'step-in' and more importantly, when to 'let things settle'. Back to the Rodman thing...when Rodman would get thrown out of games, he would not immediately go and address the issue - that would have been throwing 'fuel on the fire'. If Rodman showed up late for practice, he didn't scold him on the spot. He found little gaps of time after the dust had settled and emotions had calmed to address the issues in a way that was far more effective - 'spur of the moment', reactionary emotion is often a barrier to effective communication and Phil Jackson knew that better than anyone.
- Preparation of Structure that Encompasses Information, Ideas, and Areas for Discussion: If preparedness is just about showing up with information, then point people to a website and be done with it. Come prepared with the information as the teaser, but structure sessions in ways that leverage information into the dicussion of ideas and constructive dialogue that gets people to think and understand how others are thinking - that's where the real learning takes place - Exchanging ideas actives information into insights...and insights drive learning.
- Optimism and Encouragement: In a cynical world with generational gaps, it is very easy to be dismissive of those that are not 'falling in line' or not living up to the same standards that you once set for yourself. But, writing these people off is not the answer. Great teachers will seek to bridge gaps through optimism and encouragement that become the ultimate mechanisms for change. Discipline and indifference is warranted for those that just don't care, but if you create a communication channel, you'll often find that people at your level of the ball game exhibit certain behaviors for a reason - your goal should be able to find out what those reasons are and course-correct. But, you have to bring a constructive attitude forth that creates possibilities for solutions - to demonize is to destruct.
- 'Drinking the Kool-Aid' - Lifelong Learning: Great teachers don't just profess the value of learning, they are models of it - they show an insatiable thirst for knowledge. The teacher that 'knows it all' is about the most counterproductive thing ever as part of being a teacher is instilling the idea that 'knowing it all' is an unattainable goal in any field or profession. So, you have to show that same intellectual curiosity and be part of the dialogue - sometimes as an authoritative figure, but also as a person who is searching for the same answers.
- Gratefulness: Great teachers actively demonstrate how grateful they are for the opportunity to have a platform to influence others. Gratitude is a two-way street and showing it on a daily basis can only perpetuate a mutual respect that facilitates learning, passion for your field, and achievement.