Today, Tuesday, October 15th 2019 is National Fossil Day in the USA. When thinking about fossils, I think back to dinosaurs and cave-people. And since this is a leadership blog, it is an opportune time to share a bit about a significant leadership transition that took place when we, societally, shifted from Hunter-Gather societies to Agrarian societies. This shift, millennia ago, has important implications on the way we think about and practice leadership today.
As Hunter-Gatherers, we made collective leadership decisions-as a group. The unit needed to agree — their lives depended on it, literally. If one person wanted to go hunting, the chance of survival against wooly mammoths, saber-toothed tigers, or the elements, was slim. Only the group could (potentially) accomplish the hunting objective.
As Agrarian societies developed, leadership decision-making shifted. The group decision-making process was replaced by individual decision-making. The person (or family) who had the most (e.g., land, crops, livestock, etc.) wielded the most power. Not-so-ironically, they typically held formal positions of authority and brandished the most prestige. Does this sound familiar? This is typically how we understand and conceptualize leadership in the first quarter of the 21st century. These antiquated perceptions of leadership continue to drive leadership practices today. This is the legacy of leadership with which we currently operate.
Contemporarily, leadership is commonly assumed to be intimately connected to power, prestige, and position - as relic from the onset of Agrarian Societies. A focus on personal reward — a ‘what’s in it for me’ leadership attitude — envelopes the leadership psyche. The result are corrupt behaviors.
It does not need to be this way. We can "dig deeper" (fossil-pun intended) and pull from a leadership psyche and practice of our Hunter-Gatherer ancestors. Yes, we’re up against 10,000 years of culture — we have a long, up-hill adventure to generate cultural change around leadership mental frames. How exciting!
If we are to change our own thinking about leadership — we need to shift what we believe leadership is about — away from power, position, prestige, and personal reward. Rather, we need to emphasize that leadership is about creating resonance and acting from a place of compassion.In other words, leadership should be understood by one's authentic personhood and their intrinsic purpose for leading.
Moving forward, we need to shift our inherent leadership questions — away from ‘what’s in it for me?’ — and towards questions of depth, meaning, and significance. More so, we need to carve out intentional space for reflecting on these questions—and providing responses.
Regarding the authentic person, we can probe about:
Regarding the authentic purpose, we can postulate about:
It is the start of football season - so it only makes sense to post a football-related topic! During the 2014 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, Jonathan Kraft - President of the New England Patriots - was discussing where Tom Brady (the famed quarterback who was drafted 199th overall) would be drafted today. Although he is a top-tier QB, Kraft suggested that Brady, even today, would not be a high-draft pick. Technological advancements in scouting aside, Tom Brady has something that is not easily analyzed, but is critical to leadership and performance - 'the intangibles'.
Kraft did not share what the intangibles were. But we can assume they are connected to both leadership and performance practices. Brady has a vision. He is driven to realize that vision on the playing field, in the locker-room, and when out of the stadium. He knows ultimately what he is working for and is dedicated - compelled - to live out that vision. He does so by building synergistic relationships with his coaches and teammates. While watching the Patriots under Brady's command, you can tell they are in flow. He is confident in his abilities, while knowing he can strategically improve. And he is masterful at balancing reflection with action. Brady purposefully pauses and intentionally acts. When off the field, he is able to find a quiet space (often internal) to recollect, reassess, and reengage. And then is able to deliver, through methodical, on-field play.
What other 'intangibles' does Brady - or other greats from any sport - have that we can learn from?
We are the leaders we need! Although all of us need support systems and motivation to come from empowering others, the real change begins from within.
A fantastic and long-time friend recently sent a TEDx video with the energetic statement, "you've got to see this!" She sent me a link to Roselinde Torres - of the Boston Consulting Group - speaking about leadership. About 1/3rd of the way in Torres asked a question that really struck a chord:
How are you cultivating great leaders?
Drop a comment...We'd love to hear how you're doing it!
We all know that juggling priorities and distinguishing between what we truly want to do and what we “should do” can be a struggle. By starting the day of right, we are better positioned to accomplish what we need to get done and what we dream of getting done. This is one set of guidelines - what are yours?
Research has shown that the 10-15 minutes you use to “snooze” and “wake up” can actually be detrimental to your energy level. Get up! Wake up! Do what you need to do get out of bed and start the day! (And don't forget to make your bed.)
#2-Meditate, Pray, Reflect, Thank, or Ask-
Connect to the Source! Regardless of your spiritual/religious background, taking a few minutes to purposefully pause and connect with your body, mind, and spirit can pay dividends. The suggested method would be 5 minutes of diaphragmatic breathing. Breathing is the most primitive most basic of any activity we can perform as human beings. Everything starts with the breath so why not start your day with it in the form of one of the 5 source connectors- meditate, pray, reflect, thank, or ask.
Stretching at any point in the day is a great way to get the blood flowing. In the morning, following a hot shower, it is wise to spend 3-5 minutes stretching muscles and opening joints. Most of us spend hours upon hours either sitting or standing - which has the tendency to create muscle imbalances and asymmetries. A good stretching routine will help increase energy levels.
Simon Sinek, the author of Start with Why shares about the importance of connecting with your true source of motivation. Motivation is a major tenant of leading. It is a concept that has been researched for years and the intricacies can be discussed endlessly. When we find our "why", we are able to deeply connect to a reserve of energy that serves as the engine of our hard work and dedication to overcome obstacles.
Motivation can come from many different places and all of us have one (or more) things that drives us. It could be money, family, fear of failure, the rush of success, etc. Most leadership and performance coaches will tell you that lasting success is typically driven by something deep within. When we tap into this source of motivation, work becomes a joyful experience.
How do we know we are connected to this source:
What happens when leaders refuse to change? What happens when leaders mindlessly continue with what has been done...just because?
An American military officer, just prior to World War II, is visiting a British counterpart to review and learn from their maneuvers. The two watch an artillery battalion deploy from their trucks and prepare their cannons for a mock attack. The American leans towards his counterpart and inquires why seven men are assigned to each cannon when there are only six active positions - the seventh man just stands at attention without assisting the others prepare the cannon. The British officer quickly responds by sharing that there has always been seven-man teams. He follows by vocalizing that he is not quite sure why the seventh man is just standing at attention but ensures he will look into it.
Several days later, the British officer meets the American to detail his findings. "There has always been seven-men teams. The seventh was responsible for holding the horses."
How many of us, on our teams and in our communities, continue to engage in the same practices and procedures simply because 'that's how it has always been done'? In other words, the deeply-rooted culture has become so engrained in what we do that we mindlessly continue without thinking about the implications. How many of us have 7th men/women - standing at attention - that aren't assisting in any meaningful way?
Take a moment to think deeply about your team or organization. Where do you have a 7th? What can you do about it?
In times of adversity—like when walking upon a saber-toothed tiger — our mind immediately goes to a place of protection. This mind of ours automatically reacts! The reaction, often occurring as an involuntary (we don’t need to tell our bodies to do it) defensive mechanism has been a blessing to the human race. When confronted with saber-toothed tigers back in the day, this defense mechanism would allow us to respond appropriately
— either that of fight, flight, or freeze.
These adversities were that of life-or-
death and we needed to automatically
Today, though, this may seem like a ridiculous example—a saber-toothed tiger!? It’s not so far off though. Our mind has not adapted. When facing adversity in today’s world — even when it is not life or death — like many of our leadership tasks, or when we are about to take an exam, or approaching that crush to go on a date, or interviewing for a job — the defense-mechanized mind automatically, subconsciously reacts. Our minds bring about the stress response simply because of the way we “perceive” these situations. This reaction is often rooted in fear, doubt, frustration, or other limiting reactions resulting in a fight, flight, or freeze reaction. The good news is that “perception” is within our control. We can train a completely different response to the threatening situation.
Although this type of reaction is great for surviving, it is not great for thriving. The response to perceived “threatening” (like job-interviewing) circumstances creates the same reaction in our mind as if they actually do threaten our lives. Although this defensive reaction is common it doesn't mean that it can't be changed. Actually it can. We have the ability to train our mind to react and respond in a different way. This is where the belief statement comes in.
A belief statement is a phrase or thought that you believe to be true about your capabilities. This is not a pollyanna perspective. This is an authentic belief in your abilities, skills, and self. Essentially, you create what is called an effective thought pattern. We utilize effective thought patterns during challenging times or adversity—as a reminder of our skills and capabilities. An effective thought pattern is purposefully put in place for the times when the idea of your "Self" is challenged. The most productive use of an effective thought pattern is to attach the statement to adversity. This way when something difficult happens the engrained mental habit is an unshakeable self-belief. Essentially, we condition ourselves to not just survive, but to thrive!
Take a moment to develop an authentic thought pattern for a challenging circumstance in your own life. Write it down. And share it with us—post a comment on facebook or comment on this blog page…
The term discipline originates from disciple - someone who is in a position to learn. To have discipline means that even in the toughest situations - when the competition is at its fiercest or the leadership tasks seem nearly impossible - we keep at it. We don't keep at it though just to complete it - to be finished with it and put it behind us. We keep at it because regardless of the result, there is something to learn from the experience.
So what exactly is a learning disposition and how do you cultivate it? A learning disposition is a personal characteristic that describes one's internal inclination to purposefully engage in experiences that expand their knowledge base and deepen their understanding of themselves and the world with which they engage. In other words, people with learning dispositions intentionally decide to try new things. Furthermore, these individuals they keep at it when the going gets tough because of the wealth of knowledge that resides in the experience. At the core, they come to know themselves in a deeper way. Knowing thyself in this way creates better and more resilient leaders.
For too many of our institutions, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is ‘time off’. Classes are cancelled, offices are closed, and reflective stances are ceased—at least temporarily. It has become a vacation day—a play day.
We want to challenge this notion. This day should be “time on”. Not in the traditional sense, though. This is not a day where we should engage in our regular routines. For MLK Jr. was far from a regular man. Rather, we should purposefully challenge ourselves. There is no better way to develop the content of our character than to engage in actions that challenge our sense of self and our abilities.
As Martin Luther King Jr. professed, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” This is a day to build character by engaging in activities, by experimenting with who we are when it matters most—during those times of challenge and controversy.
What can you do today to build character? Here are a few options:
Welcome to the Leadership Trainer's Thought-Lab
Here you will find reflections and insight related to leadership, leadership training, and how we can more effectively serve as leadership developers.