Diversity, Diversity, Diversity

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I’m a big fan…The idea of surrounding yourself, a team, or an organization with a group of people that bring unique perspectives is awesome.  The masterpiece created when painting with different colors, using different brush strokes, employing different textures, and using various techniques leads to amazing results.  People coming together with their differences can create masterpieces.

Diversity comes in a variety of traits.  Don’t get caught up on one definition or example of diversity that puts you in a box.  You must embrace it in all of its forms.  For example, diversity includes; race, cultures, socioeconomic status, education methods (notice I didn’t leave it at “education”), experiences, and generational spread.  Building teams of all types are essential. 

With diversity comes opinions…assumptions…biases.  Those suppositions are what we bring to the team.  It is when those biases and thoughts evolve through safe and respectful dialogue that minds change, and the organization benefits.  As a leader, I too come to meetings with opinions, assumptions, and biases.  I prejudge a situation or carve out a path in my mind.  We all do it.  After all, that is part of my slice of diversity and what I bring.  What happens in that meeting is a challenge for me as a leader.  I know we are ‘on to something good’ when my thinking shifts.  It is at that moment I know the product or process just got better.  Somebody convinced me, the leader, there was a better way.  It can’t be easy to do, so their idea must have been better than mine.  Let that sink in.  Embrace it.  If you have assembled and empowered a high caliber and diverse team, you will (and should) frequently find yourself in a position to acquiesce to the ideas of the group.

This is why a diverse team and collaboration are so important.  Having a genuinely empowered group of individuals around a table is critical.  The key might be in the term “genuinely empowered.”  It is a cultural thing, and it must be in place.  Simon Sinek wrote, “The worse thing a leader could do is say to his team, ‘Here is the problem and I think we should do this.  What do you think?’”.  Leaders who prescribe a solution before allowing the diversity of their team to speak into it will squelch the voice of the team and diminish their value.  Those teams will never rise and influence the outcome.  They will never change the mind of the leader.  Good ideas will go unspoken as the team submits to the opinions, assumptions, and biases of the leader. 

When we create diverse teams without the willingness to let diversity run, we miss out on the benefits.  Diversity without a culture of safe, honest, and open-handed leaders is likely to be more “window dressing” than anything else.  We will have taken great efforts to assemble a team only to frustrate and demoralize the members, and the team will fail to reach its potential.

Steve Jobs said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people, so they can tell us what to do.”  There are some nuances with this statement, but I can get behind it.  After all, smart people alone is not diversity.  You need intelligent people with experience(s).  Assuming that is what you have, it is time to empower them to change you.  Leaders continue to lead.  Continue to bring your experiences, assumptions, opinions, and biases.  But, be willing to listen to the voices around the table.  Be ready to let your team shine.

Hire great people, equip them to succeed, empower them to have influence, and then step back…That’s a diversity recipe that works.

Heavy is the Head

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I cannot get the letter “P” out of my mind.  It has been bouncing around for months, and it continues to expand.  More specifically, the letter “P” has formed an alliteration associated with words that describe my thinking about leadership.  I have tried to figure out where it came from and for a time I thought it might have been tied to my mother’s reminder to “watch my ‘Ps’ and ‘Qs’” when in public.

But that is not it…It is more specific than that.  Perhaps my mind is drawn to the art of alliteration, and I am stuck on words with the letter P.  While “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Pepper” has a ring to it, my words are different.  The more I search, the more I find significance in the words and their tie to leadership. 

The first word is Privilege

Leaders have privilege.  It is not that they should be treated with higher privilege.  They have a privileged perspective on what is going on around them.  They have a vantage point that provides a better view of the action.  Consider the Captain of a ship.  They sit on the Bridge and survey they horizon as they guide the ship through the sea.  The CEO receives financial, operational, and competitive updates as they work through the strategy and execution of the business plan.  The shop foreman works hand-in-hand with their team as they make process improvements on a daily basis.  It is not difficult to understand how a person in leadership has a unique and privileged perspective on what is happening around them. 

Privilege in this context is easy to understand.  However, that is not the “privilege” that comes to mind when I think about leadership.  Leaders have the unique privilege to influence the behaviors and actions of other people.  We all have it, but do we appreciate what that means?  Whether you are leading a church, a brigade, a workforce, or your children, having the ability to influence another’s actions is an incredible privilege.  Embracing that privilege will change the way you lead.

The second word is Pleasure

Authentic leadership should be accompanied by a sense of pleasure: the pleasure to work with others in a way that adds value to them, to the organization, and the greater mission.  Good leaders tend to associate the privilege to work with others with a sense of joy.  My mentor, Tom Kemp, used to describe the way he would wake up excited to go into the office.  He would specifically tie that excitement to the opportunity to add value to his team as they worked towards a common goal.

The pleasure and joy described here come from a place of true humility.  A place where those you lead are the highest priority, even higher priority than the mission itself.  An understanding that your ability to add value to them will ultimately make EVERYTHING and EVERYONE better.  It is in that place of humility and submission to others where leaders find pleasure.

The third word is Perseverance

Shakespeare said, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”  You may have heard it said, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.”  Leadership is not easy, and it rarely allows for the 9 to 5 workday.  Leaders know the stakes, and the “buck stops with them.”  They carry the burden of making their team and the organization successful.  It keeps them up at night and can consume a lot of energy and even passion.  There is no getting around the mental and emotional challenges that come with leadership.  After all, it is a tremendous responsibility to influence another person’s actions. 

This doesn’t discourage leaders. Leaders are fueled by the times where perseverance is needed  Adding value to another person’s professional and personal life is the reward that trumps the weight of the crown.

The last P is for Preference

Leaders prefer to wear the heavy crown, to stand in the gap where the buck stops, and to play their role in developing others.  They are happy to stay out of the light so the light can shine brightly on their team.  The mere reflection of that light is plenty for them.  It is their appreciation of the real meaning of privilege and the pleasure derived from developing others that stirs their sense of preference. 

John Maxwell wrote, “Leadership is not a position, it is a state of mind.”  My challenge as a leader is to maintain a state of mind that embodies the four Ps.  My challenge to you is to recognize your true Privilege.  Take Pleasure and find joy in the opportunity to add value to another’s life.  Dig in and Persevere when things are tough.  Finally, wake up every day with a Preference to be there.

Leading From Within

The definition of leadership is quite simply, “to influence the behavior of another person.”  Notice the definition does not refer to a title, position, education, or formal authority over another person.  It is merely the ability to influence.  The literal definition is particularly important to understand for a discussion about leading when you are not in a “position” of leadership.  John Maxwell writes, “Leadership is a choice you make, not a place you sit. Anyone can choose to become a leader wherever he or she is. You can make a difference no matter where you are.”  In fact, the most effective leadership comes from the middle of the organization.  That place where you have highly talented team members that are close to the action and can lead based on their privileged perspective and first-hand expertise.

The idea of leading from below runs counter to the conventional understanding that leadership is positional.  While there is nothing wrong with positional leadership, good leaders realize the power of those leading from below.  No competent CEO or President has ever said, “I have too many leaders.”  They see the value of developing leaders and empowering them to lead from where they are in the organization.  It can even be seen as an informal succession planning process, as great leaders emphasize developing leaders from within the group and create opportunities for them to grow.

Team members that aspire to leadership positions must be careful not to squander their ability to have a real impact by leading from where they are today.   I’ve mentioned a leader’s obligation to be a lifelong learner.  Consider the idea of leading from below a part of the learning process.  Refining your skills and techniques as a leader can prepare you to become more effective as you grow into more positional leadership roles.

Keys to understanding power and influence

We are all created in the image of God, and that means we are endowed with traits and characteristics that come from our Father.  This includes leadership.  Some may have been given the gift of leadership in different measure than others but we all have it and we are are all in a position to lead or influence (someone).  A high IQ, EQ, and general charisma can play into a leader’s effectiveness.  But, an understanding of human behavior and how power and influence work is helpful as we develop our leadership techniques, regardless of where we sit on the organization chart.

There are five widely accepted sources of power and influence.  Positional, Coercive, Reward, Expert, and Referent. 

·       Positional power is the influence that comes from the more traditional and hierarchical structure within the organization.  “The buck stops” with those who have positional or “legitimate power.”  People with positional power assign duties and direct activities for their team.  It is important for a person who holds a position of power to have earned it legitimately.  Positional power can be problematic if the person does not have the respect of their team.

·       Coercive power is the ability to influence behavior through threats, punishments, or sanctions.  This type of power can serve to keep performance within the standard framework created to maintain acceptable standards and drive desired behaviors.

·       Reward power is the ability to influence behavior through incentives.  Bonuses, compensation, and other benefits.

·       Referent power is the more relational type of influence.  The ability to garner the respect of your peers through genuine relationship building.  With relationships, comes comradery, trust, and influence.

·       Expert power draws on an individual’s ability to establish a high level of expertise in a particular area.  This expertise adds credibility to their voice and ability to influence others in the desired direction.

The five sources are all unique and can be effective, and it is helpful to understand the good and bad of each source.  Much like you learned about your strengths, these sources of power have a “shadow” side.  Understanding their shadow traits and using them in combination proves to be a very effective model.

The goal of understanding these sources is to create a plan of how to use the ones you control.  Some might be out of our control, and that is okay.  You will find those sources are not entirely necessary to have an impact.

 

Ask yourself these questions:

1.     What source or combination of sources of power are most effective?

2.     Can you pick out examples of the uses of power that had a positive and/or a negative effect on an organization?

3.     How do you lead up and still work within the vision set by senior leadership?

4.     What does a plan to lead from within look like for you?

a.     Baby steps?  What three things can you do to put yourself in a position to influence others and have an impact on the mission?