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.
The minute the video starts, it’s obvious it will be explosive. And it sure has been. It has now been viewed millions of times around the world: A man is forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight.
Most of us are offended that the man was treated like this, bloodied as he was hauled out of his seat and dragged down the aisle. Most of us have also had our share of experiences with airlines, and this hits a nerve, like a final straw breaking the collective back of the paying passengers. We’ve been hit with baggage fees. We’ve been told, “No, you can’t have the whole can of soda.” Blankets disappeared ages ago. We’re scanned, wanded, searched, and pushed along through a system full of weary travelers with suspicious glances. Our flights are canceled or delayed for hours—always, it seems, the minute we arrive at the gate, harried and exhausted from running, of course.
Watching this man pulled off so brutally, we ask, “Why was he pulled off the flight?” The answer doesn’t make us feel any better: so that United Airlines could use the seat for a flight attendant.
A customer, obeying all rules, who the airline boarded moments before, who was sitting in the seat he paid for, was chosen at random for removal.
He didn’t want to get off the plane, and so the scene escalated.
Defenders of the airline will point out that this is not only legal, but then they point to his behavior during and after the incident. They will also point out that it was security, and not airline personnel, who removed him.
My law degree is decades old, and I’ve been an inactive member for too many years to weigh in on the legal issue here except to say that it’s far from clear.
Make the Right Choices
What’s clear to me is this:
United apparently chose policy over principle, chose employees over customers, chose to save a few dollars only to lose millions.
“When in doubt, choose principle over policy.” -Skip Prichard
Worse yet is when you remember United’s motto: Fly the friendly skies. Maybe the friendliness only starts when you’re airborne?
Many PR disasters seem to worsen just when you think the lowest point is reached.
And that’s what happened when the CEO stepped in with his comments. He sent a memo blaming the passenger and defending employees, saying that they were following existing procedures. He called the passenger disruptive and belligerent.
Did he apologize? He “apologized for having to re-accommodate these customers.”
Re-accommodate? The man was bloody and seemed to be unconscious!
Only after outrage about his comments exploded online did he change to become “outraged” himself about the incident. His tone has now changed to apologetic. Yesterday he softened them further and even said it was a failure of policy and training. At least the tone is improving.
The minute I saw this video, I said the obvious: This is going to be a PR disaster for United. They better have a full crisis team working on it. When I saw the CEO’s comments, I said to a group that this would now make PR history. It has found a place in marketing classes where these types of mistakes are prominently featured. It may well be mentioned along with other great PR blunders like BP’s spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and 10 minutes to ruin it.” -Warren Buffet
That’s a great point. We are mostly united against this behavior. In a politically divided nation, it has shifted the conversation from politics.
Meanwhile, the public relations problem for United reminds me of how each of us can handle our screw-ups, mistakes, and errors in judgment. I’ve made my fair share, too, though thankfully not at all like this one.
Here are a few leadership lessons from United’s….well, to be kind, should I say “lapse in judgment”?
If you can avoid a problem, that’s always the first step. It wasn’t necessary. The employees could have driven the few hours to reach their destination and prioritized the customers. United could have offered a higher amount of money until they had enough volunteers. Why allow all of the passengers to board and take their seats if you didn’t have enough seats for them? There are a number of ways this could have been avoided.
“Never respond analytically to a problem growing emotionally.” -Skip Prichard
Here’s my rule: Never respond analytically to a problem growing emotionally. Pointing to policies and legalese will satisfy only a small percentage of the public. Most people want you to connect emotionally and sincerely first. No excuses. The language initially used made it worse. “We apologize that we had to re-accommodate some passengers” was such an emotional miss that it fueled the fire of an already outraged public. Always great to think of Molly Ivins. She once said, “The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.”
“The first rule of holes: When you’re in one, stop digging.” -Molly Ivins
Apologies are not as easy as they may seem at first. I learned this especially from the research of Jennifer Thomas and the book she co-wrote with Gary Chapman. There is a specific language of apology. This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve their communication, but PR departments should take note.
“Genuine apology opens the door to the possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation.” -Jennifer Thomas
When a company wins a major client, signs a great contract or successfully finishes a big project, it is the time for celebrations. However, what happens to those smaller victories, the ones that often make the backbone of a company’s success? Are they celebrated too, or are they just omitted and taken for granted? If you aren’t celebrating small wins, you might be missing some great opportunities to become an even better leader and motivate your team. In fact, the most successful and popular bosses tend to celebrate every victory, no matter the size. Here’s why you should consider doing the same if you want to get the best out of your team.
Leadership Tip: the most successful bosses celebrate victories no matter the size.
For a team that is working hard on a particular project, it can be a long and hard slog to the finish line. It’s easy to lose motivation and to lose sight of the final goal. By celebrating a small victory, you remind your team of what that overall goal is – and how much closer you now are to completing it. This helps to keep the team going for longer.
Celebrating small victories reminds the team of the overall goal.
Not only that, but celebrating each win serves to emphasize how important it is to set goals, and how this makes it so much easier to track your progress. This will encourage your team members to set goals within their own daily tasks and work towards them. The end result will be a more motivated and productive workforce.
Celebrating small wins emphasizes the importance of goal setting.
When your team is rewarded and praised for each small victory that they achieve, the motivation to continue achieving is much higher. They will feel that their hard work has been noticed and appreciated, which makes them want to continue to work harder and put in more time on each project. When bosses do not celebrate small wins, employees can begin to feel that their hard work is ignored and that they may as well stop working so hard since the results will be the same. This is a dangerous trap to fall into. You should celebrate each victory from each team member, and not just those who achieve something remarkable or at the end of the whole project.
Celebrating small wins shows appreciation which increases motivation.
Job satisfaction is likely to be higher if employees feel that they are part of a company which has a high success rate and is doing well in the world of industry. Even if your company is struggling in some areas, it is very important to show that you are succeeding in others. Your employees will be more motivated to achieve the next goal for a successful company, and less likely to start looking for work elsewhere.
Celebrating small victories increases job satisfaction.
When focusing on a long-term project, the day-to-day tasks may be long and monotonous. It’s great for employees to get a break from that work and celebrate instead, even if it is only for a moment. This will help them to return to the tasks at hand with more motivation as well as give them a fresh perspective on their work. It’s a great way to infuse more productivity into what would otherwise be a normal day at work.
Publicly or privately, when you praise someone, watch what happens. I’m talking genuine praise at just the right level and delivered at just the right time. Too much and it loses its power, but it’s next to impossible to hit a “too much” level.
“A ruler should be slow to punish and swift to reward.” -Ovid
When you teach concepts and share examples, it makes a difference in your organization and in your people. The best leaders are teachers. Not always obviously or in your face, but everyone is learning because the leader is teaching.
When you model the way, it inspires everyone around you. You simply cannot say one thing and do another. Do what you say you will do. Don’t ask your followers to do one thing while you are doing another.
“Consistently doing what you say you will do is the foundation of integrity.” -Skip Prichard
When you promote and advocate on someone’s behalf, it creates loyalty. That person knows you have her back and that you are advocating on her behalf. Publicly sharing successes and attributing someone’s good work makes a difference.