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Leadership Lessons A-Z: Key to Kindness

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Kindness is not just a leadership skill; it is an essential life skill. As with many skills, kindness can be taught, demonstrated repeatedly over time in order for others to emulate. To be kind indicates that we value others. When we are kind, we treat others with respect and a willingness to serve. Kindness makes us feel good about ourselves, and by extension, helps us to feel good about other people. Kindness builds people up. That is important, especially for leaders. We want to help others feel good about themselves. We want those we interact with to leave our presence feeling uplifted, motivated, redirected, and empowered. Those feelings are possible even if we are providing challenging feedback, as long as we do so with kindness.

Kindness is the “state or quality of being kind” (Merriam-Webster, 2017). Synonyms include compassion, generosity, and benevolence. Are those natural tendencies for humans? Is it natural to be compassionate? Generous? Benevolent? Perhaps for some. For most, though, kindness is a choice.

As a noun, a key unlocks a door. As an adjective, a key is of crucial importance. What is of crucial importance that unlocks the door to kindness? It begins with care. We have to care about others, about who they are, what is occurring in their lives, what they are responsible for, and whether they have the resources necessary to be successful. Caring for others is also a choice, an action that requires us to set aside our own desires, even for a moment, in order to give of our time and energy to another person.

As we demonstrate care for others, we inherently utilize the second cut in our key to kindness: the ability to listen. Similar to care, listening is a choice that requires us to focus on another person, to hear and understand, to be empathetic, and to open the lines of communication so others can share with us their thoughts, ideas, and opportunities, as well as their areas of trepidation. Listening helps us to understand others.

The third cut of a key is service. Serving others helps us to develop meaning in our own lives. When we actively engage in putting someone else’s needs above our own, we are serving them. When we serve others, we tell them, without words, that they are a person of worth and we are grateful that they are in our lives. As with care and listening, service requires that we step outside of ourselves, giving of our time and energy to benefit someone else.

The key to kindness, then, is actually selflessness. When we demonstrate selflessness, we care for others, listen to them, and serve them.

The leadership lesson? We are the key to kindness for those who follow us. We model kindness so they are better able to be kind. We demonstrate compassion and generosity for others so that the ripple can continue beyond us into our workplaces and communities. Leaders: as we care for, listen to, and serve others, we are the key to kindness.

References:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kindness

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Jump to Judiciousness

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Many times, especially in tense or stressful situations, people jump to judgment. It is easy to take the information we think we know right now and reach a conclusion, make a decision, or issue a decree. Often, however, we realize after the fact that we did not have all of the information we needed, or our perception included some fallacies. In those moments, we recognize the importance of acknowledging our mistakes and may even need to apologize for hurried words or actions.

As leaders, we are unafraid of apologizing, of righting a wrong. However, we strive to be better each day, and do not want to cause a situation requiring an apology in the future because we were abrupt, unkind, or rushed to judgment. Those moments can hurt people. A leader’s intent is to build people up; however, our injudiciousness does not allow us to be our best selves, or inspire others to greatness.

Judiciousness is defined as good judgment; using wisdom and discernment in situations where we must form an opinion or make a decision. Judiciousness requires us to pause, to take a few moments to consider the information we have and where we might have information gaps. Judiciousness allows us to consider the ramifications of our response, in word and in deed.

Leaders want to be wise. We want to provide sound advice, speaking words of encouragement to others as we guide and mentor them. We hope to respond with soundness, providing actions plans in moments of crisis that create role clarity while resolving the situation at hand. Reactions are often rooted in judgment; we react to a person or situation based on a judgment we made that triggered an emotion and caused us to reply. Responding allows us a moment, however brief, to gather our thoughts, determine the appropriate level of emotion, and then provide the feedback required of us at the time.

What do we model? If we react, we often model judgment, which can be harsh and unfeeling. Judgment can stop us from listening and observing objectively, or from seeing the broader picture of how all the people and pieces fit together. If we respond, we are more likely to model judiciousness. Judiciousness provides an opportunity for us to listen, to observe, and to consider the people and pieces individually and collectively.

The leadership lesson? Jumping to judgment can create harm in our relationships. Taking a few moments to pause, to request information and listen, and to think through the consequences of our words and actions can help us to be judicious. Leaders, as we care for and lead others we must stop jumping to judgment. Instead, we must be willing to jump to judiciousness.

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Inquire to Improve

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One characteristic of leadership is the desire to improve. As leaders, we strive to better ourselves. We work to create a happier environment for others. We hope that others are enhanced in some small way because of our interactions. We want to improve, fostering growth in ourselves and others.

Sometimes, though, we are too self-reflective in the process. We self-evaluate, recognize opportunities to improve, and then work to do so. We read books on specific topics or hire a coach to help us overcome limiting beliefs. We implement new routines and practice new habits in order to become better. We make changes to processes assuming we will increase efficiency or decrease frustration, that our efforts will garner good will and create improvement for our teams.

Those are good things! However, we often neglect a crucial step in the improvement process: inquiry. We need to ask others for feedback. We should be reaching out to people at all levels in our organizations and asking about the processes, policies, and practices that guide behaviors. We ought to share information and ask for input from those who perform specific tasks. Equally as important, we should request feedback about ourselves – our management style, communication skills, and interpersonal abilities.

The inquiry may be uncomfortable for all involved. It may be hard for us to hear how others perceive us, especially in areas where we think we demonstrate high levels of skill and ability. It will be difficult for members of our team to provide feedback to us as well. As leaders, we should model giving feedback, acknowledging strengths and providing specific examples of opportunities to improve, coupled with suggestions of adjustments that can be implemented to shift behaviors and increase performance.

When we model giving feedback kindly and frequently, we are better poised to inquire of others regarding our own performance. We need to consider what feedback we request from others, and how we invite them to provide it. Sometimes anonymous feedback is more honest; however, sometimes it creates an opportunity for people to be unkind. An unbiased third-party can be helpful, but is not always necessary. The inquiry and response does not always need to be formal, either. The impromptu, casual conversation can be the most helpful in identifying a need for change.

This process requires us to reflect on our response to feedback as well. When we receive suggestions, we should respond with gratitude. Sharing an opinion regarding an opportunity to improve requires courage, and often occurs because there is a culture of trust, a sense of safety within the organization that allows for open communication. If we, as leaders, receive the feedback graciously and share our progress relative to the feedback, we will foster an environment that allows for improvement.

The leadership lesson? Improvement can be limited without external input. We must request feedback from others, soliciting opinions and ideas and encouraging honest dialogue. Leaders, we must be willing to inquire in order to improve.

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Help to Hope

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Hope is a feeling of expectation, a desire for a particular thing to happen. It is an optimistic state of mind. Most people want to feel hopeful – hopeful in their jobs, their relationships, their goals, hopeful for the future.

Sometimes, though, it is hard to hope. When the job is overwhelming, the culture toxic, or the environment unsupportive or harsh, hope seems distant. Those moments are when leaders must step in, communicating with positivity and passion. When we demonstrate continued commitment, we help others to hope. We provide a renewed sense of purpose, a feeling of significance, a camaraderie amongst the worn and weary.

How does hope help? When people have hope, they persevere. Circumstances may be challenging, but if we can cling to the hope of a brighter tomorrow we will continue to work towards our goals. The outcome may appear bleak, but as long as we have a glimmer of hope that the tide may turn in our favor, we will press onward. Hope fuels us to do more, to be better.

Sometimes, when struggles come, people need to be reminded to hope. Hope isn’t easy. Hope has to be replenished. Hope requires people to opt in, to look at the bright side, to see the opportunity. This is why leaders must help. To help is to make it easier for someone; we have to make it easier for people to have hope.

Where does hope come from? Hope stems from a belief in our mission. A sense of purpose, of rightness in what we’re doing. Hope rises when leaders are authentic, open about the challenges but optimistic about the opportunities. Hope increases when leaders celebrate successes and embrace new ideas. Hope provides a foundation for people to then be creative, communicative, and collaborative.

Is hope really that important? Absolutely yes. Without hope, people become complacent. They perform the functions of their position out of habit rather than engaging in their role in order to achieve goals or see success. Without hope, people become negative, waiting for the impending doom of loss – whether loss of revenue, loss of position, or even loss of the business altogether. Without hope, people assume the worst, and then begin preparing for it. A loss of hope instills a loss of engagement.

We rely on hope! Hope keeps us looking forward and moving onward. Hope is the key that unlocks our ambition and opens the gate to our willingness to try, to dream, to aspire. Without hope, we wither. With hope, we thrive.

The leadership lesson? Communicate with purpose and passion, inspiring others to the shared vision. When we can look to the future together, we have hope. Leaders, we must help those around us to hope.

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Give to Gain

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In our role as leaders we seek to inspire and motivate others. Our motive may not be selfish, but ultimately our goal is to gain something. When we are effective, we gain creativity, productivity, and efficiency. We gain respect, commitment, and loyalty.

But how do we get there? First we have to give. We can’t expect someone to provide us value without offering something in exchange. We give of our time and our talents. We give appreciation, accolade, and awards. As we’ve discussed in previous leadership lessons, our giving must be genuine, carefully considered and appropriate for the person and the purpose. For example, if we want to give accolade for a job well done, we should consider the recipient’s preferences for that accolade. Do they appreciate the spotlight, or would they prefer a private conversation? Would a thank-you note resonate? Or is a plaque on the wall better recognition?

How do we know the best way to give? We first give of ourselves. We give of our time, spending time to get to know our people. Who are they? What do they enjoy? What fuels them? What worries them? What are their strengths? What opportunities would they like to explore? This conversation has to be two-sided. If we ask people to open up to us, we must be willing to be open in exchange. Who are we? What do we enjoy? What fuels us? Worries us? What are our strengths? What opportunities do we want to explore? Some of the responses may be from our professional lives, some from our personal. That’s wonderful. All of the areas of our lives – personal, social, professional – blend to create who we are.

It can be intimidating to open up, to give of ourselves that much. It requires us to be vulnerable, perhaps more than we’re comfortable with. There is power in giving, though. We feel it when others give to us. We are grateful, sometimes honored, often humbled, when others give of themselves, their time, their talents, or their resources. Yet somehow, we forget that we too must open up and give generously. Our power as leaders comes not from authority, but from influence. Our influence is rooted in relationship, and relationships bloom when we give.

The leadership lesson? The gain that comes as a reciprocating effect of our giving cannot be purchased; it’s the gain of respect, of loyalty, and perhaps even friendship. When we give – generously, authentically, and without restraint – we actually gain.

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Forgive to Flourish

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One of our goals as leaders is to create a culture that encourages individual development while fostering a sense of community. We seek to construct a positive environment and coach our teams in areas of communication, conflict resolution, and time management. We demonstrate commitment and engagement, and even mentor future leaders. We work hard as we invest in others.

However, sometimes we get caught up in negativity. Often, that negativity stems from a feeling of frustration or anger. We were wronged in some way. Sometimes it’s a larger wrong, sometimes it’s not; regardless, we hold onto the resentment. We remove people from our lives, even if they are still very present in our workplaces. We refuse to engage. We remain professional, but do not allow any personal interactions.

The danger is that we are learning the wrong lessons. We talk about learning how people cannot be trusted, or understanding office politics and how to play the game. We’re not talking about how to forgive someone who has hurt us or to extend grace when someone is having a bad day. We don’t talk about how to move past the frustration into a place of peace.

When we forgive, we free ourselves of the bondage of anger. We let people know that we will not hold our grudge against them, bring it up repeatedly, or talk about the situation with others any longer. We agree to move forward. This can be hard, harder still if the other person doesn’t admit wrong or feel the need to be forgiven. Forgive anyway. We’re not excusing another person’s behavior; we are, however, preventing their behavior from negatively impacting us. Forgiving requires strength. It focuses on repairing relationships.

As leaders we are investing in people. People who make mistakes. People who hurt each other. People who do or say things that are insensitive or unkind. People who make selfish choices in their effort to elevate themselves. People. Our primary function as leaders is to motivate and inspire people; however, we cannot be free to create vision, to motivate others, to inspire them to engage, to become better, when we are mired in negative emotions.

How do we forgive? First, we have to admit we are angry and understand the root cause. Sometimes the frustrations are unrecognized expectations. Sometimes the situation has triggered a situation that caused us pain from our past. Regardless, we have to recognize our own emotions and consider how they may be constraining us. Next, we have to be willing to let it go. This often requires we speak with the other party. Sometimes they don’t know we were holding onto hurt, or why; but they most likely experienced the sting of impersonal contact with us. Finally, we have to accept that the other party may not accept our forgiveness, or may not reciprocate the feeling. It doesn’t matter. We cannot lead without freeing ourselves from the negativity of anger, hurt, frustration, or unmet expectations.

The leadership lesson? When we forgive, we give ourselves permission to inspire others; and we give others permission to be their best selves. We must forgive in order to flourish – together.

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Engage to Elevate

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Employee engagement is an oft-discussed endeavor. As leaders, we work to engage our employees, creating an environment where employees feel valued, where they have a sense of purpose and work together to help achieve organizational objectives that align with the company mission. We inherently understand that our organizations are better when our teams are cohesive, collaborative, and committed. That understanding fuels us to foster a culture that cultivates engagement.

Engagement is subjective. It’s demonstrated in how we show up, how we communicate, how we support and encourage. How do we engage? How do we stay engaged? We are leaders! We set the example. We create the tone of our organizations. If we are not demonstrating engagement, we cannot expect our employees to do so.

I once participated in an activity where I evaluated my team’s engagement through a lens of “rent versus own”. Renters were at work for the paycheck. They might enjoy the camaraderie of the organization, and often worked hard to fulfill the requirements of their job. They were good, solid employees who met expectations; however, they did not often look beyond the scope of their position to plan or to dream. Owners, on the other hand, demonstrated a deeper commitment to the success of the organization. They considered how their role impacted the organization at large, working for their own success as well as the success of other team members. Owners participated in planning, were unafraid to dream, and reflected on objectives in relation to the broader mission.

It was interesting to evaluate my team through that perspective. More importantly, it caused me to consider how they would evaluate me. Did I rent or own? In every day, every decision, every interaction, was I fully engaged? Committed? Was I acting as an owner? In most cases, I could honestly answer yes. However, I also recognized that there were some areas that I could improve. As a leader, I needed to be completely immersed, evidencing complete engagement in every conversation, memo, and meeting.

So I did. I reflected on why I’d chosen the organization I was working with, how my values aligned, and then reconnected my sense of purpose to every aspect of my position. When I re-engaged – 100%, not just 99% – my entire team felt it. We all worked a little harder. We all recommitted to the mission of the organization. We all sought to serve our customers, internal and external, just a little bit better. And each team member, whether a renter or an owner, experienced a bit of elevation.

Elevation? Yes. To elevate is to move or raise to a higher position (Merriam Webster, 2017). When fully engaged, each team member was elevated. Each felt the importance of their position and worked to help each other. Each recognized the danger of complacency and chose to do and be better.

The first step of employee engagement is leader engagement. And, when we are fully and completely engaged, we will elevate our teams. The leadership lesson? If we want more for ourselves, our teams, our organizations, we must engage in order to elevate.

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Dare to Dream

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Perhaps this seems cliché, but as leaders, how often do we take time to dream? I don’t mean while asleep, I mean specific time set aside to consider aspirations, to set goals, to consider an ideal future picture and imagine the outcome of the dream fulfilled.

The day to day can be all-consuming. We tend to over-commit, filling our calendar with back-to-back meetings and running from appointment to appointment with little time in-between. The example we set is more than a willingness to do it all. We create an image of leadership that feels overwhelming to others, modeling a work pace that is challenging to replicate.

Is that what leadership means? To be busy, in-demand, time-saturated? Of course not! By definition, a leader directs; a leader has commanding authority or influence. Leaders are required to be decisive, to exude confidence, to promote honesty, and to require accountability. Most definitions will also include that leaders should inspire others.

Those last few words create pause. A busy schedule does not inspire. A well-thought out goal, when properly communicated, may inspire others. However, goals do not appear solely based on balance sheets or P&L statements. Goals do not become clearer because of a noted inefficiency in production. Areas of opportunity are identified due to operational or financial challenges, and the solutions to those concerns drive goals. Consider this, though: before a goal is set, a leader must first dream, imagining what is looks like or feels like to become better. To be inspirational, goals must stem from a dream. A dream is what actually inspires. A dream is what creates a sense of purpose; the stated goal is the desired fruition of the dream, and the plan then follows in order to direct activities to achieve the goal.

Do we calendar time to pause, to think, to reflect? Do we give ourselves permission to imagine, to believe in a different future? Perhaps we do once a year in the scheduled annual planning sessions that most companies engage in.

Leaders, that is not enough. We must dream daily. We cannot inspire others without a dream. Our dream should invigorate us. It ought to help us renew our own sense of purpose so we can then motivate others.

Do we dare to clear our calendars for a period of time each day – even if only for fifteen minutes – to purely think? To imagine? To dream? To allow ourselves to envision the future? To believe in the good that we can create? We must dare to dream. Without a dream, we are simply passing time, filling our calendars and giving well-intentioned speeches while missing the opportunity to truly make a difference for others.

The leadership lesson? Dare to dream. Set aside time each day to imagine a desired future, believing that you can create it. Dare to dream, and in doing so, inspire others to do the same. A dream can ignite others, creating a commitment to do and be better in all facets of our lives. Leaders, dare to dream.

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Commit to Care

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If you’ve ever completed a personality assessment, you’ve discovered that you are either people-oriented or task-oriented. An orientation towards people indicates that you make decisions based on intuition and that under stress you are likely to focus on the feelings of others, while an orientation towards tasks indicates that you make decisions based on facts and logic, and that under stress you are likely to focus on the process in order to drive productivity. And, if you’ve ever completed that personality assessment in a workshop or seminar, you’ve been reminded that both sides of this coin are good; we need both in our workplaces to create a sense of balance.

Often, leaders will cite that their focus is people, that the priority is people, process, and then profits. This sounds good, feels good. However, if people were polled, they may not respond that those are indeed the priorities in the workplace. If we as leaders state that people are the priority, how do we prove it?

We commit to care.

Commitment is a pledge to a certain course of action (Merriam Webster, 2017). When we commit, we devote ourselves to the recipient of our commitment. If our commitment is to caring for and about others, we pledge to focus on people first. We choose to invest in people, to learn their names and ask about their lives. We recognize achievements publically and provide feedback privately. We talk with people at all levels within our organizations because we value the contributions that each person makes on our behalf, regardless of their title.

To care is to feel concern or interest; to provide what is necessary for the health, welfare, maintenance, and protection of someone or something (Merriam Webster, 2017). Leadership indicates that we feel concern or interest; however, care can be towards someone or something. When faced with difficult situations, it can be easy to revert to caring about processes or profits under the guise that people want a paycheck more than a friend. Yes, employees want to earn a wage that allows them to support themselves and their families; however, we also know that people will work for lower wages if they feel cared for, valued, and connected to their organizations. Our challenge as leaders is to focus our concern on people first, and to do so genuinely and consistently. As we do so, we become willing to invite employees into our world as well, to share some of the stressors and burdens and allow them to assist in finding solutions that affect our processes and profits.

Caring about others is time-consuming. It may require that we set aside our own agenda in order to listen. It may mean that we walk through our workplaces and have a brief conversation with employees that is not about productivity or task lists. It necessitates an emotional investment in others, in who they are and how they feel. Caring about others may not feel comfortable, but doing so will positively influence our organizations.

The leadership lesson? Commit to caring for others, for those we lead, in order to create a culture that demonstrates the priority of people, process, and then profits.

Leadership Lessons A-Z: Believe to Build

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As a leader, most of us are builders. We want to build up people around us, build our organizations, build our network, build our ability to influence, and build our resource reserves. We may find ourselves frustrated when we feel we are not building, or that our attempts to build are not successful.

Sometimes, especially in moments of frustration, we need to pause, reflect, and reset. Our efforts are more effective when we recognize our underlying intent. Why do we want to build? What are we trying to build? What is our expected outcome? All of those questions need to be answered, internally and then externally, in order to see positive results.

As we answer the “why” questions, we have the opportunity to consider what we believe, and perhaps instill some of that belief into our environment. If we are trying to build people, it is because we believe in them. Our communication can then be rooted in a sense of belief; we invest in someone because we believe in who they are, in the potential we see in them, and the positive return we anticipate because of our investment.

The foundation to building, then, is belief. We have to explore our sense of belief in order to inspire those we lead. We should consider a few specific areas:
• Self – we must believe in ourselves. This is not arrogance, but rather confidence that we are capable. We must believe that we have something to offer, a message to share, a skillset to demonstrate. We have to believe in our own purpose, and that our every action is helping us to live that purpose. Our belief in self is not fleeting or flashy; it is a deep connection to our own sense of purpose. We build ourselves through our belief in our unique purpose and our ability to serve, inspire, or create.
• Others – we must believe in others. This stems from a belief that people are inherently good and that they want to be a little better today than they were yesterday. We recognize that people want to do well in whatever task or duty they are assigned and be appreciated for their efforts. We must also believe that each individual has their own purpose, and it may be our privilege to help them uncover their purpose. We build others through our belief that they offer something unique and valuable to us and others.
• Organization – we must believe in the organization that brings us together. The mission of the organization should connect with us personally, with our mission and purpose. The values of the organization should align with our personal values. We must believe that our work in and through the organization matters, that through the organization we are able to manifest our purpose and support others as they do the same. We build organizations through our belief in their mission and values coupled with our belief that we are able to positively contribute while continuing to grow.

The leadership lesson? Believe in order to build – whether self, others, or organizations. Our ability to lead is buoyed by our willingness to build, and our ability to build is anchored by our belief.