A Leadership Primer: What’s Your Point Of View?

Perspective matters. 

How we see the world and our place in it largely determines our behavior. Take some time today and think about that more deeply. Here are some questions that can help get you started. 

  1. Why am I doing what I’m doing?
  2. How would you describe what you do?
  3. If you were one of your employees, how would you grade yourself?
  4. What are you doing today that you didn’t do earlier in your career?
  5. What have you stopped doing that you did earlier in your career?

The Bula Network Progression Of Leadership demonstrates a stair-step progression and an endless loop. Both at the same time.

Each component is important with humility leading the parade because the absence of humility foils the progression. Without humility, all progress stops because it stomps down everything else. 

Lean into humility by coming to terms with what you don’t yet know. Or understand. That’s going to require courage and generosity, two major components of leadership humility. There likely has always been an epidemic – a shortage, anemia – of leadership humility. Especially here in the United States where we can quickly fixate on hierarchy. Too often we’re more interested in being the boss than being the leader. They are not the same!

So maybe that’s where we should begin. How do you view being the boss versus being the leader? Do you make any distinctions between the two? If not, that’s okay. I’m happy to provide compelling evidence to prove they’re very different. 

Bosses do have a degree of power. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on how that power is used. So let’s wrestle that down. 

What’s the purpose of your power as a boss? 

Is it your job to solve all the problems? To come up with all the solutions? To be seen as the smartest person to whom everybody else goes?

Permit me to challenge that viewpoint. When you look at the number of people on your team or in your organization I’m guessing it’s a number greater than you. It’s not uncommon for me to work with a leader of a small team of a dozen or more. Nor is it uncommon for me to work with a leader who is in charge of thousands of employees. Size doesn’t matter, but what does matter are the varieties of people with whom we do our work. Lots of people doing lots of different things. People who have some opinions about the work they do. Don’t jump to the conclusion just yet, “Yes, but they don’t all understand the things I understand.” True enough, but tap the brakes on their lack of understanding for the moment. 

Too often leaders use that excuse as a reason to not listen to employees. I’ve two counterpoints to that argument. One, listening gives you the opportunity to enlighten them on what they don’t understand. But more importantly, two, it gives you the opportunity to be enlightened by them on things you don’t understand — but you don’t know it. Any more than they know it. Both of you are benefited and most of all, the enterprise benefits by your collective efforts to share insights. 

I don’t often give advice to clients because I choose to let them live their own lives, make up their own minds and figure things out that work best for them. However, I always begin by sharing as honestly as I can how I see the world of leadership because I don’t want to impose. I want to persuade. I want to be a leader with a high impact. 

Here are some truths that begin every coaching engagement. 

We lead people. We manage the work. They aren’t the same.

Leadership is influence. Period. It’s not power. It’s not being a boss. 

When the boss – the one with the power – has the highest influence – leadership – then it’s remarkably powerful. Everybody benefits.

Leaders do for others what they’re unable to do for themselves. Leaders who have boss authority, even more so!

Leaders take aim at helping people perform better by making sure they have the resources they need. That includes removing the roadblocks that prevent high performance. 

Leadership is based on humility where the focus is on others. It’s all about helping others do great work. 

My clients may have never heard these things. Or maybe they’ve never heard these things expressed in that way. They never disagree though, and I think that’s mostly because these are leaders who are open to, anxious for, their own self-improvement and growth. That means, they’ve already got a high degree of humility before I’m ever engaged to serve them. As long as there’s sufficient humility to accept responsibility for ourselves and our influence, there’s my high expectation that growth and improvement are probable. I’ve never found an exception. 

Blindspots are the bane of every leader. What we don’t know will hurt us and our organization. We avoid that by refusing to silo ourselves thinking that every problem is ours alone to solve. Or that every good idea must come directly from our mind. By understanding that we’re surrounded by people who get up each morning wanting to do good work, we’re better able to contribute to giving them a garden in which they can grow best.

Great leaders grow people. Growing people perform the best work. 

That’s my point of view. What’s yours? 

Are you interested in growing your leadership? Do you think a personal, confidential one-on-one coaching experience might suit you well? Then call or text me at (214) 682-2467. I’m here to help.

Grow Great Becomes High-Impact Influence

To say yes, first we have to say no. No to the other things that would require our time and attention. Yes to the things we want to pursue. 

This podcast has morphed as my life and career have morphed. It’s never been a drastic change, but over time a change in just a few degrees alters the outcome significantly. It’s time to morph once more. And I have my reasons.

Reason Number 1

Over the past dozen years or so my coaching career has shifted from hardcore business-oriented work where I focused almost solely on the trifecta of business building: getting new customers, serving existing customers better, and not going crazy in the process. My roots are steeped in business. Selling, marketing, managing, operating, leading – these are activities I’ve engaged in for almost 50 years. They’re second nature pursuits. 

Shortly after I began coaching I noticed a bit of a shift in the requests, the things clients wanted me to help them figure out. Things like succession planning, how to work with family members, how to train emerging leaders – these kinds of things began to bubble up more and more. 

Over the past few years, about a year prior to the Pandemic, I’ve increasingly worked with local city government leaders where the trifecta of business building isn’t in place. Serving customers (citizens) is the only part of the trifecta that really applies to the space of local city employees. These are not elected officials, but rather, they’re the professional leaders and staff members who do the work given to them by the elected officials, a city council. 

 Reason Number 2

We manage the work. We lead the people. All the work focused on both sides of this same coin. My view of it was being “an operator.” Great operators know how to both manage and lead. Well. 

Most folks dub such work as “leadership,” but I saw a distinction between it all. Good leaders may not be good managers. Good managers may lack superior leadership abilities. In my experience, the best operators were both good leaders and managers. I was yearning to no longer be bound by the term “leadership” coach. And “executive” coach seems too pretentious, especially when tasked to serve a client who didn’t see himself as “an executive.” 

Reason Number 3

For many years I’ve taught clients that leadership is a two-fold endeavor: influence and a focus on others. Over and over I continued to focus on that word, “influence.” Daily I worked to help clients influence their own behaviors and performance…then, to influence the growth in others. Sometime last winter I was feeling the increasing urge to shift away from pursuits that weren’t congruent with what I most cared about – helping people have a greater impact by influencing growth in themselves and others. 

When The Epiphany Arrives, Listen!

Influence. 

High impact.

Making a positive difference.

That was THE work. 

That needed to become the focus of the podcast, too. 

Stay tuned for more details…especially about a brand new 90-day online course with live Zoom coaching session with me.

Greg Jones: Leadership Insights (From Georgia Tech To The Startup World To Restauranteur)

Greg Jones is currently the owner of the Beehive Neighborhood Hangout, Xplore family of restaurants, and Co-Owner of Artfully Baked and Brewed in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas. But his roots are in hi-tech. Armed with a computer science degree from Georgia Tech, Greg entered the real world by way of startups. Eventually, he found his way to an international multi-billion dollar company where he took a small (think sub $10 million) division to over $200 million. In about 3 years or so he’s taken a one-off idea and grown it into an 8 location restaurant business with more than $6 million in annual revenue. 

Here are some helpful links if you care to learn more about Greg and what he’s doing today. 

Xplore Lakeside: https://www.xplorelakeside.com/

BeeHive Neighborhood Hangout: https://www.beehivehsv.com/

Hope you enjoy the show!

Traction & Momentum: Pursuing The Things That Work After Killing The Things That Don’t

Do more of what works. Do less of what doesn’t. 

But that sounds easy. Empty even. 

Kind of like urging people who want to be rich with an admonition, “Get a million dollars!” Great advice. But how?

Today’s show is going to be full of vulnerability. Not whining or complaining, but explaining. Experience and insight are valuable. Expertise isn’t always transferrable – from person to person. Each of us is on our own unique journey. But we can all derive some benefit when we lean into understanding somebody else’s journey. It can help us figure things out for ourselves, which is the ideal outcome in all my coaching work. 

Success leaves clues, but so does failure. And modern culture often fools us into thinking the path forward is something different than reality. I recorded an episode over on my “hobby” podcast, Leaning Toward Wisdom that speaks to this.

There is enormous power in a mind made up. But that can work for bad, as well as good. A person bent on destructive behavior has made up their mind. Nobody can convince them that their behavior is harmful to their own life – and others. 

We want to make up our own minds. In spite of the times when we wish somebody would just tell us what to do – mostly, that’s not what we want. I’ve found that people crave somebody with whom they can shell things down. The obstacle is always safety. It’s hard to find people who are safe enough because we desperately want to figure things out, but we want to be responsible for our own lives. We don’t want others imposing on us, even if we do seek their help. Being helpful isn’t as easy as it seems. Mostly because selfishness gets in the way. 

These are important truths because every high-achiever or would-be high-achiever is chasing traction and momentum. We all want to build up speed so we can get some lift and go higher. But there are no principles of aeronautics to help us. This is life stuff. Everybody is unique in their environment, situation, natural tendencies, talents, connections, experience, and most everything else you can think of. 

Last week a client asked me for an answer – something I rarely do because my work isn’t about telling people what to do. Rather, it’s about helping them explore more deeply so they can figure it out for themselves. But once in a while, usually provoked by some specific challenge, a client will blurt out, “Just tell me what you think I should do.” This time I responded with more questions.

“Were you born in Ada, Oklahoma in 1957?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“Then it doesn’t much matter what I’d do ’cause I’m not you. So let’s explore your options,” I said. 

We spent the next 45 minutes examining the choices before him. He settled on two and together we wrestled those down until he saw a clear winner. So it goes.

With that context in mind, I want to share with you my professional journey over the past dozen years since leaving the C-suite to set out to serve and help business owners, executives, and leaders. Traction and momentum are critical goals for every person I work with. And likely for everybody who aspires to their own growth and improvement.

One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves is, “When should I quit? When should I give up or pivot?” You don’t have to be an entrepreneur launching a new business to ask yourself those questions. Whether it’s about a relationship, a hobby, a fitness routine, or anything else we pursue – all of us wonder how long should we stick with it without seeing meaningful progress. 

Seth Godin wrote a book in 2007, The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick). It’s a short, but worthwhile read. I’m not certain it actually teaches you when to quit and when to stick, but I found it helpful even if it didn’t provide absolute answers. Frankly, I was never expecting Godin, who is quite smart, to provide absolutes. He provokes thought and that’s plenty good enough for me. 

We jump into the water and begin to pursue some outcome. After hours of swimming, it may be tough to know if we’re any closer to that far shore we were aiming to reach. At what point do you turn back? How much longer do you keep swimming? 

There are many stories of mythical failures – times when a person made a nominal investment at an early critical time in a company that wound up becoming a global behemoth, but the person accepted a modest return on their investment and walked away. They quit too soon, we think. Well, it’s easy to see that now, but perhaps in real-time that person made a choice that seemed best for them.  

How can we know? 

Sometimes we can’t. Time and chance happen to all of us. Sometimes good fortune falls our way. Sometimes not. 

Failure is our more commonly shared experience than success. We don’t want to admit it. Or talk about it. Ignoring or avoiding conversations about failure is more harmful than not though. We fret about our ego, our appearance, our image. Forget that we likely should fret more about our ignorance and our lost opportunities to learn so we can become better people. And in the process, perhaps find the traction and momentum we seek. 

I get it. We don’t want to be vulnerable to just anybody. Or everybody. I’m not suggesting we should be. It’s a decision best made by each of us for ourselves. 

I am suggesting that more of us step forward to be that somebody though because the world could certainly use fresh honesty. And wisdom. Plus learning. All of which can be had when we talk about, listen, and understand our failures. And the struggles we endure to capture traction and momentum. 

You drive through some muddy ground when suddenly you’re stuck. You give the car more gas. You put it in reverse. You put it back in forward. You’re going nowhere.

Eventually, you get out to take a look. It can’t hurt to examine the situation. The faster you do this, the better. I mean, how about stepping out to look when you’re first stuck? Isn’t that better than gunning the car and digging yourself in deeper?

Well, you’re outside staring at this wheel that’s about 3 inches deep in slimy mud. Nearby you spot some rocks and decent-sized sticks. It may not work, but you’re stuck. Best you can figure, putting a few good-sized rocks and sticks under the tire can’t hurt. So you give it a go. 

Back behind the wheel, you put the car in a forward gear and gun it. You hear the sound of the sticks breaking. But you’re still stuck. No traction. No momentum. 

Back outside you begin to think you made a mistake. Not with the sticks and stones, but in giving the car too much gas. You have an idea. You’ll repeat the process except this time, you’ll gently give the car some gas and attempt to ease out of the mud. 

Here you go. Nice and easy! The car begins to inch forward. You’ve got traction. It’s not racetrack traction, but it’s enough to get you unstuck. And right now, that’s all the traction you want or need. You inch your way out of the hole and within seconds…you’re free. Traction and momentum. And you’ve learned. You won’t make the same mistake of gunning it the next time. 

Our lives are like that. All the time. We’re making adjustments based on what didn’t work. Working to figure out what we don’t yet know. Or understand. 

So what can I share that may help you? Plenty! 😀 I have failed more than not, but I don’t suspect I’m much different than you. Or anybody else. Here’s the real rub. Some of us have won bigger than others and that can dwarf the failures. Others of us haven’t won so big so our failures can appear larger. It’s just a relative perspective. Mark Cuban’s failures and struggles don’t seem much to us as we admire his wealth ($4.4B net worth). But compared to Jerry Jones ($8.8B net worth), Cuban’s failures look larger. Fact is, we’ve all been fortunate, unfortunate and we’ve all failed and succeeded. Others can quibble over the difference and the magnitude. Who cares?

Professionally I ran companies until about a dozen years ago. It was then that I started doing roll-your-sleeves-up-get-your-hands-dirty consulting work. After a few years, I realized I didn’t enjoy the work. It was too disconnected from the people side of things to suit me. And my natural talents. So I pivoted into coaching entrepreneurs, CEOs, executives, and leaders in city government (that last one was purely serendipitous and I was thankful to one young man who reached out because he knew me…from there, word of mouth took over). Unlike consulting, this coaching stuff fit me like a glove. Deep, private, confidential conversations helping people figure things out – that’s how I’ve always rolled. It played into all the things I naturally do pretty well. Frankly, things that are easy for you. Best of all, it moved the needle in people’s lives and careers. Not me, but having somebody like me who could help THEM do the work of figuring it out – it made all the positive difference in the world. It’s rewarding. 

About 6 years ago I was introduced to the professional peer advisory world. Namely, CEO peer groups. I’d never been in one and I still wasn’t. But I was asked to form one here in DFW. As captivated as I was (and still am) with the notion of CEOs banding together to help one another, the situation just wasn’t an ideal fit for me. Culturally, I wasn’t a good fit. It happens. But I was still completely sold on the power of a group of people with one major commonality joining together in a peer advisory group. 

That’s when I introduced myself to Leo Bottary, co-author of The Power of Peers. Leo and I started a podcast. Today, our podcast is branded PEERNOVATION, after Leo’s company devoted to helping groups, teams and organizations elevate their performance through the incorporation of the five factors of peer advantage, as outlined in this book. 

For the past 5 or 6 years, I’ve studied the topic, talked with dozens of people who’ve been able to teach me firsthand the value proposition of people supporting and serving one another. I was a ready convert a long time ago though so it wasn’t much of a challenge for me to increasingly see the high value of peer advantage – people learning together by sharing insights, experiences, and wisdom. 

Almost 2 years ago, just months before the Pandemic kicked our butt, I’m sitting with a client and we’re talking about doing more of what works and less of what doesn’t. He asks, “How can you know? Sometimes I feel like things are very subtle.” As we talked through his circumstances, challenges and opportunities we both understood even more deeply than we had before – it’s difficult sometimes to discern. Recognition of traction and momentum – as well as recognition of the lack of those – isn’t always dramatic. His career was proof (so is mine) that sometimes it’s tough to figure out if you’re making progress. 

So I asked, “When you feel like there’s a lack of evidence, what do you do?”

He took a deep breath and mumbled, “That’s a good question. I’m not sure.” I encouraged him to think about it. We sat in silence for a few minutes. Finally, he said, “I suppose I follow my gut.” 

“What does that mean?” I asked. “Tell me what that feels like and what you’re thinking when you’re following your gut.”

He recited instances where he simply didn’t want to quit. He didn’t feel like giving up, even though there were no strong, definitive signals that things were working. As I probed more, he admitted that during these moments of determination, he believed success was possible. Even probable. He concluded that unless he had compelling evidence to show him progress (or failure), he based his actions on his confidence or belief in the thing. “I think I give up when I lose faith in it.” 

So we wrestled down whether he was losing faith in himself or in the activity. Sometimes both, he said. “Sometimes I finally conclude that the idea might be valid, but I’m clearly not able to carry it out. Sometimes I suppose I’m just the wrong man for the job.”

It wasn’t a statement of insecurity. Rather, it was a statement of big-time confidence and self-awareness. I told him about my son who operates a home inspection business. He got a master’s degree enabling him to rise in the land of public education. After a decade in that arena, he was completely bored, burned out, and sick and tired of being sick and tired. He loved the kids, but hated the system. Besides, he had an entrepreneurial bent. And he’s an extrovert. 

I told my client how different I am from my son. Now, you should understand that a big part of my work – especially early on in an engagement – is encouraging clients to become the best version of themselves. “Lean into being exactly who you are. Don’t try to be something or somebody you’re not.” 

Well, my son has skills that come naturally to him. Skills I don’t have. And I have skills that aren’t natural for him. I often envy what he’s able to do with ease…things I could never do, even with intense effort. It’s that old adage about asking a fish to climb a tree. Not going to happen. But squirrels do it with ease. While fish operate in the water with ease. 

Sometimes our failure isn’t really a failure. It’s learning. Sometimes we’re unaware of just how much of a fish we are. No wonder climbing the tree isn’t working out for us. Self-awareness is hard work. Coming face to face with ourselves is THE work I help clients accomplish. All our progress emanates from our ability to face our reality and if we’re displeased with it, to transform. Not by becoming something completely different, but by improving and growing. 

That encounter provoked me to think about my own traction and momentum. Within a few days, I had spent considerable quiet time looking more intently at my own progress – especially in this arena of peer advantage. My interest in it hadn’t waned, but over time I found myself doing exactly what I urged my clients NOT to do. Push water a hill. It’s a metaphor for attempting to do something not likely in our best interest. Or attempting to do something with such inefficiency that it’s basically not worthwhile. It’s a catchall phrase for futility. 

Staring into the mirror, I realized how guilty I had been in trying to push water up a hill. And like my client, I was going on gut – my faith and belief. I had no evidence my attempts were working, or moving me closer toward success. Fact was, I had very little evidence. But I so believed in it, I refused to quit. 

Meanwhile, other endeavors that I wasn’t even that focused on were growing. I was ignoring traction and momentum in these areas because I just wasn’t paying close enough attention. I eventually came to understand – with more clarity than I’d had in a long time – that I was a hypocrite. I was urging clients to do more of what worked and less of what didn’t. Yet I was doing just the opposite. I was paying almost no attention to what was working because I was obsessed with making what wasn’t working work! 

For weeks and weeks, I refused to quit simply I wanted it so badly. This thing I wasn’t succeeding at. Namely, my desire to build a professional peer group. I had long ago dubbed it, The Peer Advantage. So some weeks ago, in the middle of the night (when I do some of my better thinking and pondering), I decided to come to grips with it all. I coached myself through the process with tough questions and challenges. By the time I was done – and growing sleepy – I concluded that the idea is still valid, even terrific. But I’m not the right guy for the task. Like those things my son does so well that are almost impossible for me, I simply was unfit for getting traction and momentum. Rather, I’m ideally suited to facilitate groups when they’re gathered for a specific purpose, to achieve something specific. I’m also ideally suited for ongoing one-on-one deep interactions to help clients figure things out. But I am NOT ideally suited to sell and market and enroll folks into a professional peer advisory group. I love deep conversations, but I’m an introvert who despises selling in spite of the fact that I’ve spent most of my career selling. Influence is easy. Selling is hard. For me. But there’s something more important. A truth I came to better understand.

I love to craft and create content. Content to help my clients better understand. Content to help them figure things out. Content to help them paint themselves into a corner so they can at long last come face-to-face with themselves and move forward. 

I love to write. And to podcast. All that talk of “be a media company” is right up my alley. I’ve been a one-man media company for more than 20 years. I’ve just used it for more auxiliary purposes rather than more overt ones. And it makes sense. 

Couple my introversion with my need (and natural talent) to engage in deep conversations – and my natural curiosity to ask questions (and carefully listen so I can understand) – and it makes sense that the transactional nature of what many endeavors require…is something I simply don’t have. I could lean into trying to do the things I know work, but I’d have to go against my natural wiring to make it happen. And the older I get, the harder that is. And the less inclined I am to do it. 

I’m making notes. Pondering. Doing the mental wrestling we all do when we’re engaged in growth exercises and experiments. 

I come to terms with what I’ve long known about myself. Mostly by looking more closely at the things I do by default. Productive things. Things I love. In no particular order, I make notes. Writing. Podcasting. Videos. They all fall in the category of trying to share insights, experiences, wisdom – not in the spirit of “do this, don’t do that” but in the spirit of “this is what I’ve learned so far and it may help you, but I’m not telling you to do it this way – I’m challenging you to figure out if you can make application to your life.” 

Deep curiosity about others. I want to know as much as others are willing to share. The past dozen years of coaching have taught me that almost 100% (there’s always the very rare outlier) crave somebody with whom they can be completely free and uninhibited to share their fears, concerns, challenges, hurdles, and whatever else stands in the way of their progress. I love being that safe person for others!

So mentally – and emotionally – I made up my mind. I could hear Tom Petty sing, “It’s time to move on…it’s time to get going.” It was weeks ago, but I was afraid to go public. I told nobody. Not even my wife. Shame of failure was hitting me. Until I realized what I constantly preach to others – NOBODY IS PAYING ATTENTION TO YOU. They’re too busy with their own lives. We delude ourselves sometimes thinking that folks notice every time we trip and fall down. And we think if they do see us, they laugh. 

It was almost 4am when I smiled at the thought. And figured, if folks laugh, then it means they ARE paying attention. Good enough. Besides, it’s my life, not theirs. And I know what I’m really good at – and am not ashamed of what I’m not good at. It is what it is. 

Mostly, I was really tired of what I now saw as the reality – the hypocrisy. Soar with your strengths was a concept that the father of Strengthsfinder, Donald O. Clifton had taught me in his 1992 book entitled that exact admonition, Soar With Your Strengths. It resonated with me. And fit everything I’d long urged of my clients. Be more (and better) of who are you…instead of struggling to be something you’re not (and probably never will be). 

I was preaching solid sermons. It was now time to live them more fully. Mostly, to be true to myself in order to provide more value to others. 

So I’m pulling the plug on any attempt to build a professional peer group. I’m still very focused – as I’ve always been – in building and sustaining a high-performance culture (environment). It begins with helping leaders build the highest-performing careers possible so they can be more impactful. From there, it’s about growing people so we can have groups and teams that accomplish great things. It’s about leveraging high-performance right where we live and work so our organizations can benefit. It’s leadership. In a word, influence!

And now, for me, it’s about leveraging all my best skills, insights and experiences so others can derive the most value. Which, for me, means it’s about creating instructional, educational, inspirational and challenging content to help more people figure it out for themselves – faster and better!

What might that look like? I’m not sure, but I have some strong ideas. But I’ve learned this much, in order to grab onto something new and better, we’ve got to turn loose of something old that isn’t working. So happy Friday, June 4, 2021. I’m turning loose and it feels…pretty grand. Relief. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great.

Progression of Leadership

I don’t remember when I sketched out this progression. It was many years ago, sparked by my frequent witness of too many people who were all the smartest people in the room. I knew that wasn’t possible. There were simply too many of them.
 
My teen years working for various tyrants had a big impact. I learned how critical humility was for effective leadership. I also learned that any idiot can become boss, but it takes a special kind of humanity to become a leader. And being the simple person I am (due mostly to not being so bright), I defined leadership with one word: influence.
 
Lifelong curiosity imposed on me the urge to find out more about people. To ask. Then listen. It was clear to me that unless or until a body did that, how could you possibly learn anything? Much less understand it?
 
I put compassion at the top because that was another term defined in simplicity as “a focus on others.” At some point, because of that truth – a focus on others – I made it not so much a progression as a loop. And endless loop that continues…and continues…and continues. Until we die.
 
We stairstep the progress. Then we drop back down to begin again. But that’s really inaccurate because we embrace each of these things simultaneously during our lifelong journey toward becoming better leaders. We can’t risk losing a single step. Or taking any of them for granted.
 
Humility fosters curiosity. Where there is a lack of humility, there is pride – the enemy of leadership (influence). Humility demands we face our limitations and realize that there are many things we simply don’t yet know.
 
Enter curiosity – asking questions with the purpose of figuring things out. When we cease being curious, pride has crept in to spoil the progression. Every leadership failure I’ve experienced happened during such moments.
 
Knowledge is learning. Knowing facts. Accepting evidence. It’s not the same thing as understanding though. Understanding helps us make knowledge come to life. It makes things usable.
 
Without understanding there is no compassion. Only judgment. Too few seek understanding. Because it’s hard. Judgment is easy. With judgment, we’re able to think whatever we want to think. Never mind the truth.
 
The progression is an endless loop because that focus on others is necessary at every step. It’s not merely in the pinnacle of compassion. It’s also in humility. And curiosity. Then knowledge. And understanding.
 
I use this progression every single week in all my leadership coaching. It’s not profound. Nor is it Harvard Business Review worthy. But it’s practical, real, honest, and true. Mostly, I know it works.

The Role of Safety In High-Performance Cultures (Season 2021, Episode 13)

First, a definition.

Psychological Safety. That’s the common label for the kind of safety we’re speaking of today. Of course, physical safety is equally paramount. Even in the brutal training of military special forces, safety during the training is stressed. Participants may feel as though they’re going to die as they push to never-before-experienced extremes. But there’s an implicit sense that those around them won’t let them fail to the point of serious injury or death…in spite of the fact that accidents do sometimes happen. Ditto for people in the workplace. Employees must be provided a safe environment in which to perform. Else, they’re going to be fearful and unable to perform. Unless, of course, they’re professional athletes – or police officers, or firefighters, or soldiers, or any number of other occupations that have inherent and obvious risks!

Psychological safety is the belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.

This explains why sometimes people don’t do anything. Or say anything. Too often apathy isn’t the result of anything more than people enduring ongoing discouragement…becoming less and less safe. It’s easier to stand still and do nothing – even if that results in some chastisement. The devil you know is better than the one you don’t. Why do something and risk an unfamiliar chastisement?

Frontline workers are often silenced because of fear and the reality that nobody wants to hear what they have to say anyway. So why bother?

Why bother?

Trust. That’s the real issue.

Team members don’t trust the boss. The boss doesn’t trust team members.

The group doesn’t trust the guy who is trying to assume leadership. He desperately wants to be in charge, but nobody trusts him – except to be self-serving.

People won’t be honest. Instead, they’ll be nice.

Kindness isn’t the same as being nice.

Friends and even enemies will often be nice. It’s not helpful, but they’ll be nice.

Nice is telling you how sorry they are you’re experiencing something difficult. “I’m so sorry you’re going through that,” they’ll say. Question? Is that helpful? Other than knowing somebody feels sorry for you, it’s not terribly helpful.

Kind is different. “I’m sorry you’re having such a tough time. What actions are you thinking of taking to move forward?” It’s not hateful, but it might be helpful…provoking them to think about and articulate what they might be able to do to improve things. Especially if the conversation continues with valuable back and forth…in a judgment-free zone with a clear emphasis on simply helping the person figure it out.

No dog in the hunt. Unselfish motives.

It’s hard to get. Selflessness in people willing and able to help us without trying to live our lives for us. People whose only vested interest is our very best!

Human capacity to work for one another. With one another. It’s extraordinarily high value. And too frequently hard to find and to accomplish. Because we get in the way. In a word, it’s pride that ruins things.

Years ago, as I observed people (mostly men) who clamored to be in charge, to be the boss, to be the one making the decisions, I watched the destruction of their careers, groups to which they belonged, teams of which they were a member and organizations where they operated. I observed the carnage created by their ego and pride.

The height of the progression is compassion. It seems to me that without compassion – or at least the prospect of it – we can’t experience trust. The kind of trust we need to feel and know we’re safe.

Disinterest is a universal experience. Not just our own, but the disinterest others have in us. All humans crave being heard. And seen. That doesn’t mean we’re all equal in the craving. Some crave being heard by as many people as possible. Others of us just crave being heard by one person. Instagram proves some seek to be seen by millions, which would make others of us cower because we most crave being respected by those we most love.

Trust. Our individual and collective desire to know that what we say and do won’t be held against us forever. We want to know that even if we do manage our way into the doghouse – that is, we’re accountable for our own foolishness and stupidity – BUT, we trust others to let us figure out a way out of the doghouse. Best yet, we know others will help us get out of the doghouse and move forward.

In contrast, most of us know too well how many people surround us who are anxious for us to fail. Hungry for us to get it wrong. Even excited if we’re in the doghouse. Others can figure out why. I have my theories, but they’re all boiled down to pride — the enemy of humility.

High-performance is fueled by safety, not fear.

High-performance is fostered by knowing somebody has our back, versus somebody with a knife aimed at our back.

High-performance is manifested in groups of people capable of discussion, debate, and disagreement because they seek the ideal outcome individually and collectively.

They trust one another. They lean on each other. They value one another.

Every time I’ve seen a dysfunctional or ineffective or inefficient group, team or organization I’ve seen blatant disrespect. Some or all lack trust. They certainly don’t value one another. Instead, they’re quick to judge, even quicker to assume the worst and rely on contentions to express themselves.

It’s corny perhaps, but true for groups and teams…

If my end of the boat sinks, so does yours.

Foolish people don’t think so. So they continue to listen to their pride, making everything about them. Their eagerness to put themselves forward is obvious to others. Safety, if it ever existed, erodes. Conflict often follows because pride fosters pride. “If he’s gonna try to take charge, then I’m going to fight to be in charge.”

Dejection results. Apathy soon creeps in or sweeps in. People give up. They give in. All the creativity, innovation, input, and communication stops. We shut down. We bailout. We disengage. Our ideal short-term option, in such circumstances, is to endure until we can move on. For some, getting way fast is the option. Good people are lost. Potentially good people are stymied, hindered from making the progress they desire.

Tactics don’t work. They might appear to help, but they won’t stick because they’re tactical rather than being genuine.

What matters is humility and concern. People must care. About others and about the group, team, and organization.

The hard part is influencing people to care. How can you help somebody care who doesn’t? I only know to put forth compelling reasons – arguments – that prove the value of caring. But like most things, caring is a choice. Some choose not to care. Except about themselves. I wish I could tell you I’ve discovered ways to convert such people, but I haven’t. Mostly, I’ve found it most valuable to part ways with such people. Get them off the team, out of the group or remove yourself opting to find a more suitable environment for high performance.

So I encourage you if you hold authority, or a position, or a title that makes you “the boss,” tread carefully with your authority. Step up to the leadership call knowing that being the boss and being the leadership are very different things. We may not choose our boss, we all choose who we’ll follow. We follow the people who help us feel safe. Those who make us feel safe enough to follow them, to strive to be more, to express our view of what needs to happen to improve things. Leaders who help us realize that we have an integral part to play make us feel respected, heard, seen, and valued. Bosses who impose their will at every turn discount us, tread on our dignity and weaken our confidence in them, the organization and if we’re not careful…ourselves.

To every leader I’ve ever coached I repeat a few foundational truths. Chief among them is this one.

It’s not about you. It’s about them!

Ideal leadership is selfless. It’s focused on doing whatever must be done – whatever can be done – to serve those who are looking at us to show them the way. In a single word, it’s SERVICE. Without “self” preceding the term.

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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