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.    

Are You Living a Life of Passion?

passion4

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 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?”.]

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.

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.

Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve

Level 5 Hierarchy

What catapults a company from merely good to truly great?  A five-year research project searched for the answer to that question, and its discoveries ought to change the way we think about leadership.  The most powerfully transformative executives possess a paradoxical mixture of personal humility and professional will.  They are timid and ferocious.  Shy and fearless.  They are rare – and unstoppable.” ~Jim Collins

If you have never read Jim Collins’ landmark book, Good to Great, make sure you read his classic article from the Harvard Business Review, “Level 5 Leadership: The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve.”  

2013–A New Year & A New Start

2013– a new year and the perfect time for a new start.  

This concept is nothing new.  For as long as most of us can remember, people have been using this time of year to set their “New Year’s Resolutions.”  However, for most people, those resolutions are broken as quickly as they are made.  Anyone with a gym membership will tell you gym traffic typically doubles during the month of January before slowing down to its usual flow around mid-February.  So why are we so bad at following through with our New Year Resolutions?

Most of our resolutions tend be made in the moment with lots of emotion but with little consideration and little planning.  For example, we look into the mirror on January 1st, see the results of our holiday merry-making, and adamantly declare–“I NEED to lose weight!  I will start working out!”  This example highlights another problem with many new year’s resolutions–they tend to be reactive and not proactive.

The many problems begin shortly after we join the gym.  We don’t actually know what exercises we should be doing–are we just trying to lose weight or build muscle?  Or maybe we should be trying to tone muscle.  Then, real life hits, and suddenly it is hard to fit going to the gym into our busy schedules.  And finally, we haven’t actually made any changes to our eating habits, so even though we are going to the gym a bit more often, we’re not seeing the results we want–and before you know it those problems add up and we stop going to the gym altogether.  Have you ever experienced anything like this in your own personal or work life, and what can we do about it???

Most resolutions fail because they are not linked to a broader vision.  Instead of standing alone, personal and organizational goals should support our personal or organizational vision.  Therefore, identifying the vision becomes the first step.  We’ve already discussed the “Key Aspects of a Great Vision” before, so we won’t go into all the details about it here.  But, we will remind you that quite simply, vision paints a picture of the future state you/your organization wants to achieve.  It defines what success looks like.  If we go back to the weight loss example, a strong vision statement would be, “Living a healthy lifestyle that includes a regular work-out program and a nutritional diet.”

But sometimes, having a big vision can seem overwhelming to a leader.  We have these big dreams—how are we ever going to achieve them?

The answer is simple; we need a plan.  The key lies in translating the vision into multiple, smaller goals.  When we do this, it is very important to write these goals (or resolutions) down.  Writing them down creates personal accountability, because now, we have a list that we can go back to and measure ourselves against.  However, don’t just take my word for it…

According to Dave Kohl, professor emeritus at Virginia Tech (as quoted in Five):

  • 80% of Americans say they don’t have goals.
  • 16% of Americans have goals, but they don’t write them down.
  • < 4% of Americans actually write their goals down.
  • < 1 % of Americans write down their goals on an ongoing basis.
  • People who regularly write down their goals earn 9x as much over their lifetimes than those who don’t.

So, don’t wait.  Make this the year you get serious about your resolutions.  Take the time and identify your vision and break it down into smaller goals to achieve that vision.  Then, write those goals down.  You’ll be amazed at the difference consideration and planning can make.

Referenced Works:

  • Zadra, Dan. (2009). Five: Where will you be five years from today?. Seattle: Compendium, Inc.

Courage, Failure, & Leadership

cour·age
noun \ˈkər-ij, ˈkə-rij\
Definition of COURAGE
: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty
–  Definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

When it comes to defining courage, the key phrase is: “and withstand.”  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.

In his book, Next Generation Leader, Andy Stanley identifies courage as one of the “five essentials for those who will shape the future.”  I’ve struggled with this emphasis on courage because courage seemed to be more of a personality trait than a skill.  And, requiring a leader to have a certain personality trait reminded me of the outdated “Great Man” leadership theories.  These theories essentially said that leaders are born, not made, and all great leaders share a certain set of personality traits.  Contrastingly, at Inta-Great, we subscribe to the transformational and serving leadership theories—theories that focus on skills and competencies leaders can learn and develop.

However, after moving along in my leadership journey, and watching others on theirs, I have come to realize that Andy Stanley is right.  Courage is essential to leadership.  But what I have also come to realize is that courage is less of a personality trait you are born with and more of an attitude that is cultivated.  [Look for another post about how to cultivate courage in the near future.]

So, why is courage so important to leadership?  As it was defined earlier, courage involves persevering in the face of “danger, fear, or difficulty.”  Danger, fear, and difficulty tend to result from ambiguity and uncertainness about the future.  And, if there is one area leaders specialize in, it is ambiguity and uncertainty.  At Inta-Great we define leadership as, “A service-oriented relationship by which change occurs as a leader influences a group of individuals toward a common purpose.”  One of the key words in this definition is “change.”

Leaders influence change toward a common purpose.  Change is inherently difficult, and sometimes frightening.  It involves leaving the realm of “what is” for “what could be.”  Leaders are not content to relax, put their feet up, and pat themselves on the back.  Instead, they are leaning forward, looking toward the future, and thinking about how things could be even better—and yet, thinking about it is not enough.

How many people at your workplace have opinions about what should change in the organization?  Probably a lot.  Most people have ideas about how communication could be improved, what new products should be developed, what management should be doing, etc.  But, they are not doing anything about it.  Contrastingly, leaders at all levels are those who not only see the opportunities, but seize the opportunities—taking steps toward making change happen despite the inherent risk and uncertainty.  This requires courage.

Sometimes taking the risk pays off.  The leader is successful and achieves what he or she sets out to achieve.  And, in some ways this is what one is taught when studying leadership.  If you follow this approach—if you utilize these essentials of leadership, or these four factors of transformational leadership, etc.—you will be successful.  But sometimes this doesn’t happen.  Sometimes a leader will do everything right—cast a great vision for the future, empower those around him or her, etc.—and he or she will fail.  What happens then?

Recently, my mentor, a successful and engaging woman, set out on a new path.  She felt led to pursue what many called an impossible goal.  She knew it was going to be an uphill battle, but her vision of what could be and her passion to serve others gave her the courage to try anyway.  And try she did.  She gave 110%, made some great progress, inspired many along her way, but in the end, she failed.  She did not achieve her goal.

So once again, she, and other leaders who have failed or will fail, must tap into the power of courage.  This time, courage will be needed to pick oneself up, identify one’s next goal, and begin working toward it.  As Mary Anne Radmacher has said, “Courage doesn’t always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”

While everyone needs time to “lick their wounds” so to speak, leaders refuse to let failure define them.  Instead, they use it to strengthen them.  Leaders know that failures are great learning opportunities.  They know that failure experiences are hard, but they help the leader cultivate wisdom for next time.  Sometimes failure is a necessary perquisite for success.  This is the risk the leader is willing to take.

Why is the leader willing to take such a risk?  As we’ve already discussed, the passion and purpose the leader is pursuing is a strong motivator.  But, there is something else.  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.”

So, while my mentor may not have achieved her goal, she can rest in knowing that tomorrow, or next month, or next year, or twenty years from now, she will never have to look back at her life and wonder “What if…”  “What if I would have taken that risk?”  “What if I would have left my comfort zone?”  Instead, she will know that she worked hard, made a lot of progress, inspired many individuals, and paved the way for those who will come after her.

And now, in some ways she has an even bigger opportunity than those who achieve their goals—for it is during times of trial and darkness that one’s true character really shines.  By refusing to let this experience define her, she will go on to impact even more.  I know for me, she remains a source of inspiration and a great lesson in courage and leadership.  Finally, it is my hope, that others will be inspired by her story to act courageously.  For as we have seen, courage is essential to leadership. 

-Written by Valerie Faust, Director of Blossom & Flourish and Training & Development Consultant

How Leaders Can Facilitate Change

Change is an integral part of any type of growth.  If any organization is to grow, leadership must recognize that change is inevitable, and then set up a process to help people embrace it.  Too often, employees experience what they perceive to be random attempts at change with no thought-out plan.  It is these impulsive and unsuccessful change attempts which lead to an organizational culture of skepticism and negativity.  To prevent such a culture from taking root in their organizations, leaders need to: (a) be aware that most people dislike change, (b) solicit input from the employees, and (c) communicate and celebrate the change.   

When trying to implement a change, the first thing leaders need to understand is that most people reject change.  In fact, up to 80% of people in an organization can be labeled as reactive thinkers.  Reactive thinkers tend to resist change, avoid responsibility, fear taking risks, and have low confidence (Oakley and Krug, 1991).  Therefore, change efforts must begin by changing the mindset of these individuals As Oakley and Krug emphasize, one of leadership’s main responsibilities is to bring out the best in those they lead Attitude is critical to performance, and one of the key issues behind attitude is one’s self-esteem.  One way to help improve employee self-esteem is by soliciting their input during the change process.

Some leaders have the “it’s my way or the highway” mentality – they believe they can impose their ideas onto other people.  And yet, as Oakley and Krug point out, this philosophy does not work for implementing long-term change (1991).  Instead of only telling people what to do, leaders should strive to engage employees in the change process.  Leaders can do this by asking for employee feedback, questions, and ideas to make the change more successful.  This experience not only increases employees’ self-esteem and confidence, it also helps employees feel a sense of ownership for the change initiative. 

Engaging people throughout the change process facilitates organizational “buy-in.”  Without such commitment it will be impossible to move change forward.  Another way to develop buy-in is by building trust with one’s employees.  It is only when people trust a leader that they will be willing to follow him or her into the unknown territory of change.

One way of building trust is through constant, clear, and honest communication.  The first step in the communication process is to develop a clear vision around why the change needs to take place and what it will look like.  Unless change is clear in the leader’s mind, it will be impossible for him or her to communicate a compelling vision to others (the same is true for leadership teams).

Once the leader is clear on the vision, he/she needs to communicate it.  Leaders can communicate the vision by delivering speeches, sending emails, posting the vision statement on the wall, participating in discussions – but most importantly –  by “living out” the message.  As Kotter (1995) says, “Communication comes in both word and deeds, and the latter are often the most powerful form” (p.65).

This consistent communication in word and deed will reinforce the change process as will celebrating successes.  Many times leaders are so bogged down with trying to achieve results, they do not take the time, energy, and resources to acknowledge success.  For employees, the perception of never being recognized can erode their desire to engage in change as engaging usually takes great effort.  One way to combat this is by celebrating short-term wins and recognizing, perhaps even rewarding, employees for their involvement in the change process (1995).

Overall, leaders need to remember that change does not happen overnight.  Instead, it is a long and deliberate process that requires engaging one’s employees, communicating a clear vision, and celebrating successes along the way.  When used together, these actions will help employees open their minds and be more receptive to new ideas and change in order to help the organization grow.

Resources:

  • Kotter, J. (March, 1995). Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review.
  • Oakely, E., Krug, D. (1991). Enlightened leadership. New York, New York: Simon and Schuster.

Managing for Organizational Integrity

Too often organizations don’t realize that ethical failings are leadership problems–not just a lone employee’s shortcomings.  Here’s a great article about the importance of leaders building an ethical organizational climate based on shared values and purpose written by Lynn Sharp Paine, “Managing for Organizational Integrity.”

“From the perspective of integrity, the task of ethics management is to define and give life to an organization’s guiding values, to create an environment that supports ethically sound behavior, and to instill a sense of shared accountability among employees.” – Lynn Sharp Paine