But, let’s face it: many of us won’t commit to doing that. So, let’s make this simple. Let’s improve our spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude right now, whatever we are doing, wherever we are, even if we are not celebrating Thanksgiving.
When the stakes are high, that’s when we need the very best in leadership. Why do some leaders succeed and others fail? Why do some not only survive a crisis, but use difficulty to produce incredible results?
A high-stakes leader is someone who is successful when risk is high and visibility is low. New ventures are an example, whether they are for a new product, service, geography or method of production. Top leader changes, mergers and crisis are also examples of high-stakes situations.
Leaders who get good results achieve value on multiple fronts. As Jim Kennedy, Chairman of Cox Enterprises says, “It can’t be just about the money.” In a crisis, we need only compare the recent leadership failure at Equifax with the response of The Home Depot in a similar circumstance, a breach. The response of these two companies was wildly different. Frank Blake’s actions are a model of what to do.
My book talks about what leaders in high-stakes situations should do and provides examples from a wide range of organizations. I also talk about what gets in the way of leaders. Invisible traps include the human cognitive system, which is not a completely rational system. Our human limits lead us to make mistakes that may look foolish but can be the result of cognitive limits, the effect of emotion on decisions, the context or our own habits of avoiding anxiety.
There is an additional factor, which I include in my forthcoming book Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, in which I focus on mergers, acquisitions and divestitures. That is when we wrongly assign value to opportunities, risk, timelines, market size, and so forth. It’s one thing to think something is low risk and be right and quite another to believe risk is low when it isn’t. Even smart people can be blind when making evaluations, a part of leading. We don’t have measures for everything, and even when we do we aren’t always measuring what matters.
Perhaps the greatest risk of all is in thinking we are operating in a safe zone and being complacent.
“The greatest risk of all is in thinking we are operating in a safe zone.” -Constance Dierickx
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
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
Learning how to lead. It’s the focus of many lectures, articles, blog posts, and books. Joshua Spodek prefers the active to the passive, teaching with exercises designed to master leadership concepts.
He recently wrote a book titled Leadership Step by Step: Become the Person Others Follow that takes this teaching approach. His background includes a mix of academic and corporate experience, allowing his coaching methods to incorporate the best of both. I recently spoke with him about his new book and his approach to leadership.
“What holds people back isn’t not knowing what skills to have but how to get them and use them effectively.” -Joshua Spodek
You bristle at the question of what qualities make someone a leader. Why?
Every book and resource lists qualities of effective leadership: integrity, self-awareness, resilience, empathy, listening skills, and so on. Popular terms now include grit and hustle.
Almost everyone knows what qualities make leaders effective. What holds people back isn’t not knowing what skills to have but how to get them and use them effectively. The techniques of nearly every book, video, MOOC, and every other resource are to teach people intellectually what they need.
But intellectually knowing that self-awareness is important doesn’t increase yours. I know the principles of playing piano. But I haven’t practiced, so I can’t play. Those least self-aware know least what to do about it, despite needing it most. The same goes for any social or emotional leadership quality.
You can’t lecture someone into integrity. No amount of reading will develop grit.
To develop social and emotional skills, you need to take on social and emotional challenges. Lectures, case studies, biography, and psychology papers may be intellectually challenging, but they are socially and emotionally passive and therefore ineffective at teaching social and emotional skills.
“There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory.” -Unknown
Is that what you mean when you say that business school taught you about leadership but not how to lead?
Exactly. Business school taught me principles but gave me little practice using them. Discussing a case study of someone else’s life will teach you something. I’m not saying lectures and case studies are worthless, but they can’t substitute for facing personal challenges.
After graduation, I learned leadership skills in practice, but I doubt it was any faster than had I not learned the principles.
Going to a top-5 school didn’t help. The more elite the school, the more the professors got there through publishing or perishing, not facing social and emotional challenges.
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” -Vince Lombardi
I struggled with that question, especially after noticing how many great leaders dropped out or were kicked out of school: Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Sean Combs, Michael Dell, Elon Musk, … the list goes on.
I wondered: did school hurt?
Two observations resolved the situation for me: How you learn is as important as what you learn.
The first was seeing how many top actors had tremendous emotional and social skills, coming off as tremendously genuine and authentic, yet dropped out of school, often high school. I learned that they didn’t stop learning. They switched to a different style of learning.
The other was connecting with the project-based learning and teaching community. I found that their students developed leadership skills that MBAs would dream of, but without taking leadership classes.
How does that play out in practice?
I learned that experiential, active learning is more effective for fields like leadership that are active, social, emotional, expressive, and performance-based. Plenty of fields are like that besides leadership and acting: playing musical instruments, athletics, dance, singing, improv, the military.
In all of them we teach through practice and rehearsal. When you master the basics, you move to intermediate skills. When you master them, you move to advanced.
Only with leadership do we start with theory. Compare the quality of athletes and musicians our nation creates with the quality of our leaders, or rather people with authority.
That’s why so many great leaders emerge from sports, acting, the military, and places outside academia. Look at your page on leadership insights, http://www.skipprichard.com/leadership-insights: the first people I see are baseball player R. A. Dickey, athlete/actor Chuck Norris, and basketball player Bill Bradley.
Try a New Approach
Can you clarify how you teach if not traditionally?
I teach and coach by giving students and clients an integrated, comprehensive progression of exercises starting with basics and leading, with no big anxiety-causing jumps, to skills so useful and advanced that most seasoned leaders would learn from them.
The exercises have you do things with people you know on projects you care about, so you face social and emotional challenges, but in safe contexts, so you don’t risk your job to develop the skills. It’s like practicing piano alone, then doing small recitals, and so on to get to Carnegie Hall.
My exercises are like scales in piano or footwork in dance. Basics are valuable at every level. Look at the top seeds at Wimbledon before finals. They practice their ground strokes. LeBron still practices layups and jump shots.
I call how I teach Method Learning, after Method Acting, which is what we call the style of learning and practice for acting, and it produces Method Leaders. It’s not just acting. All the fields I listed above use the same technique.
You develop greatness, genuineness, and authenticity the same in leadership as in any of these other fields: Practice, practice, practice!
My book has stop signs after each exercise description saying, “Put the book down. Go practice. Reading about lifting weights doesn’t make you strong.”
“Reading about lifting weights doesn’t make you strong.”