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Creating A Personal Leadership Ecosystem

EMlittleThe New Year is now upon us and we can be sure that 2016 will bring its own unique leadership challenges. As I reflect upon far too many years of thinking about this critically important topic, some things remain opaque, but some have become increasingly clear. In my 26 years in leadership positions as an officer in the Army and my 10 years with industry, I always marveled at the abundance of leadership material available to anyone who has even a passing interest. Every year it seems the market gets flooded with new books, new courses, new seminars, new coaches, new top 10 lists, new processes and new ways to drive personal and team accountability. With the overabundance of material out there, one has to wonder why there are still bad leaders –toxic to their teams, toxic to themselves, and ultimately, toxic to their organizations.Some of these leaders have every possible credential from the graduate diploma hanging on their “I love me” wall to attendance at the most selective leadership programs and unique designations created by HR teams to identify them as “special,” perhaps even better than others in the organization. The answer seems clear – credentials do not create purposeful mindset, they do not drive behaviors, and they have little bearing on whether this person or that person is, in fact, a good leader. They are, after all, about appearances rather than realities, and while they are important and actually do a lot to promote thought leadership, there is something missing from the equation. I think I understand part ofthat, and will share it with you in the hope that it adds, rather than subtracts, from yourquality as a leader. Ultimately, this post is about bridging the real gap in each of our lives between learning about leadership, and using that learning to change mindset and behaviors as we navigate our responsibilities as leaders. Some years ago, I met an incredible leader at one of the networking events I have attended over the years – Kellogg Innovation Network (KIN for short) – founded by Professors Rob Wolcott and Mohan Sawney from Northwestern University. I was at alunch sitting next to Betsy Holden, a very accomplished leader and former co-CEO of Kraft Foods. I engaged her in a conversation about how to drive change in large,complex organizations. Betsy laughed, then she told me about how prior to her years at Kraft, she was an elementary school teacher and while there, she learned one of the most important lessons of life. She said it always amazed her how driven we all seem to be to find the brilliant answer, often before we have taken the time and energy to frame the correct question.Her statement was life changing to me. Of course Betsy was right. Many of us, using the mantle of leadership as an excuse to drive rapid action, waste untold time and energy solving exactly the wrong question! And we do this over and over again. Ironically, if we simply took the time to reflect on the situation, involve our teams in the analysis of the problem, LISTEN to their input, and frame the right questions, we would not only achieve better solutions, but would save critical resources in the process. The lesson stuck with me, and I returned to my corporate job with a changed mindset that would lead to significant changes in my behavior as a leader and a mentor. I began to focus time andenergy on understanding the real questions behind our issues and challenges, and askedthe same of my teams. A questions-based approach seemed to offer so many advantages that I began to incorporate it into my mentoring, and that ultimately led to my publication of “Growing Mentor Intelligence – A Field Guide To Mentoring,” in 2012. I also integrated that thinking into my leadership philosophy. I reflected on how many of the leadership materials, books, conferences, lists, etc., all seemed to be focused on providing answers to making me a better leader. If I were just to do this or that, follow this list or that, adopt the current characteristic in vogue at the time, I would be a better leader. But the fact of the matter was that none of these items was ever going to make meor you or anyone else a better leader. I thought about my work in diversity and inclusionwhere I had begun to fully understand that the real foundation for this work lies in onesimple, undisputable truth – that each of us is a unique creation; unique in mind, bodyand spirit. I believe this to be the most important truth in life, leadership and mentorship.Because each of us is unique, there can never be a one-size-fits-all approach to any ofthese topics. What works for one person is based on who that person is, and since no two people are alike, it is not likely to work the same way for anyone else. When I combined this fundamental truth with Betsy’s questions-based philosophy, I decided to create a questions-based eco-system for leadership, a system that would provide no answers, but would frame every leadership question for any situation, and more importantly, work for EVERY person, regardless of situation, status, position or personality. This is my gift to you. I encourage each of you to read these questions,apply them to your current situation, and use them to help you find more meaningful answers as you lead your teams. Print them out and put them on your wall so each timethat phone rings or you get yet another email requiring a leadership response, you willthink about your PERSONAL answers to these questions based on who you are, how youare in mind, body and spirit, and what your answers to these questions mean to you andto your team. I don’t claim to have any answers for you, but I do have a few questionsthat might change your life, and the lives of the people you lead. Enjoy!

A Personal Leadership Ecosystem

• From what direction(s) do you lead?

– Up (looking at what your bosses will think), down (looking at what your team thinks), or lateral (looking at what your peers will think) or some combination? Why? What is your motivation?

– From the front or from behind? Do you run to, or away from, the crisis when it hits?

• How do you inform your leadership decisions?

– Do you value what do you know more than what you don’t know?

– Do you know the difference? How?

– How can you fill your “blind spots,” the areas that you cannot see but which are important to you decision?

• What do you really reflect to your team?

– When they see you, do they see their qualities and potential or their shortfalls?

– Do you really invest in diversity or in “sameness”? Do you run toward differences or away from them?

– Do they see you, or themselves, in your image?

– Do you “walk your talk”?

• How do you wield your power as a leader?

– As a gift, or as an earned entitlement? What opens your heart, your mind and your soul?

– With humility or arrogance? How can you tell? What would your team say?

– Do you focus on good intent or good result? Why is that important to you as a leader and what will that drive in mindset and behavior?

• Where do you point for successes? For failures?

– To yourself? To your team? To others?

– Do you ever pass up an opportunity to showcase your team? How do you share credit within your network? How do you advocate for your people?

– How important is credit to you (really)? Again, do you walk the talk?

• What do you leave in your wake?

– Do you lift others up, elevate them or do you diminish them or belittle them?

– Have you inspired others to unseen possibilities or do you demoralize them because of their limitations and imperfections?

– Can you see more in others than they see in themselves, and provide opportunity for them to achieve that potential?

• What is the source of your personal funding?

– Can you answer the larger questions of life? Do you even know what they are? Is your centering in yourself, or is it in something larger than yourself?

– How do you add to the bank account of your life? How can you as a leader add credits that really matter?

– What are your life debits and how do you pay them?

• When you are gone, what will be left behind, and will it really matter?

– Is your life a life of personal achievement or a life of personal significance? Do you understand the difference?

– What does the balance in your personal “life savings account” say about your investments in others?

Note: If you enjoyed this post I encourage you to check out my two books. These posts are part of a series of thoughts, observations and tools related to my original work, “Growing Mentor Intelligence™ – A Field Guide To Mentoring,” and the sequel, “Growing Mentor Intelligence™ – Companion Workbook.” Happy Mentoring!!!

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