Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What Leaders Care About

Many people read my leadership blog. A blog where I talk about my experience and what works for me. Also, I am always encouraging everyone to think for themselves and think critically. Only then you can find what is right for you, what works for you, what fits you. Don’t just believe.
Lately, I am more often approached by some of my readers telling me that they ‘completely agree with what I am saying’. Of course, that makes one feel well. Yet, I then ask them what exactly it is that they agree upon completely with and why. And they tell me down to the detail the what and why. They tell me that they now know and understand leadership so much better. They tell me that they have learned a lot.
My next question then is, how much of what they agree upon they have already implemented. What they are doing with what they have learned. How they are using it. And that’s when I usually get the blank look. Turns out that in 99% nothing was implemented or executed at all. Nothing has changed. Business as usual. Or, the typical behavior of wannabe leaders.
What do true leaders care about?
True leaders are a special breed. They don’t live by the book. They don’t follow rules, they make rules when necessary. They don’t allow anybody to force them into predetermined patterns / structures to follow. They dislike, even hate hierarchies in the classical, traditional sense. They love freedom. The freedom to follow their own innovative ways. In their own, often fast paced, speed. They don't follow the proverbial 'different drummer'. They are their own drummer.
Leaders have a natural curiosity. An immense curiosity. They always want to know and understand. They immerse themselves in many different fields. Fields often unrelated, or so it seems to most at first glance, to what they are doing right now. They know that ‘tunnel vision’ is dangerous. They understand the importance of a broad perspective. And they look into these other fields in depth.
Each time leaders find something new of importance to them, they look for ways to include that into their repertoire. That could mean that what they found is an addition. Or, it could also mean that it is replacing something else. Leaders have no problem to get rid of stuff that no longer serves them. Stuff, that is outdated or plain wrong. They have no problem recognizing to be wrong and adjusting accordingly. The only thing leaders always ask for is evidence. And then they implement and they do that fast. Leaders think, talk, and act fast. Faster than most others. Even if that might put others at unease.
Leaders care about spending time with experts from different fields. They enjoy sharing and discussing with them and learning new things from them. They don’t just hang out and meet with people from their own field. Nothing new to learn there. Usually the same stuff over and over again. Irrelevant for broadening one’s perspective. "When you want to learn about wolves, don't ask sheep."
Leaders care about time. They understand time and its importance. A minute spent you can never get back. Time is your most valuable resource. Spending your time wisely is, thus, mandatory. Even when others might accuse them of being rude, leaders don’t waste time with trivia. Leaders dislike meaningless small talk.
Leaders care about character. They don't care about ranks or other insignia of assigned leadership. Leaders care about and respect people who have something important and relevant to contribute. Something they can learn from. They love the intellectual challenge.
Leaders don’t waste time discussing pointless things. Rather, they avoid discussions purportless to them and, instead, focus on what’s relevant. They also dislike endless discussing and noodling through of issues that are already crystal clear to them. Hence, they surround themselves with a team of people able to ‘match their dynamics’. People able to be a formidable intellectual challenge. Often and preferably also troublemakers. Those never accepting the status quo. Direct and to the point. That’s the type of people leaders are learning from. Leaders are aware that they don’t know everything. They care about their team.
Leaders can easily distinguish between what’s relevant for them and what’s not. Irrelevant stuff they can’t learn from. Hence, they get rid of it immediately. Relevant stuff they use and implement fast without hesitation. Leaders care about implementing and using what works. No such thing as saying it’s relevant for them but then faltering with implementing it.
Leaders care. And they know what to care about.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Leading is Being Authentic

Leading is being authentic and saying what you really mean. That requires knowing and understanding what you are talking about. Communicating what you truly stand for. And communicating in that context means speaking, writing, and acting accordingly. True leaders know that well.
Definition
authentic = real or genuine, not copied or false.
As a leader you are always being carefully watched and listened to. Hence, whatever you say and how you say it is scrutinized by those following you. That includes of course also what you are writing and how you are writing. Then your followers will compare their findings with your actions and how you act. Based on that, whether you like it or not, they will make a judgment about you. And you will be judged whether you can be trusted and relied upon or not. You will be judged whether to follow you or not. Sooner or later.
How so?
Speaking or Writing about a topic you genuinely know:
When you speak or write about a topic it’s assumed that you have some genuine knowledge about the subject. And your knowledge is based on your own experience. When this is the case you come across naturally, you come across as who you are. You speak and write in your own words, your own way of saying things. In other words you sound authentic. People have a very sensitive radar to detect that.
Speaking:
When you speak about a topic you do that a bit differently than when you write about the same topic. There are the spontaneous speeches you gotta deliver right away. And there are the ones you have a chance to prepare for. That could be one-on-one, in a meeting, or even in public. When you truly know your topic, when you have first hand experience with it, your speech will almost come out by itself. It is this knowingness deep inside you that makes it possible. You and your topic become and are one at that moment. Your ‘thinking while talking’ is automatic, because of that knowingness. The result is a fluent, vivid talk triggering all kinds of images in the minds of your audience. Your speech becomes a story. And stories contain an emotional component. Or, as storytellers call it, the “Imagine … “ moment. Their (the audiences) eyes become wide open in awe … Leaders create Magic.
Writing:
Writing is different and it is much harder to get the undivided attention of your audience. Usually, when you write you do it with at least some preparation. Yet, the same is happening here. When you truly know your topic your writing becomes almost effortless. You are in the flow, your thinking is in the flow. Your thoughts about your topic are pouring out. And I mean your thoughts. Based on your experience. Not someone else’s thoughts. Write it down exactly the way your thoughts are coming. You will notice that your thinking happens in short bursts and to-the-point sentences. And that’s no wonder. You know what you are writing about. There is this knowingness again. And there, too, is a lot of emotion embedded. The emotional component is the lifeblood in the story. Unfortunately, we all have the tendency to ‘over editing’ what we write. Time and again we rewrite a sentence. Death by boredom is the result. Refrain from that and do your best to keep your sentences short. Keep them clear and concise. Create that “Imagine …” moment. Keep your audience in awe …  Remember: Leaders create Magic.
How does it sound when someone has no clue:
More often than not we are coming across people not knowing what they are talking about. Countless seminars, conferences, etc. are paving the way to boredom. Where ignorance meets naiveté. Not only don’t they know what they are talking about. They also don’t know that they don’t know. Hence, they talk anyway and believe they are leaders. And they add to the noise big time. And most people are too polite to call them upon it. To tell them that the emperor has no clothes. They rather endure the pain inflicted.
Speaking:
The first sign of clueless speakers is their clinging to their PowerPoint charts. Highly complicated charts filled with huge amounts of absolutely meaningless data. Data ripped out of context and designed to impress. And the more people are impressed by these charts, the less they are impressed by the one speaking. The speaker reduces himself to a news presenter. And no one follows mere presenters.
The next sign is the way they talk. The use of the language. Highly complicated wording containing lots of buzzwords. Long, very long sentences. The phrasing is kept in a neutral language. Aseptic. Anemic. Putting a huge distance between them and the audience. One cannot relate to their message, because it’s not theirs. Let alone relating to them. And it becomes more than obvious that they have no idea what they are talking about. People don’t need much time to figure that out. A couple of minutes if much and they stop listening to such gibberish. Not worth it. Yet, often these guys are applauded and mostly by the other clueless people in the audience.
Clueless people have heard or read about the topic. Yet, they never had any experience with it. They just memorized it. They follow the gurus. Exactly the way it is taught in our educational system. Filling in knowledge from the past in huge quantities. Suffocating thinking. Instead, telling people what to think. Creating obedient workers.
Writing:
The same happens when people don’t know the topic they write about. Yet, it’s often even worse. Long articles are written. Even books. With even longer and ever more complicated sentences. Camouflaging the ‘copy and paste’. Often using lots of generic stuff available everywhere. Technology makes it possible. Bookstores are filled with it. Even PhD thesis are done that way. Worse, many of them get even approved. Equally aseptic and anemic as their speeches. Just listen to many politicians.
That gives you a taste. No one wants to waste time with those. And definitely not following them. The daily dose of pain inflicted. Until someone finally calls it out.
What does it mean for leadership:
Leaders know and understand the importance of authenticity. They know that it means being honest. They know that it requires personal experience before you talk about a subject. Here is a quote from the Austrian poet Christoph Ransmayr describing that beautifully:
“It’s simply gibberish saying that true adventures are happening in the head. There are no thoughts and thought experiments, no dreams, no fantasies without the personal experience a human being really had in this world. World in that context also means of course the experience between people, not just experience in the heights, the deserts, the loneliness. Eventually one must venture out and, maybe, even risk one’s life, to bring back those images, those feelings, those sensations, those thoughts, which then can be fantasized upon by the poet, the philosopher, the composer.”
And here are a few more hints:
  • Leaders talk and write about topics they genuinely know and have experienced themselves. There is a saying: “When you have heard it, you don’t know it. when you have read it, you don’t know it. Only when you have experienced it yourself and live it, then you know it.”.
  • Leaders lead with their talking and writing. Each word, each sentence has purpose. They get across where they stand, what they stand for, and who they are. Some might like it, some others won’t. They are not shy of polarizing with what they say. The litmus test of being authentic. And it earns respect.
  • Leaders craft and tell a true story. A story containing emotional components. Components that can only come from people having experienced it, lived through it, gone through it. Picture the Everest and one person describing the ascend, but has never been there and done it. And then listen to or read the story of someone who really did it. What a difference experience truly makes.
Coda:
As Virgil said: “Trust one who has gone through it.” Exactly. Those having gone through it themselves are the only ones able to lead you through. Ponder that carefully. Think critically. You might have to dismiss a lot of people in your life pretending to be leaders. Think and never follow the pied pipers. Never allow anybody to waste your time.

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