Bozo the Clown

Remember the Bozo the Clown punching bag that your parents bought you as a child?  I certainly do.  They could have given me a Superman or Batman punching bag but opted for the Bozo, setting me on a clear path for life…but that’s for another post. 

I’ve always been impressed by Leaders who are resilient.  They, much like Bozo, know the difference between what matters and what doesn’t.  The few things that matter are like Bozo’s foundation: that bag of sand that he had around his feet.  The rest, while it has a certain structure, doesn’t matter much; like the rest of the Bozo toy.  When you’re feeling frazzled just ask, “What really matters?”  Take the time to answer it. 

Effective Leaders are resilient under pressure.  They know what matters and it serves as their solid foundation.  With everything else, they flex.  And they smile.  When punched around by circumstances (or by people), they flex, smile and return to an upright position. 

As a Leader, do you know what matters?  Are you utterly clear about the purpose of your organization?  Are you utterly focused on your mission?  Do you make every decision based on the impact it will have on the mission?  Every decision.  Not “most” decisons; not “strategic decisions.”  Every decision.  This is the key to resilience. 

Resilient Leaders also think differently about time.  They think backwards about time.  In the mind of the Resilient Leader the mission is accomplished, the vision complete.  Today, therefore, is lived in the context of a new potential future.  Resilience comes when today’s experience (difficult or delightful) occurs in the context of a nearly certain vision. 

So, here’s a quick Resilience Quiz:

  1. Do you know the clear purpose of your endeavor?
  2. Can the three people with whom you work most closely communicate that purpose with the same passion as you?
  3. Does that purpose compel you? 
  4. Have you willingly sacrificed something of significance for that purpose?
  5. Have others? 

Yes to all:  You are one resilient Bozo.  🙂 

Next time: Resilient Leaders Create Resilient Organizations.

First, Get Good at Getting Good

With widespread economic uncertainty the report from the workplace that I hear most often is “We’re afraid.”  People use other words of course, and they don’t scream and run out of the room or slap co-workers and punch out delivery men but the message is loud and clear.    

Fear at work creates some predictable reactions.  When we are afraid we shut down and shrink, strike out and protect or simply lock up and stare hoping momentum will carry us through the day.  We suppose each reaction will decrease fear and increase security.  But what if those reactions actually made us less secure in the workplace?  What if our habitual responses to fear actually made us less valuable and therefore less secure in the workplace; somehow less relevant?

Since the social contracts around work have changed and since our value in any work enterprise is a function of how quickly we adapt and learn to get results, we need a new way of thinking and responding in the face of uncertainty; a new way of approaching work. 

For generations, the most secure people in the workplace were those who had deep knowledge about a specific area; they had expertise.  Their security came from ever deepening expertise in a specific arena.  But what if the arena in which they developed expertise changed in value?  What if it was not needed as much any more?  

Now, since we are engaged in “doing a better job” rather than “doing a job,” our value comes from our ability to develop new expertise in new arenas…quickly.  The most indispensable person at work is the one whose can learn and adapt, get comfortable, get good and do it again…with a smile.    Security comes from constantly gaining expertise.  Security comes from change.  News flash, huh?  

The surprise to some, especially those frozen in fear, is that individuals with the greatest value to the enterprise are not those with static expertise (deep expertise gained in a defined and specific arena) but rather with dynamic expertise (expertise gained again and again in parallel or ancillary or developing arenas).  Learning Curve Mountain Climbers.  People who climb the mountain of the new arena “because it’s there.”  People who learn for the thrill of learning.  

A person with static expertise is good at a specific set of skills in a specific arena.  A person with dynamic expertise is good at getting good at things. 

Ponder these questions: 

Are you good at getting good at things? 

Do you know how you learn? 

Under what circumstances do you learn the most quickly? 

If you are a leader of people, do you know how they best learn?  

Do you know what each individual needs to get good at doing?  

What are the three competencies and skills that your groups need to demonstrate now?  What about next year? 

Answering these questions and then moving away from static to dynamic expertise will make a profound difference in the quality of your enterprise.  And, fear will first be defined, then be focused, and then fade into productive action.

Two Things All Effective Leaders Do Well

Every Effective Leader is skilled at two things:  Creating Clarity and Creating Alignment.  Do these well and everything else falls into place. 

Clarity is created when everyone knows the focus, the purpose, the result.  It is created when everyone can answer why we are doing this, why we are here and can identify the result we are after.  What is the one purpose of this meeting, this project, this task, this company or organization?  Effective leaders know that great impact comes from disciplined focus on one thing over time.

Alignment follows Clarity.  Alignment is created when every activity, every decision, every choice and every investment is made to get us to the one clear result.  Creating Alignment requires discipline.  Aligning all we do to get to the clear outcome means that we say “yes” to one thing and “no” to dozens of things. 

How clear are the people you lead?  Do they know what you are all trying to accomplish?

How aligned are your efforts?  Are all your investments of time and energy pointed in the same direction?

Here’s some “Rocket Surgery” (to quote our former President): How do you know if people are clear about what you are trying to achieve in the meeting, in the project, in the department?  Ask.  How do you know if people are aligned?  Ask.  You will be surprised at what you hear.

Effective Leaders Ask Questions

How many questions were you asked today? (There’s one right there.) How many did you answer? (There’s another.)

“What should I do about this problem?”
“Can I take next week off?”
“Who would you like to attend the meeting?”
“Should I buy yellow or green post-it notes?”

If you answer the question, you are making a decision. If you make the decision, someone else didn’t.

I know, you are exceptionally gifted, talented and experienced. But, what is lost when you make the decision?

I’ve noticed that effective leaders don’t make many decisions; they don’t answer many questions. Rather they make the greatest long-term impact when they ask questions and empower others to make decisions.

“What do you think is the best solution?”
“What is the purpose of the meeting?”
“What’s worked before?”
“What problem are you trying to solve?”
“Where have we already addressed this problem?”
“What could you do differently?”

There are some questions and decisions that are yours—and yours alone—to answer. Depending on your role in the organization, you are responsible for answering one or two key types of questions and asking for answers in all other areas. (See Leadership Letter: Tipping Over, The New Dynamic Structure of Flexible Organizations)

By allowing others to answer questions and make decisions that are not specifically yours, you give (and therefore multiply) power. Power is simply “the ability to get things done.” This can be a challenge for some leaders and managers because they define their effectiveness by number and quality of the answers they give. Being the “go to” person who has all the right answers can be at first rewarding. In the end, however, as the complexities of challenges and skills of coworkers grow, such a practice will severely limit your enterprise.

If you’ve begun to search for a point of leverage so you can increase your effectiveness, perhaps it’s time to stop answering questions and start asking them. Perhaps it’s time to give the authority and responsibility for the outcome to others.
Your effectiveness may then be defined more by the questions you ask than by the answers you give; by the power you create rather than the power you use.

Try this today:

Pay attention to the questions you ask, rather than the ones you answer. Challenge yourself to go an entire day at work using only questions. Lead people to think, plan, solve, implement and evaluate by simply asking questions. Ask questions and expect those you engage, not to come up with your answer, but a better answer; a better decision.

A word of caution: Be careful not to ask questions you don’t want answered. That can come across as manipulative.

So, should I buy yellow or green post-it notes?

De Hicks

The next issue of the Leadership Letter is coming soon.

Upcoming Leadership Letter topics:

How Leaders Create and Sustain Vision

Navigating Through Change

Leading Your Leadership Team

Becoming (and remaining) a Resilient Leader

Stress and Fear: The Unspoken Fears of Leaders Under Pressure

Tipping Over: The New Dynamic Structure of Flexible Organizations