Are You Climbing the Right Ladder?

Climbing

If you’ve been following along with me these past few months, then you know that together we’ve been exploring how you can discover your niche – your true purpose.  To do so, I proposed that you consider three things: your strengths (things you are good at AND enjoy doing), your passions (topics, causes, people, etc. that you are deeply motivated and moved by), and finally, what other people will pay you to do.

Too often, I find that people focus solely on the financial aspect of choosing a career.  They learn about what the highest paying jobs are, read lists about the fastest growing careers, pick one, and then obtain the necessary skills for it.  The problem, as was previously discussed, is that skills are different than strengths.  It is possible to be good or even great at something that you don’t like to do and are not motivated by.  Therefore, if that is the approach you take, it is possible to end up in a career that pays well but leaves you feeling dead inside.  In the famous words of Stephen Covey,

“Most people spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success only to realize, when they get to the top, the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall.”

For example, a few years ago, I was working in a position that I was quite skilled at but that did not align with my strengths or passions.  I was in a role that was more administrative in nature: overseeing event planning and registration, scheduling coaching and training sessions, and producing and putting together training workbooks.  I performed so well in my role that I was promoted to Program Director and given a 20% raise.  I even had a lovely office with a view of downtown Pittsburgh.  Despite all this, it wasn’t enough.

I wasn’t inspired.  The work came too easily to me – I wasn’t challenged or passionate about what I was doing.  I was bored.  I felt myself longing for something more.  I was longing for the chance to put my curriculum writing and facilitation strengths to use while investing in next generation leaders.  So, I left my comfortable, well-paying, full-time job to pursue what I was passionate about – developing a leadership training program for middle school and high school girls, Blossom and Flourish.

That choice represents the only solution to the problem of climbing the wrong ladder – choosing the right wall to climb in the first place!  To do so, cultivate a deep sense of personal awareness around your strengths and passions before performing an examination of financially stable careers.  Instead of looking at a list of well-paying careers and choosing one to prepare for, examine your strengths and passions, and then consider how you can create value for others out of that uniqueness.  In what ways do your strengths and passions equip you to offer a valuable service or product to others?  What types of fields would let you pursue that?

It’s important to note that while you still might have to “pay your dues” in a few roles before you reach your “dream job,” at least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are working in the right field – you are climbing up the right wall.  You also might have to be content with earning comparatively less than you would have in a different position or field.  Less than ideal jobs or paychecks become bearable, however, if you know that they are preparing you for the next step along your life of purpose.

If we revisit my example, I can tell you that when I left my full-time job to start Blossom and Flourish, it meant that my husband and I gave up a large chunk of our disposable income.  I can also tell you that we don’t regret it.  We found that we were both happier with a lower combined income and the knowledge that I was working out of my purpose, than we were when I was dissatisfied five days out of the week.  Even if that meant we had to give up eating out at fancy restaurants every weekend and switching from cable to Netflix.

So, what are some practical ways you can identify a purposeful career path?  After understanding your strengths and passions, do your research!  Thanks to the internet, the world is at our fingertips.  Go on job boards and see what types of jobs are available in different fields.  Join local networking groups or organizations.  If you are still in college, take advantage of your career services department and ask them to help you explore the possibilities.  If you aren’t already on LinkedIn, join it.  Search for companies, job openings, and individuals who work in jobs you are interested in.

Then, when you meet someone who does something you’re interested in learning more about, connect with them.  Message them, email them, or call them.  Tell them they work in a field you are interested in and that you would love to know more about their career path and how they got to where they are today.  Ask if they would be willing to meet with you and give you some advice as you pursue your career goals.  In my experience, most people are impressed by that type of initiative and are flattered by such an invitation.  Connecting with others like this does two things: a) it helps you learn more about a potential career path and b) it helps build your professional network. 

Last fall, Karen emailed me out of the blue.  She introduced herself saying that she had recently graduated from college, had an internship at a small, girl-serving non-profit, and was hoping to pursue further work in that field.  She said she found my email address through Blossom & Flourish’s listing on the Girls Coalition of Southwestern PA Member Directory, and asked if we could connect.  She attached her resume and cover letter.

I was so impressed with her resourcefulness that although Blossom & Flourish wasn’t currently hiring, I wanted to help her as much as I could.  Long story short, we’ve met a few times now, and I’ve been able to: help her revamp her resume to better highlight her strengths, give her interviewing tips, suggest some good networking groups for her to join, and serve as a reference for her when she applied for a part-time position at another organization that I had previously worked with.  She got the job.  And that job has served to qualify her to apply for a new full-time position that has become available through that same organization.  It all started with her initiative and a request to connect.

What Karen did, anyone can do.  You just have to know what your strengths are, what you’re passionate about, and do your homework.  It may take time and effort, but I promise you, it will be worth it.  Certainly earning a large paycheck is nice, but is it worth ending up in a job you don’t belong in?  Too many people live for the weekend and dread Monday morning.  They might be earning a lot, but at what cost?  Dare to be different.  Dare to discover your niche and chase after it.  Dare to live your life on purpose.    

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Are You Living a Life of Passion?

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Do you know your purpose in life? If not, let me ask you another question, do you know what you are passionate about? Answering this second question can give us some great insight into discovering and articulating what our purpose is.

If you’ve been following along in this series, you know that I’ve challenged readers to consider whether they are really living their lives on purpose. If you’re new to this series, ask yourself, are you truly functioning in your unique niche in a role that lets you come alive and tap into the full breadth of your creative potential? Or, are you one of many unfortunate individuals that are stuck in a job or a career that leaves them feeling unfulfilled – or worse – miserable?

If you can’t say for certain that you are functioning in your area of purpose, I suggest you consider three things: your strengths, what you are passionate about, and what other people will pay you to do. Where the three come together, there you will find your niche – the key to your life of purpose. Having further explored the concept of strengths last month, this post is meant to help you identify your passions.

More than anything else, the things we are passionate about have a profound motivational effect on us. Rarely will someone give 110% effort to a cause, project, or effort that he or she is not excited about or committed to. Top performers don’t become top performers because they are indifferent about their work. They become top performers because they practice, read about their subject matter, talk about their ideas for improvement in their “free” time. They’re known for showing up early and/or staying late when they need to get the job done or inspiration strikes. Only loving what you do and believing in the cause you work for can sustain that level of motivation. Now, this is not to say that a balanced life is not important – family, loved ones, and relationships outside of work matter immensely – but most top performers cannot segment their lives completely into work and non-work categories.

Luckily, the reverse is true as well. If we study our motivations, we find clues about what we are passionate about. So, get out a pen and paper and consider the following questions: when do you feel most committed to a project or cause? When do you find yourself going the extra mile for someone or something? What topics make you light up with excitement when you talk about them? What topics make it impossible for you to bite your tongue or hold back your opinion? Then, look over your answers. Do you see any patterns emerging?

In addition to looking at what motivates you, ask yourself, what makes me angry? Not necessarily the “you just cut me off in traffic” anger or the more interpersonal “you never listen to me or my ideas” type anger. I’m talking about righteous anger, the “this breaks my heart and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen” anger. The kind of anger that swells up inside and makes you want to change something, so no one else has to feel what you felt or experience what others have experienced.

And finally, ask yourself, what breaks my heart? Many of these things will likely be closely related to the things that make you angry, and help you even better articulate the causes you are passionate about. You might notice, however, some new themes pop as well. What tugs at your heart strings? Makes you tear up – even if you try to hide it? Perhaps it’s seeing parts of our environment destroyed, animals being mistreated, individuals struggling with illness, homeless children, taken advantage of blue-collar workers, individuals who struggle to find work, or unethical decision making that impacts many throughout an organization.

Personally, if someone asked me what I was passionate about, I would tell them that I love creating opportunities for others to discover their unique strengths and increase their sense of self-worth. I’m passionate about leadership and teaching people what it means to be a servant leader. I get fired up when I read statistics about the lack of female leaders in business, politics, and social sectors combined with the statistics about the high rates of eating disorders, plastic surgery, and self-loathing among women. And I just can’t help myself from speaking up when someone suggests that women don’t have what it takes to be leaders. And last but not least, it breaks my heart when I see women – young and old – whose self-doubts hold them back from pursuing their dreams or even daring to dream.

What about you? What are you passionate about? What sparks the fire inside of you that cannot be easily put out? What is the fire that will keep you going when challenges arise, you’re struggling for success, and sacrifices are required? What is the fire that inspires you to innovate, challenge the status quo, and strive to make a positive difference in this world? All of us will answer these questions differently, and there’s many worthy answers out there. Don’t worry about finding the “right” or the “best” answer. Worry about finding the answer that resonates with you and your heart. It’s the second step in discovering what unique impact you were meant to make in this world. It’s the second step in discovering your purpose.

Are You Living a Strong Life?

maya

Last week, I wrote a post asking you to consider whether you were truly living your life on purpose. That post, the first of a new series, explored why so many of us are settling for jobs and careers where we find ourselves counting down the minutes until the weekend. I asked why so many of us are settling for a life we enjoy only 28.6% of the time – 2 out of 7 days of the week. The answer it seems is that many of us have sadly traded financial security for bold, daring, purposeful living.

In contrast to this path of soulless security, I proposed a new path – one that would require creativity, innovation, and hard work but result in greater satisfaction and fulfillment. Taking this path does not require us to cast aside the practicality of having to earn a living, but instead positions financial security as only one of three considerations when choosing a career path. The other two areas to consider are your passions and your strengths, and where the three come together, that is your niche – your purpose. It’s only when we are functioning out of our niche that we truly come alive and unleash all of our creative potential.

Today my question for you is, are you living a strong life? Do you know what it means to live out of your strengths? Do you even truly know what your strengths are? Unfortunately, too many of us are not great at understanding and articulating our strengths. Someone asks us what our strengths are, and we either offer a vague response or we list off a couple of things we’re good at.

“I’m a people-person.”
“I’m good at planning.”
“I have strong organizational skills.”

But have you ever talked with someone who truly seemed to be working out of their niche? Someone who seems to be living an intentional life of purpose? If you ask people like that what their strengths are, their answers are different. They’re articulate, precise, and confident.

“I’m good at building relationships with many different people and building bridges between them. I help others better communicate across department lines, so we can all work together to solve problems and try new solutions.”

“I enjoy looking at the big picture and then breaking it down into specific strategies and goals that we’ll need to pursue in order to achieve our goal. I’m good at seeing how all the different pieces and parts connect together and thinking through projected outcomes.”

“I’m good at providing structure to spaces and processes. I have a strong eye for how a person, space, or process can be better designed in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness.”

How then can you develop better answers to the question, “What are your strengths?” The first thing to do is cultivate a correct understanding of what a strength really is. Too often, we think a strength is only something we are good at. That’s not really true though, is it? I’m confident that there is something you are good at, but you hate doing. For me, I’m excellent at math. Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure the lowest grade I ever got in any math class throughout my college career was a 97%. And yet, I never considered a job in finance, accounting, or as a math teacher. Why? Math didn’t inspire me. I might have been good at it, but to me, it was boring and tedious work.

A strength is not just something we’re good at then. That’s only part of the equation.A strength is something that we are good at and we enjoy doing. It’s something that leaves us feeling energized and fulfilled after we’ve been doing it – even though we might feel physically tired. And often, when we are working out of an area of strength, we “get in the zone.” Minutes and then hours just seem to fly by. There are times I’ll get inspired and start designing new curriculum or planning for a keynote around 9pm, and the next thing I know it’s 3am! My body then reminds me that I’m tired, and I need to go to bed, but overall I have a sense of excitement and fulfillment. That’s how you know something is a strength.

With this in mind, I’d like to offer you a few ways to start identifying your strengths. First, there are some great resources available like StrengthsFinder 2.0 that offer you an online strengths assessment. While a powerful tool, especially if you feel completely stuck when it comes to thinking about your strengths, it’s not enough. A strengths report is a great starting point, but it doesn’t help you clearly see how those strengths are lived out in your daily life.

The next two approaches to identifying your strengths are much more personalized and require you to set aside time to intentionally consider and reflect on your experiences and abilities. While similar, one is focused on the here and now while the other focuses on your personal history.

In regard to considering your strengths in the here and now, strengths expert Marcus Buckingham suggests carrying around a small “strengths notebook” with you for a week a two. Every time you find yourself doing something that you enjoy, feeling as though you are performing quite well, or experiencing a sense of satisfaction from a job well done, write it down. Then, at the end of that week or two, make time to review your journal and examine what you wrote down. Are there any common themes? Do you see any patterns emerging? Those are your strengths.

There’s also great insight to be gained from reflecting on your past. Research has shown that although we mature and our values and beliefs may change, the core of who we are tends to stay consistent over time. If you loved competition as a child, you’re still going to be competitive as an adult. When I was in sixth grade, there were two fourth grade girls on my softball team. I loved encouraging them and helping them learn new softball skills. I also remember talking to them and giving them advice about fourth grade, and more importantly on what it would be like when they got to fifth grade and had to change classrooms and teachers twice a day for the first time. I still love mentoring and investing in others.

So, grab a piece of blank paper, turn it side-ways, and draw a time-line across the bottom (five year increments usually work best). Then, start filling it in. What things were you good at growing up? What did you enjoy doing as a kid? What are your most energizing memories? Think back as far as you can. What did you love doing in kindergarten? Elementary school? Middle school? High school? College? When you’re done, once again look over everything you came up with – are there any common themes? Are any patterns emerging? Your timeline is the story of your strengths played out throughout your life.

Now, there are a few of important things I want you to keep in mind while you complete either the notebook or timeline activity. First, suspend judgment. Don’t over think it! You’ll get to analyze the data later. When you are first writing things down either in the moment or that you remember, don’t edit yourself. Just acknowledge it as a moment where you felt strong and fulfilled. Then, at the end, go back and look over what you wrote down with a more analytical eye.

The second thing is write down whatever comes to mind. Don’t discount anything; nothing is too small. One of my earliest strength memories is coloring inside the lines with my grandma. While seemingly insignificant at first glance, when you look at my whole timeline, you’ll see that it’s the start of a pattern of striving for excellence and spending one-on-one quality time with the people I care about.

Third, consider experiences from all areas of your life not just work. Don’t limit yourself to experiences in a professional setting. Our strengths are not just evident at work. They are a part of who we are, so they come out in all areas of our lives – our relationships and experiences with our family and friends, school experiences, hobbies, house projects, volunteer work, etc. Like I mentioned earlier, I was naturally mentoring my teammates and friends long before I knew what “mentoring” was.

Finally, consider sharing your results with some you trust and who knows you well. Perhaps that’s a spouse, friend, mentor, colleague, parent, or executive coach. Sometimes we are blind to our own uniqueness. Sometimes a strength comes so naturally to us that we don’t recognize how special it is. That’s why getting an outside perspective from a trusted source can be helpful.

Overall, while this process is fairly simple, it can provide tremendous insight. Just like most things in life, however, you get out what you put into it. So grab a notebook and a pen and make it a point to pause throughout your day. Then set some time aside one evening or weekend to work on your timeline. Reflect, reminisce, review. Recognize what it is that you do well and leaves you feeling fulfilled. Realize your strengths. Put them to work. Live a strong life.

Are You Living Your Life On Purpose?

go do it

Deep down inside, I believe all of us want to be significant. We want to make some sort of a difference. We want our lives to mean something and leave our mark on the world. We want to wake up and feel excited about our day. Work hard at a job we’re passionate about and create an impact. So why then, do so many of us wake up filled with dread about going to work, do the bare minimum we need to in order to get by, and become complacent with mediocrity? Somewhere along the line we trade our optimism for cynicism and our dreams for security. Why?

I’m not saying that security in and of itself is a bad thing – paying the bills is important. But is it enough? Is pursuing security worth ending up in a job where you countdown the minutes of every day and live for the weekend? Is it worth enjoying only 2 out of the 7 days of the week? Think about it. 2 out of 7 equals 28.6%. Whose goal is it to enjoy life only 28.6% of the time?

At my job, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with many young, bright, intelligent high school and college students. Despite their many difference, most all of them are wrestling with the same questions – What do I want to do with my life? What do I want to be when I “grow up?” Very rarely do I hear them say, “Work at a job I can’t stand because it pays the bills.” No, that mindset creeps in slowly from the outside and usually from people who mean well.

“I’ve thought about going into counseling, but you know, my mom says you don’t make much money in that field.”

“I love to cook; and always wondered what it’d be like to be a chef. But, my parents think I should be a nurse. They say there’s good job security in that industry.”

Look, I’m not an idealist; I know we all need to make money to support ourselves. But shouldn’t making money be only one of the criteria by which we choose a career path instead of the only criteria? When thinking about a career, I usually tell people to consider three things: what they are passionate about, their strengths, and what other people will pay them to do. Where the three come together – that’s your niche.

Your niche reflects your purpose. It’s where you can create your unique impact on the world. Will it be easy? Probably not. Will it take hard work and dedication? Yes. Will it require us to think outside of the box? Most likely. But the good news is that when we are working out of our strengths and in areas we are passionate about – we don’t mind working hard. We’re not staring at the clock counting down the minutes until 5pm. Instead we get caught up in the complexities, challenges, and opportunities in front of us. We unleash our creativity and innovation. We come alive.

No, it’s not a guarantee that life will be perfect, and there will still be days that you may feel tired or frustrated. In the midst of those times, however, you can be assured of one thing – the hard times are worth it. There might be bumps along the road, but the destination – having lived a life of purpose – is worth enduring them. You will find rest in the satisfaction of knowing that come the end of your life, you won’t have to look back and say “I wish I would have…” or “Why didn’t I try…?” Instead, you’ll know that you gave it your all. You lived your life with intention and made your mark.

At this point, you might be thinking, “That all sounds well and good, but I don’t even know what my strengths are.” Or “I’m not sure what I’m passionate about.” Or, “But you don’t understand, I could never make enough money doing what I want to do.” If that’s you, then join me over the next few weeks as we explore those types of questions together. Join me as we explore how you can be intentional about living your life on purpose.

[If you enjoyed this post, check out the second post in this series, “Are You Living a Strong Life?”, and the third post, “Are You Living a Life of Passion?”.]

Communicating Values In Word & Deed

“Identifying and applying ethical values is an important step to creating a highly moral climate.” (Johnson, 2012, p. 334) 

Values are so important because they are a part of the organization’s core ideology—the “central identity or character” of the organization (p. 334).  While many aspects of the organization are often changing and growing, the values should remain the same and serve as an ethical compass for the organization by guiding employee behavior. 

As leaders, we set the tone for our employee’s behavior.  “Leaders are the ethics officers of their organizations, casting light or shadow in large part through the example they set” (Johnson, 2012, p. 318).  Essentially, leaders need to serve as ethical role models to their followers by embodying the organizational values through word and deed. 

As was previously discussed in our blog post about Character, the second C of leadership, leaders must be “clear about their personal values and beliefs…[and] keep people and projects on course by behaving consistently with these values and setting an example for how they expect others to act (Kouzes & Posner, 2006, p. 3).  Nothing undermines an organization’s values quicker than a hypocritical leader.  If I claim that “teamwork” is one of our values, but I regularly take all of the credit and blame others for my mistakes, others will quickly recognize that my true value is “self-serving.”

In contrast, leaders should embody the organizational values in such a way that by following in their example, their employees should also act with the organization’s values in mind.  Successful implementation of ethical values means employees “learn to govern their own behavior by following these same principles” (Johnson, 2012, p. 329).

While walking the talk in this way is incredibly important, it is surprisingly not enough in this instance.  Leaders must also talk the talk.  Words without action may be meaningless, but action without words can easily be overlooked in the busy, sometimes hectic, marketplace.  Therefore, as the ethics officers for their organizations, leaders must continually communicate the organization’s values to their employees.  This involves: (a) discussing the values with one’s team so everyone is clear on what they are and what they mean; (b) highlighting how new initiatives and goals reflect the organization’s values; (c) linking performance reviews to the values; and (d) mentioning them in everyday conversations.

For example, if one your organizational values is “innovation,” you could introduce the implementation of a new sales software system as such, “As part of our dedication to thinking outside the box and trying new things to propel us forward, we will be implementing a new software system to help us keep track of our sales records.  As we implement the program, please let us know what works, what is challenging, and any solutions or ideas you have for even better application and implementation.”  Doing so explains the decision to use the new software in light of the organization’s value around innovation and also invites the employees to engage in innovation by suggesting new and better ways to use the program.

Overall, what is most important to note is that communicating the values cannot be once and done.  They cannot be mentioned one time and then be hung on the wall to die.  Instead, communication must be on-going.  Employees need to be reminded of the importance of organizational values and their ethical responsibilities through the leader’s words and actions on a consistent basis.

References:

  • Johnson, C.E. (2012). Meeting the ethical challenges of leadership: Casting light or shadow (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Celebration – The Seventh C of Leadership

[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.”  In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration.  Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]

Achieving the vision can be a long and challenging process.  Because of that, there exists the real danger of leaders and followers suffering from burnout and the temptation to quit.  In order to combat this, we present the seventh and final C – CelebrationLeaders practice celebration by showing gratitude and celebrating success in the pursuit of the vision. 

Good leaders are appreciative.  They understand that a positive word and a sincere “thank you” can help motivate others and create a positive work environment.  Known as “Encourage the Heart” by leadership experts Kouzes and Posner (2006), it involves expressing “pride in the achievements of the group, letting others know that their efforts are appreciated” (p. 7).  Why does being grateful and encouraging make such a difference?  It is quite simple really.  We all work harder and smarter for people we like, and we tend to like people who appreciate and encourage us.  Motivation expert Thomas (2009) puts it this way, “When you give team members recognition for the competence of their work…you are strengthening the message that good work is important, valued, and noticed…perhaps most important, you are validating and amplifying that team member’s sense of competence” (p. 173).

In addition to showing appreciation, Kouzes & Posner (2006) also emphasize the importance of celebrating short-term goals.  “Leaders also find ways to celebrate milestones” (p. 7).  Once again, Thomas (2009) agrees: “A celebration is a time to pause, recognize that a significant milestone has been reached, and savor that fact” (p. 185).  This type of celebrating is important because it is another way to rally people around the vision and cultivate enthusiasm for the completion of the vision.

Leadership expert, Kotter (1995), emphasizes that it is important to set short-term goals that support the vision and celebrate the achievement of those goals along the way.  To him, celebration consists of rewarding the people involved with achieving the goals.  More than just financial incentives, rewards can take the form of recognition, praise, fun events such as pizza and ice cream parties, and promotions.  Kanter (2005) also supports the celebration of short-term wins when she writes, “Remembering to recognize, reward, and celebrate accomplishments is the final critical leadership skill.  Organizations that desire initiative and innovation thrive on celebration” (p. 14).

And with that, we would like to congratulate you, the reader, for having read this far and investing the time and energy into learning about the Seven Cs of Leadership.  We also pause now to take a brief moment to savor the feeling of having completed a thorough presentation of each of the Seven Cs – with a particular focus on exploring how each of those Cs connects to serving and transformational leadership principles.  But alas, one cannot stop here.  Theory is only as useful as its application, and so, we encourage you to consider how you can implement the principles of the Seven Cs while moving forward on your leadership journey.  As always, we wish you the best of luck, and would be honored to serve you in any way we can.

(Please visit www.inta-great.com for information on our leadership offerings such as The Inta-Greated Leadership Institute (I-Lead) or WILLOW, Women In Leadership Leading Other Women.)

Referenced Works:

  • Kanter, R. M. (2005). Leadership for change: Enduring skills for change masters.  Teaching Note, Harvard Business School Publishing, 1-15.
  • Kotter, J.P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformational efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 1-9.
  • Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Thomas, K.W. (2009).  Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.

Courage – The Sixth C of Leadership

The sixth C, Courage, refers to the leader’s willingness to seize opportunities despite the inherent risk and uncertainties.  It is easy to have an idea.  Many people are quick to point out problems, and even speculate about solutions.  What sets leaders apart is that they have the courage to act on those ideas and implement those solutions.  It should be emphasized that courage is not about fearlessness.  It is about being afraid and moving forward anyway.  It is about pursuing a passion – a purpose – that is greater than one’s fear.

Leaders influence change toward a common vision.  Change can be inherently difficult, and sometimes frightening.  It involves leaving the realm of “what is” for “what could be.”  This is risky and requires courage.  Why are leaders willing to take this risk?  They do so because the best leaders understand that failure, while it hurts in the moment, is a passing thing.  Regret is not.  The regret that comes from not trying – from missed opportunities – can last a lifetime.  So, even more than failure, leaders fear regret.  They understand the adage, “You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try.”

Leadership experts, Kouzes and Posner (2006) refer to this willingness to take risks as “Challenge the Process” and describe it as “searching for opportunities by seeking innovative ways to change, grow, and improve” and “experimenting and taking risks” (p. 5).  What is known is usually safe; the unknown is often risky.  That is why one of the main ways leaders can encourage others is by creating a safe space for team members to take risks.  Leaders can do this in two primary ways: (1) providing help and support to an individual taking a risk and/or trying to achieve a goal; and (2) treating failures as learning opportunities.

One theory that addresses the role the leader should play in their followers’ goal achievement is path-goal theory.  According to Northouse (2010), path-goal theory involves leaders who “help subordinates define their goals and the paths they want to take…when obstacles arise…[it] may mean helping the subordinate around the obstacle, or it may mean removing the obstacle” (p. 132).  It emphasizes that it becomes the leader’s job to provide appropriate support to the subordinates.  Similarly, organizational change expert Kotter (1995) refers to it as empowering others to act on the vision.

Kotter (1995) echoes path-goal theory when he states that empowering others involves removing obstacles for employees trying to contribute to the vision.  “Renewal [achieving the vision] also requires the removal of obstacles” (p. 7).  Gill (2003) also recognizes the importance of empowering those carrying out a vision or change initiative.  To him, empowerment involves “giving people knowledge, skills, opportunity, freedom, self-confidence, and resources to manage themselves and be accountable” (p. 315).

In addition to empowering – rather encouraging – others, leaders can develop a risk taking culture by viewing mistakes and failures as learning opportunities instead of immediate grounds for dismissal (Kouzes & Posner, 2006).  Thomas (2009) puts it this way:

Progress and learning, then, mean expecting and allowing some honest mistakes – and using them as important learning opportunities.  If workers are afraid of being punished for honest mistakes, they are likely to play it safe and stay very close to well-established, tried-and-true solutions. (p. 165)

While followers must be held accountable, creating a no-fail culture will severely cut down on innovation and growth.

These principles presented by Kouzes and Posner (2006), Thomas (2009), and the path-goal theory are also reflected in the transformational leadership model.  Specifically, intellectual stimulation, one of the four factors of transformational leadership, involves supporting “…followers as they try new approaches and develop innovative ways of dealing with organizational issues” (Northouse, 2010, p. 179).

Finally, in addition to having the courage to take risks and cultivating this same courage in others, it is also important for leaders to take the time to celebrate success.

[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.”  In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration.  Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]

Referenced Works:

  • Gill R., (2003). Change management or change leadership. Journal of Change Management 3(4), 307-318.
  • Kotter, J.P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformational efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 1-9.
  • Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed). Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Thomas, K.W. (2009).  Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.

Communication – The Fifth C of Leadership

The Inta-Greated Model of LeadershipEvery day leaders influence others by persuading, giving presentations, listening, explaining, and providing feedback – in other words, by Communicating.  The importance of our fifth C, Communication, is further evidenced by the close ties communication has to the other Cs.  For example, leaders need to present the vision to others and persuade them to support the vision in order to be a Catalyst.  Being a good listener and providing quality feedback are also two important communication skills for effective Compassion.  And finally, good communication provides individuals with the knowledge and Courage (our sixth C) to make decisions. Given this realization, it is no wonder James C. Humes, presidential speech writer, remarked that

“The art of communication is the language of leadership.” 

Therefore, any individual who wants to be a good leader must invest the time and energy into becoming a good communicator.

Whether dealing with an individual, team, or organization, persuasion is the primary way leaders seek to convince others about the importance of the vision.  For that reason, extensive research has been done around the persuasive process.  In regard to effective persuasion, Conger (1998) begins by making this challenging statement: “If you are like most business people…you use logic, persistence, and personal enthusiasm to get others to buy a good idea.  The reality is that following this process is one surefire way to fail.” (p. 86)  Instead, Conger redefines persuasion as a “learning and negotiating process” (p. 86).  At first, this distinction may seem difficult to accept, but Conger makes a convincing case.

What becomes clear is that Conger (1998) is not saying that data, logic, and passion are bad; rather, they are not enough.  He goes on to outline the four critical steps for persuasion: (1) building credibility in the eyes of one’s audience; (2) framing one’s goals to include the audiences’ values and goals; (3) using vivid language and strong evidence; and (4) establishing an emotional connection with the audience.  It is also important to note, however, that communication is not all about talking – listening is just as – if not more – important. 

Leadership expert Stephen Covey (2004) puts it this way: “The key to…having power and influence with people can be summed up in one sentence: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”   Some effective listening behaviors include: (a) “echoing,” paraphrasing back to the individual what he or she just said as a way to check for understanding; (b) “letting people talk,” fighting one’s tendency to jump into the conversation and possibly cut someone off; and (c) “demonstrating aware listening” by making eye contact with the speaker (Berg, 2012, p. 4).  The importance of listening and persuasion is also reflected in the servant-leader model.

Listening and persuasion are two of Spears’ (2002) ten characteristics of the servant-leader.  Spears describes a good servant-leader as one who “seeks to listen receptively to what is being said (and not said!)” (p. 5).  What makes his discussion of listening unique, however, is his emphasis on the importance of listening to oneself as a personal leadership tool.  “Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one’s own inner voice and seeking to understand what one’s body, spirit, and mind are communicating…it is essential to the growth of the servant-leader” (p. 5).  Also, in regard to persuasion, Spears emphasizes that leaders rely primarily on influence rather than positional authority and threats.  “The servant-leader seeks to convince others, rather than to coerce compliance” (p. 6).

And then, after a leader has taken the time to understand his or her personal composition, put together a team based on strengths, cultivated his or her moral authority, developed an inspiring vision, invested time and effort into the development of those around him or her, persuaded people regarding the importance of the vision and listened to their differing perspectives, he or she has set the stage for courageous action.

[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.”  In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration.  Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]

Referenced Works:

  • Berg, B. L. (2012). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences (8th ed.) Boston: Pearson Education.
  • Conger, J.A. (1998). The necessary art of persuasion. Harvard Business Review,76(3), 84-95.
  • Covey, S. R. (2004). The 7 habits of highly effective people: Restoring the character ethic (6th ed). New York: Free Press
  • Spears, L. C. (2002). Tracing the past, present, and future of servant-leadership. In L. C. Spears, & M. Lawrence. (Eds.), Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the 21st century. (pp. 1-16). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Compassion – The Fourth C of Leadership

Mark Twain once said,

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

The best leaders help others become great by coaching, mentoring, and investing in others’ lives.  Their goal is to empower others to achieve their full potential, thereby developing the next generation of leaders.

The Inta-Greated Leadership ModelBefore one can go about coaching and developing greatness in others, however, it is important that those people feel that the leader cares about them.  For, it has also been said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  We are all more open to being coached and receiving advice when we trust that the person coaching us and offering us advice has our best interests at heart.  Otherwise, our natural tendency is to become defensive and offended.  That is why the fourth C of leadership is Compassion.  A leader must be motivated by love and compassion to serve and empower his or her people.           

Kouzes and Posner (2006) refer to it as “Enable Others to Act,” and describe it as infusing “people with energy and confidence” and ensuring that “people feel strong and capable” (p. 6).  In striving to do so, emotional intelligence plays a key role.

Emotional Intelligence expert, Daniel Goleman (2001) writes, “What distinguishes great leaders from merely good ones?  It isn’t IQ or technical skills.  It’s Emotional Intelligence: a group of five skills that enable the best leaders to maximize their own and their followers’ performance” (p. 1).  Emotional Intelligence does this by helping leaders understand that everyone is unique – everyone has his or her own combination of personality style, strengths, weaknesses, and motivators – therefore, not everyone can be coached or developed the same way.  [Which connects us back to our first C, Composition.]

The call to coach and develop others is also prominent in the transformational and servant leadership theories.  Individualized consideration is the fourth factor of transformational leadership.  It consists of “…focusing on the development and mentoring of individual followers and attending to their specific needs” (Powell, 2011, p. 5), and “…trying to assist followers in becoming fully actualized” (Northouse, 2010, p. 179).

In regard to servant leadership, many of Spears’ (2002) ten characteristics of the servant-leader focus on coaching and mentoring others.  Those factors include: (a) empathy, accepting and recognizing others for their unique gifts; (b) healing, the calling to “help make whole” those they lead (p. 5); (c) stewardship, “a commitment to serving the needs of others” (p. 7); and finally (d) commitment to the growth of people, the leader’s responsibility to nurture the personal and professional growth of his or her employees.

Finally, it should be noted that leaders must not only coach, mentor, and empower others, but also personally be coached, mentored, and empowered.  There is a need for leaders to seek counsel, so that they can be continually growing and developing.  It is only after one has personally wrestled with tough questions, decisions, and experiences that one can lead others down that same path.  As Manz (2001) puts it, leaders must “…serve as an example of someone who has sincerely struggled with being personally effective and found his or her own way.  Then, as a result, [leaders] are in a better position to help others find their own way as well” (p. 15).

Once again, however, a leader cannot stop here.  In addition to equipping people to achieve the vision through Compassion, leaders must also utilize the fifth C, Communication, in order to cast the vision and inspire others to action.

[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.”  In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration.  Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]

Referenced Works:

  • Goleman, D. (2001). What makes a leader? In J.S. Osland, D.A. Kolb, & I.M. Rubin (Eds.), The organizational behavior reader (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
  • Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Manz, C. (2001). The leadership wisdom of Jesus. San Francisco: Brett-Koehler.
  • Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed). Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Powell, G. N. (2011).  The gender and leadership wars.  Organizational Dynamics, 40, 1-9.
  • Spears, L. C. (2002). Tracing the past, present, and future of servant-leadership. In L. C. Spears, & M. Lawrence. (Eds.), Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the 21st century. (pp. 1-16). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Catalyst – The Third C of Leadership

Harry S. Truman once said,

“Men make history and not the other way around.  In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.  Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” 

These history making leaders have a vision for a better future, rally people around the vision, and work with those people to achieve the vision.  In other words, they act as Catalysts.  Therefore, Catalyst, the third C, refers to the leader’s ability to inspire aligned action toward a compelling vision. 

Kouzes and Posner (2006) state that leaders must “inspire a shared vision” by “envisioning the future” and then “enlist others in that common vision by appealing to shared aspirations” (p. 4).  Organizational change expert John Kotter (1995) declares that every successful transformation effort he has researched involved the leaders developing a clear and inspiring vision for the future.  Kanter (2005) puts it this way, “A raw idea…must be shaped into a theme that makes the idea come alive.  Ideas don’t launch productive changes until they become a theme around which others begin to improvise, a vision that raises aspirations” (p. 4).  And, Senge (1990) emphasizes that, “The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance” (p. 488).  And finally, Gill (2003) writes, “A vision is a desired future state: this is the basis for directing the change effort” (p. 312).

In regard to the transformational and servant leadership theories, vision plays a prominent role in both of them.  To begin, the servant-leader characteristics of “conceptualization” and “foresight” emphasize the importance of vision.  Conceptualization is the ability “to dream great dreams,” and foresight is described as “closely related to conceptualization” because of its focus on future possibilities (Spears, 2002, p. 7).  Next, the inspirational motivation factor of transformational leadership involves leaders creating excitement and enthusiasm around the vision through the use of symbols, emotional appeals, and simple messages (Northouse, 2010).  This link between the vision and motivation is one of the main reasons why it is so important to leadership.

Motivation expert Kenneth W. Thomas (2009) explains, “the purpose and vision, then, provided a target that could align the efforts of different people to solve problems and cooperate….the compelling vision was a strong motivational force that inspired people” (p. 23).  It is important to note, however, that when it comes to creating a vision or purpose statement, research has shown that not all visions are equally effective.

According to Thomas (2009), workers are rarely inspired by purposes that are focused on making a profit or other economic considerations.  Instead, the vision or purpose statement should connect to workers’ need for recognition, responsibility, and the opportunity to fulfill one’s potential.  For example, Chick-fil-A’s mission statement, “Be America’s Best Quick-Service Restaurant” hits on all of these needs.  The focus on being known as the best speaks to one’s need for recognition and fulfilled potential, and it makes the employees responsible to America for their service.  In the end, however, having a vision is not enough.  Leaders need to utilize the rest of the Cs in order to go about achieving the vision.

[As was discussed in a previous blog post, here at Inta-Great, we define leadership as “a service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences others toward a common vision.”  In order to be effective at influencing others in the pursuit of that vision, we propose that leaders follow the Inta-Greated Leadership Model which consists of the “Seven Cs of Leadership:” (1) Composition; (2) Character; (3) Catalyst; (4) Compassion; (5) Communication; (6) Courage; and (7) Celebration.  Embodying the Seven Cs is what allows leaders to have an impact at the personal, team, and organizational levels and ultimately results in real transformation and sustainable results.]

Referenced Works:

  • Gill R., (2003). Change management or change leadership. Journal of Change Management 3(4), 307-318.
  • Kanter, R. M. (2005). Leadership for change: Enduring skills for change masters.  Teaching Note, Harvard Business School Publishing, 1-15.
  • Kotter, J.P. (1995). Leading change: Why transformational efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2), 1-9.
  • Kouzes, J. & Posner, B. (2003). Student leadership practices inventory.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.
  • Northouse, P. G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and practice (5th ed). Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Senge, P.M. (2003). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. In J. S. Ott. Classic reading in organizational behavior (pp. 484-491). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning.
  • Spears, L. C. (2002). Tracing the past, present, and future of servant-leadership. In L. C. Spears, & M. Lawrence. (Eds.), Focus on leadership: Servant-leadership for the 21st century. (pp. 1-16). New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Thomas, K.W. (2009).  Intrinsic motivation at work: What really drives employee engagement. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler.