The world today is in dire need of positive, empathetic, and compassionate leadership, and this need is beautifully addressed in the book, Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Fix It.
Penned by corporate veterans Doug Lennick and Chuck Wachendorfer, this enlightening work unveils a powerful truth: everyone possesses the potential to be a leader. And every leader benefits from the journey of continual learning. Doug Lennick is the founding CEO of think2perform, a high-performance leadership development firm. He has been in leadership roles for nearly 40 years and is widely recognized as an expert in the science of human behavior. Chuck Wachendorfer is President of Distribution at think2perform. He is a renowned leadership development professional and has worked with clients including American Express, Wells Fargo, Comerica Bank, TD Wealth of Canada, Charles Schwab, and others. His insights on leadership have been featured extensively in media such as CNN Money, Forbes, Fortune, and The Denver Post.
The book explores eight key principles that form the foundation of empathetic leadership. Sprinkled with inspiring anecdotes, and supported by expert insights, the book also provides practical exercises to foster these eight leadership essentials.
Now, let’s dive into an interview with the authors to delve deeper into their vision.
Can you elaborate on the process of “aiming to be your ideal self”? How does this contribute to leadership intelligence?
Chuck – In order to aim to be one’s ideal self, you must first fully define what your ideal self looks like. Knowing your ideal self, enables you to “begin with the end in mind”. By going through the values exercise we include in DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT, you can clearly define the type of leader/person you “ideally” would like to be. “Knowing” your values increases the likelihood that you use them when making decisions or managing your behavior. That improves the odds that you will be your ideal self more often. Then if a mistake is made, because you know your values, you have the opportunity to correct that mistake a little faster.
Doug – When you aim to be your ideal self, you accept that you are a good person and are good at a number of things. When you aim to be your “ideal self,” you have a more positive influence on everyone in your circle of influence. That is leadership intelligence.
What methods can one use to better understand their real self? How does this knowledge feed into better leadership?
Chuck – According to research done by the Hay Group, self-awareness is the most important competency in effective leadership, so self-awareness is something all leaders must continue to work on. At think2perform, we believe there is no end to getting better. We practice improving our self-awareness by using the “Freeze Exercise” we discuss in Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Fix It. Practicing the Freeze Game is about knowing how you are feeling, and what you are thinking and doing. It’s the three components of the human experience of thoughts, feelings, and action. Being physically, mentally, and emotionally present will improve your performance. Athletes call that being “in the zone”.
If a leader notices they’re not paying attention, they can then choose to pay attention or go do something else. If the leader notices they’re getting emotional, they can then choose how they respond, instead of reacting. Often, many of the regrets we have in life have occurred when we were emotional. The opportunity playing the Freeze Exercise provides is to go from being emotionally reflexive to becoming emotionally reflective.
Doug – Keep in mind that your “real self” is constantly changing. From moment to moment, your “real self” changes. Three things are your reality right now: your thoughts, your emotions, your physical experience/actions. We encourage everyone to make paying attention to their reality, by practicing the “freeze game” throughout the day. The game: Pause. Ask yourself three questions: 1) what am I thinking right now? 2) how am I feeling emotionally right now? 3) what am I doing and what is happening with me physically right now? This helps you become a better leader, because it helps you become a better self manager. It helps you learn to make better decisions regarding what to think and what to do.
In your book, you mention the importance of integrity and responsibility. Can you share some examples where these values have significantly influenced leadership outcomes?
Chuck – Integrity and responsibility are intertwined. Integrity, we define as 1) telling the truth, 2) keeping promises, 3) standing up for what’s right and 4) living consistently with your principles, value and beliefs. When a leader demonstrates those behaviors associated with integrity, they build trust with those they lead. In order to act with integrity, a leader also has to take responsibility in keeping promises and telling the truth. That is the intersection between integrity and responsibility. Both are important to building trust and relationships. Where high trust exists things move faster and are cheaper.
Take our trust in air travel after September 11 as an example. Because our trust in air travel is lower because of the terrorist attacks that day, air travel takes more time and costs more. The same is true in any organization; where people trust leadership and each other, less time is wasted or expended wondering if there is a “hidden agenda” or an ulterior motive. Without those distractions, people focus on giving best efforts.
Doug – In Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Fix It, we tell several real stories about the importance of integrity and responsibility. One such story is an Ameriprise Financial story that showcased both integrity and responsibility in action at crunch time during the economic crisis of 2008/2009. Ameriprise declined a multi-billion dollar TARP loan and at the same time stood behind money market commitments that other firms were not. Ameriprise and its executives acted responsibly and with integrity. The company was rewarded with sustained client loyalty and company profitability.
Embracing empathy and compassion seems more relevant today than ever. How do these traits affect our ability to lead others positively?
Chuck – One of the most underappreciated leadership competencies is empathy. Empathy is about recognizing what others are feeling. It’s different than sympathy, which is about feeling what others are feeling. Often with change, followers can get emotionally “stuck”; they are confused, aren’t certain about what’s expected or resist change and therefore are both literally and figuratively stuck.
Demonstrating empathy can be as simple as the leader saying, “you look concerned.” or “you sound excited.” When a leader names the person’s emotion, it draws the leader’s attention to the other’s emotional state and opens the door to learning more about what the other person may be experiencing.
When a leader recognizes how someone else is feeling, they open the door to understanding and helping that person get “unstuck” by providing more clarity or potentially an alternative solution. That’s the connection between empathy and compassion we make in our book. Compassion is empathy in action.
Doug – Embracing empathy AND compassion is more relevant than ever, because the world is populated with a large number of people who are waiting for someone else to fix it. Empathy is about understanding, and understanding is good, but not good enough. Compassion is empathy in action. Any leader who actively cares about the well-being of those they lead will be rewarded with best efforts and high retention of the best and the brightest.
Could you explain the idea of “letting go of what you know” in the context of leadership? How does this enable us to adapt and evolve as leaders?
Chuck – “Letting go of what you know” or learning agility is important to creativity and innovation. As the old definition of insanity goes “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” In order to grow, you need to have a certain degree of curiosity, be willing to try new things and become uncomfortable. Effective leaders balance establishing good habits or patterns in their organizations with curiosity for improvement and innovation. As we say in DON’T WAIT FOR SOMEONE ELSE TO FIX IT, everybody wants to be “in the groove” but nobody wants to be “in a rut.” Wisdom is knowing the difference.
Doug – It’s important to let go of what you know because what is known is constantly changing. In fact, we believe strongly that knowing is the enemy of learning. Be curious. Accept that learning new things about old things, that you thought you knew, will be uncomfortable. Choose growth over comfort. Try not to be too defensive and expect that to be hard. And then try some stuff. Experiment.
The book talks about the importance of recovering from setbacks. Can you share some insights on how leaders can effectively deal with failure or obstacles?
Chuck – As painful as a mistake or failure can be, effective leaders are able to quickly pivot from the sting of a setback to being curious about what can be learned or improved upon from the setback. Failure is only permanent if a leader gets stuck themselves.
Doug – It’s probably obvious that our book is a tool book. We provide tools to help people enjoy the actual process of becoming successful, not just the outcome of being successful. We even provide guidance about how to use the tools, such as the 4Rs. Recognize. Reflect. Reframe. Respond. Recognize your response to the setback/failure. Once you’ve acknowledged and accepted your experience, the best path forward involves reflection. The reflection should focus on the future. And that segues you right into reframing for the future. Reframing allows you to let go of attitudes that could keep you stuck, and that in turn prepares you to respond with courage. And don’t forget, absent fear there is no courage. Recovering from setbacks can be scary, but you can learn to enjoy the setback as part of the process of becoming successful.
Can you provide some practical examples of how the exercises and tools in your book can help develop the eight leadership intelligence essentials?
Chuck – Absolutely! Our book is meant to be “used”. It’s a workbook that we designed for practical application by anyone anywhere. For example, going through the values exercise enables a leader to use their stated values to guide decision making. Practicing the “Freeze Exercise” will improve a leader’s self-awareness which also improves self-management and performance. Applying the 4R’s in decision making will enable the reader to think more logically and rationally, typically leading to better decisions. Empowering Others will enable leaders to develop people more quickly and effectively with greater results.
Each Essential stands on its own or can be used in conjunction with the other Essentials. To see impact, the reader doesn’t have to use all 8 Essentials. Certainly, that would be ideal. This book is a tool kit that a leader can go back to time and again to apply something new or to brush up on an Essential to become even more effective.
Doug – I like this question, and I hope you think we’ve done some of that already. You can mix and match the Essentials. One thing I find that is very helpful is practicing the Freeze Game – what am I thinking? How am I feeling? What am I doing? – followed by this obvious question: could/should I be thinking and/or doing something different and/or better? Another thing that is very practical is putting a verb in front of each your values like this: love your “family”; be “happy”; “seek” wisdom; behave with “integrity”; do something of “service”; make “healthy” choices. Do those two things and your life will get better.
Could you tell us more about the wide variety of characters and industry leaders whose stories are featured in the book? What can we learn from their experiences?
Chuck – Great question! In the book, we feature people from all walks of life demonstrating the 8 Essentials in action. We interviewed mountain climbers, polar explorers, Fortune 50 CEO’s, non-profit leaders, Olympic coaches, and business owners for the book. Each leader in the book shared their own personal story as a way to not only demonstrate an Essential but also share their own leadership journey. The reader gets to see firsthand how these 8 Essentials apply both in business as well as personal life or anywhere else that needs you!
Doug – The characters in this book are regular people just like you and me. They are fallible human beings who aim to be their ideal selves. What you can learn from these people is that aiming, trying ,and progressing is something that all of us can do.
How have your personal experiences as corporate executives, entrepreneurs, and community volunteers shaped your understanding of leadership and the development of this book?
Chuck – Doug and I have played a variety of leadership roles in our lives as well as coached and advised leaders around the world over the past four decades. That experience has helped us deepen our appreciation for the difference that leadership makes in the world. We have all taken jobs, stayed in jobs, or quit jobs because of the person we worked for. Every leader wants their people to give best efforts and play a role in fixing things. What leaders need to understand is that they need to fix themselves first.
We’ve all heard the expression “lead by example” when it comes to leadership. As the oldest in my family, it was the mantra that I grew up with. What we provide in our book are THE 8 Essentials to effectively lead by example along with the steps to help leaders use and apply them.
Doug –I believe that knowing is the enemy of learning. With that in mind, I am learning that I don’t know a lot and that if I live one thousand years I will still have a lot to learn. I do know a couple of things. I know I am a follower, because I am influenced by what I read, what I watch, who I hang out with, all of that. I also know I am a leader because what I say and do influences others. Truth be told, we are all leaders and followers.
Finally, how do you envision readers implementing the teachings from “Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Fix It” in their day-to-day lives?
Chuck – Our book is a “workbook”. It’s meant to be used and applied. The great thing about the book is the reader doesn’t have to apply all 8 Essentials to see a positive impact. Flip to any chapter or exercise and practice using the tools we introduce. If the reader does that, they will experience the positive results we’ve seen and helped so many others realize as well.
Doug – This is simple – not necessarily easy. I envision people starting to practice the Freeze Game today. Once they do, I believe they will never stop because they will have established a productive habit. I also envision people doing the values exercise today, putting verbs in front of those values today, and living those verbs today and for all the times to come. I envision people not waiting for someone else to fix it. Thanks for asking.
For more information see Don’t Wait for Someone Else to Fix It.
Image Credit: Andrew George