Last summer I volunteered as a mentor at a two-day event to introduce youth to business and entrepreneurship. Each mentor got a table group of four high-schoolers, and part of the program was to get the members of the group to select one of the four roles that made up each team - something like a creative person, a strategic person- you get the idea.
I was working with the kids to explore their strengths and interests, coaching them to self-select based on what they liked and what they were good at. One of my group kept saying he was versatile, he could do any of it, he could do it all - that he was a “jack of all trades”. So while the rest of the group self-selected, he ended up with the leftover role.
About ¾ of the way through day one, I was trying to get him engaged, and I asked him to choose what role he would prefer, thinking maybe we could rearrange the team or somehow work to get him involved. He and I were doing this across the table during a presentation - by whispers and passed notes. He slipped me a post-it with “jack of all traits” written on it. At this point I was unsure if he misspelled, misspoke or simply misunderstood the idiom - regardless it got me thinking.
Trait is defined as “a distinguishing quality or characteristic”. How many of us try to be good at everything, instead of being good at what we’re good at? And when we do that, what’s our motivation? What are we trying to accomplish?
Is it fear of disappointing someone? Or fear of missing an opportunity - FOMO? I’ve seen plenty of both in my work, and to be very honest, I’ve been guilty of both in my personal and professional life.
I’m not talking about embracing your limiting beliefs. I’m not talking about avoiding opportunities to grow or challenge yourself. What I am talking about is embracing what you are good at. It’s leveraging your natural talents, your abilities, your strengths -- “distinguishing” that’s a powerhouse word, distinguishing is what sets you apart from everyone else.
There’s a second clause to that expression that I hear less frequently - Jack of all trades, Master of none. How do you think that fits here?
read this article on Forbes.com
THE NEW BOARDROOM IMPERATIVE: FROM AGILITY TO RESILIENCE
This looks different for small and mid-sized businesses, than it does for big-boys. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be modified to fit those needs.
Take a look at the Four principles of resilience - how are you addressing them?
With a shift in perspective, we might be able to see an opportunity to grow.
I love dogs. Often, when I'm introducing myself to a new client team, I share that my two favorite things are dogs and mountains. This weekend, we attended a social gathering and when we arrived, I noticed two dogs in a nice enclosure near the house. Of course, I headed that way - there were dogs. As I neared the enclosure I saw a sign that simply said “We Bite”. It didn’t deter me, it didn’t even slow me down, there were dogs!
I got to the enclosure and squatted down, the elder of the two barked over and over; not a vicious bark or a mean bark - but a consistent and repeated bark. We looked at each other and he calmed. I was doing all the right things, a non-threatening stance; a calm and confident approach; speaking softly. I eased the back of my hand toward him and he pushed his muzzle through the fence. He sniffed my hand, and touched his wet nose to me. And, I thought - “I got this, dogs love me” and then fast as lightning, he chomped my hand. I won’t say that it didn’t hurt, it did - but what really got me was the surprise of it, the unexpectedness of him biting my hand. (Unexpected? Yes, unexpected.)
I stood up and walked away, I promptly found my partner and tattled on myself. She responded with a very matter-of-fact “I know you saw that sign.” And, she was right. I had seen the sign, I had read the sign and made the clear choice to ignore that same sign. To be very honest, the incident made me consider what other “signs” I ignore.
Working with a coach helps me see these more clearly. It raises my awareness. As I pursue deeper levels of coach training, I’ve been working with a coach regularly myself. It’s very much like having an extra level of perception.
I still love dogs. I still want to pet all the dogs. And, I’d like to avoid being bitten - so I do think I’ll pay more attention to those signs.
What about you? Are there signs in your life that you choose not to see? Are you interested in learning to see them? Are you comfortable ignoring the signs and dealing with the bites?
Three men walked down the road,
As down the road walked he
-The man they saw
-The man he was, and
-The man he wanted to be
In 1982 (wow) I was a ninth grader at a school with a Junior ROTC program. Our teacher was a former drill instructor, a lifelong Marine, and an all-around interesting man. I did not impress him nearly as much as he impressed me. He dropped these words of wisdom on us in class once, and though I do not remember the context of the sharing, I have carried those words since.
The meaning that I’ve found in them has shifted over these many years, and continues to shift. Early on, it was about how we masked our true selves from others and how we aspired for a different future self. At this point in my life, I see it more about self-awareness, about authenticity, about growing. Who knows what it will mean to me in another 25 years.
So Tim, what’s your point? Well, I’m glad you asked.
In leadership, authenticity shines. It gives those you lead a beacon to follow through cloudy and uncertain times. Authentic leaders build trust, model integrity by aligning their words and actions, take ownership of wins and losses, show the appropriate blend of positive and realistic views. Big boots, aren’t they?
Think about this with me for a minute. Imagine a Venn diagram with a circle each for: who they saw, who he was, and who he wanted to be. If I recall my algebra terminology correctly, intersection is the space where the circles overlap. Thus, we become more authentic as we increase the area of intersection that these circles have with each other.
Self-awareness creates this area of intersection. Self-awareness provides a key to authentic leadership. Self-awareness is a journey, not a destination. I don’t really believe that many of us ever get these circles to fully overlap; I do believe that persistent effort and focus on becoming better will increase this are of intersection.
Tell me what you think.
In the early 90’s, I found myself in a leadership role with a small company. The CEO lacked any level of refined interpersonal skills; he bullied, he coerced, and was a generally unpleasant human being. But boy let me tell you - he could he spin a yarn.
He had a gold tooth and a very misshapen nose and occasionally, at leadership meetings, he would tell the tale of being young and brash with more confidence than skill and ending up with what he called his “souvenirs”. He would relate his “souvenirs” to a tough, hands-on defeat, to lessons learned and to overcoming setbacks, to grit.
His stories engaged the leadership team. He had others: his rags-to-riches story about taking risks and managing losses and succeeding in business; his stories of hustling deals with sketchy suppliers in his early days. And though, I did not like him as a person, or as a boss - I stayed with the company longer than I wanted simply because he was interesting.
When I turned in my resignation, of course, he had a story for me - a story of a poor decision he’d made, of not following through when things got hard. He told me that he didn’t want me to make a similar mistake. The story got me thinking, and I waffled for just a second before sticking with my choice to leave.
As I said, he was a pretty terrible boss and an unpleasant man. I never missed working for him, not a single day, but from time to time, I did miss his stories.
As my new career progressed, I worked for many leaders with many styles and many strengths. It was years before I experienced anyone who could engage a team with story as well as that old CEO. As I moved into leadership development work, I learned more about “storytelling” as a leadership skill. I often found myself thinking of that unpleasant CEO, often wondering what a powerhouse he might have been had he worked on his emotional intelligence.
A story can explain data, engage a workforce, motivate a team, close a sale, touch a heart, change a mind. As a leader, do you use storytelling? A good story, well told is an incredibly powerful tool. Think back on your own experience, what leaders have you had that used story effectively? What did you learn from them? From their stories?
I have a bird feeder outside one of my windows, and though I don’t often make time for it, I deeply enjoy watching the birds that visit. Regulars include cardinals, a red-bellied woodpecker, the occasional blue jay, chickadees, titmouses, and doves, always doves. The doves feed on the ground, they pick from the seeds the others scatter from above. I like the doves, the seem conscientious and calm.
While I watched this morning, I noticed something I had not seen prior. Usually the doves just hop around and eat their seeds and largely ignore one another, in what seems to me a respectful disinterest. Today, one hopped aggressively after the others, his feathers fluffed and chest puffed out. He acted like a little bully, chasing the others away from the plentiful food.
I wondered what made him seem so threatened that he needed to act that way toward the others. I thought about self-awareness. I found myself thinking about the times that I had been on a team, or in a work group, and how I may have behaved toward my peers.
Most of us, regardless of our role, work in some sort of a team or group setting. How do you act toward your teammates? Do you find yourself acting like this dove, needing to establish your success at the expense of others? I know that at past points in my life, I certainly treated co-workers as competition. At those points, I struggled to see how “we” could be greater than “me”; I struggled to see how our work accomplished a single goal. I won’t blame that on my leadership at the time, but I do think that leadership could have influenced how we worked together.
In coaching, one of the tenets has to do with people acting in their own interest. We all do it, the variance comes in how we do it, how well we do it, and how much awareness of it we have. This morning, all of the doves acted in their own interest, but this puffed-up dove, he acted in his interest to the detriment of others. The way he acted stepped past self-interest into selfishness.
As a leader, how do you experience the other leaders in your section, or in your department? Do you see them as collaborators or competition? How do you encourage your team to act toward each other? What behavior do you model for team, for your peers?
Self-interest exists, selfishness doesn’t have to.
I talked with my grandmother this morning, she’s 92 and I call her a few times each month. Her memory is not what it once was, and often we have the same conversation - the weather, family, my work, people. We almost always talk about people, particularly the attitudes that people hold.
I find it insightful and it often relates to my work. She drops some elder-wisdom on me, and I truly enjoy how she words things. I doubt that she would find meaning in the phrase “emotional intelligence” though we often talk about exactly that - particularly the area of self-awareness.
During one of our recent chats, she said something along the lines of “and Tim, some people are just grumpy with themselves and how are they gonna be kind to anyone else, if they can’t be kind to themselves.” That one stuck with me for a while. I first connected it to self-awareness and self talk, and as I thought on it more I recognized the aspects of a growth mindset hidden in her words.
Acting “grumpy with yourself” doesn’t just represent your self-talk, it’s deeper than that - it shows how you treat yourself, how you experience yourself. And, I deeply believe that the relationship we have with ourselves influences ALL of our other relationships. As a leader, think how much of your work relies on relationships - could you estimate that as a percentage? And what about your results? What percentage of your results come from relationships?
In my coaching work, I often encourage leaders to look at their self-awareness, at their self-talk, at their mindset. Imagine how your mindset filters your worldview. How might a different filter shift that view? How might that different view affect your relationships, your results?
Like any shift, it starts with creating awareness. Are you grumpy with yourself? Are you willing to look at that? Are you willing to look at how it affects you? And, if you find that you are, do you want something different for yourself? Do you have the desire to treat yourself better?
I’ll leave you with this old adage - “would you let someone else treat you, the way you treat yourself?”
A former co-worker, when facing an interaction with someone she found unpleasant, would often say “I need to find something to like about him.” I always saw the wisdom in her approach, but the execution eluded me. Most of the time, people I experienced as unpleasant simply kept that label until I experienced them differently. She, on the other hand, would seek more information about that unpleasant person, actively looking for some common ground on which to build.
Recently, I attended a talk by Marga Odahowski, a corporate Mindfulness Consultant, who asked the question, “What does your routine keep you from noticing?” It’s a great question, and I want to pass it along to you.
I am not criticizing routines, personally I’m a big fan - I strongly believe that mine make me efficient and effective. I am sharing Marga’s question because it’s insightful and powerful. If answered, it creates awareness and that can lead to different approaches, to different efficiencies, to different results.
In her own way, my former co-worker used a version of this question when she met someone who rubbed her wrong. Like many mindfulness related activities, the question encourages you to create a pause between stimulus and action/reaction.
A personal example, I have INTJ preferences and often find it challenging to work with people who have ESTP preferences. It isn’t that I dislike them, it's more that their “seize the day” approach often feels at odds with my detached, analytical style. I’m learning that my “routine”, in this case, keeps me from noticing the spontaneity, energy and pragmatic, problem-solving often associated with ESTPs.
What’s the leadership lesson in this? I’m glad you asked, as a leader, you typically don’t have to look far, or hard to find someone you experience as difficult - an employee, a client, a peer, a manager - opportunities abound.
What’s your routine in those cases? Does it include labeling them as someone to contend with? What hidden gems might you not be noticing about them? What strengths might you be overlooking? How might their differences, or even difficulties add a perspective that you might not have?
I’m working hard on finding things to like about people, especially when that isn’t my immediate reaction. I hope to encourage you to do the same. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, on Marga’s question and on your own experiences.
I recently shared A Lesson About Resilience and talked about understanding resilience as including both toughness and vulnerability. Toughness, or tenacity gets you back up after a fall and vulnerability lets you own that failure. What makes resilience so important for leaders?
In her 2013 HBR article “Surprises Are the New Normal; Resilience the New Skill”, Rosabeth Moss Kanter states that “the difference between winners and losers is how they handle losing”.
I’ll share a secret with you… we all fail; at some point, in some way. And, if you never lose, then you aren’t playing hard enough.
I recently worked with a struggling leadership team. As we explored their team dynamics, two members adamantly talked about how much they didn’t want to fail; didn’t want to risk failure. As I listened, I heard a lot of ego, I heard a lot of “I”.
I won’t go so far as to say there is no room for ego in leadership; I will say there are different aspects to ego and some of them connect to good leadership and some don’t. Fear of failure keeps your focus on you, the individual, instead of on your role as leader of a team.
Think about the impact you have on the work environment. Do your people, your employees; do they see you fail? Do you create an environment that is intolerant of failure? What effect does this have on your people? Have you considered this?
Do you model resilience? Does your team see you get back up, dust yourself off and take that next step? Do they hear you own failure, do they hear you say “Well, that didn’t work out like I thought it would. What can I do differently when I try again?”
Failure is inevitable; resilience is not. Show your team, show your people what resilience looks like. Show them how to get back up and try again.
I’ll date myself with this one.
There is a Larry McMurtry song, from a lifetime ago, titled Painting By Numbers. It's kind of about abdicating your right/ability to choose, so that you do what’s expected, to follow the rules, not have to think too hard. It also brings to mind the old “paint by numbers” kits that were all the rage when I was a kid. You didn’t have to over think them, you didn’t have to interpret anything. You had to pay attention, keep your brush clean, keep a fairly steady hand.
I spoke with a friend recently and she told me about her new boss - late 30’s, bright, dedicated, busy. I asked about his leadership style and she said, “Well, it's a little like he leads by checklist.” I asked her to tell me more, and she added, “it’s like he has these ‘things’ he’s supposed to do: greet each employee as they come by, check-in with everyone on the team at some point each day, ask about their weekend on Monday, have an eight minute development talk twice each quarter - that kind of stuff.”
I said that none of those sounded bad, some of my favorite leaders did similar things. My friend replied, “yea, that’s just it, he does all the right things, but it doesn’t feel genuine; it feels like he does them because they’re expected of him, like he’s following a plan, like they’re on a checklist.” Then I got it.
Leadership is a real thing. True, it’s about results, but it's about achieving results through relationships, through people. You manage resources; you lead people.
Leadership is art and science. And, you need both to be at your best. One of the biggest keys to effective leadership is taking the science aspect of it and bringing it to life, that’s the art of it. And, when I say art, I mean heart, or my preferred phrase - (He)art & Science.
Yes, checklists are good tools; books are good for learning. It’s important to know the elements of effective communication, it's important to understand goal setting, planning and delegation, it’s important to achieve results.
You also have to connect with your people; you have to build the relationships that allow you to achieve the results. For that, you need to listen and connect, to provide feedback and praise, you need to operate with emotional intelligence, you need to be positive and resilient. And most importantly, you need to be authentic and genuine. Otherwise, it feels hollow, it feels inauthentic - it feels like you’re leading by checklist.
While a “paint by numbers” kit might help you get started, at some point you’ll want to move toward a Bob Ross style of painting. A style that feels like your own; a style that feels less rigid, more adaptive, more genuine; a style that balances (He)art & Science.
A mentor once shared with me, “if you want to know if you’re really a leader, just look behind you.”
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