Posts Tagged 'leadership'

The Gift of Gratitude

Gratitude is a funny thing.

It seems we spend much of our lives searching for approval, hoping a demanding boss or selfish coworker will acknowledge our contribution to the larger cause.

When we seek it, we often walk away empty handed.

Fishing for compliments–beyond being uncouth–rarely yields more than a statement grumbled under annoyed breath. Those whom we feel owe us praise are always the last to give it (if it does happen) and mostly do so out of a sense of obligation, it appears.

Earnest thanks, regardless of source, pours nourishing sunshine on the meadows of our soul.

What’s amazing is how difficult we find the acceptance of such a wonderful, simple gift. Made uncomfortable by a shower of grateful expressions, we run for cover in the shelter of our own inadequacy. “I didn’t do anything to deserve this,” we think. “I didn’t do that good of a job.”

Why is it appreciation manages to make us squirm?

You have a right to harvest the fruit of your labor.

Be gracious and welcoming, you sowed the seed. However unexpected, reaping a reward is the natural result of quality work. Spread the wealth–tell others how they influenced the outcome.

I am still learning how to do this.

Last night, I stood in front of my Pathophysiology students as a lecturer for the last time. Ten of the thirteen women in the room sat in the same room on my first night as a professor. Next week is their exam and I’m leaving at the end of the quarter, so it was our final evening together.

As usual, a quiz signaled the start of class. Shortly thereafter, I received a bevy of parting gifts, including a load of my favorite candy bars and healthy snacks. To top everything off, they took the time to print and frame a certificate of excellence complete with handwritten notes on it from each woman.

A tribute of any kind, let alone one so heartfelt and thoughtful, touches a person beyond the bounds of words.

One of them happened upon a blog I wrote about three months ago, the most-viewed post I’ve ever written.

It is about them.

Somewhat surprised to see my musings have been found by those who have inspired–at least indirectly–a good chunk of what I’ve written, I decided to pull back the curtain and reveal a little more to them. I was unintentionally given the opportunity to recognize their place in my growth as an instructor and a person, to honor the role they have played in my life.

I took them on a quick and unrehearsed tour of my leadership philosophy and observations about life. In the end, I challenged them to lean on each other for support and step to the forefront of the program and the university as a whole–my unspoken goal for them from the beginning.

In closing, before we shared some laughs while passing through many memories, I shared with them a paraphrase of these words from Ralph Nader:

I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.

I am incredibly thankful to have opened the gift I wanted, to have witnessed the growth of those under my supervision.

It is about them.

It always was.

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Top Posts: June 2010

The end of the month has arrived and it’s time to recap. June 2010 will go down as the month MeBuilding had a tremendous boost in popularity thanks to being featured on WordPress’ home page as “Freshly Pressed.”

Here are the five most-viewed posts:

5. 5 Ways to Make Others Better

4. 1 Difference Between “Trying” and “Doing”

3. Dress Like George Washington

2. 289 Words to Start

1. 6 Lessons from a First Class Leader

6 Lessons from a First Class Leader

I’ve completed my first session as a college professor.

After an eleven-week accelerated schedule, I’m in the midst of a thirteen-day gap between quarters and have had time to ponder what my pupils taught me.

“The student becomes the teacher” carries new weight in my mind.

The irony of productive leadership is the mutual nature of the relationship between the “higher” and “lower” levels.

I guarantee the most game-changing companies are helmed by individuals open to learning from (and exchanging ideas with) their charges. Why?

Exposure to other viewpoints and strange questions spurs growth in many directions.

The naiveté of fresh eyes invites reconsideration of old knowledge. Channeled appropriately, the resulting energy bubbles new ideas to the surface and energizes all parties. Such an environment is invariably the breeding ground of creativity and its money-making ancestor: innovation.

Several things are crucial to developing and maintaining dynamic rapport–and, by proxy, progress.

Being at the front of the class has given me these glaring examples:

1. Expectations are important
The first night of class, I took a flier and decided to open the evening with activities designed to smoke out what they believed to be “best practices” for instructors. Giving them the opportunity to have a voice in the course’s direction allowed me to set high standards for their performance.

If you get behind your people–and they will know when you are–it gives them something to rise to.

2. Rules must be spoken
Difficulties arise when an unwritten code is unwittingly trampled on. I nearly doomed the educator-apprentice relationship with an unfair exam in mid-April.

I operated under the assumption their study habits included reviewing the illustrations in addition to their notes.

They thought my outlines were the only important material.

The test blew them out of the water.

I was almost burned at the stake.

So I decided to…

3. Admit mistakes
On the way home from nearly being torched, I called an old friend to discuss the evening’s events. I resolved to apologize for my errors in judgment and throw out the exam.

“Are you crazy?!” she asked. “What doctor do you know who did that when we were in school?”

“None of them,” I answered, “but maybe that was the problem.”

Regardless of what anyone says, acknowledging missteps fosters deeper commitment–as long as you ensure it only happens once.

I used the opportunity to redefine the rules and remove doubts, which I believe led to better results.

(See #1.)

4. People drink on their own
You can pull with all your might, yet the horse will always sip from the well at whatever pace–and amount–it chooses.

I butted heads repeatedly with a particular student, insisting her hard work and faithful preparation would be rewarded–to the point I got so frustrated one evening I directed her toward the door.

She resisted the message with all her strength, yet the smile on her face when handing in her final showed me it had trickled in some–and made the battles worthwhile.

5. Humor is necessary
The day-to-day grind of any task becomes monotonous at times. Injecting laughter into a situation–like a running joke of people “agreeing with me” as they nodded off to sleep–makes the slog that much more bearable.

6. Roll with the punches
Your ability to take the group’s temperature quickly and navigate a situation is crucial to successful outcomes. I often found myself talking to a room half-full of zombies after the brain drain of my trademark 50-question evaluations.

The lecture moved slower.

Repetition increased.

Class ended early.

The lesson was still effective.

Your ability to shift gears on the fly and make educated decisions or give quality answers instills confidence–inside and out.

Building trust in this way accelerates grand achievement.

With this in effect–finding ways to put those under your supervision first–your organization can only blossom.

Understanding what others anticipate, using levity to cool the air and fessing up to poor decisions displays humanity.

Accepting people as they are, creating fair guidelines for conduct and being adaptable exhibits even-handed control.

Combine them artfully and you’ll paint a masterpiece.

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5 Ways to Make Others Better

John Wall, the transcendent talent at point guard leading the Kentucky Wildcats.

Every once in a while, a truly special player comes along.

There are extremely gifted athletes that step onto the stage of public awareness every season, in every sport. Their talent is unquestioned, their artistry undisputed. Rarely do you find one that is able to be bigger than the game itself. The highest echelon of basketball stardom is to be known by one name.

Larry. Magic. Michael. Kobe. Lebron.

While watching a SportsCenter highlight of  my beloved Kentucky Wildcats featuring John Wall throwing an alley-oop pass to Patrick Patterson, it struck me that the great ones make it easy for others to “just play.” Individual ability combined with a knack for putting teammates in good positions allows everyone around them to be better. Patterson was an immense talent before, yet is nearly a whole new player now.

Are you on that level?

One of the most underrated skills in life is leading. Many have positions with authority, but do they really lead? Do they understand the work necessary to comprehend the motivation of their “subordinates” or do they instead hammer their minions with an iron fist?

In order to direct others effectively, whether a thousand-man battalion or three-person team, you must do five simple things:

Create expectations
By outlining the specifics of your relationship from the beginning, you’ve created a strong foundation for future achievement. All parties must understand what the other is looking for–yes, your people get to ask something of you–and the policies in place to foster accountability. Starting this way facilitates communication further down the line and helps the dreaded “unspoken rule” from destroying your endeavor from the inside.

If these expectations are unmet, there must be agreed-upon steps acknowledge the fact and correct it.

Invite discussion
To be truly excellent, every member of your group must have an emotional drive for hitting the target beyond just earning a paycheck. Set the goal in front of everyone and provide minimal parameters (deadlines for goals and micro-goals, customer wants, etc.), then pose a simple question:

“What ideas do you have for making this happen?”

There is colossal psychic value in making contribution to a problem’s larger solution and engaging the creativity of your crew in this way is a major deposit in their “energy bank” for times when the challenge seems most daunting.

Encourage openly, criticize privately
This is a paraphrase of a famous quote by the Russian tsarina Catherine II. Making public statements of gratitude is a phenomenal way to lift the esprit de corps, whether talking to one or all.

More importantly, “blame quietly” by taking your thoughts directly and respectfully to the individual in question. Commenting behind the person’s back undermines your credibility between the ears of those listening. Even in the case of shared sentiments, somewhere the brain will hear your words and wonder: “What’s being said about me when I’m not around?”

Trust
The idea is to give each individual the proper amount of freedom to do their best work. Encouraging them to be self-sufficient–prodding them only as required–develops the confidence for taking charge in other situations as each person is disseminated across the organization (or to other companies) as a result of your collective achievement.

Share credit, accept blame
Put your ego aside. During setbacks you must shoulder the burden alone and without excuses. The people you report to think it’s all your fault anyway. Here’s a shock: they’re right. Like it or not, your decisions are at the root of the results. Sometimes you’ll bite off more than can be chewed and others you’ll distribute the workload in a way that’s less than optimal considering your staff’s talents. (There will always be superstars and stragglers, divide accordingly.) Perfecting this chemistry is the cornerstone of being in charge.

By contrast, when things go well, make sure the praising party speaks to everyone, if possible. The effort involved many hours by several people. Let them bask in the glory, too, and they’ll work even harder for you next time.

There is a very basic truth I’ve seen many places: “In order to lead, you must get behind your people.” Investing the effort in elevating them will make you look–and feel–better. Empower them to squeeze the best out of themselves and reach heights beyond their own imaginations spreads the legacy of your stewardship into the world forever.

What are you doing to churn out more leaders?

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