Posts Tagged ‘ Challenges ’

Top 3 Reasons Why Being a Great Leader Isn’t Easy

A few months back, I asked a group of leaders for a show of hands on who had experienced either oversupervision or undersupervision. Almost every hand went up. But then I asked how many had themselves oversupervised or undersupervised their direct reports. Only one or two hands shyly peeked out from the crowd.

So what’s going on? Well, leaders can sometimes be unaware of what they should and should not be doing. And this lack of awareness separates good leaders from great leaders. Great leaders know that leading is a never-ending journey that can be filled with treacherous obstacles.

So what do you need to know to become a great leader?
 
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Moral Courage

“Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”
Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird


Courage is a well-admired human trait; but when asked what courage is, what do you think of?

Is it a soldier, fighting a battle far from home against a fierce, unknown enemy?
What about a fire-fighting hero running in to save someone from a burning building?
Perhaps your imagination stretches to a fictional hero, rushing in to save the day?

All of these are an example of physical courage – someone’s life is in imminent danger, and our courageous hero puts everything right again.

But forget about your cape-wearing, pants-on the-outside, lycra-clad hero. What about normal, average people?  The British have a wonderful phrase for this: “The man on the Clapham Omnibus” – people going about their everyday business.

This could encompass individuals who blow the whistle on corporate corruption, at risk of losing their job; or – an example from one of my favourite books (Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird”); a Lawyer, who stands up to defend someone who is innocent, even though society condemns them for doing so. Could these people be described as ‘courageous’?

In a word: yes!

The courage demonstrated by holding on to one’s own values – regardless of whether this is on the battlefield, or in the boardroom – is Moral Courage.

Lisa Dungate defines Moral Courage perfectly in her blog on Lions Whiskers, where she explains that: “Moral courage means doing the right thing, even at the risk of inconvenience, ridicule, punishment, loss of job or security or social status”.

Novelist, J.K. Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech for the Class of 2008 provides some moving examples. The  video of her speech, from TED.com, is 21 minutes long; but at 12 minutes she gives an emotional recollection of her time working at Amnesty International, with people who risked their own lives to speak out about the persecution, abuse, and torture taking place in their home lands.

Everyday moral courage often isn’t this extreme, but that does not mean that it is any easier to practice: moral courage might mean being different or disagreeing publicly.

As difficult as it is – displaying moral courage can earn respect, trust, and admiralty; and by practicing moral courage very day it gradually will become easier.

Let’s take moral courage away from the corporate setting, for a moment; and consider practicing in every day situations:

  • You and your friends are deciding what movie to see, or where to get dinner, but you don’t like the choice they all prefer. Instead of going along silently, or pretending to agree, say, “Well, it wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you all like it, that’s OK with me.”
  • One of your friends has gotten a tattoo, and everyone is admiring it, but you don’t like tattoos. Instead of letting everyone believe that you also think tattoos are really cool, have the courage to express a different view. “I’m glad you like his tattoo, but personally, I just don’t see the appeal.”

You don’t need to be being rude; or enforcing your own opinions on others, to demonstrate moral courage.

But, as professionals, how can we use these skills to make values-driven decisions consistently?

The Ivey Business Journal gives examples of moral courage in leadership: In August 2008, when Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, stood in front of the press to accept responsibility for the contaminated meat scandal that resulted in numerous deaths, he undoubtedly needed courage.  Southwest Airlines CEO, James Parker, would have needed courage when he went against the industry job-slashing trend following 9/11 when he courageously announced that he would keep all employees

Why is moral courage important in leadership?

Moral courage is crucial in developing authenticity – it empowers individuals to discover and demonstrate what they stand for – even if this is at the disapproval of others. By developing self leadership through action in moral dilemmas, professionals and leaders can ensure both integrity and impact.

Actions speak louder than words.  Leaders at all levels need to act out their expectations, behave honestly and openly, and demonstrate loyalty. They need to establish and maintain open communications, so that those working with them know that their suggestions will be listened to – that they have a voice. People need to know that their leader isn’t going to act on a whim, just because it’s the majority decision. All of these qualities are facilitated by a leader who has courage.

Leaders with moral courage can be trusted by colleagues to do the right thing. It takes courage to tell the boss something that they do not necessarily want to hear; or to redirect an employee; or to make unpopular decisions.

An awareness of the importance of doing the right thing – which is not necessarily the popular thing – can help leaders demonstrate moral courage when they face ethical challenges in the workplace, and uphold ethical working environments and business standards.

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Act Before You Think – The “OODA Loop” in Leadership

I have always been taught to “think before you act” – I should  consider what exactly I want to do; why; and what the impact is. This way, you have clarity on what you’re doing, and you can avoid making the wrong decision or upsetting people (especially important in leadership).

However, we’re working in business around the globe, using real-time communication, and keeping up with continuous improvements technology; and we need to keep pace with a constantly changing environment – and this means changing our decision making process to match this faster pace.

The “OODA Loop” is not new – it was developed by US Air Force Colonel John Boyd in the 1950’s, and refers to the recurring decision cycle of: observe-orient-decide-act. The quicker this cycle can be processed, the more an organization or individual can gain the upper hand, by being one step ahead of their “opponent’s” decision making.

The model demonstrates a four-point decision loop that supports fast, effective and proactive decision-making:

Observe Gather as much relevant information as possible. (In business, data becomes an important part of this process).
Orient Analyze the information, and use it to change the situation. The better and quicker the leader of an organization is able to gain clarity, the better the decision that can be made
Decide Determine a course of action. Having good data analysis and orientation allows organizations to make better and more repeatable decisions.
Act Follow through on your decision. Act with energy, discipline and drive. This is the heart of the execution process

You cycle through the loop by observing the results of your actions, reviewing and revising your initial decision, and moving to your next action. It needs to be a smooth, continual process, and the faster you can move through each stage the better. In fact, if you were to sit down and map out each step, it would slow down instead of speed up.

OODA Loop

The initial concept was based on military combat operations. Consider a fighter pilot trying to shoot down an enemy aircraft. Before the enemy is even in vision, the pilot considers information of the enemy pilot (level of training, cultural traditions, etc). When the enemy aircraft comes into the radar, our pilot gets more information on speed and size of the enemy plane. A decision is made based on the available information. Our pilot can then loop back to observation: is the attacker reacting to the action of our pilot? Then to orient: is the enemy reacting characteristically? Is his plane exhibiting better-than-expected performance? Based on these, he can cycle back through the loop to making a decision on his next course of action, and carry it out.

Fighter Pilot (TopGun)

If you’re looking to work on your leadership, and become a better leader, your first step might be to create an action plan. “In order to be a better leader, I want to do this, this, and this”. Whilst this action plan might focus your efforts, and provide a roadmap; it is just that: a plan.

When it comes to leadership, the way to produce the change of mindset – to improve the skills you require to become a better leader – is to act differently, rather than just think about it.

In fact, acting differently is more likely to make you think differently.

Someone once told me that, if I act like someone that I would like to meet, in time, I’d become a person that other people want to meet (and this is now written on a piece of A4 paper, stuck on the ceiling above my bed, and I read it every morning when I wake up). This is Boyd’s OODA Loop theory applied to being a ‘nicer’ person; but the same can apply to leadership. Act like the leader that you would like to have leading you, and in time, you’ll become the kind of leader that others want leading them.

You can try something new and, after action, observe the results – how it feels to us, how others around us react – and only later reflect on what our experience taught us.

In other words, we “act like a leader” and then “think like a leader”.

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