Posts filed under ‘character’

Leaders Must Walk the Two-Way Street of Communication

Leadership involves more than giving instructions to subordinates and measuring how they handle their responsibilities. True leaders want to know how their teams are faring, and how they can improve personally to ultimately improve their teams’ circumstances.

They can only do this if they are communicating effectively and holding themselves accountable as leaders. Things go sour fast when they don’t. I’ll illustrate this with a little story…

The Tale of Gavin the Well-Intentioned Manager

Gavin, a newly promoted store manager, wanted more than anything to exceed the sales and profitability goals that he had just inherited after the recent departure of his predecessor. Although he was new at the job, Gavin understood that he would only be successful with the help and full engagement of his branch team.

So, the proud Scottish immigrant embarked on an aggressive effort to win their hearts in the way he thought best—through their stomachs. Gavin determined that he’d treat the team to his favorite Scottish breakfast every morning. Certainly they’d appreciate this new perk and it would help them get to work early or at least on time every day.

Over the weekend, Gavin labored to replicate the haggis and black pudding recipes his mother had taught him in his native Scotland, and he could hardly wait to share them on Monday morning!

As each employee arrived, Gavin thrust a plate of his proud creations at each of them with complete confidence that they’d love it. Sensing his enthusiasm, his employees feigned appreciation for the meal, but then secretly disposed of it at the first opportunity.

Day after day this scenario repeated itself—the employees growing more and more disgusted by the sheep innards and pork fat and blood-infused foods, but not wanting to offend or irritate the boss.

They pretended to enjoy it. To make matters worse, Gavin never asked or watched them eat to gauge their satisfaction; he just assumed they loved what he loved, and that everyone was perfectly content with the new arrangement.

In time, the employees would get nauseous just thinking about going to work. At first, they were often late and then they began missing days. It never occurred to Gavin that he was responsible for their attendance issues.

Instead he assumed that there was something wrong with his employees, and he began blaming them for their tardiness and absences, even telling his regional manager of their “bad attitudes.” Eventually, Gavin made plans to replace all of them!

A lack of communication is a symptom of a greater problem

So what went wrong? Yes, a lack of communication—specifically, a lack of feedback from both sides contributed. The employees didn’t want to offend or hurt their manager’s feelings, and Gavin didn’t want to have the difficult conversation about their attendance issues, instead taking the easier route of blaming his employees’ “attitudes.”

But the lack of communication was just a symptom of the real problem. The real problem was a total abandonment of personal responsibility and accountability—by all parties.

How to be truly accountable

You see, all success, all progress, all growth, all character development begins and ends with personal accountability. Accountability means being personally responsible and taking ownership of one’s circumstances… especially when it’s hard or unpleasant.

And it’s not just facing up to the obvious—true accountability is going a step further, by seeking out and welcoming (less obvious) feedback from any and all sources. It’s asking, “How have I contributed to the problem?” or “How can I get better?”

That is the ultimate display of true accountability. That is how we get better. That is how we build trust and create alignment with those we work with. That is leadership!

Lead on,

Cliff

July 24, 2017 at 10:33 am Leave a comment

Trust is the Foundation

There’s a nice house in my neighborhood that at one time no one wanted. When it was built, it was nicely located, architecturally impressive, and beautifully landscaped, but within a very short period, it was abandoned. No one – especially the family who had waited patiently for its creation – wanted to own it.

The problem? Cracks appearing on the exterior (stucco) walls. The cause? Inadequate compaction of the building pad leading to settling and sagging of the foundation.

Everyone knows that the most important part of any building is its foundation. Without a firm foundation no amount of paint, design or décor can make a poorly constructed dwelling a place of safety or a worthy investment. The same is true of relationships and organizations – without a firm foundation of TRUST, no amount of window dressing or convincing rhetoric can produce the speed, engagement, and productivity that high functioning companies, teams, and relationships enjoy.

Speaking of TRUST, Stephen M. R. Covey wrote, There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love. On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. That one thing is trust.”

Trust is built over time, through the demonstration of character and competence. It is earned and is based on historical experience and performance. It is not instantaneously given or received. On the other hand it can be lost, or at least seriously damaged, in an instant.

Great leaders know both the value and powerful impact trust can have on their teams’ success, and they work consistently to create high trust environments and relationships through consistency, transparency, and integrity…not by demanding it, but by modeling it.

But even the best leaders aren’t perfect – making a wrong call, use the wrong words, or allowing emotion to take over. The good news is that while it takes greater effort, renewed consistency, and time-proven ownership for missteps wrongs can be righted and trust can be restored! And when it is, it’s often stronger than ever.

So, what about the once despised house mentioned above? After significant expense and heroic efforts by the builder and engineers, it was eventually restored to perfect condition, and is now inhabited by a very happy, content, and trusting family. And the contractor keeps building and selling homes to happy families.

Lead on!

December 23, 2016 at 11:58 am Leave a comment

Leadership Lessons from a Dirty Double Crosser

Fifteen hours, all alone, crossing the Grand Canyon…twice, is a perfect opportunity for considerable reflection, if not hallucination. My recent Rim to Rim to Rim run across this Natural Wonder of the World and back was the fulfilling of a long held goal to run the 50 plus miles from the Bright Angel Trailhead on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the North Kaibab Trailhead on the North Rim…and then back, in one day. I knew it would be hard, having hiked the entire trail with friends five months earlier, but doing it all, twice, in one shot, running, would be a bit different. I wasn’t flying completely blind however, having completed several ultra marathons in recent years. Still, this would be no walk in the park, covering over 50 miles and climbing (and descending) over 11,000 ft., and with temperatures pushing ninety degrees during the day.

So back to reflection… There is no school better than the great outdoors for learning life lessons. And while some of the best lessons are the result of mistakes, in this case there weren’t many, as I was well prepared. Well, I guess that’s lesson one:If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.” I’d made a [training] plan, based on previous ultras, I’d faithfully followed the plan, even when it wasn’t convenient or I didn’t feel like it, and all that training and preparation did indeed pay off, allowing me to complete my goal. The formula, plan, follow, succeed just works!

Ok, so not everything went perfectly. I did make a couple of mistakes: At about 15 miles in, I rounded a corner and to my horror there was a 20 ft. geyser coming up from the water pipe that feeds the seven water stations inside the canyon. I suddenly regretted my last minute decision the night before to remove my water purifier from my hydration pack! After all, the Park Service website said all stations were flowing! I still had the 9 hardest miles to the North Rim ahead and this might mean no more water ‘til the top! Could have been a disaster! Fortunately, the fountains were still flowing. Lesson two: Don’t doubt that inner voice!

The second mishap occurred shortly after the geyser where there’s a hill…a nasty annoying hill, that by itself is not terrible, but after several hours of running and anticipating the brutal 7 mile climb to the North Rim that still lay ahead, I was dreading it. Just before the hill there’s a faint path leading off the main trail to what I knew to be Ribbon Falls, a cool place to escape the sun and enjoy the fall’s cool mist for a few minutes. There’s also a sign at that intersection pointing ahead up the main trail to another trail and a bridge over Bright Angel Creek leading to Ribbon Falls. But I chose the first path thinking I could find a better, easier way across the creek and on to Ribbon Falls… Bad idea! After running into an impassable creek and bushwhacking for 20 minutes I came to the humble and a little bloody understanding of why they’d built a bridge. Lesson three: “Shortcuts make long delays” (thanks, J.R.R. Tolkien).

One more lesson – the climb up past Roaring Springs to the Supai Tunnel, and finally to the North Kaibab Trailhead on the North Rim was…REALLY hard! Add to that it was 11:30 am and full sun! Finally, when I hit the top I thought to myself “I’m done…totally spent…nothing left…NOTHING!” But there was this little issue of now being 26 miles from where I’d begun, and a wife on the South Rim waiting hard for my return seven hours later. No cell service, no way to get ahold of her…oh, and I’ve never quit anything before! So, I choked down another PROBAR, refilled and mixed my water, took one deep breath and headed back down…DOWN the canyon wall! If I hadn’t been there, I’d never have believed it was possible, but, and here’s lesson four: When the need is great enough, human potential exceeds all rational limits! A change in direction helps too!

Well, seven and a half hours later, after a beautiful but grueling day and still other lessons contemplated, I dragged myself up on to a now dark again South Rim, right back where I’d started and right into my wife’s arms! Just kidding – she had no interest in hugging this very dusty, dirty double [canyon] crosser!

 

 

December 11, 2016 at 4:07 pm Leave a comment

Focus on the G.O.O.D.

Life can be hard, and when it is, it’s easy to get down, lose perspective, feel overwhelmed, even depressed. It may be the poor choices and bad behavior of others, or perhaps our own. Financial, medical, or emotional, strain can also send one for a loop. Life is full of challenges, presenting ample opportunity to shrivel and shrink, lash out, or simply give up, but the results of any of these are sure to bring nothing but more despair.

For BEST results (sounds like medicine?), consider a better choice with an outcome guaranteed to bring greater peace, satisfaction, and success: Focus on the G.O.O.D.! Just looking for the good that surrounds us is by itself good advice in good times and bad, but what I’m suggesting here is to simply focus on the G.O.O.D.: Gratitude, Others, Opportunities, and Doing.

Gratitude – The happiest people I know are the most grateful! Even in the darkest times, there is so much to be grateful for. When your head hurts, be grateful you have one! When the house is messy, be grateful for being surrounded by others. An empty fridge means you have a fridge! A challenging job means you have income. There is ALWAYS something or someone to be grateful for, and just the act of focusing outward (instead of inward on yourself) at all the good that surrounds you, puts things in perspective and changes your attitude from one of scarcity and woe to abundance and wonder.

Others – As Albert Schweitzer put it, ”The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.” The very act of focusing [outward] on others and their needs shifts the focus from oneself (inward) and one’s problems. You cannot focus on two things at a time. By centering your efforts on those in need your life takes on greater meaning, purpose, and satisfaction.

Opportunities – No matter where you are, there are opportunities to improve your situation…especially when times are tough. Life is all about learning, growing, and improving, and there is no finish line for any of these. Some of the most inspiring examples of living a full life come from those who appear to have had “nothing” to work with, yet have accomplished amazing things! Opportunities are everywhere!

Doing – “Action is the antidote to despair.” These words wisely penned by Joan Baez are among the truest when it comes to turning things around. Sitting and staring at your problems only makes them bigger…if not worse. Attacking them, or anything for that matter, gets the mind working and the blood flowing, shifting your focus away from the problem to something, more worthy of your efforts.

It is best always to focus on the G.O.O.D., but especially when things aren’t going so well. The most effective people understand and practice this; and the most effective leaders guide their teams to do the same!

Lead on!

Cliff

June 3, 2016 at 9:01 am Leave a comment

Character Matters Most

James Thurber wrote, “There are two kinds of light – the glow that illuminates, and the glare that obscures.” As a leader it’s important to know the difference and to be able to help others understand as well.

To me, the “glow” that illuminates represents those things that are sure, timeless, and everlasting. Things like truth, trust, and integrity. They are real; they are dependable, breeding confidence, peace and calm. They light the way and warm the soul. They are “the glow that illuminates”.

The “glare”, on the other hand are those things that are temporary, superficial, or meant to deflect, cover up or distract. Things like perfume, styling, presentation, even clothing can be helpful in covering or “prettying up” what otherwise may not, on its own merits, be attractive. The “glare” obscures what we’d rather others not notice.

Both glow and glare have their place and their utility. Interestingly, one can draw the same distinction between character and personality.

Character relates to deeply held values, principles and beliefs, such as integrity, humility, courage, fidelity…and to one’s performance relative to those values and beliefs. Like the “glow that illuminates”, character comes from deep within and is enduring and guiding to the extent one acts in alignment with one’s defining values. They are the “glow that illuminates”.

Personality on the other hand is more external, superficial, and relates to the way one presents himself to the world. The way he dresses, communicates, negotiates, and moves within social and business circles. Much of today’s self-improvement literature focuses on these temporary strategies, skills, and quick fixes aimed at advancing one’s success in any number of settings…by putting on a “better” face. These are “the glare that obscures”.

Again, like the “glow” and the “glare”, character and personality both have their place and value. However, if one compares the resources (time, effort, and money) spent on the one versus the other, there is, it seems, a significant imbalance today. Prior to the twentieth century most literature focused on character development. Since then, the emphasis has tilted heavily toward personality, with nearly all of today’s career development and “self improvement” books, seminars, and programs focusing on behaviors related to personality. Selling more, winning friends and influencing people, getting rich, deal making…

While there’s nothing wrong with improving skills and looking the best we can, there is danger in doing so at the expense of one’s character and those things (values and principles) that are of highest priority. One of the great challenges in life is finding the right balance of character and personality. The secret in successfully doing so lies in [always] putting character first and never compromising one’s character on the altar of personality.

Great leaders encourage others to put character first, even ahead of things that might bring tempting short-term gains. But that’s part of true leadership. In fact the act of encouraging character development over selfish interests itself takes on a glow that illuminates the path for others rather than a glare that may cause them to lose their way.

Lead on!

Cliff

April 3, 2016 at 3:23 pm Leave a comment

Staying Centered

“If you change nothing, nothing will change”. This timeless truth inspires many to reach higher, work harder, and learn more. In this regard, change is good. On the other hand there are some who argue that all change is good, that all change is “progress”, and that nothing is sacred when it comes to change.

We live in a time of change – the most rapid change the world has ever seen! This can be good…and sometimes not so good. Either way, more change is coming, and with it more disruption and distraction than ever before. In the midst of all this commotion, it is easy to lose one’s bearings and to wander off.

Like yesterday’s seasoned explorers who depended on their maps and compasses, today’s most successful navigators of modern life are those who rely on their inner compass – a combination of conscience and timeless principles. But even for the most principled, staying on the path, and remaining centered is a challenge.

I recently read of an artisan who was asked to demonstrate his pottery skills to a group of young people who were instantly awestruck as he transformed lumps of clay into beautiful plates, bowls, and cups. He made it look so easy, that when he asked if any of the youth would like to try it they all volunteered.

One after another they tried, but none were successful as they awkwardly attempted to keep the clay from flying off the potter’s wheel and all over the room. The potter asked them if they knew why they were unsuccessful, to which they gave responses indicating a lack of experience, training, and talent. But the real reason they failed was that the clay was not centered on the wheel. They thought they had placed the clay in the center, but from a professional’s perspective, it wasn’t in the exact center. So he showed them again.

This time, the potter placed the clay in the exact center of the wheel and then started to turn it, making a hole in the middle of the clay. He then turned the wheel over to the youth, who excitedly were able to keep the clay on the wheel, and even create some crude bowls. Although they weren’t perfect, the outcome was vastly different than their first attempts. The difference being that this time the clay was perfectly centered on the wheel.

In a world where, like the potter’s wheel, the speed of change is increasing, it is vitally important that individuals, teams, and families remain centered on the timeless principles that keep them from being thrown off course. Principles like honesty, integrity, tolerance, perseverance, courage, responsibility, self-discipline, loyalty, quality work, and faith. Sound familiar?

Even these principles that we hold in common are being challenged by a world whose standards are being lowered and even abandoned all in the names of “change” and “progress”. Interestingly, holding firm and not giving in requires the exercise of the principles themselves – remaining honest, having integrity, being tolerant, persevering, having courage, being responsible, being disciplined and loyal, doing quality work, and being faithful. Not only does our success depend on it, but so does the success of those we lead.

So, stay centered, and…

Lead on!

Cliff

December 2, 2015 at 2:18 pm Leave a comment

I Have To!

When coordinating plans with others I’ve been known to say things like “I have to run 15 miles tomorrow”, “I have to get to bed early tonight”, or “I have to finish this project this weekend”. When I do, I’m often challenged by a friend who likes to say “You don’t HAVE to……you CHOOSE to!” and technically speaking, he’s right. But I keep saying it anyway… You see, I learned a long time ago that you can either decide how to respond to challenges or opportunities over and over again, depending on present circumstances, or you can make the decision just once, allowing that decision to become your personal standard – your “have to“!

If you take the flexible approach (“we’ll see how things are going” or “it depends”) there are too many variables and too many opportunities to derail you from doing the thing you once committed to doing. It takes discipline to make the hard but right choice, especially when the decision is to ALWAYS make the same choice. But when you do and the issue comes up again, there’s no hesitation or debate. You’re resolute – You “have to”!

Once you’ve decided, then your “have to‘s” take over, relieving you of the recurring decision cycle. And here’s the interesting thing – it’s not restrictive…it’s freeing! Once you’ve decided once and for all, when the alarm clock rings, you’re up – no debate. When someone offers you something you’ve sworn off, you decline – no debate. When being dishonest is tempting or seemingly profitable, you tell the truth – no debate! And when you do, you enjoy a feeling of freedom and empowerment.

Our choices determine our habits and our habits form our character. And as author and lecturer Hyrum Smith put it, “Character is the ability to carry out a worthy decision once the emotion of making that decision has passed.” It’s character-forming habits that help us overcome adversity, accomplish goals, and ultimately approach our individual potential.

When our choices reflect our deeply held values and they are made with sincere resolution, from that point on we simply “have to“. And as we do, we grow in character.
Lead on…

Cliff

July 6, 2015 at 11:52 am 6 comments

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