I’ve just started Alfred Lansing’s Endurance – Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, the story of polar explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew’s adventure of living on an ice-moored ship near Antarctica for 10 months before their ship sinks, followed by 7 months living on an ice floe in the open sea until finally reaching safe harbor. I can barely put it down.
I’ve always loved real life adventure books, such as Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, Huntford’s The Last Place on Earth, Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, and Stanton’s In Harm’s Way. I follow the stories with maps next to my chair and Google Earth on my IPAD. I do background research on the people, the places and the times. Every one of these stories engages me in a way fiction, however exciting and adventuresome it might be, rarely does.
I think it starts with the obvious fact that these stories are about real people and real events. Now understand I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, but when the story brings you to the tightest places, I expect Gandalf to show up with some magic, and of course, he or some other character usually does because Tolkien can make it so. In real life adventure stories, there’s no magic. There’s the occasional miracle (I do believe in those), but there’s also a lot of remarkable behavior and action by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.
So, as a result, I’m always inspired by these stories. They remind me that whatever challenge I’m facing (like a winter in northern Michigan), there’s always others who’ve went through a lot worse and not only survived but were victorious. But I also approach these books as I did business school case studies, an opportunity to learn, to grow and to gain new perspective and insight into people and the world. I learn from both the successes and the failures that are always a part of real life stories.
In particular I love to look closely at the leaders in these stories. I ask questions such as – what was their leadership style? Was it effective? What can I apply in my context? If I could, I would love to sit down and have a cup of coffee with Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men so I could learn firsthand about his leadership. But since that’s not possible, reading a well –written and researched book about him and his adventure is the next best thing. And, in this case, it also reminds me that my winter in northern Michigan isn’t really so bad after all.
It was end of the summer of 1999 and I decided to take my young sons up to one of my favorite places in the world – Camp Anjigami – so they could have their first, of what has become, 16 straight Canadian fishing experiences. My three boys’ ages ranged from 7 to 4 years old. Quite young to be in the Canadian wilderness, but it’s the context where I experienced unexpected joy.
During those early trips I never fished. I spent all my time helping my young boys tie hooks and lures to their lines, net and unhook fish, and keep their lines from getting tangled. In particular, we always took a day to fish a lake where we’d catch lots of (30 to 50) Northern Pike. If you’ve never caught or seen a Northern, they are the freshwater version of a Barracuda – aggressive fish with mouths full off sharp teeth. There were times when two of my boys would hook into a Northern at the same time. It meant chaos as a couple of really mad 3 pound fish with multiple hook lures attached to them would be wildly thrashing around the bottom of our rowboat. All of which created lots of excitement but no time for me to fish.
I remember at first finding it difficult to be in Canada and not being able to fish. It’s something I absolutely love to do. But by the end of that first trip I realized that I was receiving as much joy, or even more joy, watching and helping my sons catch fish as I ever did catching fish myself.
In those early trips I went from being a fisherman to fishing coach. This meant helping my boys become fishermen in their own right. Now today, when we go on our annual trip, I can and do fish because my boys can fish as well. We have multiplied our fishing capacity from 1 to 3 to 4.
I now know this is what leaders do; they multiply themselves and their efforts by developing others even at the sacrifice of doing what they love. And, as I’ve discovered, the reward is great; it’s the unexpected joy of seeing the people you lead being able to do what you do and becoming what you are – a person capable of developing others.
I had an English professor who would tell me “if you can’t express your thoughts in writing it’s because you don’t know your subject well enough”. Taking this maxim to another level – you can’t teach about a subject unless you’ve mastered it.
This wherein lies one of the reasons I always teach at conferences or other venues anytime the opportunity arises, as I did this week at the Christian Camp and Conference Association National Conference. Because when I teach I benefit at least as much as those I’m teaching and usually much more.
But this wasn’t always the case. Earlier in my career I avoided teaching, or did it begrudgingly, because I believed it took focus off from my “real” work and worse, it wouldn’t benefit my team or organization. But over the last number of years I’ve discovered how wrong this perspective was.
What I now know is teaching:
- Is the purest form of multiplying leadership (Leadership25) because it spreads what you know and have learned to and through others.
- Forces me to think through the what, why and how of the material I’m teaching.
- Provides an opportunity to assess how well I and/or our team is doing with the subject area. In other words when I teach I want to be able to say that we’re doing (or at least attempting to do) what I’m teaching.
- Can and should be used to help sharpen my own skills and those of our team.
- Reflects well on SpringHill.
So next time the opportunity to teach at a conference or other venue comes your way, remember you and your team will benefit at least as much as those who sit in on your workshop, and most likely, you’ll benefit much more.
Leaders multiply. They do more than just add. Adding is a good thing. Contributing to a team’s efforts is always positive. But leaders multiply a team’s efforts and results. And obviously leaders do not subtract, if you subtract from a team or organization then you’re something else, but you’re not a leader.
Multiplication is the distinctive characteristic of leaders. It’s what sets them apart from those who do not lead. What does it mean to multiply? It’s when a person leads a team to produce an outcome beyond the simple accumulated results (addition) of the efforts of individual team members. Leaders multiply their team’s collective efforts and achieve extraordinary, and unexpected, results.
And to be clear, I believe multiplying leadership isn’t just for people in formal leadership positions. Instead any person, in any role, who is part of a purpose centered group like a family, community, school, or church can be a multiplying leader. As a matter I’m convinced it should always be our goal to be a multiplier in every situation we’re in.
This idea of multiplying leadership isn’t new. As a matter of fact, Jesus talks about it in the parable of the talents found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25. In this parable the Master entrusted his four stewards with His money while He was away. Three stewards multiplied the Master’s money so the Master said to them – “well done good and faithful servant”. This parable harkens us back to the very first assignment God gave His people – “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28).
This is why I see multiplication as the distinguishing quality, the sure sign of effective leadership. It’s also why I’ve given this blog a new address – Leadership25 – a direct reminder of Jesus’ parable and His expectation that all of us can and should be multipliers, leaders making a positive difference in the lives of others and in the world.
But the temptation for leaders (those people already leading parades) is to jump in front of and lead every parade that comes by. This is especially tempting when a parade looks like it needs help. The reason leaders do this is because they are people who have the habit of seeing an opportunity to be a difference maker and then jumping in and taking charge of the parade. Often this is just the right thing to do as a leader – because there are many parades desperate for experienced leadership.
But a leader can be too quick to jump in front of another parade. When they do so they often fail to realize they’re taking an opportunity away from a future leader in waiting. Young and inexperienced leaders can rarely compete with veteran parade leaders for these opportunities. But without opportunities it’s difficult to become an experienced parade leader. And the truth is the world needs more veteran parade leaders.
So the next time a parade comes by, make sure your first move isn’t to slide to the front and start leading the band, but instead to look around and find potential leaders who need experience as a parade leader. Then encourage them to jump in front while you walk with them along the parade route encouraging, coaching, supporting, and cheering this new leader on as he or she guides the parade. This will do two important things – first provide you margin and flexibility just in case another parade comes along that really needs you and, second, help ready another parade leader for a world desperate for leadership.
It’s the day after the 2014 mid-term elections and I’m reminded once again by the importance trust plays in the relationship between leaders and those who choose to follow. In politics, it seems, we’ve become obsessed with what I call Ethical Trust. Ethical Trust’s built when people share the same core values and the same fundamental beliefs about the world. It’s a powerful trust that drives so much of our political process. And, for sure, it’s the most important trust. It’s hard to follow a leader where there’s little or no ethical trust.
But because it’s the most important trust, we tend to believe it’s the only trust a leader needs. But it’s not. A leader needs, and a potential follower should demand, a second absolutely essential trust. You see it’s one thing to have Ethical Trust but there’s another kind of trust built on making good on the implied promises Ethical Trust makes. This second trust is what I call Competency Trust. It’s the trust that comes when a leader can and actually meets or exceeds performance expectations and delivers on their commitments. They deliver because of their experience, ability and will to succeed. Too often we vote for and elect officials (or put our hope in leaders) based only on Ethical Trust and we forget to ask – “can they actually deliver on our shared values and beliefs?”
So both Ethical and Competency Trusts are absolutely essential for a leader to succeed. Because earning the full and complete trust of those who choose to follow is the only way effective leadership happens. And without trust there is no leadership, only management, dictatorship, or simply ineffectiveness.
So whether you’re a leader, or choosing to follow one, never accept just one kind of trust, if you do, you’ll either disappoint or be disappointed because the job will not get done.
I don’t like lots of policies and rules, especially when they’re detailed, specific and inflexible. They’re like rocks. A few provide healthy boundaries, too many will weigh a leader and an organization down. Unfortunately people who struggle leading others will revert to policy and rules to do their leading. But policies and rules can’t truly lead; only people can. So when leaders rely on them to do their job, they’ll find that these rocks will cause a growing distance between actual and potential performance (or what I call the Performance Gap).
You see policies and rules are for managing not for leading. And, as I often tell my team, you manage things (time, money, etc.) but you lead people. Managing people instead of leading them will cause them to feel like a resource, tool or a cog in a machine, instead as a unique and gifted human being, capable of making a tremendous impact in the world for good. Being treated as a cog will result in uninspired and low committed people – again leading to that dreaded Performance Gap.
Often policies and rules come into existence because of one bad situation or one bad person. Instead of addressing the situation there’s a policy written with the belief it’ll help assure that the situation doesn’t happen again. unfortunately what the leader is really doing is adding one more rock to the backs of the talented and committed people who didn’t need nor deserve the policy in the first place. Again this pushes open the organization’s Performance Gap.
On the other hand, where there’s good leadership, there’ll be talented and committed people who are clear on the organizations values, mission and goals, and the roles they play in helping achieve those goals. This combination of commitment, talent and clarity puts people in the place to make the right decisions at the right time without requiring the answers to be spelled out in black and white. Lots of policies and rules are for rulers not for leaders and great organizations need great leaders, not managers, so that there’s never a Performance Gap.
Winning and being on top is a great place to be personally and organizationally. There’s nothing like setting challenging goals, working hard to achieve them and then enjoying the sense of satisfaction that comes with knowing you and your team have won.
Yet this place is one of the most dangerous places to be. We’re at our most vulnerable because winning and being on top is a very slippery and deceptive place.
It’s slippery because no organization, team, or person wins all the time, nor sit on top forever (trust me I know this because I’m a Michigan football fan). This means we can never plan on or expect our lofty perch to last forever. There’s always a fall, a stumble or loss along the way.
And this is exactly why being on top is so deceptive. The longer we’re on top the more it feels like it will last forever, that our organization is somehow immune to whatever causes others to lose or fail. We even begin to feel that we’ve earned the right to be in this place regardless of what we do going forward. We may even admit intellectually that this can’t last forever. Yet too often we never allow this intellectual ascent to descend into our heart and our emotional being. The result is we never truly change our behavior or our direction until we find ourselves no longer on top.
So what can we do to protect ourselves and our organizations when we’re winning or sitting on top?
Play and Lead as if we’re behind.
We need to work as if the wolves are nipping at our heals, the barbarians are at the gate, that impending doom is sitting at our door. We can do this by always setting new goals, tougher standards, and expecting more from ourselves and our teams. If necessary, as leaders, we may need to find or create a crisis that reminds everyone that we’re much more vulnerable than we feel.
Or sometimes it’s as simple as giving all the naturally pessimistic people on our team a voice and really listening to that voice. When we’re on top we lose our sense of urgency about change. Our job as leaders is to create that urgency again, in ourselves and in others. And finally we can never allow ourselves and our teams to make decisions from the perspective of being at the top. The only perspective in which we should make decisions is in the light of being behind.
Finally, whatever we do, we cannot allow ourselves and our team to trust that feeling we have when we’re on top. Instead always, always we need to feel, play and lead as if we’re behind.
As Denise and I walked through a building on the Yard, we saw the words, “Excellence without Arrogance“, predominately displayed. As many of you know our third child, Mitch, entered the United States Naval Academy this summer as a freshman, or as they’re known as – Plebes, and where the campus is referred to as the Yard. When I read this maxim, six weeks into Mitch’s Plebe summer (basic training), I knew immediately it wasn’t just a pithy saying that someone painted on the wall but was a value that my son, as well as the other 1200 Plebes, learned during their training.
How do I know this?
First, the people affiliated with the USNA that Denise and I met, be it Naval and Marine officers, upperclassmen, facility and support staff, all demonstrated this incredible balance of excellence and humility. They were both gracious, friendly and helpful as well as they oozed with professionalism, commitment and excellence.
Secondly, when we were with Mitch that weekend, we saw change in him. He was no longer the same person we dropped off on Induction day. His sister, Christina, describe it best when she said “Mitch seems more confident and less arrogant.” An interesting play on words but an accurate description of this important Navy value, Excellence without Arrogance, becoming a reality in a future officer.
So here’s what we, as leaders, need to grapple with – a value of an organization or individual is not core just because it’s written on a wall, a card or in a website. It can only be core if it is so deeply embedded that it oozes out in such a visible and tangible way that others outside the organization can see, experience and name the value without ever reading the website.
The AT has a very simple trail marking system. It’s a white line painted on trees or posts along the trail. So hiking the AT requires nothing more than looking up for white markers, looking down so you don’t trip over any rocks, and looking around at the incredible beauty along the way. Not much daily strategizing if you have a good plan as my son, MD, did.
You see MD spent a lot of time planning out the trip. He created a great itinerary for my week with him as well as his three weeks on his own. He did a lot of research, talked to people who had hiked the AT, and reviewed his thinking with others. All this work fed into a great plan.
So while on the trail we spent little time figuring out where we were going each day, or calculating how far we’d walk, etc. The plan was good and unless conditions changed there was no reason to spend any time rehashing it. Instead we just got up, packed our gear and followed those white markers to our next camp site, enjoying the trail and the people we met on the way.
It reminded me of the temptation we have to continually want to rehash and revisit well thought out plans. People like to arm-chair quarterback, to debate and to continually question where a team, department or organization is going and how they’re getting there. Some people also have a high need to change, tweak and continually adjust a plan, in an effort to find perfection.
But when you have a good plan, this additional work brings little value to the process or end results. Too often it keeps people from focusing on the immediate, day-to-day work, the plan requires. And, more importantly, the extra work distracts us from the joy, adventure, and relationships that the journey of making the plan a reality brings.