3 Unexpected Uses For Word Clouds: Leadership Style

At the beginning of each year, I travel the country giving inspirational kickoff speeches in call centers. This year, the theme of my speech is creating “connections” with our customers and our teams. What better way to reinforce connections, than to include everyone in the speech writing?

Word Cloud Crowd Sourcing

While preparing the speech, I sent a note to over 100 leaders on site in the centers asking them to answer 2 quick questions.

  1. The best way for reps to connect with customers is ______________.
  2. The best way for leaders to connect with their teams is ______________.

I built the speech around their responses. Now as I travel to each event, we give every rep, leader and support staff a paper heart, and ask them to write down their secret to making connections. I incorporate some of their thinking into the speech real-time. We then collect all the hearts. We create a customized word cloud for that center which we will turn into a framed poster as a reminder of the message and their commitment.

Word Cloud Resume Review

At one of these events, one of my leaders and I were neck-deep in hearts, when he had an idea. What would it look like if we cloud-sourced a resume? Would the right words pop? Brilliant. I flew home and tried it that evening. Try it on your resume. Here’s how.

I used Tagul (it’s free). Copy the text from the resume and put it in the text box. Filter out common words (just pick your language and it will sort out all the words like “and” and “the.” I also took out the name of my employer so I could share it here. If you like, pick a shape and color, and voila…. it took 2 minutes.

Word Cloud Message Check

Word clouds are an easy way to check the content of a message. Anything’s fair game to run through the tool.

You could check the last 5 emails to your boss (or your spouse). Your college-bound kids could use it to check their college essay (in fact, how cool would it be to include the visual). The possibilities are endless.

A Cloudy Afterword

Just loving all the word clouds shared in the comments. Thank you! Ali Anani played with the last 6 comments and my responses to the LGL community. See below…

How To Succeed As Scope And Scale Increases

“Sam” was beaming with excitement as he told me about his promotion. He was in the throws of a transition from supervisor to manager, He’ll now lead leaders.

“But it’s scary,” he added. “I know I have to handle this whole thing differently. I was very close to my team. We talked about everything and shared common interests. Now I must distance myself, not share too much, not get too close.”

Sam continued with the list of all her other behaviors that MUST change. I heard none of what must stay the same, as his scope increased. Now I was scared.

And then there’s “Jenny”. I gave Jenny an assignment because of her strategic mind and strong leadership. The role was enormous and there was much to learn. We met to discuss her performance agreement and goals, and I asked, “So what’s your strategy?” Silence. “What are you doing to build your team?” Crickets.

She’d been doing a great job learning and keeping things moving, that she wasn’t yet leveraging her best gifts, the ability to transform. Jenny came back a week later with the rock star plan I knew she had inside her.

How to Scale Well as Scope Increases

Transitions in scope and scale are tricky. Continue to do ALL of what worked at the last level, and you will surely fail. On the other hand, don’t make the mistake of abandoning your best characteristics and approaches. I’ve seen too many leaders lose themselves in the transitioning process.

Translate the Landscape

You’ve got a new view, share it, up, down, and sideways. Some of the puzzle is coming together for you in a new way. Capture that feeling and share it with your team. Explain the strategy as you would have wanted it explained to you yesterday. It works upwards and sideways as well. Share your perspective about how the latest processes and policies are playing out in the field. Combine your old knowledge and new insights into an enlightened and integrated perspective– play this well, and you’ll be brilliant.

Be Visible and Invisible

As a leader at a new level, your best bet is high visibility. Be approachable. But don’t get in the way. Nothing will annoy your new team more than having your door so wide open, that everyone jumps over them to get to you. Respect your team and their authority. Unless something is up that needs a skip level intervention, tread lightly before taking action. Serve your direct report team well. Help them lead their teams more effectively by working through, not around them.

Listen, Learn, and Be Strategic

Go on a listening tour and learn all you can, but don’t react. You’ll be tempted to jump in and fix stuff because you know how. That’s not your job anymore. Delegate the immediate fixing, and then take it up a notch. Look for patterns. Consider the strategic implications and root causes. Build cross-functional teams to tackle the challenges to make a greater impact.

Build Better Leaders

Your most important work as a leader of leaders is helping them grow. The tragic truth is that many leaders spend less time developing their leaders as they increase in scope. Reverse that trend. I have increased the percentage of time I devote to developing leaders as I have moved up the ladder. Nothing will drive results faster than strong leadership at every level.

Respond, But Never React

The fires burn more fierce the higher you go. The issues on your desk are real, and often urgent. Great leaders pause, listen, gather facts, and respond. Sure, that response must often be quick, but frantic reaction slows down helpful behavior. Learn to keep your cool, early in the game.

Become a Roadblock Buster

Spend time making things easier for your team. Find out where they’re stuck, and offer to remove roadblocks. Two cautions here. First, don’t jump in without asking. Too much help will make your team feel like you don’t trust them, or look like they’re running to their boss. Second, teach while you’re busting down those barriers. And for Pete’s sake be sure YOU’RE not the roadblock. Respond quickly with needed approvals and work to diminish unnecessary time wasters and bureaucracy.

Invest in Your Development

Many leaders spend less time on their own development the further up they go. Big mistake. As scope and scale increases, so does your responsibility to lead well. Get a coach. Have a collection of mentors. Read constantly. Interact in the LGL community.

Multiplier of the Year

If you feel so inclined, I would appreciate your vote for Multiplier of the Year voting ends on 01/31. I think this would be a cool way to spread the word about our community.  Click here to cast your vote. Thank you!

Trickle Down Intimidation

Mark shuts the door and begins the emergency meeting. What he’s got to say isn’t easy, but these guys can handle it. That’s why they “get paid the big bucks.” He minces no words. Stock prices, competitive pressures, time to get it together. NOW. The intimidation factor is high. Fix it fast or else.

He would NEVER speak this way to the front line. He’s an inspiring speaker and the troops love him. He trusts his leaders will translate the message to the front line well.

Grace leaves Mark’s meeting a bit shaken, but the message is clear. Time to call an emergency huddle with her direct reports. They were in the midst of executing plans to address key issues, but she worries it won’t be fast enough. She needs to show progress NOW. She feels her job is on the line.

She doesn’t usually take the fear and intimidation route, but she needs to get her team’s attention. Plus, her team can handle it. They’re seasoned leaders and they understand the pressure. She would never NEVER speak that way to the front line. She trusts her team will translate the message well.

Bill leaves Grace’s meeting a bit shocked. “Wow,” he thinks. “She NEVER acts this way. She doesn’t even seem to want our input. She just told us what to do.” Bill’s concerned his team leaders won’t buy into her plan. After all, it’s been a crazy couple of months and they’re all about to tip over.

But the situation is serious, Time to be a good soldier and just salute. He’s scared too. His mortgage is still underwater, and his daughter is headed to college next year. This is no time to stand out as a naysayer. He would NEVER let the front-line see his stress. But, he trusts his managers will get the message and translate it well.

Bill calls a meeting of his team leaders and lays it all on the line. It’s an execution issue and they need to fix it now, a little bit of intimidation can’t hurt. He needs the team to know he’s serious. He hands everyone a report with the names of everyone below goal.

“I want you to fix this, by holding one-on-one coaching with everyone on this list today. Then report back to me on each person. I want to know if it’s a will issue or a skills issue.” Bill knows he’s being a bit rough. He would NEVER talk that way to the front line. But he’s got good team leaders who know how to handle this stuff. They’ll figure out a way to coach to the right skills and do something fun to motivate.

One of Bill’s team leaders, Kathy, gets the outlier report and hears his message loud and clear. She leaves the meeting and then…

Intimidation Amplifies as it Rolls Down Hill

The same leaders who carefully craft inspiring messages for the frontline, may be undercutting their efforts by inadvertent trickle down intimidation. Fear is contagious. Leaders watch the level above them and take their cues on how to act and what to say.

They also fill in the blanks.” If THIS is what they ARE telling me, then what they AREN’T sharing must be even worse.”

“Hmm…this behavior made these guys successful. I want to be successful too, I’d better toughen up.”

Each leader puts their finger prints on the message, and the light touch of intimidation, becomes a frightening slap at the front-line. The folks closest to the work do as they’re told, afraid to share the ideas that would solve the problem.

Be careful not to inadvertently delegate your translation. Treat your team like you want them to treat others.

Say what you mean in the way you want it to be heard at the front-line.

Getting Past Fake Talk At Work

Fake talk diminishes relationships, slows work down, and jeopardizes results. At yet, the B.S. factor is alive and well in corporate America. We need more straight talk about fake talk.

Fake talk is attractive as an easy way out. But when fake talk’s the norm, the real game becomes guessing what’s really happening or what people mean.

Overcoming Fake Talk

This week, I spoke with Overcoming Fake Talk author, John Stoker about the dangers of Fake Talk:

“Fake Talk can be defined as any time a person intentionally misrepresents the truth, is unintentionally vague or unclear, when people go along to be agreeable or not rock the boat, and when people are focused on being politically correct rather than discuss and understand the finer nuances of what is going on. When people engage in these types of behavior, then performance is not improved, work is often redundant or inefficient, accountability is lacking, and the bottom line ultimately suffers.”

He shared a story that seems crazy, but sadly not surprising.

“Years ago I was hired to do a culture assessment for a CEO and his team of VPs. After I had interviewed all of the vice presidents and identified what was not working, I met with the CEO and his senior team to give them feedback. I was barely five minutes into the presentation when the CEO stopped me and said, “We really don’t talk negative about our company. I have to ask you to stop.”

I responded, “I’m not talking negative, I’m going to tell you the reality of what is working here and what is not working, with the intent of improving your processes and getting results.” All of the vice presidents in the room were uncomfortable and looked down.

overcoming fake talkI continued, “If you can’t talk about what’s not working, then how can we ever identify what it is that we need to improve here?” Fortunately, he let me continue. I would venture to say that this was the first real conversation this team had conducted in a very long time.

Individuals in corporate America, be they leaders or managers, who are not willing to talk about the real issues and take steps to improve what it is that they are trying to achieve cannot really hope to achieve anything different. Progress simply cannot happen in a vacuum.”

So how does our LGL community discourage fake talk? I asked John his thoughts on how to develop and encourage leaders to hold real conversations. His advice, “help them prepare.” When we deal with tough conversations in the moment, our survival and protection instincts kick in. 

Even if we know intellectually that we want to tell the truth, it’s tough to think straight in the heat of the moment. Prepare for what you need to say, and anticipate potential reactions. His book offers a four quadrant model on how to prepare.

Planning For Real Conversations

Prepare – What outcome would you like to see? What could you do?

Connect – Consider What do YOU want? What do THEY want?

Initiate – Attention check: I’d like to talk about.

Data – I noticed.

Interpretation – I’m wondering if

Discover – What questions should you ask? What answers do you need?

When To Stand Your Ground

“Pete” a leader in a new job with a substantial increase in scope and scale, asked me this seemingly simple question: “How do you know when to stand your ground?”

I knew he needed more than my first instinct of “just go with your gut”.

“I’ll stand my ground. And I won’t back down.”

Knowing when to stand your ground is a fine art. Digging in your heals at the wrong time will damage your credibility and impact. Yielding when you shouldn’t, makes for weak leadership and dangerous results.

When To Stand Your Ground

Sometimes it’s clear. If it’s unethical, immoral, illegal, or a violation of human rights, stand your ground, get support, and do what’s right. Jacquie Garton-Smith shares:

It’s reasonable to stand your ground when you have carefully, comprehensively and constructively evaluated the alternatives and it remains clearly the way to go. Good to demonstrate you’ve been open to the options even if the final decision is the same. And of course sometimes a better way becomes evident.

When to Back Down

Of course there are times when backing down is the obvious choice. Backing down makes sense when relationships trump the issue at hand, you need more data, or your team or experts know more. Sometimes ideas are worth giving a try even when you’re skeptical.

Stand Your Ground: Decision Points

But most of the time it’s more murky than that. It’s particularly challenging when your values conflict with company values. I asked some members of Lead Change Group to weigh in:

Consider Your Values – John E. Smith

It seems that two sets of values are in play here: The organization’s values and your personal beliefs about right and wrong. When both are threatened, the decision is easy; you should dig in and insist. You will do so with the full backing of your organization. I think the same can be said when your personal values are threatened, but not organizational values. In these cases, personal considerations around cost loom much larger. In other words, standing your ground may cost you and only the person who may lose can make the decision whether the risk to them is worth the fight. When organizational values are threatened, but not your personal values, I think this is more difficult. You might be called on because of your position to stand fast and fight about something which you have little or no investment. “Standing fast” implies some real passion, and you cannot fake passion at least in my experience.

Seek First to Understand – Chery Gegelman

Reflect a softer light of truth – visualize a candle – on (more complex) issues, giving people time to draw near, to listen more intently, to ponder, to understand and to come to their own conclusions. Being a beacon in a situation that requires a candle is viewed as an over reaction, often times people feel judged, they pull away and nothing changes. Being a candle in a situation that requires a beacon is an under-reaction and will not move people to action, so the risk grows. For more read here

Find the High Ground – Mike Henry Sr.

I catch myself trying to always find the highest ground to make my stand. The organization’s success may require me to do something a harder way than simply “my way.” Sometimes a key to standing my ground this time may be based on credibility I’ve earned from previous episodes. So I try to “stand my ground” when I believe I am on the highest ground and be a valuable team player in every other case.

Take the Long View – Susan Mazza

I think the key to making a good choice comes down to being able to distinguishing the difference between when you are standing for something that really matters for the future vs. digging your heels in to be right or prove a point in the moment.

Focus on Effective over Right – David Dye

Leaders who insist on being “right” sacrifice relationships and results. Standing your ground for principles and values is important – both for the organization and the individual. Standing your ground for the sake of preference or convenience often damages the relationships and fails to accomplish the needed results.

The Screw Up Post I Shouldn’t Have To Write

If you ask any leader for the right way to handle a screw up, you’ll likely hear the following advice: admit the screw up apologize, do what you can to make it right. Try it. Tell a few leaders you just screwed up and ask for advice. Let me know if you hear something else. Leaders KNOW what to do when they screw up, but when they’re the one doing the screwing (up), many employ different tactics.

The Dark Side of Responding to Screw Ups

No leader admits to these stunts, but everyone has ugly stories of when someone else’s screw up left them, well, screwed. The juiciest ones make the news. But most of these response are cunningly subtle.

  1. Create a Diversion – When you screw up, draw attention to someone else’s big blunder. Look around, surely someone else is screwing up more than you. Make a big deal. Visit your local fireworks dealer. All eyes turn there, and you walk away, unnoticed, and unscathed.
  2. Reinvent History – It didn’t turn out the way you planned, so change “the plan.” Fuzzy recall of decisions are prime targets, revisit who and why decisions were made so they reframe you in the best light. This works great if you find yourself with a microphone or on National television.
  3. Stop, Duck, and Roll – Surely the most popular screw up avoiding tactic, this one works best when there’s a bus of blamers headed your way. Stay alert so others can take the blame. As a leader you’ve got too much to lose, let a few of your followers get squished, and you can help them later.
  4. Confuse – Works best with lots of data. Get good at excel. Pivot tables can intimidate the casual good guy. Bury your screw up so deep it will take weeks to find it. By then, folks will have moved on or grown weary of the search.
  5. And please – Add your favorites to the list.

The Leadership Response

When this crud happens to us, it’s easy to roll over, absorb the frustration and let it go. We take the “high road” and the behavior continues. It’s particularly tempting to let it go when it’s the powerful changing the story or confusing the game.

When we accept such responses from our team, our peers, or even those in power, we diminish our leadership and encourage these behaviors to continue. As leaders, consider when you turn your head. No response is a response. We teach by what we accept. And, by what we don’t.

The Screw Up Post I Shouldn't Have To Write

If you ask any leader for the right way to handle a screw up, you’ll likely hear the following advice: admit the screw up apologize, do what you can to make it right. Try it. Tell a few leaders you just screwed up and ask for advice. Let me know if you hear something else. Leaders KNOW what to do when they screw up, but when they’re the one doing the screwing (up), many employ different tactics.

The Dark Side of Responding to Screw Ups

No leader admits to these stunts, but everyone has ugly stories of when someone else’s screw up left them, well, screwed. The juiciest ones make the news. But most of these response are cunningly subtle.

  1. Create a Diversion – When you screw up, draw attention to someone else’s big blunder. Look around, surely someone else is screwing up more than you. Make a big deal. Visit your local fireworks dealer. All eyes turn there, and you walk away, unnoticed, and unscathed.
  2. Reinvent History – It didn’t turn out the way you planned, so change “the plan.” Fuzzy recall of decisions are prime targets, revisit who and why decisions were made so they reframe you in the best light. This works great if you find yourself with a microphone or on National television.
  3. Stop, Duck, and Roll – Surely the most popular screw up avoiding tactic, this one works best when there’s a bus of blamers headed your way. Stay alert so others can take the blame. As a leader you’ve got too much to lose, let a few of your followers get squished, and you can help them later.
  4. Confuse – Works best with lots of data. Get good at excel. Pivot tables can intimidate the casual good guy. Bury your screw up so deep it will take weeks to find it. By then, folks will have moved on or grown weary of the search.
  5. And please – Add your favorites to the list.

The Leadership Response

When this crud happens to us, it’s easy to roll over, absorb the frustration and let it go. We take the “high road” and the behavior continues. It’s particularly tempting to let it go when it’s the powerful changing the story or confusing the game.

When we accept such responses from our team, our peers, or even those in power, we diminish our leadership and encourage these behaviors to continue. As leaders, consider when you turn your head. No response is a response. We teach by what we accept. And, by what we don’t.

Frontline Festival, Trusted Resources, And Your Vote

The Frontline Festival went on the road this month. It’s hosted by David Dye of Trailblaze. It’s all about Leading Up and Sideways.

“Your leadership success depends on your ability to get things done with a wide variety of people – most of whom are not members of your team. Your boss, your peers in other departments, vendors, customers, and even your family all play a role in your leadership success.” Click here to enjoy the amazing line-up.

It will be back on Let’s Grow Leaders if February. In honor of Valentines day, the topic is “Connection.” New contributors are always welcome. Click here to submit a post for consideration.

More Great Resources

The beginning of the year brings out the lists and collections. Thanks to your amazing support of the LGL community, we’re on the scene. I’m honored and humbled be in the company of these great thought leaders. A great list of folks for you to check out.

Top 100 Thoughtleaders in Trustworthy Business

While there are many “top” lists and awards, none specifically address trustworthy business – perhaps because the word “trust” presents a definitional challenge. For five years Trust Across America has been working with a growing team of experts to study, define and quantify organizational trust.

During the course of our research, we have met with and spoken to hundreds of experts, across a variety of professional disciplines who, when their efforts are combined, help create trustworthy organizations. As our understanding of trust deepens, so does our pool of exceptional candidates.

Many of the honorees are well-known CEOs and leadership experts, while others are quietly working behind the scenes as teachers and researchers. We intend to shine the spotlight on both groups, to redirect the focus from the “scandal of the day” to the trustworthy leaders and organizations of the day.

Faces of Learning and Development

The following people are mentioned most frequently in social posts that link to Learning and Leadership Development content. They publish and/or share a considerable variety of content, and their tweets and social shares get a high level of engagement. Developing relationships with these individuals can go a long way toward raising your profile in the marketplace. Click here to visit their site.

Multiplier of the Year: Your Vote

I am one of 5 Finalists for the Wiseman’s Group Multiplier of the Year Award. The winner will be selected through a simple voting process. To see a short video about what the Multiplier movement  is all about.

If you feel so inclined, please take a minute to click here and cast your vote.

Additional Resources

Do you have collections and resources to share? Please share them in the comments, or share them directly on Facebook. Thanks for all you do to contribute to, enhance, and share the LGL community. Looking forward to an amazing 2014.

Unlikely Collaboration: The Secret To Success

Trying to describe effective collaboration is a bit like describing true love. You know when you’re in it. It feels wonderful, but it’s hard to describe to anyone outside the relationship. And like love, you can get burned by sexy potential collaborators who don’t play straight.

Unfortunately, such scenarios leave scar tissue that scares many away from potentially amazing future collaboration. Much is lost when you’re afraid to connect. If you’ve been burned, it’s worth understanding why, and trying again.

A Collaboration Success Story

Last week we brought 2 dozen people from 6 competing companies together to discuss common leadership challenges. I contract with all of them to provide customer service. Staying very diligent to the right side of the law (no discussion of contracts, terms and conditions, or competitive secrets), we held a think tank on common leadership concerns.

  • How do you inspire call center reps to care deeply about customers?
  • How do you find time to coach and develop when the queue’s backed up?
  • How do you build better leadership in a young front-line team?
  • How do we leverage technology to communicate more effectively?
  • What can my team do to be more helpful as the “client?”

The passion in the room was palpable. As common frustrations surfaced, competitors shared their leadership best practices, followed by brainstorming and collective planning. Everyone was focused on getting better results and doing the right thing for the customer.

“What if we had a week where we all concentrated on developing our leaders around this difficult challenge.” “What if we you produced inspiring videos to reinforce the vision each month?” On the breaks, leaders would pull me aside and affirm the approach: “This is fantastic, it’s great to know it’s not just us; Everyone’s in the same boat; It’s awesome to collaborate on these challenges.” And my favorite: “No other client of ours ever does this, they should.”

What is True Collaboration?

What made this work? What’s missing when collaborations go South?

Collaboration works when:
  • Vision is bigger than ego
  • Everyone has something to gain
  • The mission is clearly defined
  • Parameters are established
  • Leadership is shared
  • No one keeps score
  • People play by established ground rules
  • Folks takes time to get to know one another as people
  • Strengths are leveraged
  • It’s okay to put on the brakes as needed
  • Dissent is encouraged and accepted
  • Contributions are recognized

Dealing With Moody People At Work

Maybe it’s a side effect of passion, intensity, or commitment, but some of the most interesting people I know have a moody dark side. Moody at any level is tough to be around. If it’s your boss it’s even trickier. It’s tempting to avoid the mood (and the person who wears it) and just try to survive. But if you can take the EQ high-road, you may find a rich relationship waiting to be forged just below that annoying surface.

5 Ways to Get Past Moody

  1. Find A Safe Way To Talk About It – One of my favorite bosses had such highs and lows that her direct report team gave her two almost matching Barbie dolls for her bookshelf. The first was immaculately dressed in typical Barbie fashion, matching shirt, shoes and pearls. The other doll wore ripped clothes, had magic marker on her face, and hair that looked like it had been eaten by a cat. Our request was that she put the doll out that best portrayed her mood as a warning sign. We knew if ‘evil” Barbie was lurking, we laid low. She accepted the gift with a smile (we chose a “good Barbie day”). She used the dolls strategically for our benefit. More importantly, she got the point when one of us went to her shelf and switched the dolls. Find a safe way to raise the topic.
  2. Notice The Patterns – You wouldn’t force your kids to eat peas right after they woke up from a nap. If you’re dealing with moody, notice the patterns and, whenever possible, choose your timing. I actually had a peer for whom I charted the outbursts to find the discernible pattern. I learned the triggers and timing. Our relationship improved substantially. Don’t screw this up by leaving the chart on your desk.
  3. Understand Root Cause – When someone accuses you of being moody, you’re likely reaction is likely: “well, I may be a bit tired, or hormonal, or stressed, but the issue is real.” Others feel that way too. It’s likely crankiness could be substantially reduced by addressing the underlying causes.
  4. Don’t Reward The Behavior – Don’t coddle. If you succumb to hysterics, the tantrums will continue. Stay calm and suggest another time to discuss the issue. They may be angry if you walk away, but once they cool off, they’ll likely appreciate it (and you).
  5. Keep Your Cool – Bad moods wear off, so immunize yourself as much as possible. Recognize the behavior for what it is, and don’t take it personally. If it’s really not about you, then let yourself believe that. Of course, this takes us back to number three: be sure you’re understand your part in the moodiness mix master.

How To Recruit Leaders In Your Volunteer Organization

Shortly after joining a new church, the council president enthusiastically revealed that I was part of their “volunteer leadership succession plan.” I politely declined and spent the next month working to act less “leader-like” at church. Plus, I figured if I skipped coffee hour, I could dodge the recruiters.

Busy people freak out when asked to lead too much too soon.

Some of your volunteer organization’s best qualified leaders are convinced they’re too busy to lead. And so the same dedicated generals continue to carry the load.

They’re busy too, but feel stuck… they’ve invested too much to see it all fall apart. It’s not as fun as at used to be, but they’ve got the template. That’s risky too.

How to Recruit Volunteer Leaders

When people lead, they connect more deeply to your mission and to one another. Connection feels good. They stay. Make volunteer leadership easier and more accessible.

  1. Create Bite Size Roles – This will annoy the guy who did the whole job for the last 20 years… you’ll need to politely tell him to chill. He needs relief, and it’s a new day. Consider breaking the bigger jobs down into something a strong leader with an already booked life could imagine herself doing.
  2. Inventory Talents & Skills – You need to know what people are eager to give. Some will be too humble to tell you. I was directing a children’s musical at our church, and was thinking I’d have to bother the usual suspects to paint the set. One of the newer members came to me with his portfolio of AMAZING art, as if he were applying for a job. I had to resist the urge to kiss this man I didn’t know. He spent countless hours creating an amazing scene. Bottom line, we didn’t know, and would have never have asked.
  3. Limit Terms – It’s easy to rely on the same people to do the same thing year after year. The shoes become too big to fill, and the unintended side effect is intimidation…not to mention stagnation. Plus, knowing there’s an exit strategy is attractive. Everyone saw how the last guy got stuck.
  4. Include Young People & Give Them Power – Kid’s have enormous leadership potential. Scaffold gently, and take some risks. My teenage son gets so annoyed when adults try to micro-manage his leadership efforts. He’s got it… Give kids room and watch the magic.
  5. Empower Possibility – Volunteer organizations have a habit of asking someone to “lead” and then tell them exactly how it should be done. That will turn off your most creative volunteer leaders. Be willing to accept radically new approaches and new ideas.
  6. Communicate Opportunities – “Who should we ask to lead this?” is asked by committees all over the world. That question depends on established connections and may overlook the most qualified. Communicate opportunities and cast a broader net.
  7. Allow Failure – Criticism and gossip will turn away your best leaders FOREVER. They’ve got enough of that crap in their day job. Encourage, develop, and make it okay to experiment and fail forward.

The Surprising Way To Expand Your Range

I’ve always found great joy in singing, and was voted “most likely to spontaneously burst into song” in high school.

From grade school through college, I sang in every choir available, always as an alto. My voice was so low, in a pinch, I would help out the tenors. Each time I had a new director, I would announce, “I’m an alto, I don’t sing above a third space C. I’m solid with a tight harmony, so no one argued.

I would have loved to sing higher, but accepted the range I was given. Shortly after college graduation, my friends Jeff and Catherine asked me to sing at their wedding. The music was tricky, so I used my first real paycheck to hire a voice teacher from Peabody to help me prepare. I approached my voice teacher, Laura, as I had every music teacher since Ms. Elsie, my church junior choir director. “I’m an alto…”Continue reading