Our Leadership Monsters

The hands of change always seem to be upon us, at our back…pushing us and time forward.  Relentless and without reprieve.  Constant…

Even now, we can feel the change of seasons slowly overtaking us…the slight tinge of a chill in the evening breeze, what was once green begins to yellow and brown, leaves scatter our yards and streets, even darkness has begun its gradual descent upon the daylight.

We can barely keep ourselves from stepping into October as Fall’s withered and worn hand ushers us into a new season…

A season when children struggle to contain their excitement over the coming of Halloween…a time filled with costumes, candy, pumpkins, trick-or-treating and even scary monsters.

As leaders, (especially with a new school year just getting underway and Connected Educators Month), it is a season for us to consider the long shadow that we cast upon our organizations and those we lead.

A time to determine if our leadership is more trick…than treat.

So, as we move into this new season we want to be reflective of our leadership that it does not become too spooky and connect to those we lead in scary ways.  We want to make sure that none of these monsters are rising from the tombs of our leadership…

  • Dracula: The Dracula leaders are those that diminish, more than build up those they lead.  Their leadership tends to use people up and wear them down, leaving them hollow and unfulfilled.  They have a tendency to focus on their own needs and wants…often at the expense of others.  They have a draining effect on the organization.
  • Frankenstein: The Frankenstein leaders are those that ramble around the organization awkwardly.  Constantly frazzled and frustrated.  They struggle putting together any type of vision or strategy with clarity…much of what they do is in bits and pieces…and they tend to go from project or vision to another without any consistency or follow through.  They tend to create confusion across the organization.
  • Mummy: The Mummy leaders are those that work to insulate and close themselves off from those they lead.  They wrap people around them that will keep issues and problems away from them and off their desk.  They often close themselves and their leadership off from the rest of the organization.  They tend to create feelings of disconnection within the organization.
  • Ghost: The Ghost leaders are those that never seem to be around…especially during times of difficulty and crisis.  Yet, they have this tendency to appear out of nowhere when accolades, awards or positive news is being presented.  They tend to create frustration in those they lead and across the organization.
  • Werewolf: The Werewolf leaders are those that you can never determine how they are going to be or act…they create and bring a certain sense of chaos to the organization.  Their leadership is often reactive and unstable…which can be polarizing, as you never know which side of their personality you are going to get on any given day or issue.  The tend to create instability within their organization.

As we move into this Autumn season filled pumpkins, candy corn and cobwebs…it behooves us to determine what kind of shadow our leadership is casting across our organizations…

And which, if any, of these monsters may have gotten loose and find themselves trick-or-treating in the hallways and corridors of those very same organizations…

Missteps And Wipeouts

“Employees are not there to make the manager’s job easier.  It is the other way around.”  -Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant Humanize

We live in a world that has enabled our leaders to develop an upside-down understanding of their work…creating a fallacy, one of believing that the organization and those within are there to serve them and their needs.  Unfortunately, this leader-centric view insulates them from the true work of leadership…serving those they lead.

When this leader-centric view unfolds in an organization…it tends to break down the processes that sustain the system.  It starts in the periphery and works its way inward.  A slow crawl to dysfunction, as all roads lead inward, rather than outward.  Shriveling the organization towards the core…until eventually the whole is no longer functional and flourishing.  As the system focuses itself on feeding the core.

It is under this leader-centric model that not only do open flows of communication tend to erode across the organization…trust and transparency are allowed to disintegrate and evaporate as well…

“Trust is a much more fundamental part of organizations than we tend to admit.”  -Notter and Grant

The more leader-centric the organization turns, the more scarce information becomes…and eventually, the informational pipeline shuts itself down turning the organizational landscape into dried and withered desert of communication.  Leaving any remnants of trust and transparency to slowly fade away and turn to dust.

When information and communication fail to exist, when trust and transparency have broken down…our organization, as well as the system and its inner workings begin to feel more like a giant obstacle course than a open, collaborative, fluid community.  Going to work begins to feel like being a daily contestant on an episode of the show Wipeout.

“When there is trust, a significant number of potential bad outcomes are basically taken off the table, and that simplifies how we work through our environment.”  -Notter and Grant

And unfortunately, when trust does not exist…we get the opposite effect.

Our environment and our work becomes more complex…and more mentally taxing.  We spend more time worrying about the hidden landmines, snares, hazards, and booby traps that lay hidden as we traverse the organizational landscape during our daily work.

“When you trust someone, you don’t have to spend time figuring out how to protect yourself against the potential opportunities the other person has to take advantage of you.”  -Notter and Grant

When communication, trust and transparency dissipate, our organizations take on the feel of that show, Wipeout (which has been billed the “world’s largest obstacle course”).  We spend more time each day avoiding the traps, snares, landmines, and booby traps that stand to blindside us and knock us off course…than we do engaged in meaningful work that adds value to the organization and all within.

The unfortunate thing, especially when communication, trust and transparency are lacking…many within the organization know where those landmines and snares are located, yet instead of helping their fellow colleagues…they often wait and watch to see if the person tackling the course can successfully avoid those very obstacles.

“A necessary component of trust is transparency.  Whether it is an individual or an organization, when too much is kept behind a curtain of secrecy, then trust becomes difficult.  Unable to see intentions or actions clearly, we naturally become suspicious of motives…”  -Notter and Grant

Unfortunately, not only does this not endure trust…it lacks transparency.  And for that reason, people begin to be wary of what is waiting for them on the next step of the course…they slow down, become overly cautious.  Productivity and speed screech to a  halt as the focus turns towards trying to figure out where the next hit is coming from.  They become wary of being blindsided…

“That is the essence of transparency: sharing information.  Organizations that want to create a culture of transparency must figure out how to do the work of sharing information more effectively.”  -Notter and Grant

Or, instead of being wary the opposite happens…people through caution to the wind and run blindly through the course hitting all of the obstacles along the way.  The goal then  becomes survival, just getting through.  They lose focus on completing the course effectively…they are just trying to finish anyway possible.

Either way, we are doing our leadership, those we serve, and our organizations a disservice when we turn our organizational landscapes into booby-trip ridden obstacles courses.  When we turn those we lead into daily contestants on another episode of organizational Wipeout.

When leadership is self-serving and the organization becomes leader-centric…everything tends to fold inward.  Limiting the organization and all within…diminishing the whole for the center.

The goal of leadership needs to reverse that flow…to push outward.  Allowing the center to nourish the whole…to serve and feed the body through constant communication and transparency that not only creates bonds of trust…but, eliminates our organizational obstacle courses.

The Gringineers

Sometimes in our effort to make something better, we have a tendency to squeeze all of the joy out of it…

We’ve all experienced them…the panic room leaders.  Those leaders who have the uncanny ability to create a new episode of “Stress Factor” every time they walk in the room.  They are better equipped to get increased cardiac output and high blood pressure from those they lead than they are at getting increased work flow and dedicated efforts.  Their mere presence activates anxiety, even fear.

Wherever they go in the organization, there you will find anxiety-ridden reports constantly scurrying about them…desperately seeking to remain inconspicuous and anonymous.

They are often the creators of conformity, compliance and consent.

“Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can’t deliver good service from unhappy employees.”  -Tony Hsieh

And on the other side…

We have the “Gringineers“.  Gringineers are those leaders who bring anticipation over anxiety.  People look forward to their presence… for their very presence creates “comfortable urgency” in the room and in the organization.  They know how to elevate an urgency level without ramping up the stress level.  People are intrinsically motivated to give their best for Gringineers…because as leaders they are able to engineer, incorporate and infuse joy into the work of the organization.  Pure joy and elation towards a vision that is bigger than themselves.

Leaders have a tendency to fill a room…what they fill it with will determine the tenor of the organization and all within…

Gringineers covet creativity over compliance.  Urgency over anxiety.  Serenity over stress.  Risk over refuge.  Intrinsic over extrinsic.

“I view my role more as trying to set up an environment where the personalities, creativity and individuality of all the different employees come out and can shine.”  -Tony Hsieh

Gringineers understand that joy and happiness are vital to individual and organizational success…and they work diligently to create opportunities to infuse that into all that they do.  Otherwise, why would people spend large portions of their day (and their life), investing in an atmosphere that is anything but?

Gringineers do just that…they engineer grins on the faces of those they lead.  They infuse their work lives…as well as the organization and those they lead with a sense of joy and happiness.  They understand that people do their best work under the best of circumstances.

Not to say that every day will be filled blessings and good tidings…rather, the joy and happiness that they infuse into the life of the organization will allow people to overcome those obstacles and difficulties in the best of ways.  And as leaders, it behooves us to always remember…

Purpose can be positive.

“For me, my role is about unleashing what people already have inside them that is maybe suppressed in most work environments.”  -Tony Hsieh

Getting The Whole System In The Room: Part 2

Leadership requires a bit of reiteration…once the vision is determined, you have to preach it relentlessly…

At one time or another in our life, most of us have had the opportunity to play the “telephone game“.  For those of you who don’t know how, the “telephone game” begins with a group of friends or people standing in a line or a circle.  A person on one end starts the game by whispering a word or phrase into the ear of the person next to them.  That person will then whisper that same word or phrase on to the person next to them…and so on, and so on.  Until they reach the end of the line…

At which time, that last person shouts out the word or phrase that has been passed down the line.  Which is what makes the game both fun and interesting, nine times out of ten what is repeated at the end is not the word or phrase that started at the beginning.

Unfortunately, the “telephone game” often mirrors the communication strategy incorporated within many of our organizations…

Many leaders overestimate the effectiveness of their communication…often at their own peril.  Very seldom do leaders cascade communication down and through an organization…saturating it thoroughly.  Most communication comes down less like a cascading waterfall and more like intermittent showers.

When leaders assume communication has occurred…they risk frustration, missteps, misalignment, and chaos within their organization…

Not only does communication have to cascade, flow and thoroughly saturate the organization…the communication and the message has to be consistent.  When communication plays out like the “telephone game“…it does little to align the organization effectively.  Poor communication can be just as destructive as little or no communication.  Often causing chaos and confusion throughout…

For consistent and effective communication to occur…leaders have to find a way to get the “whole system in the room“.

It is a leaders responsibility to make sure that communication flows through an organization, as if everyone was there in the room…hearing the same, consistent message.  To do this, requires a high level of reiteration…

It takes a lot of time, labor and dedicated effort.

It also requires a leader to be creative…to utilize a variety of tools, methods and arenas to ensure that communication flows effectively throughout the organization.  And not only from the leader…but, to and from.

Very often, the “telephone game” can be played in much the same manner back to the leader…

Communication can never be a one way process…if it is to be effective for the organization as a whole.  A leader has to work to not only make sure communication cascades down and out, but that it also flows back.  Unfortunately, most communication back to a leader looks similar to salmon swimming upstream.  Very few messages make it to their intended destination.

Communication can create comfort, when it envelops and blankets the organization…or it can create chaos and confusion when it is erratic and left to chance.  Great leaders never leave communication to chance or pass on an opportunity to reiterate the message.  They understand that communication is the heartbeat and lifeblood of the organization.

“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.”  -Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Zombie Apocalypse Or Organizational Dysfunction…

“Of all our inventions for mass communication, pictures still speak the most universally understood language.”  -Walt Disney Company

It has been said that pictures are worth a thousand words…and more and more we see this becoming the reality of our current society.  We are inundated and saturated in images and visuals. According to Paul Martin Lester, “we are becoming a visually mediated society.”  We live each day under a constant bombardment of visual information and communication…much of which we find fleeting and passing, while other bits and pieces sear and etch themselves forever into our memory.

Pictures and images have a deep effect on us, they can move us, change us…affect our moods, our emotions, even our disposition.

One thing about visuals…they can hit us with startling ferocity.  Even through the flood of pictures, videos, shows, and movies that bombard our senses daily…some just seem to stand out.  Pictures and scenes that grab hold of us, catching our full attention…lingering in both our conscious and unconscious memory.

I recently ran into one of those…a visually amazing, as well as startling and shocking scene from the movie World War Z…a scene that takes place at the foot of the wall surrounding the city of Jerusalem.

Not only was the scene visually arresting in the jaw-dropping rawness of the images, but for the ideas that it provoked…and the dots that it connected.

For those who have not seen the movie or the trailer…

The scene shows thousands of agitated and mindless zombies climbing up and over each other to get over this obstacle…thrashing and clawing, pulling each other down and away to try and get themselves over the wall.  Completely and utterly focused and blinded by their own needs and wants…focused only on getting themselves over.

It is an incredible visual…both horrific and fascinating simultaneously.

As zombies, they were unable to understand, to comprehend that if they took the time to work together, to help and support each other…the getting over the wall would be that much easier to accomplish.  However, they are in such a frantic and frenzied state…it is an option not even considered.  There is no care for the others, or even that they are all trying to achieve the same objective.

They only cared about themselves, their own welfare, their own wants and needs…their own survival.

The unfortunate thing is that these situations occur within our own organizations.  Especially when an organization has slipped into a dysfunctional state.  People lose their collaborative spirit in favor of a survival mode.  As they say, it becomes “every man for himself”.  Unfortunately, just like the zombies trying to ascend the wall…we too, begin to crawl over each other to get to where we think we need to go.

And we run into the same problems as the zombies…we struggle to make headway, we find ourselves stepping on and over each other…pulling each other down and back to try and get ourselves over that wall.  However, without that collaborative, laddered support…we not only keep others from reaching their objective, we keep ourselves from reaching it as well.

When we lose our sense of service and support, we lose the joy of what it is to work with others, for others…for something bigger than ourselves. 

In dysfunctional situations, when the organization becomes more about personal satisfaction, personal wants, personal needs, and personal survival…the organization loses itself.  It loses its life and purpose.

Organizations are created for the betterment of all involved, of those they serve…and that gets lost when those within focus only on pushing forward their own best interests.

When we turn the focus of the organization away from the whole, toward small individualistic, self-serving components…we slowly disintegrate and fray the organization internally, eventually tearing it apart at the seams.

It is only when we recognize the dysfunction…when we stop ourselves from the frenzy and choose to help those around us that we begin to make headway…that we begin to move our organization forward in a better, more productive fashion.  It is that focus on connection, relationship and serving that allows us to begin to pull our organizations out of the muck…even in times of chaos and dysfunction.

And sometimes, it only takes that one person to stop and recognize…to try to end the madness that we see things start to change.  To slowly turn around…

As leaders, we have to refrain from creating the conditions that cause this chaos and dysfunction.  Through communication and transparency we clear away the concerns and lack of clarity that cause people to focus their energy and efforts away from what’s most important…their work.  They create an environment where those in the organization don’t have to spend their precious mental resources focusing on themselves and their own survival.  Rather, they create conditions where people can focus on something bigger and better…the vision and next steps.

Great leadership takes the dysfunction off the table, they clear it away so that people can get on with what matters most…the work that drives and moves us forward.

It has been said that culture eats strategy for breakfast every time.  Always remember, that in the end…dysfunction will eventually eat it all for lunch and dinner.

The Thing About Authenticity…

The thing about authenticity…we can’t always put it in words, but we definitely know it and sense it when we are around someone who has it…

A story was shared with me recently about a leader who felt they had to act a certain way, to be a certain way, to put on a different persona…to not only gain respect, but to be able to draw out certain behaviors and actions from those under their leadership.

The question I had…

How long can you keep that type of persona, that type of acting, before people see through the veneer of what it really is…an act.

Unfortunately, many leaders feel like that is what they have to do, they have to put on their leadership “mask” when they come to work each day…

Never presenting those they lead with the true “spirit” of who they are and what they are really about.  Many leaders masquerade throughout the entirety of their career as something they are truly not…putting on that “mask”.  Trying to be what they think a leader is supposed to be…instead of becoming the leader they ought to be.

Unfortunately, some leaders believe that their influence is founded in position and authority…never realizing that real leadership strength and courage is founded in being vulnerable…

When we hide behind something that we aren’t…the only people we are fooling is ourself.  We may think the “mask” hides us, but it is just a facade, a thin veneer that fades over time.

It is when we tap into our true and authentic self that we not only show others who we are…but, we begin to truly discover for ourselves who we are.  What we are really about.   And that is in this space that we begin to grow and flourish…as a person, and as a leader.

Authenticity is what makes a leader real.  It is why we get a good “gut” feeling when we meet that person.  It is why we connect, why we feel trust.  We know that we see is what we are going to get…the “real” you.

When leaders lack authenticity…they lose trust.  It is difficult to trust a leader who is afraid or unable to be who they really are…

As leaders, we need to put on our true selves each day.  Not a “mask” of who or what someone else thinks we need to be.  To feel open to show the chinks in our armor…to be honest about our struggles, our failures, even our hopes and dreams.

The real you…

That is what people want to see.  That is what people want to connect with…the authentic you.  That is a leader that people want and are willing to follow.

It is when we dig deep to find our true, authentic selves…that we find the capacity to grow as the leader that we can and should be.

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.”  -May Sarton

Live Wire Leadership

…when our precious energy is spent considering and wondering how our leader is going to react, little is left to consider and determine what our next steps need to be… 

As a child, I distinctly remember the many warnings from my mother to stay away from any downed electrical lines in the street.  I vividly remember the fear she imposed with her extreme cautioning to never go near or touch one of those lines…ever!  The over-counseling and cautioning for being safe…

My mother knew the real danger that accompanied those downed electrical lines…the danger that a curious little boy would neither recognize nor understand until it was too late.

Unfortunately, many leaders are like those downed electrical lines…their leadership like a live wire.  Sparking and hissing throughout the organization…raising concern and causing distress and fear.

It is when we encounter live wire leadership…that we remember those warnings and cautions from our childhood.  We better now understand those hazards we were warned against…and we avoid at all costs.  We acknowledge and recognize the dangers that accompany their volatile leadership.

And we avoid…

  • We avoid feedback
  • We avoid taking-risks
  • We avoid interacting
  • We avoid anything that may bring notice to us…or our work.

And we begin to do everything in our power to lie low…to fly under the radar.

When we get to this point…the learning, the work, the environment, the culture, the organization as a whole and all within suffer and stagnate.  Avoidance becomes the name of the game.  Out of sight, out of mind becomes the “modus operandi” of the organization.

And the “reality” of the organization suffers, gets lost…lost on efforts to keep the volatile, live wire leader subdued.  The work becomes more about providing “good news” than providing “real news“.  As reality becomes distorted, the organization finds itself sliding down a slippery slope to irrelevancy…

As the whole of the organization focuses its efforts on the leader…

And for that reason, little, if any time is left for the “real work” of the mission, vision and goals.  The energy and focus of the organization becomes misguided, and the organization slowly strays from its path and eventually loses its way…

Which is why great leaders know and understand how to ignite and spark vitality into their organization….while live wire leaders zap the energy and life out of all within.

Leaders have to create the right environment, the right culture…otherwise, risk-taking and feedback are like a live wire laying in the street…avoided at all costs.