Leadership University - Lesson 1: What is Leadership
Leadership University is a companywide leadership training program, that focuses on the most challenging areas business leaders encounter daily. In this lesson Henry breaks down the five critical elements to developing the foundations of great leadership.
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Here's what you will learn with the Leadership University program:
Great Leaders Live in the Middle
Most leaders get leadership training and development in the important disciplines of leadership. Topics such as Vision, Strategy, Execution, Leading Change, etc. are absolutely essential. However, reality is that each leader finds that personal maturity and interpersonal maturity and competency is also essential to implement all of these competencies. Therefore, the great leaders focus on development that includes the "middle" of the two worlds: Leadership Competency on the one side, and Personal and Interpersonal Maturity on the other.
How Thinking Drive Performance
Leaders are the stewards of the thinking paradigms that guide themselves, their teams and organizations. Thinking is an essential part of the DNA and the software of an organization's performance. It must be empowering, optimistic, non-catastropic, and able to be transferred to others, creating a positive, energetic "can do" culture. At the same time, it should not allow negative, victim, powerless, blaming, or catastrophic thinking styles.
Every person, team, and organization has the constant need to prune itself from spending time, energy and resources in less than the optimal way. This is an ongoing discipline, not a "only when there is a problem" activity. The best leaders and organizations are always making difficult decisions to eliminate the "good" from getting in the way of the "best," as well as taking the difficult action steps to shut down, eliminate or even fire what is refusing to get better or has been dead for a long time. This requires proper diagnosis, alignment, focus, courage, and forward thinking.
When leaders and their people find themselves in situations where forces beyond their control begin to affect them negatively, they can drift into a state called "learned helplessness." This is characterized by increasing inactivity on what would actually produce results and forward movement, as well as a predictable pattern of negative and helpless thinking. Great leaders overcome such conditions by a focused diagnosis on what they have control of that will drive results, and what they do not. They then discipline themselves and their teams to overcome the negative thinking patterns of helplessness and execute on the activities which they can control that are directly related to getting results.
The Leaders Attention
Keeping focus is a constant leadership requirement, both for the leader him or herself, their teams, and the organization. The ability to define and attend to what is directly relevant, to inhibit what is not relevant to the "main thing," and keep that in constant conscious awareness for the organization is one of the key hallmarks of leadership. Without these three abilities of attention, inhibition and working memory, a team or organization drifts, loses focus, speed and agility, and fails to move forward. This is absolutely one of the key essential functions of leadership and creates an organization that is actually able to follow the leader to achievement of the mission.
The Science of Improvement
Every leader desires to "get better" and have their people and organizations do the same. The fact is that this is only accomplished in a particular way, that being "open system change." The only method of getting to the next level of improvement for a person, team or organization is to open its current level of function to two new elements: new energy sources and new intelligence. Otherwise, the person or system will continue to produce the results it is already getting, or worse. Open system change means getting out of what is already not working and opening up to outside input of energy and intelligence past what has already been utilized.
In the same way that a boat leaves a "wake" behind it, on two sides, leaders leave their own. The leaders "wake" ultimately is composed of the two factors of "results" and "relationships." The operative questions that judge a leader of a team, department or organization are "did he or she get results?" and "how were the people affected who were under their leadership?" Great leaders focus actively on both sides of their wake….asking "what results am I getting, and how am I affecting the people I lead?”
Trust fuels investment. The more a leader is trusted, the more investment he gets from the people he leads, as well as customers, and other stakeholders. Trust drives everything, and as trust goes up, speed goes up and costs go down. The tricky thing is that trust is driven by very specific components. When a leader is aware of the elements that drive trust, and that diminish it and focus on them, he is able to fuel greater investment by all.
What is Leadership
Leadership ultimately involves moving people and a mission from "here" to "there." While it is a linear process, it has certain factors that cannot be skipped or eliminated. And all leaders have strengths and weaknesses which make them susceptible to implementing critical aspects of leadership and omitting others unknowingly. While a leader cannot "do it all," she must be aware of what the "all" of leadership is, and make sure that it is happening. Otherwise, the team or organization will not get to "there," This involves a desired future (vision), engaging talent, executing a strategy and plan, measurement and accountability, and ongoing adaptation. Leadership requires all of these functions in order to get from "here" to "there," and the competent leader ensures they are happening.
Accountability is one of the key drivers of performance, for individuals, teams and organizations. When done well, it is empowering and positive, and actually builds culture. When done poorly, it is disastrous. It is essential that leaders understand the key components of forming and aligning clear expectations, communication, observation and inspection, correction, emotional impact and others. Accountability is not only drives forward progress, but makes sure that progress is happing on the right things at the right times and in the right directions. Plus, it motivates and empowers individuals and culture.
No problems, no profits" is a clear truth. In order to move forward with a project, goal, person, or anything at all requires that we lean into problems and difficulties. However, to many people, dealing with difficult issues and conflict is a horrible and terrifying experience, and also there are many who do it in a way that makes it even worse. As a result, people avoid conflict and having the most important conversations that they could have that would ensure forward progress and better relationships. Developing the skills to seek out, lean into, and execute difficult conversations to a beneficial result is an absolute essential for every leader.
Creating and Casting a Compelling Vision
Without vision, people flounder. Vision drives the investment of energy towards a defined desired future. But, a vision that is not clear and compelling, and kept in front of people though proper casting with inspiration, reality, hope and urgency ultimately is prone to lagging behind or even failure. Leadership requires vision, and the ability to communicate it and keep it alive for the people who have to make it a reality.
Team Building for Leaders
Leadership brings a vision to having real results in the real world. But, that can only be done through people, and usually that is accomplished through teams. Teams are defined as having a shared purpose, shared goals, values that drive behaviors which will make those goals possible, and clear roles and responsibilities of team members leading to ownership. All of these factors make it possible to collectively define the most important activities that will move the needle on realizing those goals, measuring progress along the way and exercising peer accountability, and quickly adapting to what is discovered. Teams that do these factors well are high performing, attaining results, and creating thriving culture for their members.
Work has changed so much with technology, global markets, and so many other factors that the traditional work life and personal life divide has been decimated. Now, work can find someone anytime, anywhere, as can their personal life and contacts. The old protective boundaries of time and space on work have gone away, and as a result many people feel overstressed, overworked, under-replenished, and under-thriving. To restore balance takes forethought, discipline, and skills.
Science of Goals
We all have goals, in that we have a desire for "more" and "better," in many areas of life and work. That is good but very inadequate as a methodology of reaching those goals. There are research-validated ways of reaching goals, and proven ways of failing, despite much effort. Including the ingredients of the types of goals, their size, their motivational sets, their attention drivers, reinforcements, alignment, support, structure and neural patterning are some of the important essentials which determine whether or not goals will be reached. Leaders do well to understand the science of goals in order to help their people achieve them.
The Right Kind of Push
In order for individuals, teams and organizations to reach their goals and highest performance, "push" is required. People must be challenged, often past where they have ever thought they could go. This requires energy, and a number of other elements coming from the outside, such as appropriate challenge commensurate with abilities. In addition to these factors, learning and improvement only takes place in a state of arousal from challenge, but too much arousal diminishes both learning and performance. Leaders do well to be able to help their people and themselves find the right balance between challenge and ability that leads to growth.
Fuel and Energy
Performance takes energy, and energy requires fuel. Leadership is about managing one's own energy levels as well as making sure the team, and organization is receiving the right kinds of energy infusions at the right times. Leaders fuel in a number of ways, such as providing connected understanding to those fighting in the trenches, to stabilizing emotional climates, to inspiration, encouragement and other relational and emotional factors that drive performance. In addition, the proper infusion of new learning and information, as well as dealing with challenge and difficulties in the right way are all energizing. The converse is true as well: leaders can be energy diminishing as can individual contributors. Leaders must think about energy management, how to infuse it and how to guard the teams and organization against the perils of negative energy.
The Growth Mindset
In order for improvement to occur in individuals, teams and organizations, growth must be accomplished along the way. Otherwise, more and increasing efforts will only yield more of the same results. But for growth to happen, people must be given feedback, input and metrics. Research has shown that how those are both given and received determine how much, if any, growth can occur. People sometimes interpret feedback and results in a way that validates to them that they are "good," and thereby need no growth, or "bad" and incapable of getting better. This kind of mindset leads to stagnation, defensiveness, and worse. On the other hand, a "growth" mindset leads to curiosity and learning and improvement when feedback and results are encountered. Leaders must be able to spot each kind of mindset, immunize the people against one and encourage the other in culture and individual performance.
A leader's first responsibility is to lead themselves well. Said another way, have mature self-leadership. This means that they are first of all an open-system themselves, seeking outside energy and intelligence to help them develop. They engage in rigorous feedback systems, are stewards of their own thinking styles, function separate from being overly tied to specific outcomes, are not lead by fear, embrace change, address patterns quickly, steward stakeholder relationships well, quarantine weaknesses and use time and energy well. This requires awareness, focus, attention, habit formation and support and great leaders take it seriously.
"He who gives an answer before understanding is a fool," is a valuable Proverb. And especially valuable for leaders. A leader must capture hearts in order to lead, whether that be with a direct report, a team, an organization, a customer or investor. And the very first and the most important step in capturing a heart is for someone to feel listened to and understood. Leaders by nature tend to be more oriented often towards persuading than listening, but the truth is that persuasion is undergirded and fueled by listening. Listening requires skills and those skills can be learned. Great leaders spend time and effort in building those skills.