Who Are You Serving?

serve to lead

Who Are You Serving?

That’s the question on the back cover of James Strock’s new book Serve to Lead: 21st Century Leaders Manual. It’s the first of four questions posed by the author. Serve to Lead is filled with principles that inspire us to the highest level of leadership. It’s an essential leadership guide for anyone aspiring to take their game to a higher-level. As someone who writes and speaks about servant leadership, I found it a compelling read.

James Strock is an author and leadership speaker, an entrepreneur, and a reformer. I recently asked him to share his perspective on the changing nature of leadership.

 

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

21st Century Leadership

What has changed in the field of leadership for the 21st Century? 

Our lives and work are undergoing extensive, high-velocity change. It’s inevitable that leadership—which is about relationships and relates to all parts of our world—would be transformed.

Among the most significant changes is the breakdown of longstanding barriers that defined leadership. For example, individuals holding high positions of power traditionally tended to be distant from the those they served. Today, anyone can find a way to communicate with almost anyone else through new technologies. Such individuals no longer have the zones of privacy that separated their personal and professional lives. Elective politicians have been experiencing this new world for some time. Corporate and NGO officials are now liable to be held to account in the same way.

The new trends are part of a transformational change wrought by digital technology. In the 20th Century interactions were generally transactional. Now, by contrast, we’re in a web of relationships. Those relationships can be established or defined by individuals rather than by large public and private institutions.

The ongoing empowerment of individuals and previously isolated or marginalized groups through new technology has accelerated the longstanding trend toward leadership exerted through influence rather than domination or dictation. That doesn’t mean that the world has magically become a utopian paradise or democracy. It does mean that leadership roles are subject to greater accountability, and the tools of workaday management and service are in transition.

 

“Organizations exist to serve. Period. Leaders live to serve. Period.” -Tom Peters

 

What are the unique challenges of our day that impact leadership? 

A unique, unprecedented challenge of 21st-Century leadership is involuntary transparency. Traditional notions of separate work and personal lives are being upended. Presidential candidates are pursued 24/7 by stalkers with video cameras. They lay in wait for a moment of anger, a moment of exhaustion, or a moment of pique. Then they pounce! Skilled propagandists will utilize such human moments to convey a negative narrative that appears more credible through a captured moment that may have no actual relevance.

Those who would lead are being curtailed in their capacity to craft a narrative. One can see advantages when this exposes relevant hypocrisy. Yet there are also costs. It can surely inflame the mistrust and cynicism that is afflicting the populace. It can also prompt people to turn away from positional leadership roles.

How involuntary transparency will be negotiated with expectations of privacy is one of the great questions of evolving 21st-Century leadership.

 

“First, always ask for the order, and second, when the customer says yes, stop talking.” -Michael Bloomberg

 

Everyone Can Lead

How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade

career derailers

The Right and Wrong Stuff

Most people don’t realize how easy it is to derail a career or to lose a job. Adding to the problem is that it is possible that your career has stalled without your knowledge, an unexpected plateau because of something you don’t know about. Maybe it’s because you’ve been labeled impulsive or not seen as a team player.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to pause and assess where you are so you can get back on track.

Carter Cast knows this firsthand. In a terrific new book, The Right and Wrong Stuff: How Brilliant Careers Are Made and Unmade, Carter sheds light on what causes careers to derail and others to soar. His advice is practical and actionable. Carter is a professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, a former CEO, and a venture capitalist. I recently asked him to share some of his perspective.

 

Korn Ferry Research: people who overstate their abilities in 360-degree assessments are 6.2 times more likely to derail than those with accurate self-awareness

 

Would you share your own story of career derailment?

Back when Bill Clinton was president and I was a marketing manager within PepsiCo’s Frito Lay division, I found myself sitting in my boss Mike’s office for my annual performance review. I worried as he started the preamble, which was along the lines of, “This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.” Mike didn’t bury the lead for long—soon he came right out and told me that senior management considered me unpromotable, which meant I was no longer on the fast track at Frito-Lay. He laid out a list of my offenses, littering his examples with words like “uncooperative,” “resistant to feedback from authority figures,” and “unmanageable.” He described my behavior in various situations, repeatedly pointing out times I circumnavigated the established processes and procedures and ignored the chain of command for the sake of expediency, or the times I quietly ignored his feedback and chose to do things my own way.

Thirty painful minutes later, as he was wrapping up, when Mike asked if I had anything to say for myself, I simply asked if I was being fired. (It sure felt like it.) He said, “No, but I don’t want you to work in my group any longer. You’ll need to look for another marketing position within the company.”

Eventually I found another boss and team to work with, but it was a humbling experience because as I talked to prospective bosses, I learned that I had a reputation problem. I was considered “difficult to manage.” I realized I lacked the self-awareness needed to change my behavior right away, so I went about doing so. I identified the circumstances that triggered my disruptive behavior (e.g. sitting in ponderous process meetings; being managed tightly by a very “participative” boss; being talked at by a verbose senior manager), and I steadily began to develop practical methods to better self-regulate and curb my tendency toward stupid, unnecessary insubordination. Over time, I was again considered to be a promotable employee, but it took a couple years to climb out of hole I’d dug for myself.

 

Career Fact: half to two-thirds of all managers will be fired, demoted, or plateau at some point.

 

Use Negative Feedback to Propel You Forward

Your story highlights negative feedback, and I was intrigued that you actually called your boss and had him give it to you again! How do you coach individuals to hear negative feedback and use it in the best way possible?

I must be a glutton for punishment. (I was a swimmer, so I’m fairly certain.) Yes, twenty years later, I called my old boss Mike to get some quotes for the book. And he gave them to me. Yikes. Even after all these years, when he spoke to me, about me circa 1995, I felt a wave of queasiness! Thirty-three year old Carter needed some tough love.

Take a Break: The Case for Taking a Day Off Each Week

take a break

Take a Break

What if you stumbled on an ancient practice that would give you more productivity, more creativity, and more energy, while giving you less stress, less anxiety, and less sickness?

You’d be intrigued to learn as much as you can about it, I am sure.

I was pulled into Aaron Edelheit’s new book, The HARD Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle, from the very first pages where he outlines the benefits of taking one true day off from our hectic pace each week.

Deep down, I think all of us know that what we’re doing isn’t exactly good for us and isn’t exactly helping us be our best selves. We are overly-stressed, under-slept, chronically anxious as a society. We are never shutting down. Work follows us home and home follows us to work. Few places on the planet allow an escape from the Internet anymore.

And so, Aaron’s compelling research into the idea of taking the Sabbath, a day off each week, in a tradition that is thousands of years old was definitely intriguing.

Is it possible to actually do it?

I asked Aaron to share his personal experiences and his research. If the idea intrigues you, I encourage you to get his book to learn more. You’ll be glad you did.

 

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” -Socrates

 

Danger: Never Ending Workload

What are some of the negative effects we are seeing from our technology-enabled, always-on society?

Want an 80% increase in the risk of coronary disease? Work more than 10 hours a day. What about stress? Would you like to experience more stress than 57 percent of Americans? Then be sure to check your emails and texts on the weekends and non-work days.

And when you have your phone on all the time and you check it constantly, you effectively are “on call” to the world. A 2015 University of Hamburg study found that extended work availability, or being on call “has a negative effect: dampening mood and increasing markers of physiological stress.” Most notably, the stress carries on into the next day, even when people are no longer on call or working. The most important conclusion of this study was “that the mere prospect of work-related interruptions during free time can exacerbate stress.”[i]

And it’s not just traditional work that we are connected to. We are also connected to every Facebook friend, Twitter follower, Instagram feed, and more. According to one study, the temptation to check the Internet “was harder to resist than food or sex.”[ii] When technology has a more powerful pull than the most basic human needs, we might start to worry.

 

“To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future.” -Plutarch

 

All of this is leading to some pretty serious mental health problems. Consider that disability awards for mental disorders have dramatically increased since 1980. Substance abuse, especially of opiates, is at epidemic levels.[iii] Mental health problems are becoming a significant burden for society. According to the Partnership for Workplace Mental Health, mental illness and substance abuse cost employers an estimated $80 to $100 billion annually. The World Health Organization has named depression as the number one disease burden for the economy worldwide.[iv]

There are 200 footnotes in my book and that is after cutting many studies out. I had to work hard not to make my book a scientific journal of the problems stemming from working too much and being online 24/7.

 

“No man needs a vacation so much as the man who just had one.” -Elbert Hubbard

 

Take a Hard Break

Are Your Conversations Worth Having?

conversations

Leadership Conversations

Conversations are a critical part of conducting business, of leading teams, of interacting with others.

Despite their obvious importance, how often do we think about them as a crucial skill?

Imagine if everyone on your team became exceptional at having meaningful conversations. Do you think it would translate to more wins? I’m certain of it, and that’s why I thoroughly enjoyed reading a new book by Jackie Stavros and Cheri Torres. The authors packed so much wisdom and experience into Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement that you will find yourself referring back to it as an essential conversation reference guide.

Jackie Stavros is a professor at Lawrence Technological University; Appreciative Inquiry strategic advisor at Flourishing Leadership Institute; and an associate at Taos Institute. Cheri Torres is a Senior Consultant with NextMove and Partner at Innovation Partners International.

I recently spoke with Jackie and Cheri about their work.

 

“We live in worlds our conversations create.” -David Cooperrider

 

The Power of a Good Conversation

Talk about the power of a good conversation.

Torres: Actually, conversation is powerful, period, whether it’s a good one or a bad one. A bad conversation can turn a good day sour, influencing interactions for hours to come. A good conversation can brighten your day and propel you into high performance and a sense of elation. When you think about it, everything arises from conversation. We’re either carrying on an internal dialogue or engaged with others, each conversation influencing what’s possible in the next moment. Conversations influence our health, wellness, happiness, relationships, performance, and what’s possible.

 

“Sometimes the greatest adventure is simply a conversation.” -Amadeus Wolf

 

With their importance, why do conversations not seem to get enough attention in business?

Torres: Conversations are such an integral part of functioning in community that we take them for granted. Until recently, there was nothing drawing our attention to their importance. Research in the field of neurophysiology, however, is showing that conversations are integral to our capacity to access the executive center of our brain, the pre-fontal cortex, where higher order thinking, creativity, trust, good decision making, and the ability to connect are possible. Conversations that trigger fear or uncertainly stimulate the release of cortisol, epinephrine, and testosterone, shutting down access to the pre-frontal cortex and stimulating fight, flight, freeze, or appease. A good conversation has the power to shift the brain from threat to safety, simulating a whole different set of hormones—oxytocin, dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These hormones help us reconnect, open up to what others have to say, and rekindle trust. Further research in positive psychology corresponds, showing that positivity in the workplace builds resiliency, high performance, innovation, and collaboration. Organizations that have taken this research to heart and have shifted leadership and management practices are discovering the amazing power of a great conversation – a conversation worth having.

 

Contrast a destructive versus an affirmative conversation. What are the effects of a destructive conversation? How long do they last?

Torres: In our book, in Chapter 2: What Kind of Conversations Are You Having, we classify four different kinds of conversations. All interactions either add-value or they devalue people and situations, and all conversations are either inquiry-based or statement-based.  If your questions devalue a person or situation, we refer to those kinds of conversations as “critical conversations.” If you are telling and devaluing others, we call those “destructive.”  Critical and destructive conversations typically trigger a threat response in others, and we just spoke about how that impacts us. The impact of such conversations can last a long time, long after the cortisol has left the system.  The reason why? Our memory stores our experience; this person is recognized as unsafe. This of course inhibits working well together.

On the other hand, if you are telling and adding value, we refer to those interactions as “affirmative conversations.” Acknowledging strengths, complementing a job well done, advocating for someone or something are examples of affirmative conversations. If you are asking questions that add value or generate value, we call those conversations worth having. Affirmative conversations will shift the brain from distrust to trust; conversations worth having will broaden and deepen that shift allowing people to bring their full value to relationships in the workplace, at home, and/or in communities.

 

“Your conversations help create your world. Speak of delight, not dissatisfaction. Speak of hope, not despair. Let your words bind up wounds, not cause them.” -Tao Te Ching

 

What is appreciative inquiry and how does it relate to communication?