Jim Kerr has just written his fifth book. You may recognize the name from his weekly column in Inc. or any of his previous books. Jim has been an executive coach and consultant for nearly 30 years. Currently, he is the global chair of Culture Transformation at the management consulting and search firm N2Growth. His latest book, It’s Good To Be King: A Leadership Fable for Everyday Leaders, is written in a fun and easy-to-access parable form that enables the reader to quickly embrace his leadership takeaways.
This lighthearted story presents sound leadership fundamentals and reinforces the notion that, regardless of the circumstances, we can all learn to become even more exceptional at leading others.
I spoke with Jim recently about his new book.
“Leaders make things possible. Exceptional leaders make them inevitable.” -Lance Morrow
This book is much different from the others that you have written. In fact, some may even consider it a bedtime story. Why did you choose a fable format to house the leadership advice that you offer throughout the book?
There are two reasons that underpin this choice of format. First, I want the book to be consumed quickly and easily. There are far too many leadership titles available that offer dry and uninspired content, which make them difficult to get through and enjoy. Second, I want this book to be read and appreciated by all kinds of people, not just those who manage others in a business setting.
Sure, business professionals of all types – from the harried C-suite executive, who is looking for a quick “leadership read” to the Gen Y new hire who is eager to gain useful insight for career advancement – will find great value in the book. But I would like people who simply aspire to become better leaders in their everyday lives to want to read this book.
People like you and me who lead others in their communities, places of worship or volunteer organizations should pick up this book and find valuable insights that can help them become better leaders.
Are you a leader who has had some success but now feel stuck?
What’s your leadership gap?
Understanding yourself is the beginning of influence. You must understand you before you can possibly understand others and how to influence them.
If you’re a leader of leaders, you want to understand your team, how they interpret the world, their unique way of leading. A powerful team is made up of a diverse group of leadership styles.
Lolly Daskal’s new book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness, introduces her system to help executives discover their own leadership style and how to leverage their strengths. If you’re a leader who has reached a point where you’re confused why your success is stalled, this is for you. If you’re wondering what’s stopping your upward climb, this is for you. If you want to take your career up a notch, this is for you.
Lolly is not only a personal friend of mine, but she has racked up numerous awards and accolades ranging from Inc’s Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts to Huffington Post saying she is the most inspiring leader in the world. She’s coached some of the world’s most prominent leaders for years.
“A leader must always set the standard of what they want to see in others.” -Lolly Daskal
You’ve worked with many leaders all over the globe. What are some of the qualities that you notice that makes a leader stand out?
For over three decades, I have worked as a leadership coach and business consultant around the world, spanning 14 countries and hundreds of companies. Many years ago when I first started, I found an interesting pattern that was showing up within everyone I was working with, even across cultures. Over time I distilled that pattern into seven archetypes, each archetype with its own quality that sets it apart.
First, there’s the leader I call the Rebel, who leads with confidence and wants to make an impact in the world. And Rebels do start revolutions—but not through revolts and uprisings. Rebels are the quiet warriors who embark on quests to achieve remarkable things. They overcome formidable obstacles to save the project, the team, or the company. They ask, “How can I push the envelope?”
Rebels need confidence to succeed—not the kind of confidence that means standing in front of the mirror and saying, “I’m the best and the brightest,” but knowing your capabilities and competencies, knowing what you are good at, and what skills you have mastered. Confidence is simply knowing what you’re able to do. So the more skill and talent you have, the more competent—and ultimately confident—you feel.
“Confidence is simply knowing what you’re able to do.” -Lolly Daskal
Second is the Explorer, who leads with intuition. Explorers always want to try something new. They enjoy navigating through uncharted waters with innovation and creativity, using their intuition to test the boundaries and limits of what is known. They reject the status quo and doing things the way they’ve always been done. They ask, “What can I discover?”
Explorers listen to their inner voice and their gut, and use their inner knowledge to make decisions. Instead of relying only on rational thought, they balance their thinking with intuition. They think well on their feet and are decisive.
Third is the Truth Teller, who leads with candor. Truth tellers believe they owe it to those around them to always be open and honest, even when their candor makes people uncomfortable. Even so, their honesty isn’t cruel but comes from a sincere desire to help and serve. They view speaking up as a duty. Truth tellers ask, “Where should I speak up?”
Fourth is the Hero, who leads with courage. Heroes are the ones who don’t hesitate to act while others stand on the sidelines trying to figure out what’s going on. Heroes are willing to put their entire vision and mission at risk for a shot at greatness. Heroes act in spite of fear and overwhelming opposition. They ask, “Where is courage needed?”
Fifth is the Inventor, who leads with integrity. Inventors are constantly working to improve processes and products and to perfect their craft. They are experimenters who make many small bets and are willing to fail in pursuit of big wins. they ask, “How can we make this better?”
Inventors seek quality and excellence, always grounded in integrity. They don’t compromise on what they want to achieve, and they give it their best. They’re never satisfied with the status quo but always aspire to a higher standard of excellence.
“Inventors seek quality and excellence, always grounded in integrity.” -Lolly Daskal
Sixth is the Navigator, who leads with trustworthiness. Navigators know where they need to go, and they inspire others to trust and follow them. Navigators give trust as well as they receive it, keeping things simple and understandable as they masterfully steer their organization and the people within it. Navigators ask, “How can we get to where we need to go?”
The seventh and final leader is the Knight, who leads with loyalty. Knights are primarily associated with chivalry and protection; they’re willing to go to battle to defend their beliefs and are devoted to the ideal of service. Knights display fierce loyalty and partnership with others while protecting people and bringing them together.
Knights believe leadership is based on loyalty—reliable and dependable and dedicated. Knights will stand beside you and will serve you, before they serve themselves.
What makes a leader successful over the long haul?
Most leaders believe that to be successful they need to know all the elements of how, what, when, and where. But I’ve found that the game changer comes when a leader knows who they are—because getting the foundational element of the who prepares you for the how, what, when, and where—and even the why. As we know, the first step to successful leadership is taking responsibility for ourselves.
“Everyone has the power to inspire and serve the world.” -Lolly Daskal
Eventually, you say, leaders likely face a leadership gap where they are stuck and their success wanes. Tell us more.
Most successful individuals have a certain set of skills that got them to the top of their game. But there comes a time that those same skill sets stop working, and you have to learn to pivot to keep succeeding. Most of us rely on what we know and expect it to be sustainable, but if we are not changing, evolving and growing, we are not going to remain successful leaders.
Within the seven archetypes, this principle is expressed as shadows or gaps that exist within each:
The Rebel who needs to be confident has a gap of feeling like an Imposter, paralyzed by self-doubt. This gap often takes the form of negative internal messages: You are not smart enough, good enough, bright enough to make a big impact. You didn’t go to good schools or get the right education. People are judging you.
The Explorer, who is all about using intuition, has a gap of being the Exploiter, who manipulates. Exploration means letting go of control, and those who struggle with turning loose often try to find their way by manipulating and exploiting others.
The Truth Teller has the gap of becoming the Deceiver, who creates suspicion. This one is easy to spot. It’s the leader who withholds information, the boss who tells half-truths, the manager who doesn’t address concerns. When people don’t know what they need to know, rumors and speculation run wild, creating a culture of suspicion and paranoia.
The courageous Hero has the gap of becoming the passive Bystander—someone who does and says nothing regardless of what they see or hear. Driven by fear, the Bystander plays small and stays stuck where they are.
The Inventor, who is all about integrity, has the gap of being the corrupt Destroyer who is focused on doing things cheaper and faster. The Destroyer’s lack of integrity permits quick fixes, cutting corners and compromising quality and standards.
The Navigator, who focuses on giving and earning trust, has the gap of coming across as the arrogant Fixer. The Fixer tells people what to do instead of navigating with them and is so aggressive that people dismiss them as arrogant by nature. Fixers see the needs of others as more important than their own, and they move from wanting to help to needing to help. They primarily want to be needed.
Finally, the loyal Knight has the gap of becoming the self-serving Mercenary. Without the understanding that leadership is about serving others, they can’t engender loyalty from those they lead. Leadership grounded in self-absorption or self-obsession can never succeed.
Leverage Your Gaps
Is there a way to avoid or move quickly past a gap?
It’s important to learn how to leverage your gaps:
For instance, if your leadership style is in line with the confident Rebel, you need to learn to leverage the Imposter within you. There are several things you can do to leverage this particular gap when you begin to lose confidence in yourself.
“Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own improvement.” -Lolly Daskal
First, you need to stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own improvement and leadership development.
Second, to avoid focusing on your failures rather than your successes, make a list of your accomplishments and place your wins in plain sight so you are reminded of them regularly.
And finally, remind yourself that perfection is unattainable and aiming for it sets you up for continual frustration and disappointment.
When you’re aware of your gaps, you know what messages to counter them with. Rebels can remind themselves that, even if they feel like an imposter, they should never underestimate themselves or their capabilities.
Daina Middleton takes on the topic in her new book, Grace Meets Grit: How to Bring Out the Remarkable, Courageous Leader Within. In her book, she demonstrates the inherent value of both feminine and masculine leadership styles and how all of us can benefit from an understanding of the value of the different strengths of the sexes. Daina’s experience includes over three decades of business leadership experience in a male-dominated industry. She shares her firsthand observations and stories to help everyone become more effective at leading others. Daina is also an advocate for a more inclusive and practical approach to working together.
I had the opportunity to ask her more about her work.
Women CEOs lag men CEOs in terms of tenure by 2 years.
What’s wrong or missing from the ongoing discussion of gender in the workplace? Why is current gender bias training falling short?
The good news is the gender equality conversation is actually happening. In fact, Google Trends indicates gender equality has actually increased over the past decade. And the equality discussion certainly must continue because the pay parity gap remains large despite the focus on equality. However, a focus on equality is insufficient because equal literally means the same. While their contributions are equally valuable, men and women bring different behaviors to leadership and this is a very good thing. Women are often measured against male leadership behaviors – mostly because men are still largely in charge. The result is unfortunate because there are many benefits to both the male “Grit” style of leadership as well as the more relationship “Grace” approach. Obviously, I am over generalizing to make a point. Most of us have both male and female qualities, and the best leaders strive to cultivate both within themselves as well as within their organizations.
“Inspiring leaders know that trust is vital to inspiration.” -Daina Middleton
Grace and grit. Would you give us a little background on each and how they fit into your model? Do you find that naming grace and grit causes a backlash at all in terms of stereotyping?
A person’s leadership style is based on his or her communications style. Women tend to use communications to establish intimacy and build and maintain relationships. This is what I refer to as the Grace style of leadership. Men (the Grit style), on the other hand, tend to use communications to drive immediate, tangible outcomes, preserve status, and avoid failure.
The male leadership style is an exclusive club, even though it’s often not intentionally exclusive. And, while both women and men bring equal value to the workplace, equal does not mean they are the same. Many times, these differences cause misunderstandings in the workplace at best. At worst, I have actually seen a great leader lose her job because her boss, who was a man, thought she didn’t know how to make decisions because the way she approached decision-making was different from his own. This is what first sent me down the path to beginning a new gender dialogue that allows us to have meaningful conversations about how women lead differently than men. Only then will we understand the value both bring to the workplace.
As I mentioned above, calling Grace the more relationship-focused female style and Grit the status-conscious, immediate action male style of leadership provides us with a non-confrontational approach to talk about our differences. Bias training is largely focused on helping men understand what it’s like to be a woman. Do you think men will remember this in the heat of a challenging business situation? Probably not. And in fact, all the research shows bias training has largely been ineffective in changing behaviors in the workplace for exactly this reason. We all have both Grace and Grit within us. I, for instance, have a more Grit style approach, which at times can be abrasive. My team recently reminded me of this by asking if I had left Grace at home that day. Their question prompted me to think about my behaviors and adapt them for the situation. All great leaders have good awareness of their own style and the needs of others and have the ability to have productive dialogue around them.
ILM Survey: 1/2 of women doubted their job performance compared to less than 1/3 of men.
Learning to be an effective, influential leader is a lifelong goal for most of us. That’s why I read all I can from as many different sources as possible.
Coach, consultant, and speaker Paul Larsen believes that anyone can become a more powerful leader. His new book, Find Your Voice as a Leader, offers a model to help everyone become a better leader. Paul’s many corporate roles, including Chief Human Resources Officer for a $3 billion organization, makes him an ideal teacher. I recently asked him to share his experience and the research in his new book.
“Speak with intent so that you can lead with vision.” –Paul Larsen
As an executive coach, I partner with leaders across all industries and within all types of organizations. I have found that a resulting impact of the politics and the normative structures of organizations is that the creative talents, or voices, of leaders are stifled into an expected pattern of behavior. Leaders learn quickly that to succeed is to “go with the flow” and not make waves. Their unique voice can be easily silenced.
Thus, many leaders get lost in the noise of today’s chaotic business environment. They remain quiet instead of speaking up, even when they have an opinion. They follow someone else’s decision instead of doing what they really want to do. They let the chatter in their head get the best of them, and they end up second guessing every action or step they take. Or they remain with the status quo instead of taking any action at all. They hide behind others instead of making their own decisions.
To “find your voice as a leader” is to create a compelling and unique leadership brand by:
– Discovering your critical leadership VALUES;
– Creating a compelling vision to get the OUTCOMES you desire;
– Building relationships with INFLUENCE and credibility;
– Making decisions that reveal your COURAGE to take a stand;
Your values are your core beliefs and ideals that guide your decisions, your worldview, your insights, your actions, and your communications. Your values are the principles you believe are important in the way you live and work. They determine your priorities, and, deep down, they are the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to. When your actions and beliefs match your values, life is usually good— you’re satisfied and content. This is the primary reason identifying your values is so important. Values exist, whether you recognize them or not. Yet, your leadership impact will be much more confident and stronger when you know and acknowledge your values and when you make plans and decisions that honor them.
What happens when our values are in conflict?
When your actions and beliefs match your values, life is usually good— you’re satisfied and content. However, when the environment and the accompanying actions and beliefs don’t align with your values, life feels out of sorts, and it can be a real source of discontent and unhappiness. This misalignment of our values is one of the core sources of dis-engagement at work and occurs on a very regular basis. We make compromises on a daily basis, and within our corporate environment, we make compromises as they pertain to values when matched against the values of the organization. But when these compromises are made on a consistent basis and/or the compromises create a very large “values gap” between the individual and the organization, this can result in a feeling of dis-engagement and lack of commitment. And it will not be solved until the individual decides to take deliberate action on this compromise and ask, “Is this the type of environment that will provide me the ability to do my best work or do I need to plan for a change?”
How does identifying your values set you apart from other leaders?
We are all governed by a set of values that act as our “inner GPS.” Our values govern our decisions, our judgments, our communication and our overall worldview. They shape who we are. Leaders who identify their core set of values and lead out front with their values are more confident, more courageous and more influential versus leaders who do not. Values are more than just a “set of words on a laminated card,” they are the core DNA of every leader and are the ingredients of the legacy each leader leaves behind.
You have a personal leadership identity that has the potential to influence and motivate others. Achieving results and driving others to a common vision are within your reach when you focus on that uniqueness.
What you need is to think about your differentiators.
One of the reasons I study leaders and various leadership styles is because each of us can learn something from the greats while moving toward our own uniqueness.
Danielle Harlan, PhD is the Founder & CEO of the Center for Advancing Leadership and Human Potential. She completed her doctorate at Stanford University and has taught courses at both Stanford Graduate School of Business and U.C. Berkeley Extension’s Corporate and Professional Development program.
I recently asked her about her new research, focusing specifically on her concepts of a personal leadership identity.
“Each of us possesses the innate potential to make a meaningful impact in the world.” –Danielle Harlan
Personal Leadership Identity (PLI) is the unique combination of qualities and talents that make you unique and distinctive as an individual and that you can easily and naturally draw upon in order to enhance your leadership effectiveness.
The example that I share in The New Alpha is about a new manager who struggled as a “stern and commanding” leader (which matched the “image” that he had in his mind of how good leaders should act) but had a breakthrough when he identified his PLI, which was actually the total opposite of this. As soon as he found his “real” self, his leadership effectiveness increased dramatically.
The big idea here is that many of us have this “cookie cutter” image of the “type” of person who makes a good leader, but the reality is that each of us is at our most powerful, and our most impactful, when we allow the best aspects of who we are naturally to guide our leadership “style.”
Knowing your PLI is also really helpful in terms of creating a vision and plan for our lives—based on who we actually are, rather than who we think we should be.
“Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.” -Warren Bennis
How can you use it to determine whether you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision?
At its best, your career should be a professional manifestation of your Personal Leadership Identity…if there’s general alignment between your PLI and what you’re doing or where you’re headed, then you’re in the right role and pursuing the right vision. If not, then it might be time to think about how to change or adapt your role to better suit your PLI, or to make a career pivot.
“Greater than the tread of mighty armies is an idea whose time has come.” –Victor Hugo
This is, of course, much easier said than done, and many of us put off the hard work of aligning our life and career to our Personal Leadership Identity because it’s a big task and we’re busy. However, not addressing this disconnect only results in deep misalignment and unhappiness in the long run. In these cases, instead of work being an opportunity to pursue what gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, it becomes a chore that we must do in order to survive, pay our rent or mortgage, etc.
“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
What’s the best way to define your Personal Leadership Identity?
Chapter 6 in The New Alpha book spells out a step-by-step processing for doing this, but the gist is that our Personal Leadership Identity doesn’t usually come to us out of thin air; rather we uncover it by reflecting on our life and experiences and by identifying the values, strengths, skills, passions, and ideal conditions that have facilitated our best and most enjoyable successes.
For example, if you ask me what qualities I bring to the table as a leader, I might say that I’m intelligent, empathetic, and gritty. However, if you ask me to reflect on my best successes as a human being—those where I achieved something AND enjoyed doing it, and then asked me to analyze these accomplishments in terms of what they tell me about the aspects of my personality that I could draw upon in order to be a good leader, I might find intelligence, empathy, and grit in there—but I might find other more unexpected qualities too—like love, curiosity, and a sense of humor.
This retrospective and holistic approach often yields more interesting aspects of our PLI than we might come up with by simply “naming” our best qualities or relying on other people to tell us what we’re good at.
“By working to become the best version of ourselves, we develop the foundation competencies that are necessary to effectively lead others.”-Danielle Harlan