Leadership Voices

Recently I sat in two different team meetings with two different leaders. Though the content of the meetings was similar, the meetings themselves left me with distinctly different feelings about the goals and direction, the organization, and the leaders themselves.

I have wrestled over the last few days as to why these two meetings resulted in such a different set of emotions from me, and I suspect different emotions from the other team members as well.  What was unique about each meeting that garnered such different results?

After pondering this for some time I think I have boiled it down to this:

Leadership Voices.

Let me state the obvious: how each respective leader conducted the meeting made all of the difference as to how the content of the meeting was received. By “conducted” I do not mean the mechanics of the meeting.  In other words, it wasn’t that one leader had a well-planned agenda and the other didn’t. It wasn’t that one leader kept the team on task and the other didn’t.  It wasn’t starting on time, ending on time, the time of day, or whether snacks were provided. It wasn’t that one used a white board and the other a power point presentation. And by “leadership voices” I certainly don’t mean that one leader was a baritone while the other was a soprano.

No, it was something entirely different.  Something about the voice of the Leader set the tone for the meeting.

If I could narrow it down even more, the tone, the pace, and results of the meeting really boiled down to one simple phrase that the leader repeated throughout each respective meeting. One simple phrase changed everything else.

One leader said, “You need to …” or “We need to …”

The other leader asked “What do you think …?”

One was directive.  One was collaborative.

One shut others down. One opened others up.

One phrase resulted in a quick and neatly packaged meeting. One was a little sloppy, involving discussion, debate, and even disagreement.

One communicated value in team members. One de-valued the contributions of team members.

One phrase expressed confidence in the team.  One phrase expressed lack of confidence.

One phrase built trust.  One phrase undermined trust.

One phrase garnered engagement. One garnered dis-engagement.

One left people feeling encouraged. The other left them feeling discouraged.

One made the team feel important and appreciated.  The other left them feeling … merely employed.

One effected ownership of the decision by the team. One effected mere obedience.

One garnered cooperation and cohesion.  The other, though on the surface appeared unified, actually brought disunity. Even the attendees that didn’t agree quickly got behind one voice.  While, attendees of the other meeting didn’t express their opinions until they were behind closed doors and outside of the hearing of the leader, and only with members they knew would agree with them.

One voice communicated, “I think I’m the smartest guy in the room.” The other voice communicated, “We are in this together.”

The reality is that

One voice communicated humility.

The other voice communicated arrogance.

 

I know some leaders reading this are probably thinking, “this isn’t a democracy. We don’t need to take a vote.  I’m the leader, they should just do what I say.”

It’s interesting that in neither meeting was the position or authority of the leader in question.  But, the posture they took, their voice, had a definite impact on the well-being of the entire team.

I have to ask, is mere obedience the only thing you want from your team? Is that the end game?  Don’t you want their creativity? Don’t you want their innovation? Don’t you want their engagement. Don’t you want them to want to come to work?

Don’t you want their hearts?

The leader’s voice is really about posture. The leader’s voice is about their view of themselves and their view of their team.

One simple phrase can make all of the difference.

Leaders, have you listened to your own voice lately? Have you ever played back the tapes in your head of conversations you’ve had with your team? Have you ever really …listened …to yourself?  Have you considered what unintentional messages you are communicating to your team? Have you ever thought through how to really value, engage, and encourage your team? Have you ever wondered if there was a better way to get the best from your team?

Getting their best might not be a result of awards, raises, or even promotions.

Your influence might primarily be  … in your voice.

“Fools have no interest in understanding;
    they only want to air their own opinions.”

Proverbs 18:2

 

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

When I was a kid I didn’t like to read.

I barely passed high school. The way I made it through was primarily by cheating.  I’m still thankful for my friend, the teacher’s aid, who often marked in the teacher’s book that I had actually done my homework. I appreciate my girlfriend who wrote several of my papers so that I would pass a class. And I’m even grateful for that bookshelf in Government class where I could easily hide a piece of paper with all of the test answers.
So I managed to skim through and went to college, part-time, right out of high school, due only to my dad’s prompting.  The problem was, I had an even worse study ethic than before because a large portion of my time was spent partying. After failing a few classes I dropped out. So, for the next several years I focused on work and starting a family.
But something dramatic happened in the process. I became a believer in Christ. With this new relationship came a new vision for my life. I started college for the second time when I was 23, almost 24.

When I re-started college to pursue a focus on biblical education I always had this nagging sense that even though I was older than most of my college peers I was actually waaayyyy behind, both due to my previous lack of educational motivation and due to not having been raised in an overtly Christian home.  This internal sense was further exacerbated by the fact that both my older brothers were avid readers and well self-educated (there is no sibling rivalry whatsoever). My claim to fame at this point in my life was merely my work ethic. I knew how to work. And I worked a lot. And I worked hard. Truth is, to this day I almost always feel like I am playing catch-up.
So my college experience began and suddenly I was opened to the realm of possibilities. Professors instilled in me the simple idea that we should question things. I was confronted by the profound yet simple realization that there is soooo much to learn; that I know so very little; that my view of things and my ideas are so extremely limited, and that even the things I thought I knew were probably wrong, skewed, or incomplete at best. And thus was birthed a love, a drive, for learning.
The thing is, we often over-estimate the depth of own knowledge base. We assume our experiences, our background, and even our education give us the tools we need to accurately assess the world around us. We think we “know” a lot about a lot.  But, we are often blind to our own limitations and inadequacies.
I was struck by this idea one random day while I was a Youth Pastor.  I thought I knew everything there was to know about teenager-ness and about leading teenagers because after all, I had been one myself, and we had two teenagers living in our home.  So clearly, I was the man.  I thought with my newly established biblical education and my life experiences I could lead these young people and guide them into godly maturity.  After three months of being the Youth Pastor I was frustrated, stressed, and felt like I was failing.
Then this thought suddenly assaulted me, “what makes you think you know anything about youth ministry? All you’ve done so far is make assumptions.”  Ouch!  I wasn’t sure where to start so – I reached for a book.  I started inundating myself with as much information and as many tools as I could find to minister to teens.  But, as I began to grow, and learn, and stretch, I was confronted with a much deeper and more painful realization.  As I was traversing through this step of my journey I was further accosted with this thought, “Yeah, you have two teenagers and two other children, but really, what makes you think you know anything about being a good, godly parent? What makes you think you know what it really means to be a father?  Do you think the examples you grew up with were enough to prepare you for this?” Holy Smokes!  It only took me a moment to declare, “Absolutely not! The painful truth is, I don’t have a clue!” Truthfully, I wanted to go back and start over.  But we all know, that’s not an option.  At this point in my life I only knew of one place to go.  I needed to find a book.

A similar experience happened about fifteen years into my marriage.  “What makes you think you know how to be a good husband?  Do you really think the examples you had prepared you for this?” And again I say, “Absolutely not!”  Since that time I have read one book after another about marriage.
So this journey really began for me in 1991. But here’s the crazy thing: the more I read, the more I learn, the more I grow … the more I realize how much I do not know. It often feels like the more I read, the more I learn, the further behind I get. I’m not a speed reader. I don’t dedicate nearly enough time to reading. I’m a little bit lazy. I like t.v. a little bit too much. And most of the time reading still feels a lot like work. But, I place so much value on the learning process, on being challenged, and changed, and confronted, and encouraged, that I intentionally engage in it.
 
A few years back a staff member asked me, “David, how did you get this way? I mean, how did you learn to be such a good leader?” (For clarity, those were his words, not mine. I’m not claiming to be a good leader. I’m claiming to be nothing more than a student).
I was both humbled and honored by his statement and question. As I pondered for a moment how to respond I realized, I am who I am today first because of the astounding grace of God. Second, the tremendous love, care, and forgiveness of my bride. And finally, because of the books I’ve read. The authors have become some of the most defining mentors in my life. By reading both the word of God and these books I have been confronted with … myself, with new ideas, and a new way of thinking.
This whole thought came to mind because I just finished my 16th book for this year.  I’m not bragging. As I said, I’m no speed reader.  I have a friend who claims to read 75 books a year. Though I feel some satisfaction at this accomplishment (my goal for this year is 20), to me it is more a sign of my desperation. 

I’m at a place where I can’t quit. I can’t get enough. Because, I’m further behind than when I started.

Blessings!

Five Questions About Leadership

Recently I was asked five questions about leadership by a friend of mine who was putting together a presentation for her organization.

Hope you enjoy.

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1. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?

The most important characteristic a leader is: Integrity/trustworthiness. Skill, talent, or experience may launch a leader into the spotlight – but it will NOT keep them there. When people do not trust their leaders they will eventually no longer follow their leaders. Various leadership materials will list out different traits and characteristics that cause leadership success. And they’re good and contain good information. But, I’m telling you, without the integrity piece – the rest of it is worthless. Typically people buy into a person before they buy into a vision or a cause. If they don’t buy into the leader, the cause will fail. The only solution is to get a different leader. When I was working in sales one thing I learned was – people buy from people they trust. If they don’t trust you it doesn’t really matter how good the product is – they won’t by it.

2. What is one mistake you witness leaders making more frequently than others?

The number one mistake I have seen is autocratic leadership. When decision making rests on a single person the others, whether subordinates or not, feel devalued and unimportant. What’s interesting about this concept is that one doesn’t even have to be an autocratic leader to have this malady affect their leadership. Let me explain: if they generally collaborate and utilize group involvement in decision making, but just one time they make a decision without consulting others, it immediately makes those normally involved question their place and the respect they receive from the leader. When a leader consults, collaborates, involves others in decision making – others feel valued, respected, needed. Besides – having a group collaborate and brain storm almost always leads to better decision making.

Let me give you a paradigm, let’s talk about “Effective Decision Making Quotient” (I learned this concept from Stephen Covey): Let’s rank decision making on a scale of 1-10. 1 being a lousy decision, 10 being a perfect decision. Let’s also rank buy-in on a scale of 1-10. 1 being low buy-in from team members (including subordinates) 10 being high. If I make a perfect decision for my organization, by myself, and just tell team members the decision I’ve made – it will look something like this: I get a 10 for perfect decision, but I will only get about a 2 on buy-in (some will buy-in simply out of loyalty). 10 x 2= “20” on the Effective Decision Making Quotient.

Another scenario: let’s say a group of us collaborate on a decision, leaders, team members, employees, etc. As a result the decision itself may only rank as a 7 (there has to be some give, some compromise). But, because I have involved all the team members, the buy-in will rise to somewhere around an 8 (some still won’t buy-in because they didn’t get their way). That decision looks like this: 7 x 8 = “56” – a much higher Effective Decision Making Quotient. In this scenario, the decision itself may not be as great, but, the team is more energized, enthusiastic, vested in the outcome, valued, and will probably be more loyal to my organization and long term as a result. And, I’ve still got a really good decision on my hands. Plus, the more we collaborate, communicate, and learn to trust one another, the better decision making becomes.

So, really, which decision is better?  To top it off, research shows that the younger generation is much more interested in collaborative leadership than previous generations. So, if an organization is going to be effective and attract younger talent – they HAVE to move toward this model. Autocratic leadership, or even decision making = bad news.

3. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?

I feel like I really answered this in question number 1 & 2. But, let me add, that character and integrity include the idea that a leader is competent. Just having the characteristic of integrity doesn’t make one a good leader. People want to know that their leaders know what they’re doing too, that they are skilled at. experienced, and/or knowledgeable about whatever it is we are striving for. If I don’t know anything about food preparation, regardless of how much I know about profit and loss, I will probably not be a good restaurant manager. At the very least, I will not garner the respect of my employees, which greatly derails my ability as a leader.

4. What advice would you give someone going into a leadership position for the first time?

Advice: 1. NEVER STOP GROWING! Read. Go to seminars or conferences. Ask people smarter or more knowledgeable than you.  Get a mentor.  Whatever it is – never, never, never rest on your laurels. The better you are, the better the organization, your family, and everyone around you will be. The best investment you can make in an organization is an investment in your own personal growth.  Most importantly – learn people skills! My God – I can not emphasize this enough. No matter what you know about whatever it is you do – if you can not get along with people you will fail!  Mark my words. as John Maxwell says, “you have to get along to go along.” Having people skills will carry you farther than any expertise ever would. I have seen many a positional leader fail because they did not know how to work with and deal with … people, especially difficult people. Responses and reactions are huge. Word choice, demeanor, presentation. Most importantly – care, concern. Again, let me re-emphasize – when you view people as valuable, you will succeed. Which leads to a second word of wisdom: surround yourself with good people. People who are maybe smarter or better than you. Trust them. Believe in them. Collaborate with them. Rely on them.  Never assume you know more or always have better ideas than the next guy.

5. What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

Personally – I am always reading a book. I rarely read fiction. Not all my books are on leadership. The books I read are often about other stuff like marriage, or my faith, or what-not. But, it is still growth. And, as I said, if I am growing – it will have an impact on my leadership, my organization, and those around me. In fact, I have found the books I read on Marriage and relationships are often times more effective for my leadership than many leadership books, at least concerning building relationships, learning communication and dealing with people. (Click here for some info about communication in marriage or listening skills )

Second, I frequently watch and listen to podcasts of leaders I respect.  Finally, I am constantly observing and evaluating how others speak, respond, interact, etc. – trying to learn from others.

I hope this helps anyone looking for some basics on developing leadership.