Leaders Are Opportunistic

This post can really be summed up in three words: Take a Risk.

My original intent was not to write about risk taking, but as I was researching the topic, that’s where everything was pointing. Every quote or quip I looked at that talked about being opportunistic really translated into being a risk taker. It really just boils down to the fact that you can’t be opportunistic without taking a risk. If you waited until everything lined up perfectly before you moved, chances are the opportunity is gone. The risk is in the gap.

Personally, I’m about a 5 out of 10 on the risk aversion scale. I’m not afraid to try new things, but I’m not as quick to jump in as other people. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but I also don’t consider it good. As a leader, I have to make decisions that don’t only jeopardize myself, but also other people. When I take a risk, I have more than myself to think about. When I think about taking a risk, I have other input to consider than just my own – the input of those I lead.

There is a healthy amount of risk, and there is an unhealthy amount of risk. Healthy risk would look like a well informed decision with incomplete information, but still well-researched and discussed. It may not pan out, but that’s part of risk – it’s a game of chance. Unhealthy risk would look like a decision that could have been researched or discussed amongst the team but was not at all. You would be very lucky if the latter succeeded. I suppose the adage “failing to plan is planning to fail” could be used here.

One thing to remember about risk is that healthy risk is not taking a shot in the dark. Healthy risk is still planning, researching, and discussing, and only then making a decision even if information is incomplete; the goal is to shine as much light as possible on the decision before making it. Unhealthy risk would be related to taking a shot in the complete dark without having any idea where the target is. Unwise and dangerous.

We must be courageous risk takers as leaders. Only then can we successfully lead our people into risk and therefore opportunity.

Leaders Are Focused

Have you ever been distracted? If you’re reading this, chances are you have been – this post may even be what’s distracting you. Being distracted – I think we can all agree – is frustrating, especially being easily distracted. It seems to only happen when we’re determined to do something or remember something or write something down or commit to something; we never seem to be distracted from daydreaming, only when we need to focus.

This topic of an inability to focus for the individual is frustrating to the individual, no doubt. However, when a leader is unable to focus, it is frustrating for the organization. Now, I’m not talking about an occasional bout of self-diagnosed ADD. I’m talking about when a leader has a list of 6 or more things they want to do and no vision to do any of it. To express the severity of this problem in the context of leadership, I need to modify the above quote: If you pursue too many things, you will fail them all.

I’ve read that it is recommended that an organization (or individual) should not have more than five (preferably three) big and important goals (I’ve also read this figure for metrics). Anything beyond five will most likely be forgotten or treated as less important. To further drive the point home, consider this story. It’s fabled that when Steve Jobs returned to Apple after a brief hiatus, he sat down with all his staff and drew a large square with two lines through it to form four quadrants. On the axes he wrote “Consumer” and “Professional” on one axis, and “Desktop” and “Portable” on the the other. While Apple has several other products on the market, the main push will always be with these four products. Apple is a focused company.

I’ve been a part of organizations that want to measure everything and put in place measures to ensure that the metrics are met. However, if every metric is important, then no metric is important. If everything is important, then nothing is important. This is why we need to take time to differentiate what’s important to us and what’s not. We need to set goals, values, and metrics that matter in and to our organizations.

As the old Proverb says: where there is no [focus, vision], the people perish.

Leaders Trust

I recently read the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling – I know I’m a decade late. One of my least favorite characters was Dolores Umbridge, who appeared in The Order of the Phoenix. The reason I hated her so much was because of her lack of trust for anyone (for my fellow book nerds, you can throw Fudge into that category as well). Despite previous faithfulness and the gained trust from others, she trusted nobody (not even Snape, who had “helped” her previously), which created a hostile environment in the castle until she was forcibly removed.

That’s fiction, but how true it is in the real world. Once I read about Umbridge in the series, I immediately tied her to one of my previous bosses. They trusted no one, personally monitored people’s computers, issued decrees (get it? Educational Decrees? No…?) that disallowed certain personal freedoms in the workplace, and overall destroyed the environment of trust in the organization. This was done in the name of results (the parallel is too real for me), but there was no change in results, just morale. The lack of trust, just as it did in Hogwarts castle, drastically lowered the morale, which in turn destroyed productivity (more in my blog about Fear).

I know this post seems rather fun and a little childish, but the truth of it remains: “Trust is the glue of life.” If we cannot trust our leaders and our leaders cannot trust us, then the organization will fall apart. In my real world example, trust left the department when the leader of the department decided to treat a room of adults as children who needed constant monitoring.

There’s another side to the story, however. Trust is important, but it must be built. It only makes sense that a new employee would be micromanaged to some extent as they learned the job and the culture of the workplace. As a new employee learns the ropes and earns trust, they should be given more freedom according to their comfort level, which should be compared to the leader’s comfort level for them. The way this gets unhealthy is when you try to micromanage a professional or give complete freedom to a novice. In short, it’s unhealthy to have too much trust in a novice, but it is also unhealthy to not have enough trust of a professional.

I encourage you to build trust up in your organization, this will help remove fear and squash the frustration of you and those you lead.

3 Pitfalls of Poor Management

I’m not sure who originally said this quote, but I’ll credit it to the person I first found it from. At first, this quote may seem a little confusing. How could a person leave something inanimate like a company anyway? I can honestly say I had that same confusion. Until it happened to me.

I worked for a company that I genuinely loved. I enjoyed what they were doing for the community; I thought the vision and mission were solid, and I was growing. However, through a series of rather unfortunate events, I was placed under the supervision of some pretty poor leaders. Through some of my own faults as well, I decided that it would be best that I leave the company. This happened over the course of two months. Now, how is that in that short amount of time, that I would stop loving the organization and be willing myself away from it? It was the managers.

Now here are three things to know about poor managers in regards to your current and potential talent:

1. Poor management chases away great talent. Even as early as the interview stage, poor management can greatly hinder you. If your hiring managers aren’t very good or have a reputation that precedes them, then the best talent you can get will likely be turned off before they even finish their first interview. No great person wants to work for someone who is not great.

2. Poor management discourages employee growth. Insecure managers will purposefully stunt the growth of their “subordinates” in order to further their own careers. These poor managers see the potential talent of an employee, stifle it to protect their position, and, in their insecurity, make working unbearable for the talent. It is a major flaw in poor management not to see that being able to recognize and develop talent in their team is actually a resounding praise for them. It makes them more valuable to the company, not less.

3. Poor management operates with an authoritarian ethic to leadership. This is the dictatorial method of leadership. “No idea is a good idea unless it comes from the leader,” is the mindset of this kind of manager. “You do what I say; no questions asked,” is their mantra. This is a sure way to destroy creativity in the team. It is important to release your people to do what you hired them for after the trust is built. Otherwise, what did you hire them for?

If you’re in a position to do so, examine your managers as the first response to poor performance or high turnover. You might be surprised by what you find.

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Leaders Are Passionate

You have to be passionate. Passion is the fire that keeps us moving even when times get hard. Passion is what helps us to continue on when our dreams seem dead. Passion is also the thing that keeps our teams moving because they see it in us and are moved to action by a shared vision.

Barbara Corcoran says also that “you can’t fake passion.” Even if you tried, people would see right through you. There’s no point to faking passion anyway; it would just result in you simply flickering out into irrelevance.

Passion is hard to pinpoint, but it’s not hard to maintain. Strong interests are often mistaken as a person’s passion, but being interested in something is not enough to be the kind of leader that can cast your goals or solutions as a vision. What you’re passionate about is something that consumes you; you can’t let it go, and you don’t want to let it go. Your passion is what you feel you’re on this Earth to do, no matter what anyone else says. When you’re passionate about something, it’s hard for someone to stop you anyway.

I encourage you to take some time and reflect on what you’re passionate about. I don’t believe that one person only has one passion that keeps them motivated. I’m passionate about writing and music (more specifically creating in general), but I’m also passionate about leadership. I am constantly thinking about music and writing (yeah, I’m a nerd), but I am also always thinking about how to be a better leader, what book I’m going to read next to get to that idealistic leadership object I have in my mind, and how to train other people to be better leaders as well.

I’m passionate about other people finding their passions, so I hope this blog was helpful.