Sasquatch Leadership

“Leaders are visible at times of crisis, invisible at times of success.”  -Mohana Janam

After stumbling across this quote recently…began to think of how accurately that describes the truly great and authentic leaders that I have encountered in my life.  And yet, I couldn’t help but think how often the reverse of these words rings true.  How flipping this statement can so often be an accurate reflection of some leaders in our organizations…

Leaders are invisible at times of crisis, and visible at times of success.

When we think of great leaders…words like honest, vision, commitment, intuition, communication, creative, humble…are just a few that instantly spring to mind.  All of which, vastly matter to the success and effectiveness of any leader.

And yet, the two words that I find more often than not, to be immensely important to the success of a leader…are often forgotten or missing from the list.

Access and visibility.

Over recent years we have seen an onslaught of “reality” shows that have overrun our airwaves and television schedules.  And for the variety of subjects that these shows provide and keep providing…one that caught my attention was the never-ending search and quest to locate Bigfoot.  A show that brings together a team of researchers, who each week travel to various locations to investigate…sightings, testimonials, video clips and other evidence that will lead to the discovery of a Bigfoot, a Sasquatch.

Unfortunately for the researchers, each week seems to bring about the same ending…many possibilities, but no real sightings…no definitive evidence that eventually leads to the discovery of a Sasquatch.  And the search continues.

And much like the ever-elusive Sasquatch…many leaders are frustratingly invisible within their organizations.  In similar fashion to the show, any so-called leadership sightings are discussed and relayed across the organization at length…but for many within, it is like the ongoing search for the Sasquatch.  The leader remains elusive and the search continues.

Leaders who lack access and visibility create frustration…for the organization and those they lead.  And even beyond frustration…leadership disappearing acts fail to convey and create a safe and trusting environment within the organization.

While vision, communication and commitment and a variety of other characteristics are vital to the success and effectiveness of every leader…each of those are minimized when a leader fails to provide access and visibility to their leadership.

While each week the search for Sasquatch continues…it becomes more and more frustrating as the story never changes.

It is much the same for leaders who remain ever-elusive.  The longer the disappearing act goes on…the more frustrated people become and the more the organization suffers.

Great leaders understand the importance of access and visibility…and avoid the pitfalls and frustration created by Sasquatch Leadership.

Phone Booths Don’t Exist Anymore…

“You can’t relate to a superhero, to a superman, but you can identify with a real man who in times of crisis draws forth some extraordinary quality from within himself and triumphs but only after a struggle.”  -Timothy Dalton

The world has changed…and phone booths don’t exist anymore!

So, as leaders…maybe it’s time we put the Superman suits away.

For so long we have built up the wrong model for our leaders to emulate.  A model that has expected our leaders to serve as the “Superman” of their organization.

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

Leaders who are…

All knowing.

All capable.

All talented.

In other words, we expect our leaders to be all-powerful, super-beings.

And we act surprised when they’re not…when we find chinks in the armor.  When they are unable to live up to these expectations.

The real surprise…

Superman doesn’t exist and there are no “Superleaders”…in any organization!

And for those leaders who try to put on that “Superman” suit each day…they often end up serving as a kryptonite…more than a protector and defender of their organization.  Leaders who proudly wear that “S” each day, often display it as a badge of courage and dedication…of all that they do in the name of the organization.  What they don’t understand…is that very same badge does more to diminish those they lead than to enhance the capacity of the organization.

In any organization, the tone of the culture is determined at the leader level.  It is a leadership responsibility…for better or worse.  And for that reason, the attitude that the leader puts forth can either heighten or diminish the capacity of the organization to grow…to learn.  Yet, when we place unattainable expectations…on a leader or even those we lead…we effectively decrease the ability of the organization to serve as a dynamic learning community.

When a leader is willing to retire the “Superleader” (know it all) persona in favor of a more vulnerable, “Clark Kent” (learner) attitude…it serves as a display of vulnerability that changes the very dynamics of the organization.  For the hardest thing for most leaders to do is to appear vulnerable, exposed.  To reveal those chinks in the armor.  They see it as a sign of weakness.  A loss of power.

What most leaders don’t understand…it works in opposition to that theory.  Rather, we enhance our influence when we eradicate that “Superleader” theory.

Our leaders have to be able to face their shortcomings…in the name of learning.  When leaders allow themselves to be vulnerable, to open up as models for learning…they send that very same message across the entirety of the organization.  A model that provides others the permission to face their own areas of need and growth.  In other words, they create an environment that places an emphasis on the “dynamic” of learning, collaboration, and growth.

In an “expert” or “Superleader” environment…people are afraid to open up, to look as if they don’t know.  They hide their shortcomings, often to the detriment of the organization.  And inevitably, learning halts, people close up, collaboration, collegial support and trust deteriorate…and eventually, the organization, the leader, and all within suffer…often in dramatic ways.  And not only with the learning…but the overall culture.

If we are going to operate as “dynamic” learning cultures within our organizations…we have to create the environment for that to happen.

And ultimately, creating that environment begins with the leader….

Seasons Of Static

When facing change, if you drag your feet long enough…sooner or later you should expect to get shocked.

Summer is upon us…a time of movement and motion.  A season for us to stretch and unfold our cold and weary bones…to throw open our shutters and windows.  A time to refresh and revitalize ourselves and shake off the cold from the winter months that have left us confined and sedentary for so long.  To unload that draggy and dormant feeling that overcomes us during the winter months.

The cold has that effect on us.  We tend to be less mobile, more lethargic and idle.

The winter tends to be our static season

In much the same way, we as leaders have our own static seasons…seasons when growth is slow.  Seasons when we drag our feet to change.  Seasons when we find ourselves stagnant and status quo.

And very often, it is in these seasons of static that we get shocked when we least expect it.

Which is why…if we have learned anything from our changing world, we have learned that we can ill afford to remain either static or stagnant…as leaders or as organizations.

Our foundations are trembling and shaking underneath our very feet.  Movement, motion and action are not just necessary, but vital.  Much of what we have previously taken for granted sits precariously…often overwhelmed by the oncoming tsunami of this future that is racing towards us.  Technology is disrupting our current circumstances at an alarming rate.  We can almost stand by and watch as it engulfs much of what stands in its path.

The pace of our times is hectic.  Rest is not always an option…and often leads to irrelevancy.  We can choose to pretend the world hasn’t changed, isn’t changing, won’t change.  We can hide our head in the sand…and like hitchhikers on a freeway, we will most likely find ourselves passed by and left behind.

Yet, the issue that many of us face…we don’t want to be the first one through the wall.  And why should we?  The risks are enormous and the outcomes are often dire.  It is never easy to determine to do something that has never been done..too consider tackling the impossible…even if it is only within your own organization.

It requires a pioneer mindset.

And like many pioneers, you don’t always get to ride the wave with the group.  To do this, you will very likely have to spend time as an outlier…swimming against the tide through deep and unknown waters.

Sometimes doing what has not been done before requires persevering through some dark and difficult days…days where no one believes in you…and at some points, not even believing in yourself.  Which makes for an easy time to give in and give up.  Which is maybe why it so few are able to really push through to the other side.

However, what becomes of us when we choose not to push through…to not serve as pioneers and catalysts of our own ideas?

We lose our momentum.  We become cold.  Static.  We enter our winter…our season of static.  We cling to what we’ve always known…what we’ve always done.  We choose the known over the unknown.  Instead of pushing through the noise and chaos that change invokes.  Causing us to recoil, remain…status quo, stagnant.

Movement.  Motion.  Action.  All will be necessary…necessary to keep us from our seasons of static.

We can no longer cling to what we’ve always known…what is safe.

If we continue to drag our feet in facing change and moving forward…if we choose to remain static and status quo, fixed and motionless…we must acknowledge, that in one way or another, we’re in for a big shock.

Leaders Need “Precious” Collaboration

“We wants it, we needs it.  Must have the precious.  They stole it from us.  Sneaky little hobbitses.  Wicked, tricksy, false!”  -J.R.R. Tolkien

Over recent years cinema has re-introduced us to the literary work of J.R.R. Tolkien and his Legendarium…known as the fictional universe of Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien’s work, at its essence, focused on power and temptation…power and temptation that centered around the influence of a Ring.

While the influence of the Ring ran far and wide…the character that paid the heaviest price under it’s power was Gollum.  A Stoor Hobbit whose life had been ravaged under the influence of the Ring…a Ring which he referred to as “my precious”.

And while Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings may be able provide us an overwhelming list of leadership lessons…understanding Gollum and the influence the Ring held over his life may provide the most “precious” lesson for us in our current circumstances.

“Curse us and crush us, my precious is lost!”  -J.R.R. Tolkien

For far too long, Gollum has served as the model for many a leader.  Instead of a Ring…learning and knowledge has served as their “precious”.  A “precious” to be held tightly…accumulated and hoarded.  A leadership treasure to be stored…only to be shared when serving self-interest.  A model that no longer works for modern day leadership.

For all intents and purposes…knowledge is no longer a commodity as much as it is a collaborative tool.

Unlike Gollum, the best leaders in our current world no longer see learning and knowledge as a commodity to be hoarded…rather, knowledge is a collaborative tool to increase the value of their organization and those within.  What many leaders fail to recognize…the more we share, the more receive in return.  Collaborative processes enhance more than they diminish the value and influence of the leader.

It is in the hoarding and hiding of what we know that we lose its value.  What is “precious” only grows when it is watered and nurtured.  What is hidden away eventually withers and dies.

“The treacherous are ever distrustful.”  -J.R.R. Tolkien

The collaborative leader shares their gifts and knowledge to the benefit of the organization and the people they lead.  The seeds they plant grow forth fruit…coming back to them and those they lead in abundance.  Their sharing results in more, not less.  Which is where many a leader has been misguided in their understanding of their “precious”.

What is “precious” is a gift.  And our gifts are given to us to be shared.  When we choose to not share we often end up like Gollum.  Distrustful.  Unhappy.  Living a life that is miserable in its miserly ways.  A life closed off from others.

“Precious, precious, precious!” Gollum cried. “My Precious! O my Precious!” And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail precious, and he was gone.”  -J.R.R. Tolkien

In the end, we don’t want to our leadership to go the way of Gollum.  It is a path that leads to nowhere.

Modern leaders must look to collaborative processes if they are to take a different path…a path to better ways of doing and being.

“There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”  -J.R.R. Tolkien

Engineering the Future (The Garage of the Mind)

The future will continue to arrive…daily.  What that future looks like will fall squarely upon our shoulders.  For better or worse?

The future is not a far-away place…rather, it is continually crashing down upon us in real-time.  Engulfing us in its expansive inclusivity.  Voluminous and unsuppressed.  Far-reaching and widespread.  We are constantly mired in its embrace.

Some choose to immerse themselves in its waves as they cascade down upon us…while others scramble for the umbrella of their current reality to shield them from the downpour.

Whether we choose to dive in or avoid…the future will continue to shower down upon us.  Boundless and unremitting.  A force uninterrupted.

Creating great opportunity for some and utter confusion for others.

Leaders who allow themselves to be overcome by the oncoming waves of the future…will very well be crushed under the weight of the disruptive thinking required to navigate this new world effectively.

Leaders who are unwilling to capsize their current world view…whether that be their mindset or their ideas…of what was, what is, what is possible, and how we will get there…will lack the necessary agility to avoid extinction…becoming ever brittle and fossilized.

Organizational Titanics.

The future will require a certain nimbleness and agility.  Quick and responsive.  Lean and lively.  Driving ever forward.

As we stand witness to this oncoming future…we realize that status quo no longer serves as an available choice or option to our current circumstances.  Our current world requires movement, perpetual and constant.  An unceasing march.  Nor is implementing enough to serve us well, as it so often gets in the way of creating what’s to come…an obstacle of what can and may be.

Our current world constantly reminds us that there is a big difference between “just now” and “just around the corner” thinking.

As leaders, we will need to allocate time…time to poke holes in our current cover of reality.  Moving us from Titanic to speedster.  We will have to grapple with our engines and drivers of change.

To do this will require new ways of thinking and doing.  It will require us to open the garage to our mind.  A place where we can tinker…with our current ideas of what is and what could be.  Where we can go to create, innovate, and re-imagine our current reality.  A time for forward “thinkering.”

The more holes we are willing to poke in our current reality…the greater the glimpse of the possibilities that have remained hidden from our view.  As well as the destination that we should be driving towards.

As leaders, we sometimes have to poke our way through the shell that engulfs us…especially if we ever intend to embark on a journey that takes us beyond our current experiences, our current reality.  Towards a new and ever-evolving future.  To  be open ourselves, as well as our organization to new possibilities of being and doing…effectually making our leadership stronger in the process.

Very often our future and our world can experience and undergo exponential changes from just a consideration…of an idea, a possibility. 

Whether born of frustration or positivity…it is what evokes the energy and will to drive us to better.  To be better.  To do better.  And often all it takes is a consideration…consideration of our limitations.  Limitations that box us in, both as leaders and as organizations.

The future will inevitably come to us. 

Our responsibility is to engineer that future…in beta.  In constant application…of our knowledge, creativity, innovation, and ingenuity.  In a drive for better.

And each day we must ask ourselves…

Is our garage open for business?

Leadership And Our Great Glass Elevator

It is most difficult to see beyond our current circumstances when so many walls and ceilings block our view…

And yet, just raising the roof is not enough…sometimes we need a breakthrough if we are going to take ourselves, our leadership, and our organization to a higher level.

As a child and as an adult I never lost my love for Charlie and his wonderful adventures with the zany Mr. Wonka within the fabled Chocolate Factory.  Mr. Wonka showed us that we could make our imagination come to life…and Charlie taught us that we could turn our dreams into reality.  They breathed possibility into our lives.

Stories that provide us lessons for life…and leadership.  Wonderful stories such as  Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

“We must go higher!” said Mr. Wonka.  “We must go tremendously high!  Hold onto your stomachs!”

Leadership requires risk.  Especially if we are going to do something bigger and bolder than our current circumstances.  Easier said than done.  One of the most difficult pieces of leadership is being able to not only see the bigger and bolder…but being able to crash through the roof that holds us back from achieving it.  The ceiling that we often create and place upon our own leadership and organization.

For Charlie…the ride in the Great Glass Elevator was all about risk…and chance.  Would the elevator break through the roof?  Or would it shatter into a million shards of glass?  And what would be on the other side…so many questions and so many unknowns.  So much risk. And yet, so much to be gained…

“Mr. Wonka!”  Charlie shouted.  “Don’t you think this is about high enough?”  “Very nearly,”  Mr. Wonka answered.  “But not quite.” 

As leaders, we often limit ourselves…and our potential.  It is often easier to remain under the safety of our ceiling.  We all feel safer when we have that roof over our head.  And even when we have the confidence to risk punching through in our own Great Glass Elevator…we often allow the concerns of others to hold us back…to keep us grounded.

“That,” said Mr. Wonka, “is a chance we shall have to take.”

Which has to become our leadership truth.  Sometimes the risk outweighs the possibility of failing…especially if we are ever going soar.  If we ever hope to punch through to the next dimension of our leadership.  We have to be willing to take that chance…knowing it is better to try and fail…than to remain and regret.

“Don’t talk to me now, please.  Don’t disturb me.  I must watch things very carefully at this stage.  Split-second timing, my boy, that’s what it’s got to be.  You see this green button.  I must press it exactly the right instant.  If I’m just half a second late, then we’ll go too high!”

As a leader, the most difficult place during times of change and risk is right before it actually happens.  The moments before impact.  There is anxiety, chaos and turmoil.  A time when you constantly question what you are doing…and whether it will work.  And just like Charlie, we are scared and we worry…whether we have the speed, whether we have the momentum that will carry us through to other side…

At which point many pull back and become risk averse…deciding to live under the roof and the confines we have created.  Which is why it is important that we weigh what we are trying to accomplish.  We have to determine…if what we are trying to do is worth the risk?  Is the vision great enough to push us through the roof?

And very often, the higher and faster we go…the more frightened we become…of the impact to come, and what lies beyond.

And yet…

That is where we embrace our greatest gains…as a leader and as an organization.

“My dear boy,” Mr. Wonka answered, “It’s not easy to punch a hole in a roof of the factory.  It’s not easy to punch a hole in a roof as strong as that.”

Breaking through is not just about risk…it is also about momentum.  It is hard to perservere and break through when we lack movement and momentum.  We seldom punch through to a new dimension from a stop.  Momentum is vital…if we are ever to gather the speed necessary to push us through to the next stage.  As it was for Mr. Wonka…not only did he see the need for speed and momentum…it was also his unwavering belief that carried them through.

“You amaze me,” said Grandma Joesphine.  “Dear lady,” said Mr. Wonka, “you are new to the scene.  When you have been with us a little longer, nothing will amaze you.”

And the more often we are willing to punch through our current reality…the easier it becomes.  It becomes less of an event and more an ongoing process of growth.

What roof in your organization is keeping you grounded?  What roof is it time for you to punch a hole through?  And what Great Glass Elevator do you need to put your trust…and your leadership in if you are going to soar?

“We must hurry!’ said Mr. Wonka.  ‘We have so much time and so little to do! No! Wait! Strike that!  Reverse it!”  -Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

Disruption (A Matter Of The Head And The Heart)

Each day we must not only move to change and disrupt our own ideas and thinking but, our hearts as well.  

Leaders are change agents, pure and simple.

Leaders live in a constant state of consideration and action…a disruptive state of being.

If leaders are not constantly tinkering with their own mindset and ideas, how will it ever be possible for them and those they lead to move past their current level of thinking and doing?  From what is to what is possible…

Leadership is about seeing the possibilities that don’t yet exist.  Not just a new way.  A better way of being and doing.  A better future.  A better destination.

Leaders acknowledge we live in a time of constant motion.  A time in which we have to be willing to accept disruption and change.  A time when leaders must be willing to rethink, reconsider, recast and reimagine their leadership, their organization, and their systems, on a constant and ongoing basis.

And yet, as change agents, we must understand leadership is not only a mind matter.

It is also a heart matter.  Leadership and change are a tandem task.  The mind and the heart must move together.  As we disrupt our thinking, we must be willing to disrupt our heart as well.  If our heart is not in the matter, we lose a core piece of our leadership and who we are.

One without the other lacks authenticity.

When our thinking, our leadership, our organizations lack the heart in the matter, it misses the human side of the equation.  For change is not only a mental move, it is also an emotional one.  The mental without the emotional removes the very essence of our humanity.  One without the other results in a disconnect.

For real connection requires both the heart and the mind.

Authentic leaders and change agents understand that life and leadership require both head and heart.  You can’t disrupt one without the other.  The heart and the mind work in tandem, constantly moving together.

Change and disruption can be seen through a positive lens, but it requires connection.  And for leaders, that connection begins with themselves.  In their mind and their heart.

For when the heart is there, our life and leadership pulse, thrive, and grow.  And when the heart is absent, both our life and leadership become cold, withered, and eventually fade away.