Year-end Reflections

As it is my custom, I thought we should take the time to reflect on our leadership style and effectiveness in 2016 and make commitments in 2017.  To facilitate the process, I list what I believe are 7 fundamental principles of great leadership. (There are several more but the human mind is easily overwhelmed and I believe these to be foundational).

  1. Who do you serve? When you examine your thoughts, decisions, and actions over the past year, to what extent do you believe they were fueled to enhance the welfare of those that entrusted their careers, hopes, and aspirations to you? To what extent were you driven by measuring your performance against organizational outcomes? What percentage of your thoughts are focused on creating greater wealth for you/your family, gaining more power/fame, managing the perceptions of senior management or boards or Wall Street versus thoughts focused on your followers, employees, and customers?  If you are not focused at least 3 to 5 times more on the latter you are not fulfilling your leadership destiny.
  1. How connected are you to your followers? How many of your followers do you really know? Can you anticipate the conversation at their family dinner tables? Can you feel their hopes, anxieties, fears, and excitement? What do they really need from you? How comfortable are they in talking to you and sharing their thoughts?  If you sense that there is a distance between you and your followers, resolve to break the barriers.  Let go of the ego and the false sense of professionalism that tries to distance the leader from his/her followers, and the mistaken assumption that the emotional and human side of leadership is somehow “soft” and not business-like.  Over and over again it has been shown that organizations led by leaders who can connect and motivate their followers outperform others over the longer term.
  2. How present are you? Are you really curious the way you were when you were a child? Can you set aside preconceived, and therefore self-limiting, assumptions to really hear and feel the nuances of the moment? What is really being said and not said in the room? What new information is in play that may not have been present the last time? How are you feeling inside of your own body at this particular moment?  Are you centered? Are you calm? Are you engaged? In what part of your body are you feeling what you are feeling?  Great leaders have the ability to take a seat in the balcony.  They are at once in the arena and in an outer body manner observing the goings on from the balcony.  By being present and curious they can orchestrate their thoughts to focus on the here and now.  Each occurrence has its nuance.  The wise leader does not allow the past or the future to dilute the opportunities and gifts the present bears.
  1. How reflective are you? Are you in constant motion? Going from one meeting to another? Obsessively checking your smart device? Taking pride in the speed in which you move, make decisions, and multi-task?  Or do you take time before and after important decisions and actions to reflect on the process through which you got there? How well it worked or not work? What did you learn from the experience? What would you do next time?  Are you reflective and therefore use judgment in making decisions? Or are you reflexive and therefore, more often than not, in judgment.  The greatest leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, and Richard Branson made/make reflections a regular practice.  They believed/believe that an unexamined life is inconsistent with leading others.  That every experience is an opportunity for learning and growth.
  1. How balanced are you? Do you have a life outside of work? Before you answer this question please take the time to check in with those who experience you. Can you turn it off? How connected are you to your values and how do you practice them?  Are you hiding under work because you feel incompetent or incomplete in your personal life?  What do you really know or feel about your family? Do you know important facts and detail about their lives? Names of your children friends? How they are doing in school? What is really important to your spouse? How many of your old friends are you in touch with? When was the last time you called friends and family or wrote them a note?  How are you fulfilling and recharging yourself so that you can show up at work and lead others?  Akin to the oxygen mask analogy in airplanes that dictates you put the mask on you first, research on leadership shows that leaders that are fulfilled, recharged, and at peace with who they are more resonant and therefore can more effectively lead and motivate others.
  1. How do you interact with vulnerability? Do you run away from it or do you embrace it as an old friend that teaches you and helps you grow?  Are you of the mindset that leaders don’t show weakness, should know all, call the shots, and are in a winner take all contest?  Or have you finally come to the realization that the collective intelligence around you often results in better decisions than decisions you make on your own.  Furthermore, when you engage others, they are more energized to carry them out?  Are you comfortable saying I don’t know?  I will find out?  Or please share your knowledge with me?  Can you stand up in front of your team and share your fears and anxieties and ask for help?  Can you say I am worried about hitting our numbers this quarter and I really need your help?  Warren Buffet is the first to admit his shortcomings and acknowledge that without Bill Gates, their non-profit causes would not be as successful.
  1. How authentic are you? Would you believe, trust, and put your heart and soul into someone like you? What are the values beyond which you will not be pushed around at any price?  Why would your followers believe what you say?  Are your actions consistent with your words?  Do you treat people fairly based on their potential and contributions, or do you reward and glorify your friends and inner circle akin to what is going on in Washington D.C.?  Nelson Mandela asked the Afrikaans who jailed him for 27 years to help form his rainbow coalition and build South Africa.  How far are you from that vision?

Question for Online Conversations

  1. Which of the above guidelines struck a chord with you? Why?
  2. How did the gap develop?
  3. What will you do?
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