Category Archives: General posts on leadership

Leading (and loving) in times of turmoil

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I haven’t written a blog article in quite some time – so please forgive me if it’s not my most eloquent.

I suspect a typical reaction to the title of this article (in the context of a blog about leadership and executive coaching) would be to think about a business leader dealing with a turbulent business environment (volatile market, sales/profit down, retention challenges, etc.) and trying to lead his people and her organization through the turmoil. Very reasonable assumption … but not what I want to write about today.

Stressed manTo say we’re in tumultuous times, both domestically and internationally, is putting it lightly in my opinion. Those who grew up in earlier generations might argue they had the same or worse and they may very well have – but regardless, I think reasonable people would agree we’re in quite a bit of turmoil today. Domestically, we’re seeing almost daily reports about someone being killed violently and a particularly nasty presidential election. Internationally, we’re hearing the same in the form of terrorism, war, and atrocities. I have opinions on all those things (not the point of this article) and I don’t claim to have all the answers (also not the point) … So what is the point? I do think that business and other organizational leaders can contribute to helping people cope with the stress and uncertainty created by the chaotic current events bombarding us.

I’ve written in the past about leading from the heart in the context of business leadership. I’ve also written about how I dislike the phrase, “it’s not personal,” often stated in the context of a business decision. My point is that leaders lead people … and the people we’re leading are experiencing all of the things mentioned above. And I would submit that many of those people (myself included) are struggling to cope and focus. People might be able to compartment some of these issues but eventually something will strike a little too close to home (or maybe even impact them directly). Case in point, the reason I’m compelled to write this blog article is that I was particularly troubled yesterday to hear that a priest was murdered and a nun very badly injured in church in the Normandy region of France. For me, as a Catholic, the thought of a priest and nun being brutally attacked in a church (reportedly while celebrating the Mass) is particularly devastating – it literally makes my heart ache. I don’t claim these people’s lives are any more important that others’ … my point is that this particular travesty affected me substantially because of my own circumstances and beliefs. To the point of this article, it affected me at work – I had trouble concentrating on the tasks of the day. And I suspect that many people that went to work yesterday, today, or maybe when they head in tomorrow will be affected one way or another and to one degree or another by the events dominating U.S. and international news. So what’s that got to do with leadership and leading from the heart?

Maybe today when you see a colleague in the hallway, at the coffee machine, or even online, and you ask, “How are you” or “How’s it going,” you can take an extra few minutes to listen and talk. I know some folks, especially in a work environment, are more remiss than others to “open up.” But who knows? Maybe someone on your team today would benefit from a chat with you about something other than a monthly report, or those revenue numbers, or the next deadline. SJDBSK6K29Maybe they have a family member in Orlando, a police officer in the family, a friend who’s been treated unjustly, a military spouse deployed overseas … and maybe knowing that the boss is genuinely interested when he asks, “What’s going on?” or she asks, “How’s your family,” is that little ray of light that gets them over the hump and through the day.

So consider leading from the heart today (I know many of you already do). I leave you with this from two prominent business professors and authors on leadership (Kouzes and Posner): “And what sustains the leader? From what source comes the leader’s courage? The answer is love. Leaders are in love – in love with the people who do the work, with what their organizations produce, and with their customers.”

Copyright © 2016 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

First image courtesy of Master/freedigitalimages.net

 

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I don’t know …

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I read today a transcript of an interview between Pope Francis and journalists as the Pope returned to the Vatican from his recent trip to South America. I noted with great interest his response to a question. The context of the question is not particularly relevant to my point but in short, the journalist was asking the Pope to respond to criticism of his statements about capitalism (among other economic issues). I found the Pope’s response to be a great reminder for leaders (hence my post in this forum). Here’s what the Pope said in response to the question (I’ve bolded the sentences I found very relevant for leaders):

Pope Francis:  “What I said, that phrase, it’s not new. I said in Evangelii Gaudium. This economy kills. I remember that phrase well. It had a context. And I said it in Laudato Si’. It’s not a new thing, this is known. I cannot say … I heard that there were some criticisms from the United States. I heard about it, but I haven’t read about it, I haven’t had the time to study this well, because every criticism must be received, studied, and then dialogue must be ensue. You ask me what I think. If I have not had a dialogue with those who criticize, I don’t have the right to state an opinion, isolated from dialogue, no? This is what comes to mind.”

The reminder I took from this is that as leaders we don’t always have to know the answers on the spot. I think leaders often feel compelled to answer every question at a moment’s notice – whether we simply want to be responsive or whether we feel “weakened” or vulnerable by not having an answer at our fingertips. I’ve certainly had those moments where, in my haste, I answered a question or made a statement I later had to clarify or regretted. The lesson for me is that it’s alright to admit I don’t know something (or that I’ve not even taken the time to form an opinion) but I’ll look into the particular issue further and follow up (of course, we have to actually follow up!).

I also sensed a great deal of humility in the Pope’s response. Whether you’re Christian or not, whether you agree with his world view or not, most would agree he’s a pretty educated person – he could easily have rattled off his views on the issue and moved on. Rather, he admitted he wasn’t familiar with the particular criticism and needed some time to think about and formulate a response. (I suspect the Pope is likely more aware than he admitted … but that’s not my point in this post). From my perspective, it was very humble and also showed respect to his critics – and in my studies and experiences in leadership I’ve found humility and respect are great traits for leaders (and anyone else for that matter).

So, leaders … take it from the Pope: It’s ok to say “I don’t know … but I’ll get back to you.”

What do you think?

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Sshh … be quiet

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I recently read Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. For this off-the-charts introvert it is a welcomed study of introversion. Welcomed because it is a nuanced piece of work that goes well beyond the stereotypical characterization of the “quiet guy” and the “shy gal” label that is plastered on those of us that are often “highly sensitive” (easily overwhelmed by stimulation) in Cain’s words.

I carried the quiet guy stigma well into my late 30’s. And it’s not that I’m now a boisterous person and life of the party but rather through experience (work and life), professional development, coaching, successes, and failures, I’ve become more comfortable in my own skin and also more knowledgeable about what it means to be an introvert and highly sensitive. Because I have a body of knowledge and experience to draw upon, I no longer let being an introvert serve as an excuse (ok, maybe sometimes I do) for taking on a new challenge or stepping outside my comfort zone (like publishing a book and authoring a blog). Rather I embrace it as a part of who I am … one part of me that is both empowering and frustrating … but it doesn’t solely define me.IMG_1543_SENTIER_2C_1L_NB

So what’s my point in all this? As I’ve had the privilege to engage with leaders at many levels, I’ve noticed that “we” as leadership development professionals and coaches do a good job assessing people’s personality types and strengths … we perhaps fall short in making clear that a person’s particular characteristics shouldn’t be viewed as immovable objects. Rather they are just parts of the larger picture of who we are as individuals. They are also often situational-dependent. As these characteristics evolve or we become more aware of them through experience and education we can embrace, manage, or even counteract them in certain circumstances.

Marshall Goldsmith writes about a particular behavior he encounters in his behavioral coaching of senior executives. He calls its “an excessive need to be me.” In the context of leadership, he often sees leaders who are very self-aware and have decided that’s who they are … others can take it or leave it. Goldsmith notes this behavior as a major de-railer in leaders aspiring to even greater levels of leadership in their organizations. I often find this behavior in leaders who have been through many assessments and personality inventories … but not really coached or mentored.

ID-100266483I think this “need to be me” can be a particularly limiting behavior for introverts. If an introvert comes to accept that’s “just the way I am” they are significantly stunting opportunities for future growth. It’s one thing for a more extroverted person to stay the way they are … they’ll get attention by the nature of their personality. There are of course upsides and downsides just like most situations but at a minimum they are more likely to be noticed. An introvert however that just accepts that he or she is quiet and shy is likely to be overlooked and written off especially in more high-paced work environments. (Note: This is just an opinion based on my experiences, lived and observed.).

So … those of you (us) who are introverted or highly sensitive … don’t let that define you or more importantly, don’t let that limit you. Learn about it, study it, embrace it, and use it to your advantage.

To leaders of the above … invest time in these “quiet” folks. They may turn out to be some of your best thinkers and leaders. I benefited from leaders who invested their time in me and helped me balance being more assertive in my communication and leadership style while remaining authentic to who I am (by the way, these things aren’t mutually exclusive but rather can be incredibly reinforcing and complementary).

As Cain writes so thoughtfully: “Why shouldn’t quiet be strong? And what else can quiet do that we don’t give it credit for?”

Copyright © 2015 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

First image courtesy of placardmoncoeur/morguefile.com

Second image courtesy of stockimages/freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

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Don’t forget about now

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IChristmas-decoration‘ve been remiss in posting since Thanksgiving … but I enjoyed the break! As we are a couple of days away from what for Christians is a wonderful day and season of hope and joy, I wanted to share a short excerpt from Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There:

“ … Don’t look ahead. Look behind. Look back from your old age at the life you hope to live. Know that you need to be happy now, to enjoy your friends and family, to follow your dreams.

You are here. You can get there! Let the journey begin.”

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I have found that professionals tend to focus so much on what’s next that we lose sight of what we have now and where we are. I heard a great quote the other day (since I can’t find it on the web I’m sure I’m misquoting it): “If you’re always focused on the future, you’ll never get there.”

Here’s to the now. Merry Christmas from my family to yours and happy holidays to all of you.

Images courtesy of morguefile.com

 

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Don’t worry, you’ve been hijacked

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I’ve been accused of over simplifying things. It’s a fair criticism but often helps me put what I perceive to be an insurmountable or overwhelming issue into context. That brief moment of simplicity and clarity can buy me enough time to take a deep breath, relax, and realize that maybe things aren’t as bad as I originally thought … and then I can focus on dealing with the problem at hand and coming up with a solution.

I’ve also found this approach helps me interact with colleagues in a more patient and thoughtful manner. There’s nothing like a boss who blows up at bad news to discourage you from ever sharing bad news again … and that’s obviously not a good leadership climate especially if we’re trying to lead with mercy.

With all that said, here’s a very simple (I warned you) flow chart that helps me put problems in perspective.
Scan

It’s clearly not rocket science but it’s amazing how we can lose perspective when the stress of the day takes over. The reality is, however, that we can indeed lose perspective. And that reality is indeed science … not rocket science but neurological science. In cases of high stress we can lose the ability of higher order thinking or reasoning. This is known as an amygdala hijack.

The amygdalae are part of the brain responsible for processing threats. If you’ve ever heard of Stressed manfight or flight (some literature includes freeze) as threat responses, it’s the amygdalae that dictate this response. Once the hijack occurs it is extremely difficult to do anything other than address the threat. When faced with a physical threat, this is a good thing. But in our day to day lives we encounter stressors that often aren’t physical threats … but upon reaching a certain threshold of stress our body can react to the threat in the same fashion resulting in an inability to think or speak (either not being able to utter a coherent sentence; or saying some things you later regret) in a manner that might be expected in an environment like the workplace (especially if you’re a leader charged with making a decision).

So what does my simple sketch have to do with an amygdala hijack? Well, it might actually help you avoid it! Experts believe that through experience and self-awareness you can actually train yourself to feel the hijack coming on (or perhaps more accurately, know the stressors in your life that might trigger a hijack) … and if you can predict the hijack you might be able to stop it. [1] And for me, mentally walking myself through the simple flow chart above buys me the time to gain perspective and (hopefully) avoid being hijacked.

So as Bobby McFerrin would say, “Don’t worry, be happy.”

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

Second image courtesy of Master/freedigitalimages.net

[1] Palmer W. and Crawford J (2013). Leadership Embodiment: How the Way We Sit and Stand Can Change the Way We Think and Speak. CreateSpace.

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Tough love

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Often when discussing merciful or compassionate leadership the conversation turns to taking care of our people. This is certainly a worthy topic and is one we as leaders must navigate thoughtfully. In my early experiences as a young leader and as someone who has mentored and coached other leaders, one of the common mistakes of an inexperienced leader is believing that “taking care of my people” means shielding them from tough love and simply giving them what they want. Sometimes it is an innocent and well-intended practice of an inexperienced leader. Other times it is an excuse, even for a more experienced leader, to avoid conflict and difficult conversations. For me, it was a little bit of both. I’d like to share an analogy to illustrate tough love while still being a merciful leader.
aikdo
For many years I have practiced and studied (unfortunately more study than practice recently) the Japanese martial art, Aikido. Aikido is primarily an art of self-defense where the practitioner rarely initiates an attack. Rather, in Aikido you defend yourself by redirecting your opponent’s energy or otherwise using it against him or her, resulting in hip throws, joint locks or manipulation, and other interesting techniques. The attack ideally ends with the attacker in a precarious situation such as a joint lock where the defender could easily inflict more pain or even permanent damage. This, however, is where Aikido differs from other martial arts. In the case of Aikido the defender applies only enough force and pain to control and hopefully deescalate the situation. Students of Aikido feel a great responsibility to not hurt their attacker (or partner in a training situation) any more than necessary. I offer my experience with Aikido as an example analogous to practicing tough love within the framework of leading with mercy.

As we lead with mercy there will be times where we have to inflict some figurative pain. In the world of leadership this “pain” comes in the form of communicating and maintaining standards, correcting and disciplining poor behavior or practices, but always allowing for room to experience and learn from mistakes. Just as the Aikidoist feels responsible for the well-being of the attacker, we as the leader are responsible for the well-being and development of our people even when inflicting some tough love.

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

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It’s personal

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One of my least favorite phrases in professional life is: It’s not personal, it’s just business. It is a trite phrase offered – often without ill intent – as justification for a decision that has a direct impact on someone’s life (and not just their professional life) such as terminating employment. If a person is involved, it is by definition personal. This is more than a semantic argument. It is at the essence of why we should lead with mercy and compassion. I am not arguing difficult decisions that affect people’s livelihood are not necessary in business – they are unfortunately unavoidable in some cases and I have had to make them myself. They are however, no less personal even if necessary. So if it is unavoidable how can we lead with mercy in this situation? How would you like to be treated in this situation? ID-10029725

Copyright © 2014 Robert E. Goodson Jr. All rights reserved.

Image courtesy of dan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Top 10 secrets to happiness

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I happened upon this Top 10 list which I enjoyed so thought I’d pass along. While this list is in the context of the spiritual life, I think several of the “secrets” are quite applicable to leadership and the workplace, especially #2, #3, #4, #7, and #8. I’ve added a little commentary after those particular ones. What are your thoughts?

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1403144.htm

1. “Live and let live.” (There’s a little more detail for each “secret” in the original article, the link to which I posted above).

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.” Giving time to your employees is important. This is time to develop direct reports and other up and coming leaders. It’s also time to acknowledge the efforts, accomplishments, and sacrifices of your team.

3. “Proceed calmly” in life. Employees often look to leaders for calmness and stability especially in times of change, high stress, or other organizational turmoil.

4. “A healthy sense of leisure.” In the context of business and work, this is about the elusive “work/life balance.” Everyone needs time to recharge and enjoy things other than work like family, significant others, hobbies, and passions.

5. Sundays should be holidays.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people.

7. Respect and take care of nature. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a popular buzzword in business circles. CSR includes sustainability (respect and care for nature) but also corporate giving and volunteerism.

8. Stop being negative. Like #3, employees look to their leaders for the positive. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t be frank with employees … but why not accentuate the positive that is present in almost any matter?

9. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.

10. Work for peace.

 

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