I am regularly surprised by the lack of conversational courage in professional circles these days. Not every conversation ends up with a great outcome. Sometimes you must deliver disappointing information. You may even have to let someone go or fire them. You might have to tell a vendor you’ve decided to work with someone else. […]
The right technology can make an enormous difference, but it needs to be put in the proper perspective. I remember when cell phones were a bit of a novelty but then became a regular everyday tool. It was as if the world couldn’t have existed without them (but it did). Many technological tools have arrived […]
We have become an excuse-making culture. I have been a bit frustrated lately with the quality of service provided by various contractors and service providers. It seems as if there is a minimal connection between what people promise and what they do. Excuses abound as work doesn’t get done and/or quality issues emerge. There is […]
It is fascinating to watch the Olympics for many reasons including watching how the different athletes handle pressure. Some people seem to seize the moment with relative ease while others sadly fall apart and make uncharacteristic mistakes. When you get to this level of performance excellence just about every competing athlete has superlative physical gifts and natural ability. What separates the winners from the losers is often their mental toughness and emotional resiliency. They have grace under pressure.
A leader’s primary job is to rally people around a common goal and convince them they are capable of much more than they think they are. People talk themselves out of success all the time. For the average person it is easy to identify obstacles and reasons why things can’t happen. As a result, we tend to lower the bar so we can make our goals achievable. Leaders should never lower the bar. They should expect more of themselves and their organizations and never settle for being average or second best.
One of the interesting things I find with high performing people is that they are usually harder on themselves than anyone else could be. Sure there are some exceptions – leaders who just self-confidence, but this is rarer than you think. There is usually something that drives an individual to excel. You hope the motivation is a positive one; however this isn’t always the case. I still remember one of my top clients saying several years ago that fear of failure is a good motivator and he didn’t know what he would do if ever actually embraced and enjoyed his success. I found this to be sad and he couldn’t understand why.
I don’t know when the shift started to happen in my lifetime, but we have changed from a nation that gets results to one that seems to accept a lack of performance and then bemoans our lack of progress. You see evidence of this everywhere you turn: 1) structural economic issues that never get fully addressed; 2) traffic problems that never get solved; 3) infrastructure needs that are constantly put off until there is a crisis; 4) schools that turn out less than stellar results; 5) a widening gap between the wealthy and everyone else; 6) a health care system that is broken and too costly to maintain; and 7) wars that are started but never end, etc. Each group of leaders claims they are doing their best given the circumstances and/or blames their opponents for not doing their part. They then have the gall to rant on about our “exceptionalism.” It is a vicious non-productive and self-deluding cycle.
One of my least favorite sayings I hear from business owners is that “we throw people into the deep end of the pool and see if they can swim.” What a bunch of nonsense! As a leader it is incumbent upon you to make sure your people have the job clarity, tools, resources and training to be successful. You are supposed to set people up for success not push them towards failure. Darwinian logic misapplied to the work environment is professional malpractice.
There is no such thing as passive leadership. Leaders lead – it really is that simple. Instead of shying away from a challenge, leaders embrace it. When others are hesitant to take action, leaders step up and seize the initiative. Instead of folding under pressure, leaders thrive under the spotlight and find the harder parts of their job the most rewarding. Leaders intuitively know that everything important begins and ends with them, but the middle part is a team effort and they allow others to step up and share their individual and collective strengths as needed. The best leaders only say “I” when it involves shouldering the blame, but say “we” when it means sharing the credit.
Leaders have to be careful about becoming too close to their employees. It is easy to get wrapped up in someone else’s personal life especially if you’ve know someone for a long time. There is a big difference between being a friend and being an employer or boss. The nature of the employer-employee realtionship is transactional – people are paid to do a job. Without the exchange of time for money the relationship probably wouldn’t exist. Moreover, it is much more difficult to hold a friend accountable or if necessary fire them.
Leadership can be a delicate balancing act. You want to push your people to achieve high performance and exceed what they thought was possible, while also appreciating that you hire employees and people show up with all of their human needs for understanding and support. If you push too hard they resent you and find you harsh and uncaring. If you don’t push hard enough then you enable mediocrity and stunt their growth. It’s not always easy to know where the line exists.
I know a lot of people get tired of sports metaphors for business and life, but they can still sometimes ring true. Everything Aaron did well is applicable in our personal and professional lives. I didn’t really have a horse in this race as a fan. I just wanted to see a good game and my expectations were exceeded. We also observed one of the best leadership performances I can remember in a long time on a football field (and during the two weeks leading up to the game).
You are the Chief Accountability Officer. If you are unhappy with the level of performance in your company, look in the mirror first. The culture of an organization almost always assumes the strongest characteristics of its leader (both good and bad).
Your own ego can be your biggest obstacle to success in a group context; don’t worry about who gets the credit or speaks the most, rather focus on generating the best ideas and getting results.