This is an excerpt from Be Chief: It’s a Choice, Not a Title by Rick Miller. For over 30 years, Rick served as a successful business executive in roles including President and/or CEO in a Fortune 10, a Fortune 30, a startup, and a nonprofit.
Being Chief requires us to develop insight. It is as much about being as it is about being Chief. Insight is a key to increasing your confidence, effectiveness, and, since your power increases as you connect what you do to who you are, deepening your self-understanding through insight will deepen your power. Insight can come from the simplest experiences and from the places you least expect it. Always be on the lookout for gems of insight that can guide your path in life.
There are five ways a leader can learn more about themselves. Specifically, Chiefs choose to be:
Be Present: When you become totally aware and conscious, you can use all of your senses to learn everything possible in the current moment. Specifically, when you give 100 percent of your attention to the people you spend time with, you will find that your relationships become much more fulfilling.
“Insight is the understanding that comes from self-awareness. -Rick Miller
Be Still: Contrary to many Western cultural norms, perhaps our most important choice is to develop the deeper understanding and truth that comes with being still. To maintain inner balance, choose the tranquility and peace of stillness. In that peaceful state, you will develop the ability to trust and have confidence in your own voice.
“Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen-that stillness becomes a radiance.” -Morgan Freeman
Be Accepting: When you choose to accept people and circumstances for who and what they are, you can escape the frustration of trying to change them. Try to take a nonjudgmental approach to people to open yourself to the potential of clarity and deeper relationships.
When you accept the past and remain receptive to circumstances and people, you can open yourself to the possibilities of learning from all situations and from every individual. When you accept your current reality with a certain degree of detachment, you will find that things come to you with a fraction of the effort otherwise required.
“The power to be Chief is a choice. It doesn’t come from a title-it’s a choice anyone can make.” -Rick Miller
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach specializing in executive communication. You may have read one of her articles in “Forbes” or encountered her other book, The Power of Presence. Her extensive research and survey into what inspires people was fascinating. I recently asked Kristi about her latest work on inspiration in the workplace.
“When we highlight potential, we boost confidence.” -Kristi Hedges
Tell me more about the four factors that enhance our inspirational effect, what you call the Inspire Path.
The Inspire Path puts a structure to the research I found that uncovers what communication behaviors inspire others. It’s a guide to increase inspirational impact. While we can’t force someone to be inspired—and if we try to push, it backfires—we can create the conditions that foster inspiration. People are most often inspired through certain types of conversation with others. If we want be more inspiring, we should focus on being:
“What we concentrate on gets stronger.” -Kristi Hedges
Personal and professional growth. We often think they’re different. We live our lives as if the personal and professional are in neat little silos, as if one didn’t affect the other.
I’ve often said that leaders help people with the personal, not just the professional. And sharing a little of the personal may make a big impact in the professional.
The two are interrelated.
And so, when I read Jonathan Raymond’s new work, Good Authority: How to Become the Leader Your Team is Waiting For, I was excited to find a book that explained why this is…and how to use it to become a better leader. Jonathan is the former CEO of EMyth and now the owner of Refound, an advisory firm that offers leadership training and coaching. And I think his take on “good authority” will have you nodding along with what we want from the very best leaders.
“When you make peace with authority, you become authority.” –Jim Morrison
Contrast good versus bad authority. What are a few attributes you would think of?
I’d say the first attribute is in the willingness to own your role as an authority in the first place. I see too many modern leaders try to abdicate that responsibility, either outright or in subtle ways, and try to be nice at the expense of giving people the boundaries they need to grow. The main attribute of bad authority is when a leader doesn’t own their contribution to a stuck dynamic or problematic situation. For example, a leader who hasn’t provided a reasonable timeline to reach a goal and then blames the team for not delivering on it fast enough. Good authority is the art of owning your contribution, being transparent with your team, and then moving forward in a collaborative way.
“Our strengths are not our own until they are freed of the burden of having to heal the past.” –Jonathan Raymond
Would you share a little about the concept of “borrowed authority”?
Borrowed authority is the idea that until we investigate the beliefs about authority we inherited from our parents and teachers – not to mention the business culture in general – we’re still borrowing our leadership style from the past instead of discovering the one that genuinely expresses who we are today. In Good Authority, I offer that the opposite of Good Authority isn’t bad authority, it’s borrowed authority. What I mean by that is that most leaders have good intentions, but until we do the work, we’re bogged down by ideas and beliefs about what it means to be the boss that hold us back and create pain and confusion for the employees in our care as a result.
“You’re only as young as the last time you changed your mind.” –Timothy O’Leary
I want to ask about organizational culture. You say, “Nobody sets out to make their employees overwhelmed, stressed-out, and miserable.” I have to say that I read that and laughed, thinking, “If Jonathan only met one of my bad bosses, he’d think differently!” You’re right, of course, but people are overwhelmed and stressed. What’s are some ways to change a culture into one that is positive, empowered, and driven?
This may sound odd, but the first problem is bad math. One of the things I ask leaders to do is to add up all the time they’re spending (1) doing re-work for a struggling employee, (2) mediating their interpersonal conflicts, (3) answering questions that they should be able to answer themselves, and (4) complaining to their spouse, partner or friends about how frustrated they are. The pivot is incredibly simple and goes against our conditioning, which is why we typically avoid it. The key to create a positive, empowered and driven culture is the exact same thing that will get you out of being overwhelmed and stressed. Repressing what you see and feel leads to emotional, mental, and physical problems, and it keeps that data away from the one person who needs to hear it in order to grow.
There’s an art to talking about work in a way that feels personally relevant to your employee, but it boils down to this: Give them feedback not about tasks and projects but about how they’re showing up as a human being. Make it about relationships, feeling their impact on others, how they avoid taking risks—those are the things that people will immediately see as helping them get better at work and at life at the same time. There’s a whole new type of organizational culture that opens up from that simple shift.
What are some techniques you use to help coach someone who has problems with listening? How can we all learn to be better listeners at a deeper level?
Before we talk about the deeper cut, one simple technique that’s often used in mediation applies well in the workplace in general. Have the person you’re trying to help repeat back what they heard before responding. Highlight for them what the gaps are between what was said (and, even more importantly, how it was said) and what they heard and how they interpreted it. There’s a lifetime’s worth of personal growth work there.
“We teach best what we most need to learn.” –Richard Bach
At a deeper level, and this is something I work on every day, is to re-examine what we think our value is as leaders. That’s a lot of what Good Authority is about: to learn how the highest value we can add to our teams, and in the rest of our lives, is to put our thumb on the side of the scale that’s about creating the space for others to discover that next better version of themselves, as opposed to tending to fill that space ourselves. I love leaders and have so much respect for anyone who throws their heart into a problem with no guarantee of success. The pivot is to see how not everyone works that way, and that to create the organization that can do more than you can on your own, you have to listen for those other voices.
Finally, it comes down to not shooting the messenger. I can’t tell you how many organizations I’ve seen, in fact I’ve never seen one where this isn’t true, where one person becomes a scapegoat for the cultural dysfunction and is moved out (fired or pushed into quitting), and the message they were carrying never sees the full light of day. It’s a basic rule of group dynamics, but I see CEOs do it all the time, moving out the ‘disgruntled’ employee instead of leaning into the conversation and discovering the most powerful brand ambassador they’ve got.
Tip: Focus more on who people are and less on deadlines and tasks.
How about letting go of the past? What advice do you give to someone who is letting the past limit their future?
Find a way to get in relationship with it. Meaning, when you notice yourself re-hashing or cycling in an old story, imagine a friend was telling you that story, what would you tell them? It’s a life’s work for sure, but learn to reframe our past in terms of how it made us the person we are today. I heard this phrase again recently that I absolutely love: “The past didn’t happen to us, it happened for us.” To be clear, I’m not suggesting people try and transcend or gloss over traumatic or otherwise difficult personal experiences, only that we hold a bit of double-vision about them. Let yourself feel whatever there is to feel about whatever it is that you feel it’s holding back. Cry, laugh, roll up the car window on the freeway and let out a yell from the depths of your soul. By giving yourself permission to let it be what it is all the way, only then do you open up the room to see it in a new way. The paradox is that you don’t have to do any additional work to do this. It’s the process of giving yourself permission to feel that brings that higher mind back online, and you can move forward with confidence and a sense of self that might surprise you.
Author and serial entrepreneur G. Shawn Hunter is the founder of Mindscaling. His latest book, Small Acts of Leadership: 12 Intentional Behaviors That Lead to Big Impact, argues that it’s the simple things, when done extraordinarily well, that make a great leader.
Shawn and I talked about his book and how it’s not always the most extraordinary, sweeping actions that make the biggest impact.
“The greatest leaders cheer us on when we try something new.” -Shawn Hunter
I love this philosophy because all of us can make just a few adjustments and improve our leadership today.
Do One Thing At A Time
You advocate that small, incremental choices can lead to a big impact. In your research for this book, what one small choice have you noticed in the most successful leaders?
I would say the one thing that successful people do is that they do one thing at a time. That might sound small and trifling, but, honestly, the way successful people get things done, or have meaningful conversations, is to do only that one thing. They turn off their phone when talking to people. They turn off email. They schedule time for writing and reading. They block off time for exercise and reflection. It sounds small, but it adds up.
Is it possible to teach self-confidence? What are some ways to increase it?
The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence. Nothing makes you feel confident like being prepared. There is also a type of self-questioning that can be quite helpful. Instead of repeating the mantra, “Yes, I can do this!” to build self-confidence, try asking yourself if you have the capabilities to achieve what you are envisioning. If you ask specific questions of yourself, you will be forced to answer to your weaknesses and reconcile them.
“The biggest contributor to building self-confidence is building competence.” -Shawn Hunter
You talk about building resilience through challenge. Do challenges make the leader, or does the leader seek out challenges?
From what I understand through studying flow states, it’s a self-reinforcing paradigm, but only if you get the challenge part right. As your readers may know, flow states occur when the level of challenge presented meets (or slightly exceeds) your skill level. In that state we can become hyper-aware and hyper-focused. We also accelerate our learning. Once we feel that state, we often seek out those experiences which create flow states. There are people who can actually get addicted to inducing this type of state. They’re called Type T people, also known as adrenaline junkies.
Pronoia: believing the world is conspiring for your success.
Persistence. I love the story of your daughter and how she ended up with a rare poster of Taylor Swift. What are some ways to develop persistent curiosity in everything we do?
Good question! The great physicist Richard Feynman once described how you can spot a real expert versus a phony. Look for three little words, “I don’t know.” The phony will have all the answers, while the experts will be willing to admit what they don’t know. Real experts are relentlessly curious, even assertively curious – that is, they will demand explanations for things that many others simply accept as rules.
Here’s an interesting fact about people who describe themselves as curious. These people are also assertive. Curious people are decision-makers. They are influencers. They often say they have direct influence over the outcome of decisions and change. If you think of the people in your company and community who consistently drive change, I bet you will be thinking of inquisitive people – people willing to ask the hard questions.
“Creating confidence is the result of applied effort and work.” -Shawn Hunter
You advocate the counterintuitive advice of taking breaks when we’re busy. Why is taking a break so important? How do you get a type-A, driven leader to follow this practice?
All-nighters don’t scale. Period. In some corners of business, we have created a work environment in which it’s cool to brag about how many hours we work, and how little sleep we get, and how many deliverables we accomplish. I worked in a company once that mandated a rapid response time to every incoming message. When you create an environment which requires people to constantly monitor correspondence over email and text, the next thing they do is constantly initiate messages.
Studies demonstrate what we already know intuitively. That is, our intellectual and productivity capacity diminishes rapidly when we are sleep deprived and when we are distracted. To answer your question, organizations and leaders should reward people who deliver meaningful, thoughtful contributions, not who puts out the highest volume of email noise.
12 Intentional Behaviors for Big Impact
1: Believe in yourself.
2: Build confidence.
3: Introduce challenge.
4: Express gratitude.
5: Fuel curiosity.
6: Grant autonomy.
7: Strive for authenticity.
8: Be fully present.
9: Inspire others.
10. Clarify roles.
11. Defy convention.
12. Take a break.
Of the 12 critical competencies, is there one that more leaders struggle with than others?
If you’ve ever been to Philadelphia in the summer, you know how hot it is.
Imagine yourself there in 1776. You’re a representative of one of the colonies, wearing a dress coat, a shirt with sleeves tightly cuffed at your wrist and, of course, your silk stockings.
It’s now July 4th and the document is ready for signature. With its final approval, the colonies will declare independence from Great Britain, ending a long debate and all revisions of the document. The United States, a new nation, will be born.
You approach the table and see John Hancock’s signature in massive letters, which he says is so that “King George can see it without spectacles.”
Your turn to sign. The other delegates look at you expectantly.
You realize the weight of the moment, but you also realize that, by signing, your own life will be in danger. To many, you will be a traitor. If the revolution fails, you will hang for just a few letters on a piece of paper.
You push those thoughts aside and sign.
Your signature, along with the others, just changed the world.
A new beginning. The United States of America is now born.
The new country was far from perfect. The horrific practice of slavery wouldn’t end until the Civil War nearly ripped the country apart. Women and minorities had no vote.
Still, the United States of America would become a country that most of us are proud to call home. We value family, freedom, God and country.