Leadership Thought: Is Your Myopia Your Utopia?

myopic leadership
This is a guest post by Doug Thorpe. Doug is a motivational speaker and John Maxwell Coach who helps individuals discover new heights in their own leadership ability.

 

When it comes to leadership and management, nearsightedness or myopia is a common occurrence. What does that mean?

Since effective leadership is part art as much as part science, I see too many managers taking a nearsighted look at their role and responsibility. By this I mean we place more emphasis on the duties and responsibilities (the science) where policies and procedures govern and control the thinking. This happens while the more subtle aspects of leadership (the art) like communication and delegation suffer.

In your early years of management, you had a specific team with clearly defined duties to push widgets or turn cranks. Much of what gets done there is process or project oriented. Process is derived from principles and procedures. Get the process right over and over again, BAM! you’re a good manager. OK, hooray for you.

That kind of success starts to sink in, and you get swallowed up in a false sense of accomplishment. You figure if you keep doing that, you will keep getting bonuses and promotions. The nearsighted myopia creeps in.

You get so enthralled by the surety of your achievements as a manger, you never explore the more subtle art of becoming a leader. The success seems like Utopia. Why should you ever change?

 

“Where there is no vision, there is no hope.” -George Washington Carver

 

Legalism in Life

There are other kinds of myopic behaviors I’ve observed in life. People everywhere subscribe to some new teaching (think child rearing – Dr. Spock in the 50’s v. now, the Littles). Teaching spawned by doctrines such as these generate disciples who would rather argue you to death than entertain an alternate answer.

That is myopia at its worst. Locking in on a belief like this can become dogmatic to others. The comfort that comes from the engrained beliefs creates the Utopia effect. I call it legalism: pure science, no art.

 

Growth as a Leader

Leaders, or people wanting to be leaders, must embrace a mindset for growth. Whatever your natural capacity is to lead (and we all have some capacity), you can grow beyond that level.

As John Maxwell cites, there is a Law of the Lid. Some call it the Peter Principle. We all have maximum capacity beyond which we struggle. The fortunate truth is we also can grow beyond that capacity.

However, the first step in growth is knowing there is something more. Myopic vision will never allow that. If you stay fixated on a comfort zone, you cannot grow.

 

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” -Wayne Dyer

 

The Key Question

Ask Questions to Improve Your Leadership

This is a guest post by friend, executive and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor. Follow him on Twitter.

 

Leadership is Not About Knowing All the Answers

Leadership is not about knowing all the answers—it is about leading others to do their best to accomplish goals, solve problems and grow. How many times have you seen a “leader” arrive at the wrong conclusion or take misguided action because they did not know all the facts? How many times have you been frustrated because you were not asked to provide your opinion, perspective or experience?

 


“Leadership is not about knowing all the answers.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

When leaders do not take time to formulate and ask appropriate questions, the whole organization suffers—people do not contribute their best; they do not grow, and the organization often takes sub-optimal or wrong action. Likewise, leaders that do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization, gradually turn associates into non-thinking “yes people” and risk looking foolish or arrogant.

A leader’s effectiveness can be greatly improved by using insightful questions. Here is how.

 


“Leaders who do not ask purposeful questions can demoralize the organization.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Benefits and Power of Asking Questions

With the proper use and timing, asking questions allows a leader to:

  • Guide the direction of the conversation and focus the discussion
  • Clarify what others have said to improve understanding
  • Improve decisions with better, in-depth information from people who may know more
  • Formulate well-informed decisions with input from other perspectives to better define issues
  • Precipitate a decision by asking for options and exactly what is needed to decide
  • Develop alternative options
  • Raise the level of thinking in the organization, often to broader, more strategic issues
  • Improve organizational collaboration and communication
  • Help move from concepts and discussions to action and defined accountability
  • Help focus on results and outcomes
  • Empower the organization
  • Make people feel valued and improve job satisfaction
  • Solicit input from those who may not typically speak up
  • Improve organizational learning
  • Inspire creativity and new ideas
  • Buy time to think
  • Help overcome wasted authority.
  • Allow confrontation without making statements by inducing people to explain themselves
  • Lead others to conclusions
  • Suspend the business discussion to discover problematic interpersonal issues, attitudes and concerns
  • Improve self-reflection to discern what was learned, mistakes made, missed opportunities to mentor, what to do differently

 


“The art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge.” -Thomas Berger

 

My Most-Used Questions

Each of us can come up with a list of questions to be used in the appropriate circumstance. Here is a list of questions that I have found to be effective and useful:

Why It Is a Big Thing To Take Action On Small Things

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

 

Take Action On The Small Things

Culture is established by both communication and action. People will listen to what you say, but they will closely watch and emulate what you do. Action on large, highly visible initiatives will certainly make priorities and culture clear in a big way. However, it takes time to formulate and communicate large initiatives, plus it often takes time for the results to be achieved and visible. Action on small initiatives while larger actions are in progress can be very effective.

 

“Culture is established by communication and action.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Good leaders interact with the organization at all levels and with cross-functional teams. Many times during these interactions, opportunities to take action on smaller issues will present themselves. These small opportunities are issues, changes, or decisions that can be addressed by a few of those directly involved without much involvement from the leader. They can solve small customer irritations, eliminate frustrations and inefficiencies in a process or a department, drive a decision or make a localized change. I am a big proponent of taking proper action on selected small opportunities. One of my favorite sayings is, “Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.”

Here is why:

 

“Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.”

 

10 Major Benefits of Taking Action On Small Things

  • Accelerates Empowerment and Learning: Action on small issues will build organizational confidence, get quick results and allow people to learn from mistakes that have smaller consequences and reduced visibility. It helps people cultivate their leadership.
  • Teaches Delegation: When done correctly, implementing action on small changes teaches others how to delegate, how to decide who needs to be involved in developing action and approval, how to form a collaborative team and how to involve and grow others.
  • Improves Accountability and Decisiveness: When a small team is empowered to take action on smaller decisions, they become more comfortable with accountability and find it easier to make decisions. Using smaller initiatives also provides decision-making experience for more people at many levels in the organization.
  • Boosts Career Satisfaction: Since many small actions are localized to specific processes or departments, they can help remove daily irritations that hinder department or operational processes. At the same time, people learn that they can assume more responsibility and make a difference for the organization.
  • Enhances Collaboration and Team Building: With more small actions, a larger number of people are able to participate in collaborative problem solving and work together with a variety of defined roles to implement change. The benefit is that more people in the organization can gain experience, grow and achieve results.

 

“Taking action on small things rapidly creates an empowered workplace.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

  • Improves Communication: When a leader is able to initiate many small actions at different levels of the organization, or with various teams, it helps to “flatten” the organization, cut through bureaucracy and allow a larger population to see the leader in action. People become more comfortable communicating with the leader and each other. Additionally, small initiatives to implement change can get more people communicating who normally would not do so.

New Leaders – Decide, Empower and Take Action

This is a guest post by friend and mentor Bruce Rhoades, who retired after having run several companies. He often helps me with strategy. I am delighted that he is a regular contributor.

New Leader Challenges—A Review

Since this is the second post about tips for new leaders, let’s review the challenges. Achieving a new leadership position is both rewarding and challenging. It acknowledges that you are someone who can make a difference, lead others and get things done. On the other hand, it is perhaps another step toward more responsibility and provides greater visibility of your actions and style.

Whether you are new to a department, new to a company or just received a promotion, the challenges are very similar. It is important to establish your style, values and culture effectively and quickly. As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So what are some techniques to quickly establish your leadership style and lead effectively?

 

“Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

Much of my career has been serving in interim executive positions or as interim CEO for various companies, where I often entered the organization as the “new guy” in charge. Here are the fundamental areas that I have found helpful for your initial focus to be an effective leader:

  • First Impressions
  • Information Gathering and Relationship Building
  • Open Communication
  • Decision, Delegation and Empowerment
  • Action and Accountability

In a previous post, I discussed techniques for gathering good information, building relationships and communicating.

In this post, I will discuss techniques for:

Decision, Delegation and Empowerment

Action and Accountability

From a foundation of reliable information, relationships at all levels and open communication, here are some tips to establish a culture of decisiveness, empowerment, action and accountability.

First Impressions—A Reminder

Whether you are in a new leadership role as executive, department manager, product manager, or team leader, people will watch closely to understand your style. A few of the things people will evaluate include:

  • Are you decisive? How do you make decisions?
  • How do you take action?
  • What do you tolerate?
  • Do you hold people accountable?
  • Can you be influenced? Will you listen?
  • Are you approachable?
  • How do you react to bad news?
  • Do you focus on big picture or detail?
  • Can you be put off, pocket-vetoed?
  • How do you deal with good or poor performance?
  • How do you think about customers; how do you treat them?
  • How do you gather information?
  • What are your values?

As the organization’s employees and customers observe these traits, it is important to remember: They will listen to what you say, but it is what you do that counts the most to establish culture.

So, where do you start? I suggest you initially focus on these characteristics as the most important:

  • Gather reliable information
  • Communicate openly
  • Be decisive
  • Delegate and empower others when possible
  • Encourage action
  • Require accountability
  • Satisfy customers

Here are some tips on how to set the tone for decisiveness, empowerment, action and accountability.

Decisions, Delegation and Empowerment

The job of a leader is to make decisions happen—not necessarily make all the decisions, but to ensure they happen. In fact, it is better for the strength of the organization if the leader does NOT make most of the decisions. When others are involved, empowered and delegated the task of making decisions, everyone learns, people are more engaged and the organization begins to have a culture of deciding instead of just identifying problems to discuss endlessly.

One of the best times to establish a decision culture is when you are a new leader. First, you certainly do not know all the answers, and you need input from others. Second, people will be open to helping you. Here are some tips:

  • Look for Small Things: In various interactions within the organization, be alert for small items that are frustrations, inefficiencies or items holding people back. Ask “Who needs to be involved in changing the item?” Then delegate and empower the two or three people named to make the decision and take action. If the people involved cannot agree, then they can come back for guidance, but if they do agree, then it is done. Many times, there are small decisions that do not need senior management involvement. After all, those involved know more about it anyway. Delegating small decisions will set the tone for the organization, encourage others to decide and help establish an empowerment culture. Never underestimate the effect of taking action on small things.

 

“Delegating small things creates a decision and empowerment culture.” -Bruce Rhoades

 

  • Take Immediate Action on the Obvious: When you are the new leader, after many discussions you will find that there are some very well-known and recurring issues that have been around a long time. Many times everyone agrees about what needs to be done—so do it! If possible, delegate the responsibility. If delegation is not appropriate, then gather input from many, test your decision with them and decide. These items can be large or small, but deciding quickly will establish your style and send a message to the organization that decisions are encouraged.

The Action Habit: 7 Proven Ways to Move from Deciding to Doing

Chris Shilling is the founder of Serve and Lead and an author, speaker, consultant, and leadership coach. You can download the latest e-book in his Learn and Lead series here. You can also follow Chris and Serve and Lead on Twitter and Facebook.

 

I have a simple math question for you.

5 frogs are sitting on a log.

4 of the frogs decide to jump off. How many frogs are left?

Did you answer 1?

The correct answer is still 5.  This is because there is a difference between deciding and doing.

 

Have you experienced this in your own life? We tend to make a lot of decisions. We decide to eat healthier, get another degree, or start a new business. However, all of these decisions really mean nothing.

In order to make a decision mean anything, we need to take action. 

This concept is so simple, yet most people never move from deciding to doing. They do not get into the habit of taking action and do not accomplish all they could be accomplishing. By getting into the habit of putting ideas and decisions into action, we are in a better position to achieve the results we desire.

“Your beliefs become your thoughts; your thoughts become your words; your words become your actions; your actions become your habits; your habits become your values; your values become your destiny.” –Unknown

Here are 7 proven ways you can move from deciding to doing:

1. Stop waiting until conditions are perfect.

If you are waiting for everything to be perfect in order to get started you will be waiting forever. Things will never be perfect. There will always be something that is not right or could be better. There is no perfect time; there is only the present time. You must take action now and you can make adjustments as you move along. I know the perfect time to start was last year. The second best time is right now.

 

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” -Chinese Proverb

 

2. Stop, get up, and do it.

Turn yourself into a doer. A doer is someone who has an idea and moves forward with it immediately. Have you ever said to anyone, “It is a great day to go to the beach,” and then sat around and watched TV? Next time stop, get up, and go do it. Do you want to begin exercising or present a new idea at work? Do it today. When we pause and wait, we lose the will to move forward and allow doubt to creep into our minds.

 

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.” –Amelia Earhart

 

3. Stop over-thinking things

When we over-think things, we start to get paralysis of analysis. We start to analyze things to the point that we cannot move forward. We obsess over how conditions aren’t perfect, question the amount of time we have to commit, or come up with a whole host of reasons not to move forward.

 

4. Take continuous action.

Once you get started, continue to take continuous action. Make sure that you keep your momentum going by doing something productive related to your idea every day. This can be as easy as scheduling time to spend 15 minutes completing a small task daily. Those small tasks will add up quickly, and help you build confidence by seeing achievement.