As you take your summer trip, lay out on the beach, or simply lounge in your backyard, a great book can really be the icing on the cake.
I’m often asked what I’m reading as it relates to business and leadership, so I thought I’d share a few of my personal favorites on the subject. Since it’s summer, I kept the textbooks off the list. But don’t be fooled: While they may be “light” reading, the insights they carry pack a punch.
1. Daring Greatly, by Brené Brown.
Brown shares an idea that at first seems counterintuitive: that we draw courage from being vulnerable. But in her engaging style, she soon demonstrates how this simple principle can transform the way we take risks.
2. The Art of Procrastination, by John Perry
This book is short and sweet, but it tackles that challenge we all face. Namely, how do we battle that urge to put important things off? Perry suggests that we shouldn’t try to stop procrastinating all together, but that we can learn to use procrastination as a tool to our advantage.
3. Love Leadership, by John Hope Bryant
Bryant elegantly lays out why leading with love is the most powerful way to lead. Packed with personal stories that really drive the message home, this book has had a great impact on me, as it has helped me grow into a compassionate leader.
4. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni
Written as a fable about one terribly dysfunctional fictional company, Lencioni reveals his five dysfunctions–absence of trust; fear of conflict; lack of committment; avoidance of accountability; and inattention to results–with engrossing characters and stories. We learn how teams should operate by seeing a demonstration of all the wrong behaviors.
I stumbled upon a great blog post this week by life coach Chris LoCurto on what leadership is, and what it is not. As I’ve discussed before, effective leadership depends on support, compassion, and trust, not on strict rules or fear tactics.
According to LoCurto, leadership is:
-not a title
-not a dictatorship
-not a blame game
Okay, so that’s what leadership isn’t. What about what it is? LoCurto says leadership is:
What are good descriptors of leadership that come to mind for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Have a great week!
On this Fourth of July, I hope you’re taking time to get outside, enjoy time with friends and family, and see some fireworks. But the holiday also offers us a chance to look back on the country’s history and see what kind of lessons and insight we might take from it. In particular, what can we learn about leadership from the first American leaders?
This is the topic of a blog post from Harvard Business review blog: here’s the link.
In contrast to the way we see the Founding Fathers–great, infallible men who did no wrong–the article points out that each founder had both brilliant areas of expertise, but also glaring weaknesses. “Thomas Jefferson, drafter of the Declaration of Independence, was superb with a pen,” writes Jeffrey Gedmin, CEO of Legatum Institute. “He was a notoriously poor public speaker, however.” Similarly, John Adams was extremely intelligent and courageous, but suffered “extreme mood swings” that made him difficult to work with.
So while we may view the Founders in a heroic light, the truth is they too were normal people with normal strengths and weaknesses. The success of the country came not from strength or genius of individuals, but from the power of cooperation and complementary skill sets.
Just a little food for thought. Have a great holiday weekend!
I once collaborated on a project with a few people from my department. We all had different areas of expertise, so we relied on each other equally in order to get it off the ground.
The problem was, our visions of not only how we were going to execute the project, but what the project even looked like, were all over the board. It took weeks of frustrating debate just to come to an agreement on the project itself.
Then, there was the tug-of-war between us at every step of the process. One person wanted to draft specific, detailed assignments for each of us to follow verbatim. Since a few of us worked better in a more fluid, open style, that became a point of contention. Another member of the team insisted we meet in person multiple times a week, while there was one individual who thrived working on her own time.
Of course, we eventually got the job done. Once we had time to settle down and look back on the project, we admitted we could have all been more flexible.
It’s easy to get tunnel vision in situations like these. So easy, in fact, that I’ve witnessed the calmest, most professional leaders become almost hysterical when they’re in the middle of a collaborative project. Why is this?
I think it’s mainly due to pride. When we have a task before us, we all visualize how the end result will look, which is very necessary. But we unintentionally force our personal vision onto everyone else, even when we’re unaware that we’re doing it.
Think of a time when you resisted a suggestion from someone in a collaborative situation. I’m willing to bet that your resistance to their suggestion wasn’t necessarily because it was a bad idea. I’ll go so far as to say you objected because deep down, you were convinced that your vision was inherently better than theirs.
This is where the tunnel vision happens. Assuming that you have the better vision, you are unwilling/unable to truly give their idea a fair chance. Often, you’ll realize after the fact that they actually had a great idea, and you may scratch your head and wonder, “Why didn’t I see that at the time?”
The remedy? Remind yourself every step of the way that your vision isn’t inherently perfect. Remind yourself that you are one person, working in a team. Listen to your collaborators. Accept that the product won’t ever be exactly as you envision it. Allow yourself to change your mind and see alternatives.
The good news: having this skill enhances your end product. Flexibility leads to innovation and dynamic results well past what you expected. This is because the ability to be flexible unleashes the awesome power of collaborative work between many talented minds.
There are times when an unpleasant confrontation with someone in your business is unavoidable. As much as we’d like to sweep the issue under the rug, hoping the problem fixes itself, as a leader it’s gotta be you who deals with the issue.
Years ago, I made the mistake of ignoring a problem. A team member, who usually did top notch work and who I greatly valued, began to underperform on a consistent basis. I didn’t want to say anything: she was a great person, she’d done great work in the past, and we all gathered that she was having some personal issues. So, at first I chalked it up to a temporary lull in her performance and decided to ignore the red flags.
But then she began to miss meetings, show up late for work, and generally appear to be unfocused and uncommitted. As a result, my supervisors began to confront me, wondering if I needed help getting my team’s performance back on track. It was only then, weeks after this whole thing started, and after our performance suffered enough that my supervisors took notice, that I finally decided to have a sit down with the problem person.
Everything got straightened out and the team was soon back to performing well. But I learned then that the longer you put off a confrontation, the harder you make it on yourself.
So, if you need to confront someone, do it right away. The pressure is low, and hopefully there isn’t much tension between the two of you at this point. If you let it go, you run the risk of giving the offending person more space to continue on a damaging path.
Secondly, be clear and specific when you have the sit down. When someone is being confronted, they take the defensive and often misconstrue what you’re saying. They may generalize and take it as an attack on them as people, for instance. To avoid this, lay out the parameters: “In these areas, I’ve noticed that you have not met your marks…”
However, the confrontation must be led by your heart, not your head. While it’s crucial to show the person exactly where they are not meeting expectations, don’t make this the only factor. After all, we’re humans, not robots. Put yourself in their shoes. What might be going on in their life that may be influencing their work? Is there anything you can do to help? Offer support. Reiterate that you are there for them, and that the confrontation is happening out of loving concern, not reprimand.
Finally, make a joint game plan that lays out how the two of you will resolve the issue. Include a timeline if need be. This doesn’t have to be a written document, of course. But it should be specific and clear. And it should above all serve to encourage the individual to seek out support and build trust between you.
In this TED talk, author Susan Cain makes the case for appreciating and accommodating introverts.
Her talk is insightful, and I highly recommend you watch it, but it runs almost twenty minutes, so I’ll highlight big points:
-Before all else, Cain stresses we need to be clear on what introversion is. Introversion is not the same as shyness, which is the fear of judgment from others. Extroverts, says Cain, crave social interaction, whereas introverts feel at their most capable when they are in quieter environments. The key to maximizing our talents, she says, “is for us all to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.”
-Workplaces nowadays are built with extroverts in mind: open offices, collaborative meetings, group projects, etc. Introverts’ work and success frequently suffer as a result.
-When it comes to leadership, introverts tend to be passed over for leadership positions. However, Cain points out that many of the greatest minds had big introverted streaks in them: Charles Darwin took long walks in the woods and turned down dinner invitations; Dr. Seuss came up with his stories alone in a bell tower of his house; Steve Wozniak, inventor of the first Apple computer, credits his expertise to devoting long hours alone studying computers.
Cain’s big point: We need a better balance between these two personality types in order to maximize creativity, productivity and cooperation in business and society.
What do you think? Where do you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum? How does your work environment help or hinder your success? Do you think introverts are passed up for leadership roles because they don’t fit the common view of what a leader should be?
These past few weeks I’ve been attending quite a lot of weddings. It seems couples have wisely planned their wedding days around the time Minnesota has (finally!) given us some much-needed warm weather.
I love weddings, and it’s been a privilege to participate in the Big Days of young folks I’ve known from all corners of my life. But these past couple of weeks have made me think two, very related thoughts:
1. I’m busy as it is with my work–toss a few weddings in the mix and things can get hectic real quick.
2. Weddings are the platform from which two people jump off into a new life together. A big part of this is learning to balance and sustain their personal lives and their careers.
I’ve found that there tend to be periods of relative calm in my life, where my biggest concern is keeping myself from being bored. And then, all at once, life throws ten things at me and I’m scrambling to stay afloat.
If you’re a parent, you know that life doesn’t relent just because you’re tired or overworked. Kids still need feeding, dishes need doing, and that stack of work on your desk isn’t going to magically disappear. So it’s important to your sanity and quality of life that you develop a work flow that keeps things manageable.
1. Take advantage of downtime. It’s easy to sit back and idle the engine, to use a car metaphor, when work and home life relents and you find yourself with an open schedule. But you can’t take a car from first gear to fifth. The engine just can’t handle that big of a transition. In the same way, if you relax too much during the lulls, it makes it that much more difficult to be ready to perform your best when things begin to pile up. So, use downtime to prepare for the next onslaught. It’ll keep you productive when there’s not much going on, and it’ll make things much easier for you when things get busy.
2. Focus on one task at a time. Here’s a post I wrote about the myth of multitasking. It may feel like you’re able to get more done faster, but in reality you aren’t.
3. Prioritize. Your family should be number one on your priority list, and if they aren’t, perhaps you should reevaluate what is most important in your life.
4. Learn to say no. You can’t do everything that people ask of you. There’ll be some projects at work you’ll have to pass up in order to spend time with your family. Similarly, there’ll be family activities that won’t mesh with your work schedule. After prioritizing, you’ll know what to turn down and what to take on.