Boundaries for Leaders – Results, Relationships, and being Ridiculously in Charge
Every leader has a particular pair of glasses they tend to see their world through. It’s this perspective that shapes their leadership approach and ultimately the teams and organizations they lead. Some leaders see the world through market and customer glasses, others through financial glasses, yet others through product and service glasses.
The first glasses I pick up are the people glasses. I see every organization, its mission and performance, in terms of people. I believe it is people who create products, who understand markets, relate to customers and ultimately produce financial results. People are the center of my leadership world.
This is why I’m drawn to writers and consultants who see the world in this same way. For example I’m a fan of Dr. Henry Cloud and his books. He sees leadership and organizations through people glasses. So when he publishes a new book I immediately read it, looking for the nuggets I can apply in my leadership context.
In his most recent book, Boundaries for Leaders, Dr. Cloud provides a helpful combination of neuroscience, psychology, leadership and common sense with real life illustrations from his work.
For example, he makes the case that leaders need to lead in such a way that it aligns with how people’s brains work. People’s brains need to have three “executive functions” or processes to achieve any goal, vision or objective be it driving a car or leading an organization. They are:
- Attention: the ability to focus on the right things
- Inhibition: the ability to avoid the things that keep us from achieving our goals
- Working memory: retain and access to the right information in order to make decisions and take action
This new insight led me to a helpful personal leadership evaluation by asking myself the following three questions:
“Do I keep our team focus on the right things?”
“Am I helping our team avoid distractions from the right things?”
“Does our team have access to the right information at the right time to do what they need to do?
Now it’s simply up to me to have the Attention, Inhibition, and Working memory necessary to make the right changes in these areas for the benefit our people and ultimately for the benefit of SpringHill.43.928283-85.286682
Working with “Twentysomethings”
“One of the largest issues we face is working with ‘twentysomethings’. Their work ethic is poor, they expect everything to be given to them, and they won’t stay with a commitment. We just don’t know what to do. And now we’re even beginning to wonder about the future of the Church if this is who will be taking over in the years ahead.”
This was the perspective expressed by a leader of a large Christian ministry at a round table discussion of Christian ministry CEO’s I participated in a couple of years ago. And after making his statement most of the other 20 leaders in the room all shook their heads in full agreement with many joining in with their own “horror stories” about working with those” darn twentysomethings”.
Ironically, there was one other Christian camp CEO in the group and when we heard this statement and the following discussion we just looked at each other with our eyebrows raised. You see, Christian camp ministry’s built on the good and faithful work of those “darn twentysomethings”. We couldn’t do what we’re called to do, nor do it nearly half as well (nor nearly as fun) without them.
This whole dialogue came rushing back to me earlier this summer as I interact with our nearly 1000 “twentysomethings” staff we hired to help us create SpringHill Experiences this summer.
Instead what I see in our summer staff is the total opposite what these Christian leaders expressed in that forum. As I shared with that group of leaders we, at SpringHill, serve alongside young adults who are highly committed, deeply concerned about others and the world, and who are willing to make great sacrifices to advance Christ’s Kingdom.
Then I said to these CEO’s – “maybe, instead of looking at the faults of twentysomethings, we should first examine our own leadership and the culture of our organizations to see if we have our own adjustments to make before we write off an entire generation of leaders, because in my experience poor followers are usually the result of poor leadership.”43.928283-85.286682
Summer Camp’s Coming and it Shouldn’t Be a Surprise
Summer camp literally starts in a matter of days. We’ve known for years there’d be summer camp in 2013. We also know we’re going to have summer camp in 2014, 2015 and for as many summers as we can see into the future.
In other words, it’s no surprise that summer camp is upon us. Of course this means there’s no excuse for not being prepared, planned out and ready for staff training and summer campers. Yet it wasn’t that long ago when, if you had visited SpringHill in May, you would have interrupted our frenzied work as being surprised by finding out at the last-minute that summer camp began in June.
This mad scramble had its allies within our team. Many folks, if they were honest, love the adrenaline rush of doing vast amounts of very important work in a very short period of time. As an organization we even unconsciously honored these folks for their great sacrifice for the cause. Unfortunately this only reinforced our organizational addiction to adrenaline and ultimately led to our team entering summer stressed, exhausted and drained.
So a number of years ago we all agreed that summer camp is never a surprise so there’s no good reason to save our all preparation for the month of May. We agreed that we would begin working on next summer during this summer, including pre-registering campers, finalizing host churches for our Day Camps, and signing up returning summer staff.
We also agreed that all the other important work for the next summer such as property and facilities improvements, summer staff recruitment, and curriculum and program development would begin immediately after camp ended, having specific plans with key milestone dates to keep us on track.
And, maybe most importantly, we also agreed to celebrate good, thoughtful and intentional planning and work instead of honoring adrenaline fueled activity.
So take this post as one small piece of our celebration for the good planning and work our team’s done to be ready for the summer of 2013 (and, for that matter, 2014). Though we’d all admit we’re not yet where we want to be, I’m confident in saying we’re in the best position I’ve ever seen us in going into the summer. And for this I tip my hat to our team for a job well done.43.928283-85.286682
Because our two youngest boys run high school track I’ve attended a lot of track meets over the past few years. And because I’ve never ran track, I’m learning a few things about proper running.
One of the things I’ve learned is that to run fast you need to lean forward, or as I’ve heard coaches yell to their runners – “lean in”. And from a layperson’s perspective I take this to mean your head and chest should to be stretching forward towards the finish line.
I’ve also learned that a runner needs to be forward leaning right out of the blocks, from their first step right through to their final step at the finish line. Each step, each movement of their entire body, needs to be aligned forward if a runner’s to run their best race.
Now it’s important to understand that this is not a reckless way to run but it’s the posture that puts a runner in the best form to reduced injuries and increase speed. In other words, leaning forward is the best short-term and long-term posture for winning.
Unfortunately the concept of forward leaning has begun to have a bad reputation in military, political, business and other leadership circles because it’s been misapplied. Too often the concept’s used as a guise for aggressive and, and often, reckless strategy.
So let me suggest that truly forward leaning (not reckless) leadership and organizations have these three characteristics in common with runners. They:
- are focused on the finish line
- have all their resources such as money and time, and most importantly, their people (energy, hearts and minds), aligned to race their best time
- are disciplined, intentional and thoughtful in both their planning and in executing their plans
In other words forward leaning leaders and organizations are running their races in a way that achieves victory.43.928283-85.286682
The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People
“Defense wins championships” is the often quoted sports proverb about what it takes to win it all. It’s this proverb and its application to my career that motivated me to read Why Smart Executives Fail: And What You Can Learn from Their Mistakesby Sydney Finkelstein. Like Jim Collin’s little book How The Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In, it tells the stories behind the collapse of great companies run by really smart and talented people who, it turns out, focused too much on both personal and organizational offense at the expense of having a championship defense.
And every once in a while it’s good for me to have a little defensive perspective, to be reminded of the attitudes I, as a leader, can have and the actions I can take that could lead SpringHill to “lose the game”. One of the best chapters in the book’s called “Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful People”.
Finkelstein describes these seven habits in this way (as you read each one do as I did and ask yourself “am I displaying any of these habits or tendencies in my leadership?”):
- They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments, not simply responding to developments in those environments.
- They identify so completely with the company that there is no clear boundary between their personal interests and corporate interests.
- They seem to have all the answers, often dazzling people with the speed and decisiveness with which they can deal with challenging issues.
- They make sure that everyone is 100 percent behind them, ruthlessly eliminating anyone who might undermine their efforts.
- They are consummate company spokespersons, often devoting the largest portion of their efforts to managing and developing the company image.
- They treat intimidatingly difficult obstacles as temporary impediments to be removed or overcome.
- They never hesitate to return to strategies and tactics that made them and their companies successful in the first place.
- They see themselves and their companies as dominating their environments, not simply responding to developments in those environments.
How Do You Climb a Mountain?
How do you climb a mountain? As my wife Denise and I experienced on a recent climb up a southern California mountain, you do it one step at a time.
This is true of any big goal or vision we have as individuals or as organizations. Our best chance at success is by breaking big goals down into smaller, more manageable steps, and regularly measuring ourselves against those steps.
But too often we set these “Big Hairy Audacious Goals – BHAG’s” but don’t make the effort to break them down into the steps necessary to take every year, quarter, month, week, and day to accomplish those BHAG’s. Which, if you think about it, is a bit like my wife and I sitting at the bottom of the mountain, looking up at it and envisioning being at the top, but not mapping out the trail or knowing the elevation change or the miles we’ll need to walk or the time and effort required to reach the summit.
But it’s this kind of planning that’s required to break down a BHAG into manageable steps. And it’s by these manageable steps that we’re able to measure our progress. And by measuring our daily progress we’re able to keep focused on the work before us and not become overwhelmed by the large amount of work we have to do before getting to the top of the mountain.
At SpringHill our Big Hairy Audacious Goal is to serve 260,000 campers a year by 2025 (for context, we’ll serve about 55,000 in 2013). It’s an exciting goal, but to increase the likelihood of it becoming a reality we had to break our BHAG down into year by year goals, including our 2013 goal. Then we broke down our 2013 goal by season (we have three seasons a year versus four quarters), followed by monthly goals, and finally weekly goals, or steps, we call a split.
Then every week, as a team, we review these steps or splits. If we’re on track each week, then we know, ultimately, we’re on track this week to reach our mountain top of 260,000 campers by 2025.43.928283-85.286682
When Mission Statements Become Truly Mission
Our son Mitch is considering a career in the military so as part of his college exploration Denise and I took him for a visit to the United States Naval Academy. If you’ve ever visited one of the U.S. military academies you know just how impressive they are. They are full of tradition and pride, with a long history of developing young men and women who faithfully devote their lives to protecting our country.
What I also found impressive about the USNA was its clear mission and their obvious commitment to it. As you might remember from previous posts, mission answers the key question “why does an organization exist?’ The USNA has answered this question by stating:
“The mission of the Naval Academy is to develop midshipmen morally, mentally, and physically; and to imbue them with the highest ideals of duty, honor and loyalty in order to graduate leaders who are dedicated to a career of Naval service and have the potential for future development in mind and character to assume the highest responsibilities of command, citizenship, and government.”
It’s crystal clear why the USNA exists by reading this statement.
But it’s not just having a clear and concise statement of mission that’s critical for an organization. Like the Naval Academy, it’s even more important that the entire organization’s centered on its mission, that every facet, every resource, every person’s aligned to the mission and committed to making it a reality.
As a matter of fact, as we experienced in our day visit to the USNA, any person who experiences an organization that’s committed to and aligned with its mission should be able to articulate the mission without ever reading their mission statement because it should ooze out of every part and person of the organization.
And when that happens, as it has at the USNA, a mission statement truly becomes a mission.43.928283-85.286682
Getting Positive Momentum Back
March Madness just finished and one of the most talked about aspects of the tournament was the concept of momentum. Media analyzed teams by how they got, kept, and then lost positive momentum throughout a game and within the tournament. It seemed, at times, having positive momentum was the most important factor in the tournament.
Over the last couple of posts I’ve explored the reality and causes of personal and organizational momentum. The question we all face at one time or another, just like the teams in the NCAA basketball tournament, is what do you do to get lost momentum back?
From my experience there are four specific steps you must take to reverse the negative momentum in any situation, whether basketball, personally or organizationally.
First, quickly acknowledge that you’ve lost momentum. This usually starts with believing the numbers. Numbers always tell you the direction your headed, not because they’re the whole story but because they’re the leading indicators of the story. Take it from a guy who’s made this mistake to many times – it is way too easy to ignore or explain away the numbers.
Second, don’t over react to your loss of momentum. Make sure you understand the causes behind the numbers and the momentum going the wrong way. This is the most important step because it’s tempting to fire a shotgun to solve potential problems before you truly understand the root causes.
Third, once you know and understand the root causes, decide on a course of action to change and get rid of these causes and redirect the course of your momentum.
Finally, you need to change whatever or whoever will get stop you from doing what’s necessary to change the momentum. And believe me there will be things and people who will stand in the path of any necessary change. So this will sound cold, but you have to be willing to move out-of-the-way, anything and everything, including people, who will work to stop you. If you don’t, I guarantee, your best laid plans will whither on the vine.43.928283-85.286682
Losing Momentum and Why It Happens
As I mentioned in my last post, I found out at the end of last year that I have high cholesterol, so I’ve been working to lower it naturally before June (when I have my follow-up appointment with my Doctor). And my take away has been realizing just how important momentum is, not only in improving my health, but in organizational health and effectiveness.
Now momentum, whether it’s personal or organizational, doesn’t last forever. Momentum always slows down and eventually hits a plateau. Now plateaus can be good things, if we’ve planned for them and know how we’ll move off from them.
But the truth is plateau’s usually catches us by surprise. And by the time we accept that momentum is slipping away we’re usually too late to keep the old momentum going, putting us in real danger of sliding backwards. And the hard reality is we either going forward or going backwards. We never stay at the plateaus long because they’re just transition points leading to either positive or negative momentum. Plateaus are not livable places.
Unfortunately I’ve experienced this truth as I’ve tried in the past to get into better shape. For example, I may begin to run regularly and lose some weight but then my running will become inconsistent and I’ll start eating poorly then my health will plateau. This usually happens just before I slowly start gaining a few pounds (usually explaining them away), and then, before I know it, I’m back, health wise, to where I started (or worse).
Why does this happen?
First, I didn’t anticipate that someday my fitness momentum will would come to an end nor did I anticipate the possible causes for why it end.
Second, I never created a written plan that would address these causes so I could continue to improve, or at least maintain my current level of fitness.
Third was the fact that I was not quick to accept that my momentum was actually beginning to ebb away and so wasn’t prepared to go into quick and necessary action before negative momentum set in.
And unfortunately these are the same reasons organizational momentum slips away. The leader doesn’t anticipate, plan, and quickly accept that momentum is beginning to slow down. The consequence is the leader trades the easier work of early action for the hard work (usually done by a new leader) of reversing negative momentum.43.928283-85.286682
The Hard Work of Momentum Change
At the end of 2012 I had a physical exam. And as I expected everything turned out fine except my cholesterol levels. I anticipated that my LDL cholesterol might be high because of our family history and because, over the last few years, I’ve committed the two sins of managing cholesterol – eating whatever I wanted to and not exercising consistently (thus my weight was also at an all-time high).
So when the doctor suggested I go on medication I told him I wanted six months to straighten out my eating and exercise regimen to see if I could correct my high cholesterol naturally. He agreed, so I have until June to see if I can improve my cholesterol levels.
Now, even though I won’t find out until June if my cholesterol has lowered, I have had other, more visible, gains. For example I’ve lost 18 pounds and reduced my mile splits (running is my exercise of choice) by minute and a half. As a matter of fact it seems that the more weight I lose the faster I run and the faster I run the more weight I loose.
You see my physical health is now experiencing positive momentum. But before I started to focus on my health, its momentum, I have to admit, was steadily, but discernibly, going in the wrong direction.
This got me to thinking; my health momentum parallel’s an organization’s momentum. And just like my health, organizations are either going forward or going backward, they’re never standing still.
And like taking charge of my health, a leader’s job is to build the organization’s forward momentum.
But as I’ve learned over the last few months, reversing downward momentum is hard work. It requires goals, investment, focus, discipline, constant and timely feedback on performance, and the tenacity to stay with it until the momentum’s reversed and beginning to go in the right direction.
So what’s the momentum of your health, your life, the organization or team you lead? If it’s headed in the wrong direction maybe it’s time to do what’s required to get that positive momentum going again before you have to take the hard medicine.43.928283-85.286682