Answer the Call to Exceptional Leadership

Leading the Unleadable

Taking a management job is not the same as answering the call to exceptional leadership. That’s what Alan Willett’s new book is all about: how to create a culture where people are able to perform in an extraordinary way.

Often new managers think that those following them are unengaged, cynical, or otherwise difficult. And that can be true, but many of these symptoms are a result of the manager not knowing how to lead, how to challenge, how to create team-wide expectations.

Alan Willett offers practical ways for managers to take on these challenges. Alan is the president of Oxseeker, a leadership consultancy with clients ranging from Oracle to NASA. His new book is Leading the Unleadable. I recently asked him about his work on exceptional leadership.

 

“Exceptional leaders have a personal, passionate mission that goes beyond results.” –Alan Willett

 

Set the Right Expectations

There are so many aspects of your book to discuss, but I want to focus on expectations. How important is the leader’s expectations?

It is amazing how even people that seem “defiant” are working to meet the expectations of the leader. When leaders are setting the wrong expectation it will have negative impacts – and the leader can do this without even knowing it.

I have seen many leaders consistently tell their teams that they want the “most aggressive schedule possible.”  Of course the projects with the most aggressive schedule possible are invariably late. Along with being late, there are many negative aspects that can include quality problems and morale issues since team members feel they are failing. Many leaders who set these expectations later ask me, “Why are my teams always late?”

What the leader really wants in these situations is for the team to have the “smartest” plan possible and a commitment that the team can definitively meet or beat that plan. Setting those expectations correctly will get leaders who they really want.

 

“Exceptional leaders are fearless in setting expectations in clear language.” –Alan Willett

 

How a Leader Sets Goals

It seems that you can set the bar too low and not challenge the team or be “so positive” that you demotivate everyone. What’s the best way to set the goal appropriately?

Set clear motivating goals for the team, but also leave out some specifics, leave them a little vague. Then challenge the team to make it more specific and meaningful to them. In doing this the team members almost always grumble about the lack of precision. They then get to work to make the goals better. The team then creates the goals that are that high bar you refer to. Since the team set those specific goals, they are committed to achieving them.

 

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” –Pablo Picasso

 

I have worked this method with leaders over 300 times, and it never fails to inspire the team ownership and commitment. Leaders are often stunned at what the teams can really accomplish.

 

Expect Excellence Every Day

25 Quotes to Build a Winning Team

You Win in the Locker Room First

A few months ago, I read Jon Gordon and Mike Smith’s book, You Win in the Locker Room First: The 7 C’s to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life.

9781119157854The former NFL head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, Mike Smith, teamed up with one of my favorite authors, Jon Gordon, to explore seven principles that teams use to reinvigorate and reinvent their future.

I’m not sure how you read, but the more I like a book, the more underlines, highlights, and dog-eared pages appear. Long ago, I developed the habit of doing this because I want the wisdom of the authors to penetrate my thick skull and make an impact. When I read this book, there were so many quotes that stuck with me.

So, instead of an author interview, I wanted to share the top 25 Quotes from this book on team building that stuck with me. I hope you find them helpful as you build a great team of your own. Because, as the title of this book reminds us, winning starts long before you actually take the field.

 

25 Quotes to Build a Winning Team

“Culture is defined and created from the top down, but it comes to life from the bottom up.” –Mike Smith

 

“Culture drives expectations and beliefs. Expectations and beliefs drive behaviors. Behaviors drive habits and habits create the future.” –Jon Gordon

 

“Winning doesn’t begin just in the locker room; it also begins in the mind.” –Jon Gordon

 

“You win in the mind first and then you win on the field or court.” –Jon Gordon

 

“Leadership is a transfer of belief.” –Jon Gordon

 

“The leaders of the team or organization set the tone and attitude.” –Mike Smith

 

“What we think matters. Our words are powerful.” –Mike Smith

 

“If you are complaining, you are not leading. If you are leading, you are not complaining.” –Mike Smith

 

“Great leaders are positively contagious.” –Mike Smith

 

“The character you possess during the drought is what your team will remember during the harvest.” –Mike Smith

 

“To build a winning team, you want to be consistent in your attitude, effort, and actions.” –Jon Gordon

Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do

Most people want to be positive, to lead in a positive way, and to think positive thoughts. Not many people aspire to be negative.  We laugh when we see the donkey, Eeyore, in Winnie the Pooh, but most of us can name someone with that mindset.  And all of us go through periods where we may exhibit that behavior.  How to consistently create a positive mindset is a skill.

Recently, I spoke with Dr. Kathy Cramer, who has just released a book called Lead Positive.

 

“Leading positive is when a leader is looking at what’s possible, what’s positive, what’s valuable, and what they can leverage in the moment.” -Dr. Kathy Cramer

 

Leading Positive

Your new book is titled Lead Positive. What does “leading positive” mean?

It took us a long time to come up with that title, believe it or not. It’s very simple, very straight forward, and people tell me that they get it right away. It’s about leading and it’s about moving forward in a positive way towards a positive result.

Highly effective leaders spend 5x more attention on the possible positive than on problems.


Lead Positive also has a subtitle that is very important to the meaning of the book and the purpose of the book: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say and Do.  In my study and experience with coaching leaders, I have found that the see-say-do framework is a self-reinforcing loop.  Oftentimes, leaders are not really aware of exactly what they’re paying attention to. But whatever it is dictates in a very direct way what will come out of their mouths—what they’re going to say—and then ultimately what they do.  So it’s a virtuous cycle.

9781118658086.pdfLeading positive is when a leader is looking at what’s possible, what’s positive, what’s valuable, and what they can leverage in the moment.  When leaders are looking at the upside of a situation—welcomed or unwelcomed—then they create a virtuous cycle.  They start talking about it, they say out loud what they’re seeing, and then other people join them in taking action, doing what is necessary to really take advantage of the upside.

In your research on leadership, what distinguishes a highly effective leader?

One of the things that stands out about highly effective leaders is that they actually spend five times more attention and effort leveraging what is possible and what is positive in the moment than they do focusing on problems. That is a big reversal from what most of us by nature and nurture do almost automatically.

What neuroscience refers to as our negativity bias literally equips us to be more sensitive and more reactive to something that spells danger, harm, problem or something’s not right. And so if we let that negativity bias have its way, most of us are literally the opposite; we’re focusing on the upside five times less than the downside.

What we’re doing here with highly effective leaders is we’re training them how to be aware: “What am I paying attention to?” And if it’s a huge problem or a huge barrier, something that’s significant, of course, you need to pay attention to it, but pay attention to it as an asset-based thinker would—by focusing five times more effort on the assets inherent in the situation, even if the situation is problematic.

On the other hand, deficit-based thinkers are people who have not tackled or tried to tame their negativity bias. It’s quite easy to do. It’s a simple process, but we find it difficult because it means cultivating a new habit.

Soul is all about meaning what you say and saying something meaningful.” –Kathy Cramer

You break down communication into substance, sizzle, and soul. It really resonated with me. “Saying it” with substance, sizzle and soul makes communication positive and memorable. Would you share an example of this?

I’m thinking of Franklin Delano Roosevelt here.  In his famous inaugural speech, one of his first lines was, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Let’s just take that one memorable line. There is tremendous substance here, which really refers to the psychological fact that when you are afraid, when you’re in deficit-based thinking land, there’s some anxiety. And in this case, America was going through the Great Depression, so the anxiety was profound. When we feel hopeless we have a very narrow focus. Our minds operate like lasers zeroing in on what the problem is and how to escape. But there is no creative bandwidth at all in that.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” –F.D.R.

Speak With Substance

So when a leader is speaking with substance, he is giving people the kind of information that FDR was presenting, the cautionary tale: If we act out of fear, we surely will fail, we surely will be sub-optimized, we surely will be impulsive.

Speak With Sizzle

The sizzle that’s associated with this phrase has to do with the emotion, the profound warning that you can hear in FDR’s voice. We can go to YouTube, we can Google this particular speech, and we can hear it thanks to technology now and even view him as he spoke those words. The tone of his voice and the message itself had sizzle because they were speaking directly about emotion.

Speak With Soul

Everything Connects: An Interview with Faisal Hoque

 

My friend Faisal Hoque is a serial entrepreneur, author, and thought leader.  His life is a modern story of success, failures, and resiliency – leaving Bangladesh at 17 for the United States where he has since founded businesses including SHADOKA and others.  You may know his writing from Fast CompanyHuffington Post, Forbes, or BusinessWeek.

I previously talked with him about The Power of Convergence.  His latest book, written with Drake Baer, Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation and Sustainability. Like all of his writing, it is packed with ideas.

Everything Connects

Faisal, it’s so good to talk with you again.  Let’s start with your definition of “connectivity.”  What is it?  Why is it so important? If it is that important, how do we cultivate it?

 

There is no substitute for inspiration, curiosity, and passion. -Faisal Hoque

 

Being holistic and humanistic is key to a great life and doing great work.

faisal.hoque300dpi2013Connectivity is a sense of journey to the sense of purpose — it is an individual, lonely pursuit and a collective, companionable one at the same time.

Our individual, interpersonal, and organizational working lives all interconnect. By examining these connections, we learn new ways to create, innovate, adapt, and lead.

We need to address our own mental experiences, our social interactions, and the mindset we can take to orient ourselves to this holistic, long-term view.

We need to explore understanding that leads to long-term sustainability, the way to act in a manner that promotes mutual flourishing, and how, crucially, a leader can urge us along this process.

We need to arrange our lives and our organizations in a way that leads to long-term value creation: surveying the subtle and not-so-subtle arts of idea generation, decision-making, and creating continuous value.

The newest problems of the world find solutions in the oldest timeless practices like mindfulness, authenticity, and perseverance—because Everything Connects.

Understanding Unique Motivations

“Somewhere along the way, people become convinced that stasis is safer than movement. Consistency feels comfortable; volatility is frightening.”  As a leader, how do you motivate people out of the comfortable?

I think first, we have to appreciate the interior complexity of the people that we work with. Then, we need to make the links between a person’s individual motivations and what our organizations need. In other words, link the individual–personal goals like career trajectories–to the collective group goals like innovation, revenue growth, and impacting the world.

Leaders need to connect with the emotional intelligence of their people and curate their talent to change, adapt, move forward.  There is no substitute for inspiration, curiosity, and passion. -Faisal Hoque

To do this we need to understand what people need from their work in order to do their best work–and how leaders can help arrange that for them. This distinction is rooted in intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. If people are intrinsically motivated, there is something inside of them that pushes them to their work; if they are extrinsically motivated, something outside of them brings them there.  They embrace the unknown, volatility.  Leaders need to connect with the emotional intelligence of their people and curate their talent to change, adapt, move forward.  There is no substitute for inspiration, curiosity, and passion.

The Benefits of Meditation

You place a lot of value on meditation, calling it the “batting cage for getting familiar with the fastballs and curveballs of our conscious and unconscious habits.”  Off the top of your head, what are the top three benefits of meditating?