There are many parallels between physical fitness and leadership fitness. Both are journey’s into self-discovery. They require you to set goals, persevere amidst obstacles and follow a game plan. They also require commitment, passion, initiative and self-awareness. Both have the potential to inspire others, and your best results only come with effort. An important distinction is that the stakes are much higher with leadership.
Peak leadership fitness is about being the best leader you can be. It is aspirational and involves continuously working towards elevated interpersonal and technical skills, adaptability and growth through learning, and delivering consistently positive results. Becoming leadership fit requires strong, accurate self-awareness, frequent and ongoing personal improvement, physical energy, emotional connection, and mental toughness.
“Leadership by its nature is subjective…you are only as good of a leader as those around you perceive you to be. -Timothy J. Tobin
If you want to take your leadership to new levels, I highly recommend you start with Kevin Kruse’s new book, Great Leaders Have No Rules. Packed with practical and contrarian advice, you’ll find yourself adopting new practices immediately. If you want to become a more effective leader, put down your device, close the door, and open the pages of this book to begin your leadership journey.
Your new book pulled me in immediately from the first pages. In the introduction, you say, “Leadership is a super power,” and “Almost everything we’ve been taught about leadership is wrong.” Wow. Tell us more about your current perspective.
I think too often, we think of leadership as a something fancy or complicated or abstract, which is why most people don’t think about it very often at all. But when you boil it down to it’s simplest definition, leadership is influence. And when you realize that, you realize how powerful successful leadership can be.
If you can influence yourself to put down the potato chips and get on the treadmill, you will change your life. That’s self-leadership. If you can influence the quality and intimacy of your relationship with your spouse, you can literally save a marriage through leadership. And of course when it comes to the more traditional leadership at work, well, my horrible leadership caused my first two companies to go out of business. But successful leadership was one of the primary factors in other companies I’ve owned winning awards for both fast growth and being a great place to work.
“Great leaders understand the true value of time. You can never get a minute back once it’s wasted.” -Kevin Kruse
Workplace culture is really about how people behave and interact. This includes how decisions are made, how disagreements are voiced, how conflict is resolved, and how people connect when they pass in the hall. Culture is the relational environment in which we work, and it’s how we work together. The simplest way we’ve come to describe culture is, “It’s the way things work around here.”
While culture is not physical, you can feel and see it in the language we use, our rituals, and the stories we tell. Even simple things like whether people feel comfortable displaying personal items on their desk or walls can tell you a lot about an organization’s culture.
We describe culture as being on a spectrum between healthy and unhealthy. Healthy cultures are full of energy and productivity, whereas unhealthy cultures produce unmotivated employees. Most organizations are not completely healthy or entirely unhealthy, but rather lie somewhere in the middle. Or there are parts of the culture that are good, and parts that are bad.
One of the hallmarks of a healthy culture is that leaders communicate change well.
The goal of most workplaces is to get things done. When we have a healthy workplace culture, it sets the stage for doing good work. In our opinion, culture is the most significant factor that influences work relationships, employee happiness, and productivity. We agree with the phrase attributed to Peter Drucker: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” You can have the most incredible strategy imaginable, but if you don’t have a healthy culture in which to execute your strategy, it’s just words on a page.
In our opinion, nothing impacts employee engagement more than workplace culture – and almost every leader and human resource manager we know would like to see engagement increase. The secret to improving employee engagement is culture.
A healthy culture is much like a car that requires regular, ongoing maintenance so it can continue to serve its purpose.
As leaders, we are all stretched in multiple directions. As such, it is tempting to focus on all our other operational demands at the expense of culture – culture becomes something we will eventually get to once other priorities are dealt with.
Healthy cultures require intention and effort. When leaders prioritize culture, it becomes part of the daily and weekly conversations they have with others – culture may even become the agenda item for a meeting. The good news is that when operational challenges emerge in organizations with healthy cultures, everyone is more willing and able to rise to the occasion.
Simon Mac Rory is a team development specialist and founder of the ODD Company. He says that sometimes, when he’s in a room with some teams, he says, “For Pete’s sake will you wake up and smell the coffee” which is how the title of his new book came to be. I recently asked Simon to share more about his perspectives of teams in the workplace.
“If teamwork is so important you would think that organizations would treat team performance as a strategic imperative, but most do not.” – Simon Mac Rory
What do most people get wrong when they think of the term “team”?
There are so many misconceptions about teams in the workplace that it is hard to choose one or two. If I am to choose, these are my three top gripes in terms of what people get wrong when they think of teams.
The biggest and most fundamental issue is in the assumption that teamwork happens by magic. 90% of what we do in the world of work happens through collaborative effort, and that makes teams and teamwork an imperative and a strategic imperative at that. Yet the majority of organizations have no strategy for teams. Label a group of people a team, stand back and ‘hey presto’ you will have a high performing team. Nothing could be further from the truth. If teamwork is so important, you would think that organizations would treat team performance as a strategic imperative, but most do not, preferring to muddle on with poorly performing teams and accepting mediocracy.
Contrary to popular opinion only 10% of teams are high performing, a frightening 40% are dysfunctional and detrimental to members’ experiences and lives, leaving 50% which are performing at best with small incremental results. This is what most organizations accept. I consider this unacceptable, particularly when delivering high performing teams is not rocket science. It does, however, take effort, it does take strategy, it does take time, it does take budget, and critically it takes persistence and commitment from the organization, leaders and team members. We are not all team experts, we do not operate intuitively as a team, and if organizations want high performing teams, they need to put in the effort and stop dreaming. They need to think and strategize about it and stop making so many ridiculous assumptions.
The assumption about teamwork and fun drives me crazy. Teamwork is not fun. Work is work and fun is fun. Fun is defined in the Oxford English dictionary as “behaviour or an activity that is intended purely for amusement and should not be interpreted as having any serious or malicious purpose.” Now tell me what that has to do with the world of work? The fact that it can be an enjoyable experience to work in an effective team should not be confused with it being fun. Real team development does not happen up the side of a mountain, putting life and limb at risk once a year or completing exercises with no connection to the reality of the workplace. Real team development that delivers sustainable development and effectiveness happens in the work place day-to-day. Give time to tackling real issues for the team and not worrying about how to build a house of straws, how to build a raft or how to build trust by falling backwards into someone’s arms. I come to work to work and I would much prefer to give of my time with my colleagues, dealing with and finding solutions to real work challenges. Team members are much more likely to be engaged, committed and enthusiastic if they are dealing in reality, where their opinions and ideas, and inputs to real challenges of the team are welcome and actually considered—in other words, doing the work they are employed to do. Enjoying your work is important, having fulfilling work is motivational, being challenged is good (most of the time) but do not confuse this with fun. Work is serious and not fun.
And size does matter after all. There is substantial evidence that team size has a very great impact on the effectiveness of a team in a work context.
“There is substantial evidence that team size has a very great impact on the effectiveness of a team.” – Simon Mac Rory
The issue of team size is linked to how we define a team and indeed to the way the term ‘team’ is used and understood. The term is applied generically and seems to encompass all group activity and often is used to refer to an entire department and in some instances to an entire company. These larger groups, mistakenly called teams, are in fact comprised of many teams. The term team should only be used to refer to a real team, that by definition is:
“A group of people, less than ten, that need to work together to achieve a common goal, normally with a single leader and where there is high degree of interdependence between the team members to achieve the goal or goals”.
There are several issues that have been identified when a team is in double digits – social loafing, cognitive limitations and the communication overhead. These are aside from the issue of larger teams breaking down into sub-teams and the inevitable emergence of cliques which can be very damaging to effectiveness and relationships. The biggest issue in failing to deal with team size is communication overload. The more members in a team, the more communication channels required to keep the team informed. A team of 5 people require 10 conversations to be fully connected and informed. This rises to 45 for a team of 10 and 91 for a team of 14. The reality of the situation is simply the larger team will not be able to manage or complete the communication required. Organizations need to get their language and definitions right. A team is not a group, a department or a company if it is comprised of more than ten people. Once you go into double digits, I can assure you that there is more than one team in play.
There are many more assumptions but these three are the biggies.
“Teamwork is not fun. Work is work and fun is fun.” – Simon Mac Rory
Leadership is often linked to power, and it can unfortunately also be linked with arrogance. I believe most leaders are positive people who want to use their power and influence for good. Most people don’t start a career plan with the goal to become arrogant, either. And yet it happens.
How should leaders use power? How do leaders protect against becoming arrogant? How do leaders stay humble?
As one of the early endorsers of The Leadership Killer: Reclaiming Humility in an Age of Arrogance, I had the opportunity to interact with authors Bill Treasurer and John Havlik about their work. They have known each other for decades, but they took decidedly different paths. Bill is founder of Giant Leap Consulting and has authored several books on leadership. John Havlik is a retired Navy SEAL who led special operations teams around the world for decades. The combination of civilian and military leadership experience was also an intriguing aspect to their work together. I reached out to them to talk about the important subjects raised in the book.
Every leader must answer this critical question: how will I use my leadership power?
It’s important to acknowledge that leadership involves the use of power to affect results. In fact, a leader is deemed successful or unsuccessful based on the magnitude and consistency of results achieved. As a leader grows in effectiveness and influence, the more power they are given to, potentially, affect more results. The leaders we admire most, and the ones we consider to be most noble, are those who use and distribute power in a way that best serves the interests of the people and teams they are charged with leading. The challenge is, though, as a leader grows in power, the more susceptible they become to the trappings of power. Emperor Palpatine, who was Darth Vader’s mentor and master in the Star Wars movies, said, “All those who gain power are afraid to lose it…even the Jedi.”
For example, in their annual report, the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners found that of the 2700 cases of fraud across more than 100 countries, perpetrators who had worked at their organizations for more than 10 years caused six times as much financial damage (over the median loss) than fraudsters who had worked there less than one year. One interesting contributing factor is that often as a person rises through the leadership ranks, they become subject to less direct oversight, and it becomes more tempting and easier to hide crimes. In other words, when leaders abuse their power it is often because they’re convinced they won’t get caught.
“All those who gain power are afraid to lose it…even the Jedi.” -Emperor Palpatine