What is a Leader?

Someone said the first week of October was the most “2020” week that had happened so far in 2020.

It’s hard not to agree.

A lot of conversations I’ve had in the last few days have focused on the topic of leadership. It’s hard not to talk about leadership when it’s all over the news as the underlying theme in some of the biggest areas of discussion, such as the upcoming elections, organizations continuing to navigate the impact of COVID-19 and families working through challenges with schooling at home. Leaders are needed in each of these situations, and they need to show up in a big way.

But we’re not seeing it. So it begs the question: how do you define leader? What makes a person an effective leader vs. just carrying the title?

Here’s what I think:

A leader is someone who is in charge – earned or not, they have the title (and we know a title doesn’t make a leader… read on).

A leader is someone who can make decisions.

A leader is someone who has (often) worked hard to obtain the knowledge they have that got them to the place where they are today.

But an effective leader is different. An effective leader is someone who:

  • is aware of their strengths and how to manage them up or down as the situation requires
  • can make confident decisions in a short amount of time with the information they have
  • knows the importance of being adaptable, flexible, resilient and agile, because the world is constantly changing
  • is able to change direction without pointing fingers or complaining because they are confident in themselves
  • is aware of their liabilities and blind spots and seeks out guidance and insight from others who are strong in those areas and can provide the information needed to help reach the greatest and most effective decision
  • isn’t afraid to admit they don’t know
  • is someone who inspires confidence in others and challenges and encourages others to work towards their potential to be the best versions of themselves
  • inspires trust and loyalty

An effective leader can be a parent, a family member, a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a neighbor. Regardless of their role, they have and live the attributes of an effective leader.

Take Action
So, how do you define a leader? Think about those who you would consider leaders and assess their attributes. Summarize what you feel makes a productive and unproductive leader. Then, check in on yourself. How you are a productive and effective leader in the areas of your work and life? How are you unproductive? What do you to work on to be more successful?

Titles are great but they don’t define the person from the inside, and that is where leadership resides. You know a leader not by what they say about themselves as much as what others say about them. Those who guide, engage, support and encourage others are true leaders. Be one. Set the example. Set the standard. Inspire others.

By Kristin Allaben

Consider reading Coronavirus: 3 Things You Can Do to Prepare Your Organization for the Unexpected on TLNT (written by Jay Forte)

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Your Mood Affects Others; Manage it.

The grumpy customer made you grumpy. The impatient driver activated your short fuse. The enthusiastic employee made you smile. The supportive manager inspired greater team camaraderie.

How others act affects how you act. It is called emotional contagion. Emotion contagion can be positive and inspiring, or it can be negative and demotivating. It all depends on how you show up to a situation and how you decide to respond instead of react. This has particular importance for leaders and managers within an organization.

Leaders set not only the strategic direction of the organization, but how they show up to their interactions, challenges, successes and opportunities influences how they engage or disengage an entire organization.

Think about a time when you encountered a disappointment, frustration or aggravation. How did you handle it? Did you ensure everyone around you knew you were frustrated or aggravated? Or, did you take a breath, manage your emotions and stay clear, focused and intentional about your direction? What was the impact on others of your choice?

Now think about a time when your boss encountered a disappointment, frustration or aggravation. How did they handle it? Did they make a point of sharing how frustrated and aggravated they were? Or did they handle it calmly, wisely and intentionally? Again, what was the impact on others because of their choice?

When we let the challenges and aggravations of work and life get under our skin, we absorb the negative energy and share it without thinking. If we are upset, others know it. And the more leaders share it, the more they can take an upbeat and productive organization, disengage the employees and quickly send them running to other organizations where leaders have learned to manage their emotions.

Here is some good news: the same happens with positive emotions. Approach your day with gratitude, patience, resilience and optimism and you will spread it. The more you feel these positive emotions, the better your days are and the more you can counteract the negative emotions from others. Think of it as a forcefield that encourages confidence, enthusiasm and positivity.

Being able to call on these positive emotions when things (and people) around you are challenging requires you to have a daily practice of building positive energy. Reading, listening to or playing music, taking a walk, enjoying nature, spending time with those you love and care about are all ways for you to develop a successful distraction from the negative energy and people, and to remind you that there is always more good around you than bad; you may just have to work harder to see it. It is up to you to build your toolbox – the things that help you stay upbeat, calm and optimistic, regardless of the challenges, noise and nasty people around. These situations and others’ behaviors are about them, not you.

Make it your choice who and how you want to be. Building a practice of self-management and resilience through gratitude, optimism and care builds a positive forcefield that negativity cannot pierce.

Take Action
At the beginning of each day, identify 3 things that will make your day great. Do the same thing at the end of the day; identify 3 things that made your day great. Focus on being positive, optimistic and engaged. Identify when you brought negative energy to your workplace or life – and why. Be on the lookout for other times that will take you down and build your positive focus to meet them head on.

When you have a successful optimism and gratitude practice, it is easier and more successful to handle whatever life sends. From this place, you send off a greater, happier energy that can then ripple through your workplace or home. You encourage more positive emotions and actions in others, instead of allowing their negativity and pessimism to influence you.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading How to Get the People Thing Right for Your Business

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Believe in Heroes

One of the self-discovery activities I use to help people develop their self-awareness includes this question: “When you were younger, who was your hero?”

When I’ve asked this question over the years, I have heard that certain teachers were heroes for their ability to help someone who never felt heard or valuable feel both heard and valuable.

I have heard that a parent can be a hero because of the way they live their life – always responding to and caring for others; being creative and authentic no matter what; believing deeply in the greatness in their kids; having a unrelenting faith or actually allowing others to determine their own beliefs.

I have heard that a boss or a colleague can be a hero for the way they create or support a workplace that is fair, focused on achievement and inclusive, and never gossips, demeans or belittles anyone.

I have heard that a friend can be a hero because of the way they stay with you through your ups and downs, without any judgment.

The purpose of this question is to help you identify the attributes you see in others that are important to you. We need heroes in our lives because they give us three important things:

  1. Heroes teach us. They do what they do so well that we take note. Maybe we see who we want to be, or how we want to connect with others, or how we want to live, or how to develop and live deep beliefs. Their commitment to who they are expands what we think about, see and consider. Heroes help us learn.
  2. Heroes help us define our values. As we watch and are impressed by others, we start to identify why we are impressed; we start to identify the things that are important to us. It may be that they treat people kindly and fairly; we see these are our values. It may be that they are resilient and tenacious; we see this and we want to be this. It may be that they are excellent negotiators and always seem to find a way to achieve their goals; it identifies that achievement is important to us. By watching others, we frequently get clear of our own values.
  3. Heroes encourage us to be our best selves. Heroes bring their A-game. The show up. They step up. They stand out. The don’t play small. They sit on the sidelines. We see their effort and focus and are encouraged and inspired to tap into ours. We see the impact they have and connect it to the effort they bring.

The thing I have found most amazing about heroes is that they never intend to be heroes. They are humble. They are authentic. They just do what they do because they believe it to be true for them.

My dad was one of my heroes. He defined his values in life and lived them boldly, openly and lovingly. He brought his best to others. He did it not to impress, but to make the world a better place. This was particularly difficult to do raising six kids.

Take Action
Watch for heroes. Believe in heroes. Believe that we can each live consciously, intentionally and boldly what really matters to us, to make things better for all of us.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading The Imagine Game

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You Know You’re a Great Leader When You Do These Things

In the industrial age, we prided our leaders on being direct, assertive and knowing all the answers. We needed them to be a strong central figure to help direct and orchestrate work, manage people and make things happen. When the workplace remained fairly static in what work was and how it was done, it was not only easier to accomplish, but also praised and, to an extent, appreciated.

But then the workplace changed. Much of the make-things economy moved offshore, leaving us with today’s provide-service workplace. Every employee has the opportunity to directly interact with customers. This, combined with the fact that few workplace situations are the same day-to-day, changes not only what we do for work, but also how we work and how we lead those who work.

As a result, today’s workplace needs a new type of leader, one who is a good listener but also able to take charge. One who earns respect and loyalty from their employees and still drives results. One who can admit to not knowing everything, or to admit when they’re wrong, and use the wisdom of others to make wise, sound decisions.

To be an effective leader in today’s workplace, four attributes are required:

1. Today’s best leaders are humble. They are aware that they don’t know everything and are firm believers in the mantra, “none of us is as smart as all of us.” They facilitate open discussions and dialog to gather information to be able to fully understand situations, aware that they are no longer expected to have all the answers. Instead, their role is to direct their employees in how to find, gather or create the information. They leave their ego at the door, allowing them to more confidently connect and interact with anyone in or out of the business. They are more interested in having things done well and done right than being the one to have the answer. They know their role is to facilitate the creation and implementation of the best ideas.

2. Today’s best leaders are curious. Great leaders are masters at asking questions. They are interested in knowing what others think, consider, do and want. They know that the responses provide meaningful information that will help them make wise and more successful decisions. They have trained themselves to stop telling and do more asking. This approach has a significant impact on those around them. Others feel engaged, encouraged and empowered to share, think and contribute.

3. Today’s best leaders care deeply about their people. They know that despite the critical role the performance numbers play, the way to achieve results is through their people. They build honest, authentic and caring relationships not just to get their people to do things, but because they truly care about everyone in their organization. It is obvious when a leader truly cares vs. cares to get a result. Caring leaders inspire employee loyalty.

4. Today’s best leaders commit to helping everyone grow, learn and improve. In a world that constantly changes, those with the best skills have the best ability to contribute and build sustainable careers. Today’s leaders have expectations of their people to constantly look at their work and lives and ask the question, “what could I do to make this better?” This focus on gradual and continual improvement helps their people discover, develop and live their potential, leading to more engaged and successful employees, and an improved organization.

Take Action
As the world and workplace changes, so do the attributes of effective leaders. Stay tuned in, focused and aware of the changes to modify your style to stay effective and relevant. Your people expect it. Your organization relies on it. Your customers depend on it.

Original article appeared on The Ladders, October 7, 2019.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading 3 Things Every Manager Can Do to Increase Employee Engagement

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Leaders – Seek out, Accept and Act on Feedback

By Jay Forte

Many of today’s leaders and managers still think they have all the answers, a way of thinking that remains from our industrial age. But in a world that constantly changes, it is important that all mangers and leaders be adaptive – that they be open to seeing things differently, be open to new ideas and realize being in charge doesn’t always mean they do things well.

Feedback, not constructive criticism, is critical for every manager and leader. The term “feedback” relates to commenting on both successful and unsuccessful performance. Providing supportive feedback can help any employee or manager do more of what’s working and address those things that are not working; it builds the employee-manager relationship. Avoiding or rejecting feedback creates strained manager-employee relationships, robs leaders and managers of the opportunity to see how their performance is affecting others and misses the opportunity for their development. All organizations should be able to provide meaningful feedback both up and down the chain of command.

In all of my mindfulness training with CEOs, I introduce a process to help them stop and notice what is effective and ineffective with their performance. If there are things about your management style, how you deal with challenging situations, your communication effectiveness or even your ability to share a clear and cohesive vision that are ineffective, you will benefit from the feedback. Solicit, accept and act on feedback. The goal is to constantly improve.

So, the question is, in your definition of manager or leader, are you open to feedback, not just applause?

If I were to ask your employees whether you are open to feedback, would they have the same response?

Here are three practical tips to seek out, accept and use feedback.

  1. Give your team permission to openly share their feedback. Go ask for feedback. Share how you best process their feedback so they can deliver it successfully. Let them know you are focused on constant improvement and that their input matters. This goes for both things done well and things that need improving.
  2. Accept, applaud and thank employees who deliver feedback successfully, wisely and professionally. This encourages them to continue to deliver the feedback. It also encourages a more successful manager-employee relationship as both parties have honest conversations that are results-based and committed to improvement.
  3. Act on feedback whenever possible. Participating in feedback and actually using the feedback are two different things. Employees will stop providing feedback if they feel it is ignored or not used. If the feedback is meaningful, work to implement it.

Take Action

Have a meeting with your team to discuss the value of feedback for all employees, including management, and how to do it successfully. Make a point of ensuring that feedback is for both successes as well as challenges to encourage better balance in your feedback. Acknowledge when it is done well to encourage its continual use. Its goal is to encourage behaviors to do more of what works and to improve what’s not working – at any level.

 

Consider reading Are Your Employees Sitting on the Sidelines?

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