Lead Me Please: Developing Leadership Standby Skills

This weekend, I attended the TEDxWomen’s conference in Washington, DC. The theme was “The Space Between.” Women and men sharing amazing stories about the magic that can happen in the convergence of extremes.

“One day you will want to say, this is actually the right thing to do. And when you turn around, they are following you. I just want you ready for every single moment of leadership that comes your way.”

As I sat fascinated by the courageous stories of powerful women, I kept thinking, “huh, that sure wasn’t on their life map.” For most of these speakers, they weren’t out looking for opportunities to lead. They didn’t have a five-year plan to get onto TED. They found themselves in situations that ignited their passion wars, accidents, loss, violation of human rights. Their life got disrupted. They took action. They began to lead. Most of these women don’t fit the image of a traditional leader. I doubt most were in anyone’s “binders of women” or succession list. And yet, when they started doing the right thing, people followed.

Why Prepare?

So often, I hear people say. “Oh, I am not a leader.” That may work fine in most circumstances. The world needs great followers. But what happens when your passion erupts, and everyone is looking at you. You must prepare to be a leader because someday…

  • Life will bring you a disruption you can’t ignore
  • You will need to take a stand
  • Your heart won’t be able to turn away
  • No one else will care as much as you
  • Your passion will trump that voice in your head that says, “I am not a leader”

How to Prepare to Lead

Charlotte Beers shared her stories of why preparation matters, in her talk on the Space Between EQ and IQ. She also offers 3 vital skills everyone should cultivate to prepare for the toughest scenes in life. Personal Clarity: Getting underneath the personal traits and experiences driving your behavior Memorability: Honing your communication with a keen focus on the listener, “it’s not what you say, it’s what they hear” Persuasiveness: Harnessing your passion to attract others to follow I connected with Charlotte to ask for her advice. “What advice do you have for persuading reluctant leaders that they should and can prepare to lead?” Her answer…

When you want to lead in a crisis..you can’t UNLESS you’ve been practicing stepping out to lead on many small things. Watch who you are in those moments and rehearse saying it with clarity, memorably and persuasively. You’ll blow it sometime. So what, it’s only work.

In today’s connected world, I am not sure “if leaders are born or made” is the relevant question. We can all have a platform. The bigger question is, will be ready to use it?

Face Time or Face Time?

“We live in a world that is connected 24X7, but loneliness is at an all time high. We are trying to find our way”

Elizabeth Lindsey, Explorer and Way Finder, see her 2012 TEDxWomen talk

I walked into his office with a long list of updates to cover. We realized we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while, and both commented on how much better it is that we could do so much virtually. The video conferences and conference calls were working quite well. It’s much more productive without all the travel. It’s a huge relief to avoid long road trips for short meetings.

And then we both realized, almost simultaneously that what we needed to talk about most was not on the list. It must have been the look in my eyes. That look would never have been noticed over a video conference. We had one of the best conversations ever, we both left with some important next steps. We both felt better. We never got to the list I had walked in with.

Somethings are just better in person.

Face Time Choices

I know this, I feel the same thing with my team. And yet of course there are tradeoffs. Time, travel costs, travel fatigue.

I was particularly stuck by Michele Cushatt’s recent post, Why Face Time (the real kind) Matters, I agree with her insights. Technology is great for keeping us connected, and it can also be abused. I find it ridiculous when people will dial into a conference call when most of the participants are sitting in the same building. As Michele says, Because there’s “something magical about being face-to-face with another living, breathing human.”

So here’s the rub.

You can’t have face time with all the people that matter at the same time.

If you travel to be with your team, you miss having dinner with your family or reading a book at bedtime or the homework frustration. Of course you can Skype or use “Face Time”.. even with a bed time story, but it’s just not the same.

If you chose to call into the meeting, you miss that important conversation that would have happened on the break. You may also miss the chance to bump into your old boss in the cafeteria who has a great new opportunity that would be just right for you. You miss the important trust that’s built by a team hanging out together.

Of course, there are lots of important approaches to maximizing remote relationships. Remote teams and employees can be very productive. I share some of this in my post,  Long Distance Leadership: Can Distance Drive Engagement and Results,. After years of leading remote teams, I also know it is vital to “show up in person more than is practical.”

So, what’s the right ratio? What’s the right time? How do you know it’s time to get on a plane? How do you choose between face time and face time?

The amount of time between visits?
The stage of the relationship or team?
The personalities involved?
The current results?

Developing Leadership Qualities in Kids

Thanks for tuning in to Let’s Grow Leader’s Saturday Series for developing leadership in kids. On Monday we return to our regular leadership fare.

Today is a guest post from Curtis Fletcher. 

Developing Leadership Qualities in Kids

Imagine almost any adult gathering you’ve ever attended. It could be a workshop, dinner party, political rally, anything. There are always those first few moments when the people who didn’t previously know each other begin to mingle and meet.

If you listen carefully to those conversations they contain some interesting probing questions about profession, education, hobbies maybe, but the answers are even more telling. The answers include job title, degree, or length of experience and credentials.

It’s almost comical how much adult conversation, especially introductory conversation, is spent in determining ranking. Who is going to play the dominant role and who is going to play the more subservient role? In short, who is the leader?

As adults we have all kinds of cues from which to draw hierarchy and we do it almost unconsciously all of the time. By way of example? How many are already wondering about my qualifications to be writing about developing leadership in children?

Because your typical kid doesn’t have this vast array of information to draw from leadership roles in childhood tend to derive from much more primitive characteristics: biggest, strongest, loudest, etc. You could even make an argument for parental social status rich kids win out over poor kids kind of thing.

As a result, unless we’re content to leave the development of future leaders to the whims of natural selection alone or some modern approximation of monarchical inheritance, we need to employ some adult wisdom in helping kids try on leadership to see if it fits.

This approach assumes that there is adult involvement in helping guide kids through the a leadership experience and so, as that adult, you need to help your young charge by taking four actions in regards to their leadership:

1. You have to Endorse it.

Adult endorsement helps kids overcome those tendencies towards natural selective processes. In fact, the less obvious the leader from the stand point of those bigger, stronger, faster characteristics the more important the adult endorsement.

Remember the objective here is not to see who naturally takes over, though there are times for that too, the objective is to help kids develop their own leadership skills, qualities and abilities.

2. You have to Define it.

Simply stated here you can’t just tell a kid to ”lead” you have to give them some boundaries. “You’re in charge for this project, or this class period, or this practice.” By establishing this kind of boundary you help the kid understand where their leadership begins and ends.

Just because you put a student in charge of the math circle doesn’t mean you expect them to be a kickball captain at recess but THEY may not know that unless you define the boundaries.

3. You have to Goal it.

As adults we hate being given charge of something for which there is no well-defined desired outcome. How much more so for a kid trying to sort out what it means to lead?

“You’re in charge Timmy, I need you to be sure everything is under control.” Yikes, I’d hate THAT as an adult!

“Suzy, I’m putting you in charge. We need to have everyone in their seat, tables cleaned up, at ten o`clock.” This is not only clear, but it is achievable. Even the language in this second example is better. Using the word “we” reinforces the endorsement of the leader.

4. You have to Evaluate it.

Feedback after the fact is important and a significant part of that evaluation should be living by the results of the choices the young leader has made. Let them know how they did but also let them see where their decisions lead.

We often think of natural selection as nature’s way of giving certain people an edge. If you want to give your young leaders their own edge in learning how to lead you can do so by making sure you Endorse, Define, Goal, and Evaluate their leadership experiences.

About the author:

Curtis Fletcher has been involved in teaching, coaching, and mentoring kids of all ages for most of his life, whether that was as a high school student corralling the younger kids at family camp, teaching in the classroom, or as a high school football coach.
Curtis currently leads as a Senior Manager with Hitachi Consulting helping corporations understand how to create excellent customer experience.

His blog is Unforced Perspectives

Note: Curtis is also great at developing grown-ups as well.