With Greater Leadership Comes Greater Expectation

Like many, my college experience provided the opportunity to make friends and interact with some fascinating people – classmates whom I admire and respect more than they will ever know. We all had our dreams and aspirations, then graduation day came and we parted ways, ready to pursue our passions and make a positive difference in this world. We were ready and willing to be the best leaders we could be, prepared to serve others, stand behind our beliefs, and utilize the tools we had acquired – at least as far as our toolbox would take us.

What began as one such dream for a few of these classmates turned into an international charitable organization employing dozens of staff members, enlisting hundreds of volunteers, and impacting countless lives around the world. This past week, something happened to this organization that changed everything: it garnered global media attention virtually overnight. This organization is known as Invisible Children.

You may be familiar with the latest media blitz surrounding this non-profit and their viral video, Kony 2012. The team posted the video last Monday, hoping for 500,000 views by the end of the year. Yet what they received was far beyond their wildest dreams: 52 million views in just four days…and over 78 million views as I write this. This has led to an outpouring of news articles, TV interviews, blog posts, enormous praise, and even a severe backlash of criticism from people around the world, across nearly every major media entity from the Wall Street Journal to TMZ.

Wow. These young leaders must be feeling so many emotions. I would imagine they are thrilled beyond belief to have their message heard by so many people, yet fearful and/or frustrated by the criticism, and perhaps even nervous by the overwhelming attention in general. The international fame happened nearly overnight. Yet whether they were ready or not, this organization and its leaders will forever be held to a higher standard. Their leadership, or perhaps more importantly, others’ perception of their leadership, has been forever changed.

You see, whether we agree with it or not, leading at higher levels requires a new level of perseverance. The higher we go, the more others expect of us. It may not seem fair, but it is a reality. When you reach a certain level of fame, fortune, or position, opposition becomes inevitable. People will take shots at you, even when you know you’re doing the right thing. Observers will scrutinize your every action just because they can.

As leaders – leaders who are continuously growing and likely aspiring to reach new levels of leadership – we must always remember this. As our ability to influence others and our capacity to act as role models increases, we must expect that higher standards, albeit often unspoken, will be placed over us. As we continuously strive for moral and ethical excellence, we must trust that we’re doing the right thing, even in the face of criticism. And as we responsibly persevere, we must remember the expectation – and the privilege – that the more we receive, the more we must give; the more we lead, the more we must serve.

Our individual leadership journeys may never reach the level that Invisible Children has as an organization (or perhaps they will!), but regardless, the lesson is the same for all. Leadership simply gets tougher the higher you go and the more lives you touch. Not that my opinion matters in this case, but I am enormously proud of my classmates, grateful for their generous work, and fully confident that they will continue to do amazing things for this world… They’ll face a higher level of scrutiny and more forceful opposition, but as with all great leaders, this will ultimately only strengthen their resolve and improve their effectiveness.

Thank you for your Comments!

Recognition Is A Necessity – Not A Luxury

What happens when you forget to consistently recognize the hard work of your employees?  You might find that the “hard” work turns into the bare minimum.  It took my 5 year-old daughter to remind me of this simple truth.

My daughter is currently in kindergarten and has been doing great academically ever since the school year started.  However, in the past few months, she’s exhibited some behavior problems when it comes to following the teacher’s instructions or interacting with other students.  My wife and I tried the typical punishments if she had a bad day: time outs, writing sentences, early bedtime, etc…  These punishments previously worked in the past, but lately, it didn’t seem to matter. 

After a few different conversations with her teacher, we decided to try a 5-star system.  Her school day would be broken into 5 different time slots, and if she behaved like she was supposed to during that time slot, she would get a star.  Getting 5 stars meant she had an excellent day.  After starting this system, a lot of her behavior problems disappeared. 

It hit me that it was my own fault that these behavior problems developed, because I wasn’t recognizing her good behavior.  I’ve always known that kids crave attention and they’ll do anything to get it.  If they cannot get attention by doing well, they’ll misbehave.  One way or the other, they want your eyes on them.  However, I was not doing my part.  I did not fuel her good behavior by constantly praising her when she had good days.

Praising and recognition is not just for kids.  It matters to adults, as well, especially in the work environment.  If you have an employee that spends a lot of time and effort working on a particular project or large task, and you don’t praise them for that hard work, do you think they’ll put as much effort into a similar project or task in the future?…Probably not.  They’ll likely do the necessary amount of work to finish the job, but the quality may be sub-standard.

When it comes to praising and recognition, you need to remember the following rules:

  1. Don’t under-praise: This was my own problem at home with my daughter.  In a sense, it’s actually a form of neglect.  If you don’t praise people for their efforts, you’ll create the “Office Space” environment where people do just enough not to get fired.  Don’t cut off the recognition supply!
  2. Don’t over-praise: Yes, it is possible to over-praise someone.  If you tell someone “Great job!” and then 5-minute later, come back and say “Great job!” for the same completed work, your feedback will likely be received as being fake.  That will also create some distrust between you and that individual.
  3. Recognize the masses: Every group or team has their top performers.  However, in a lot of the companies I’ve worked at in the past, it was only the top performers who received the praisings.  You need to make sure everyone gets recognition for a job well done. 
  4. It’s not just for your direct reports: Praising and recognition are for everyone!  Your peers will feed off of your recognition of them.  Alternatively, perhaps you’re not a leader, but instead an individual contributor.  Even though you don’t have that position power, praising your team members build relationships and better work quality.

It’s easy to forget to praise individuals because we think “It’s their job to do what we need them to do.” We need to remember the recognizing the effort of individuals is a key ingredient to better quality and better work environments.

Leave your comments!

Autonomy@Work

“Happiness belongs to the self sufficient” -Aristotle

Autonomy is our desire to choose—to direct our own lives—to have a say in our own destiny. It is one of our core needs as human beings—the freedom to plot our journey through this lifetime as we see fit while contributing to a greater good along the way.

Image

Yet, we often only think of freedom as applicable to our personal lives. But the reality is that we crave freedom in all areas of our lives, including the desire for autonomy at work.

The idea of autonomy at work often seems too abstract and taboo—too difficult to negotiate with the fates and the furies—the “powers that be,” who run the organization big offices in the sky. Yet, autonomy at work is not only core to achieving better workplace performance and personal satisfaction, according to best selling business book author, Dan Pink, it’s also a key factor to achieving overall organizational excellence.

Within organizations, people need to have purpose: In goals that use profit to reach purpose; in words that emphasize more than self-interest; and in policies that allow people to pursue purpose on their own terms. [Drive, 223]

Human Resource departments often hear the word autonomy as an open invitation to allowing mere mortals to shape the destiny of the kingdom. But the sooner organizations realize the tremendous synergy and productivity created by releasing the power and potential of their individuals, empowering them to figure out how to do their work with excellence on their own terms, rather than initiated through strict supervision, are set up to achieving higher levels of organizational excellence.

Modern management practices are great to ensure compliance with corporate policies and legalities, but if organizations really want an engaged workforce— essential for success in today’s Knowledge Based society where individuals are challenged to do more complicated and creative problem solving—then they need to allow autonomy to work. A workplace full of Self Leaders is more productive than a workforce that is simply trained to follow corporate policies and outdated power structures, where decisions take weeks to make and moments of inspiration fade into an abyss of procedures.

But how do you create autonomy in the workplace? Autonomy is more than a right to be held onto with white knuckled fists. Nor is it a romantic notion of how Utopia Inc. should operate—it is a real and attainable state of being. However, for autonomy to work, you have to work at autonomy.

Autonomy at work starts when you begin to challenge assumptions about your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as the organization’s operating norms and procedures—even if those norms and procedures seem outdated. Autonomy at work begins to flourish when you’re willing to discover your own personal sources of power through relationships, knowledge, and talents. Only after you have taken on the challenge to know yourself will you then be ready to ask your managers, and the fates that hover at the top of the ancient pyramids, to join you for a dance at the Corporate Ball—collaborating for the overall success of the organization.

Don’t be afraid to embrace your destiny! Don’t be afraid to step up and take control of your life and your career. Don’t be afraid to put autonomy to work within your organization. The world needs great organizations that are built on great leaders throughout the entire organization—not just at the top. Today, let us embrace autonomy at work!

Jason Diamond Arnold, Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

Leader as Servant

Who is the servant-leader? The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first. - Robert K. Greenleaf 

I recently had the opportunity to take a course on servant leadership. Its impact on my life was greater than I had anticipated. In today’s world where society continually encourages us to seek fame, fortune, or power for ourselves, servant leadership challenges us to something much greater…and perhaps even more difficult to pursue.
 
As human beings, I think we naturally have a tendency to think about ourselves; we desire protection and well-being. But our culture feeds this – often distorts it – by telling us to only look out for Number One. Our sense of self becomes the priority across all aspects of life. In the workplace, for example, we often crave leadership. We desire to rise to the top as quickly as possible. Our educational institutions prepare us to climb corporate ladders and become the “leaders of tomorrow.” Personally, we feel we’ve earned it; we deserve something for all our hard work in school and in the workplace, right?
 
Yet servant leadership challenges all of this. It calls us to higher levels of leadership where the self is no longer king, and others become the priority. It stands in stark contrast to the sense of entitlement we often assume. Given today’s fast-paced, technology-driven world, each of us has more power at our fingertips than ever before. Yet the irony is that this individual empowerment has disconnected us in a sense; we have become somewhat removed from our sense of community. Servant leadership encourages us to face this – to take the focus off of ourselves and to truly put others’ needs first as we nurture relationships and foster community. In fact, it calls us to love and to serve others so much that out of that a desire for leadership is born…not the other way around.
 
It’s interesting…  In general, but particularly in light of our recent recession, it seems as though people are sharing about what is most important in life, more than ever before. Often it boils down to relationships and love. If that is the case, then those things should matter in the workplace as well. Servant leadership offers a revolutionary yet timeless approach to satisfying this need. It fosters trust, teamwork, and collaboration; it revives the sense of connectedness so often lost on our competitive world.
 
One of my favorite quotes from this class was the following by Studs Terkel:
 
Work is…about a search, too, for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.  
 
Our world can be a broken place, especially in the workplace. Our endless striving to take care of Number One can be exhausting. But isn’t it amazing how serving others can bring light? Hope? That seems to be the magic of servant leadership. It encourages us to give, to love, to build up, and to cheer each other on in a way that is sustainable. It seems crazy, but perhaps relinquishing our “all about me” mentality can actually be of greater benefit to ourselves, personally?
 
It has been fascinating to see more and more companies employ this model as their core organizational philosophy around the world. It is inspiring to see more managers desire to invest in the growth, development, and well-being of their direct-reports, and to see more individual contributors grow into leadership positions because of their desire to serve first. And even more, regardless of title or position, it is inspiring to see more of us serve one another – colleague to colleague – as we live out Terkel’s statement and create a Monday through Friday sort of living for one another.
 
Thank you for your Comments!

 

 

Complacency Kills

You’ve just started learning a new skill and you think to yourself “It is really going to take me a long time to learn this.”  You want to become an expert in as little time as possible, but you know you have a lot of hurdles to overcome before you can truly call yourself an “expert”.  Yet, you persevere through the mental anguish that comes with comprehending what you’re learning.  You practice what you learn, and overtime, it becomes second nature.  You become satisfied with the way you do you work and put yourself on autopilot, and that’s when you lose your focus.  At this point is when you find yourself in trouble.

Why might this be an issue?  After all, most employers want you to be able to do your job as efficiently as possible.  If completing your tasks requires little effort on your part because you’ve practiced them so much, you should be able to complete more work than if you were just learning how to do it for the first time, right?  While that may hold true, you also lose your focus as these tasks start becoming automated by you.  When you lose your focus, you start making mistakes. 

I mentioned in a previous post that I was in the process of bringing a motorcycle back from the dead.  While I’m happy to say that my motorcycle is now ridable, I still have a ways to go until it’s perfected.  Just the other day, I had removed the carburetors, something I’ve done at least 20-25 times, previously.  I was on autopilot while I was doing the work. After I reinstalled the carburetors, the bike did not want to start.  I looked over on my workbench to see a part from the carburetor sitting there which I happened to forget to reinstall.  Again, mistakes happen when you aren’t truly focusing on your work and instead just “going through the motions”.

The same goes for processes and policies we put in place in our work environments.  While we have procedures for a reason, we always need to be flexible and look at new ways of doing things.  For example, look at Kodak’s recent decision to stop producing digital cameras/pocket video cameras.  This was a market that Kodak helped to invent.  However, they became complacent and let the cell phone makers take over the digital photography realm for all of the non-professional photographers out there (myself, included).  This was a company who brought the human race the first up-close images of the moon with all of its splendor.    

 Let’s also look at the emotional aspects.  Think about a job you held in the past where you became complacent.  How much satisfaction did you get from your job?  When you came in for work, did you think about how much good you could do, or would you instead stare at the clock waiting for your shift to end? 

The point is that we always need to breathe new life into ourselves and our work.  It’s when we become complacent that we lose sight of what’s important, along with our competitors passing us by. 

For final inspiration this week and to further my point, I leave you with a video of Bryson Andres, a young musician from Alaska.  He has made quite a name for himself on YouTube where you can find various videos of him performing on downtown streets around the country.  His instrument of choice is an electric violin.  I know this might not sound appealing to most (especially if you are not into classical music), but I promise you, you’re in for a new experience.  Not only is Bryson a talented musician, but he performs with an instrument in a way that I’m sure most of us have never seen before.  At the very least, I’m sure you’ll be in a good mood after watching this:

Leave your comments!

App Yourself—Welcome to The Age of AppLightenment

“Now!”, thus spoke a good App to me,
“Click on my icon and you shall see,
treasures of knowlendge and wisdom so fine,
to help you make the most of the daily grind,
Excellence, you may claim, if but you will,
open me up and take your fill!”

App Yourself, by J. Diamond Arnold (A Paradoy of A Book, by Edgar Guest)

I am haunted by memories of long nights at the kitchen table, hot tears streaming down my face, trying to learn the rules of operations and relations within mathematical philosophies—frustrated at my inability to easily embrace the new concepts, but even more frustrated in trying to comprehend how I would ever apply those concepts to my life.

Math on the Mind

Maddness of Math

After all, that is the purpose of our education—our learning experiences—applying those learnings to our lives. Isn’t it?

To this day, those tears still burn at the thought of nights past, bleeding into present, evoked at the site of my own teenage daughter, sitting at the same table, laboring through the same equations and wrestling with the same questions about the purpose of learning Algebra, wondering if she will ever actually use this skill in her lifetime.

What is the Meaning

Those memories did not fade, but have been rekindled through similar angst during my days in the halls of academia, on the campus of the university, and recently in the corporate classrooms of my professional career. The thirst for learning and knowledge has often been but a mirage in deserts of secrets, seminars, and semesters—promising a path to enlightenment and understanding—only to leave me mysteriously cold and hungry, crawling on my hands and knees in search of a means to turn my potential knowledge into kinetic understanding and action.

The art of applying our learning to our daily tasks, projects, quests, and routines has always been a Valley of the Shadow between knowing and doing, excellence and mediocrity, success and status quo. The challenge has been, and will always be judged by our ability to use those learnings in our daily lives on a consistent and effective basis, not to shelve them on the dusty mantles of our lives, virtually untouched and largely unexplored.

The good news is that our generation now has the key to continual and effective learning—literally, right at our fingertips. Welcome to The Revolution of Digital Apps! Welcome to the Age of AppLightenment!

Mobile Applications

Mobile ApplicationsWhile Merriam-Webster Dictionary does not yet have an official entry on the word, “App,” their little brother (or Big Brother depending on how you want to put it into context), Wikipedia, defines it as a, “common reference to Application Software, made for computers and mobile devices such as Smart Phones and Digital Tablets.”

What is relevant to understanding the power that Apps have on the learning process is the Merriam-Webster’s (App version, of course) is the definition of the traditional word, Application—an act of putting to use .

Off course Apps are not new, they have been on your personal computer, running word processing and database software, or digital communication tools, for many years as Applications. What is new, is the explosion of practical and creative Apps designed to make your life more effective, more fun, more engaging, and yes, many will make you even more enlightened.

It’s estimated that one in three adults in the U.S. alone, own a smart phone that makes use of Apps. This past December, Apple announced that there are now more than half a million Applications available in the mobile applications-specific App Store, and that more than 100 million Apps have been downloaded from the desktop software marketplace Mac App Store within a year of its debut. Apple says that customers are ‘continuing’ to download more than 1 billion Apps per month.

Mac App Store

Mac App Store

Regardless of whether you are downloading your Apps from Apple, Google, Amazon, or other App Stores, Apps are becoming a way of life. From banking, to budgeting, to hitting a baseball, making dinner, enhancing your workouts, your business, or your personal relationships, Apps are intuitively driving us to transfer our knowing into doing—helping us effectively engage and complete our daily professional and personal tasks.

The reality is we are in the midst of The Age of AppLightenment—A Digital Enlightenment era sparked by philosophical entrepreneurs named Jobs and Gates, and Zuckerberg and Wales—inciting a cultural movement toward digital mobilized learning and learning applications. Not since the mid-1400s, around the time the printing press was invented, has the world experienced such rapid and mass access to information— information that now can be rapidly processed into knowledge, and knowledge into doing, through the use of Apps.

This is our moment in world history to embrace, taking knowledge and taking action through simple and effective application to our lives. It’s time get up from the table and wipe away the tears. It’s time to App Yourself!

Jason Diamond Arnold
Co-Author of Situational Self Leadership in Action

The Awkward Phase

At some point as a little girl, probably around the age of seven or eight, I decided it was perfectly normal to tell people I was going through my “awkward phase.” It is that inevitable phase in our youth perhaps many of you experienced, where you’re in between sizes, your teeth haven’t decided which way they want to go, and there is no guarantee that your foot will actually make contact with the ball during a routine game of soccer. I’m sure I picked up the funny saying from my dear mother and father, thinking it was simply a matter of fact to be shared with others. While I laugh about this now, it does remind me of another life stage that we go through, worthy of a similar name: our 20’s.

What an awkward phase this can be! After nearly two decades of school, all structure is lost. We graduate from college and our world suddenly opens up. The paradigms we have accepted and mastered are no longer relevant. We begin to question what’s next, and realize both the power and the trepidation behind this overwhelming notion. It is yet another “in between” stage where we must make the leap from being handed a path to carving our own. We must face the often harsh reality that is the real world without ever having been taught how to do so, and become the “leaders of tomorrow” with zero direction for perhaps the first time in our lives.

Yet we must not lose hope! Professionally, our 20’s can be a roller coaster of soul-searching, excitement, growth, insecurity, setbacks, confusion – you name it. But whether we are ready or not, we are the next generation of leaders. While I am by no means an expert in this area (and, truthfully, am still living it!) this unique journey has taught me to remember three things in particular:

1. Seek work with meaning and purpose: Find something you believe in, something you can be proud of. Tap into the intrinsic motivators in your life. Go beyond the extrinsic; paychecks and perks will only provide so much satisfaction. We will spend at least a third of our lives in the workplace, so search for something that brings meaning to you – a place where you feel you are making a positive difference in the world.

2. Never stop learning: Be inquisitive. Meet new people – people different from yourself. Seek mentors. Ask questions, even dumb ones! Don’t feign competence where it doesn’t exist – be coachable and soak up as much as you can from those who have gone before you. A lack of knowledge is not a weakness – it is an opportunity to grow.

3. Be patient and give yourself grace: None of us will rise to the top and “have it all figured out” by 30. In fact, we will never reach that point. Our careers are not a destination, but a journey – an adventure. Like the rest of life, our 20’s help to create our story. Patience and grace through our high highs and low lows generate an authenticity that will make us more effective down the road.

These are just a few of the lessons I have learned along the way… What are yours? 

Thanks for sharing! 

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