Thursday, February 20, 2014

On "Why Leading?"

Why would anyone want to lead? Done right it’s one of the toughest choices one can make.


Definition of leading (according to the text books):

  • having great importance, influence, or success (Merriam Webster)

  • guiding, directing influencing (Free Dictionary)

All the official definitions go into the same direction.


Here is what I observed during many years in many organizations / companies. People are eager to get a leadership position, because they want to have

  • more money
  • more power
  • more exposure
  • more importance
  • more prestige

Those were the main reasons many of them gave me when I asked. All these reasons are self-centered. It was about them and not about others. It was about their personal gain. The way hierarchies are still set up is fostering and rewarding that.

Unfortunately in most organizations / companies that has not changed yet. Hence, the lack of true leadership is more than clear. Why is it that so many people hate their jobs? Why is it that so many people call it “the 9 to 5 kind of death”? Why is it that so many people quit? They either quit and leave, or they quit but stay. And the main reason for that is their supposed leader. And the cost of that is immense. Yet, no one seems to care and calculate it. Would you call that success?

Leadership the way I see it is different. It is something else altogether.

I don’t recall who said that: “Do you want to know if you are a leader? Then turn around now and look if anyone is following you.” That hits the essence of leadership. When no one is truly following you, you are not a leader. Period.

Forget the many books about leadership. Forget the many rules you were taught. Think for yourself. What is it that makes people follow a leader? What is it that makes people respect a leader? What is it that makes people commit to their common goal no matter what?

Leading is always about others. Leading is about the people supposed to follow you. Following is a choice people make. And they make the choice to follow you only then, when it feels right. Yes, you heard me. “When it feels right”, in other words “feelings” play a huge role. The reasoning follows how one feels about it.

As a leader you must have first and foremost character. Skills you can learn, character is a given. Values like integrity, trustworthiness, honesty, respect are the foundation of being a true leader.

Leading is about making others grow. It’s not easy. It doesn’t matter how great you are. You must use your greatness to rise up others. Your success as a leader depends on making your team members reaching their true potential. You depend on your team.

Leading is about making decisions, making the tough calls. To be able to do that you must listen to what your team has to say. Leading is also about having no doubt into the capacity of your team. Yet, you take the responsibility no matter what might happen. And you never blame your team for failure. And success is always the team’s success.

Leading people means that you are here for your team. Anytime. That includes also personal worries they might have. The fact that they want to talk with you about it shows their trust in you.

Back to the question “why leading?”. Why should one take such a responsibility leading brings with it? You work more, you work harder, you think more and think harder. Are you nuts? Insane? Why would anyone want to do that? That’s what some might think.  

Here is “my” why:

Leading is a lot like music. Leading is the music you create through your leadership while others are playing the instruments. Leading is having all the different players listening to each other while they play. That’s creating a symphony.

Or, to use the words of Benjamin Zander: Leading is creating shiny eyes. That to me is the most rewarding experience.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

On Team Training


Team training is in most companies overlooked. It’s dismissed as something unnecessary, as a waste of precious time. They hire people for certain well described jobs within equally well described departments. The hiring process is focusing on the individual and the team is not part of this equation.

HR, with some involvement of the department leader, is trying to figure out whether the candidate might be a good fit. They look thoroughly into the professional track record and to some extend into personal traits. Then they select the person to hire.

Welcome to the team they say.. But what team? Assembling a bunch of individuals around an assigned leader doesn’t make a team. No matter how good each one might be as professional, it’s a set up for frustration … in the best case.

Building a team requires time and effort, requires training. As important as the professional skills of a person are personal traits, character, attitude. Yet, people can learn skills, but personality and character are a given. The single most important value in a team is trust, mutual trust. Can I rely upon my team mate, can I rely upon my leader no matter what?

There are two ways to find out whether a team is in reality a team:

  • There is the long agonizing way on the job. Usually later, rather than sooner, you’ll find out who is who and meanwhile the performance is at most mediocre. And no controller seems to calculate the damage done to the company by that.

  • And then there is the way of team training, “outside of the box” … outdoors.  Every day spent on that will spare you the endless suffering of the first, the common option. Needless to say that it will also save you a lot of money in the longer run.

Take your team together with their leader outdoors and expose them to circumstances they are not used to. Have them endure some “hardship” and observe whether they are willing and able to work together. And some people will surprise you. In one way or another.

A personal experience:

Some time ago I went through some scuba dive training. The goal was to become a rescue diver. I did pick one of the toughest schools around. We were 12 students. We didn’t know each other before. The owner and master instructor told us two things: first, there are no courtesy certificates. You pass all the exercises or you are out. Second, scuba diving is a team effort and rescue diving even more so. Your survival in an emergency depends on your team mates.

The instructor divided our group of 12 students into two groups of 6 people each. Each group had to pick a leader. I was leading one group. One master instructor and six instructors took care of us. It is easier for the instructors to supervise two smaller groups. Besides that the idea was to get some competitiveness into the training..

We had four weeks of thorough theoretical training. Additionally to that we had open water training sessions as well. Since it was still winter time the water temperature of the lake was about 50 degrees F. We used wet suits. No dry suits allowed for that training.

The final weekend came. Two days of intense diving in the lake performing all the different exercises designed to rescue a diver. You have to find them first underwater. Then you bring them up to the surface, stabilizing them, and performing CPR on the water while pulling them to the shore.

To make a long story short: these two days are demanding and that’s an understatement. Each day we spent more than 9 hours in the cold water. We performed all sorts of tough exercises like fighting drowning divers and securing them. Just imagine a 220 pound Bavarian gorilla fighting you in the water! Quite an experience and these instructors knew how to put up a fight!

As the leader you are always with your group. You are the proverbial example. You perform the same exercises your teammates do. You lead and coordinate. And you spent the most time in the water. Your team trusts you. And you trust your team.

The last day in the evening we couldn’t almost walk anymore. We were shivering, freezing, but we had made it. We had made it because of extraordinary teamwork. At the end of the last day our team worked liked a clockwork. Success was only possible because of the team.

Intense four weeks and each minute worth it. The team was forged together through that experience.

Nothing gets built a team better than enduring together some real outdoor challenges. You learn who is cheating and who you can trust. You learn attention to detail big time. And the true leader emerges. When you can perform as a team in a challenging outdoor setting, nothing will stop you in your day-to-day activities.

Team training is a repeating effort. In my experience 2 - 3 weeks per every 6 months would be ideal.

Team building and providing the necessary team training is a core responsibility of leadership.

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