Do We Have a Culture of Practice?

I am passionate about the concept of Deliberately Developmental Organizations (DDOs) offered by Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey in their book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Overall, their research aims to identify the most powerful ways to develop the capabilities of people at work in the twenty-first century.

The book studies three “DDOs” as models of the twenty-first century way to create a robust incubator for people’s development. Ultimately, they offer the DDO vision, challenging us to, “Imagine so valuing the importance of developing people’s capabilities that you design a culture that itself immersively sweeps every member of the organization into an ongoing developmental journey in the course of working every day.”

One key aspect to these DDOs is being deliberate about a culture of practice. These organizations are, “continuously engaged in getting over themselves – identifying their weaknesses, seeing deeply into the ways they’re stuck, and having regular opportunities to move past their limiting patters of thinking and acting.” Continue reading → Do We Have a Culture of Practice?

Defining Our Leadership Philosophy

In recently starting a new academic year at West Point, NY, I engaged in the important process of initial counseling with my Cadet staff. Over those 25 conversations in getting to know the Cadets better, setting duty expectations between us, and clarifying their developmental goals, I was surprised by a common thread among a majority of them – many wanted to figure out their leadership philosophy. I asked the Cadets their perceptions on a leadership philosophy and what exactly they are looking to create. I quickly found that the comments centered on wanting to first learn what a leadership philosophy is; “I know it’s important and I want to find out how to make my own.”

This is common in the Army and I’m sure other professions experience something similar. For the Army, when young officers prepare to assume command of a company, the process of creating their leadership philosophy is often identified as a mandatory step before formally assuming that role. I think others can relate to having a new brigade commander or some similar role assume command to then immediately publish their leadership philosophy memorandum to all subordinate leaders.

What I’ve found over the years is that everyone, at least within the Army, finds this concept of a leadership philosophy as super important, but are not overly clear on what it actually is, what it should look like, or how we publish or implement it.

So, to help provide some clarity, I offer a model for a leadership philosophy. It’s offered as a model (not the model) as a means to help us better conceptualize and implement this “big shiny object” of leadership that we place a lot of emphasis on, but may not quite know what exactly to do with. I hope we are able to find some ways to best adapt and apply something within this piece to improve our leader effectiveness. Continue reading → Defining Our Leadership Philosophy

In Whom Do We Trust – Part 1: On Leadership & Trust

 

Years ago, a mentor of mine offered a leadership perspective that has resonated with me since, stating:

“Soldiers will inherently ask three questions of you when you assume role as their leader:

  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Do you care about me?
  3. Are you committed to excellence?”

While these questions may never be outright asked at some leader “sensing session,” I truly believe these are the issues on peoples’ minds when they are new to joining our team or when we assume a formal leadership role over them. And leaders need to think on how we are deliberately attending to these matters for our people – especially how we are earning their trust. Continue reading → In Whom Do We Trust – Part 1: On Leadership & Trust

Leaders Seek and Surface the Truth

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“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between the two, the leader must become a servant…” –Max DePree

When considering one of my favorite leadership-defining quotes, many (to include myself) focus on the aspects of gratitude and servant leadership. But what about the leader’s first responsibility to define reality? What does that mean and what does that look like?

Leaders defining reality means seeking and surfacing the truth for the team. Improving team performance requires change. To prove the need for change, the team must face their honest reality. This can require addressing brutal facts that have been hidden or ignored. It can be just like any process to recovery – the first step is admitting you have a problem.

Leaders must create a climate within the team where the truth is spoken and heard. This applies up, down, and across the team where no one is above the truth or not responsible to share and address it. Within our high-performing team, we need to have people willing to speak the truth and, more importantly, leaders willing to hear the truth. To enable this team climate of open feedback loops and where people feel safe to speak “truth to power,” I believe there are a few behaviors that leaders should initiate: Continue reading → Leaders Seek and Surface the Truth

Activating the Levers of Organizational Change

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Leading change is extremely hard. It challenges the organization’s status quo, interrupts peoples’ assumptions and comfort zones, and creates an often uneasy unknown or unconfirmed future for the organization. Thus, obstacles and resistance to change are often consistent and come from many sources up, down, across, and even external to the organization. Leading change can easily feel overwhelming and unsuccessful at so many points through the process.

But leading change is inherent and essential to leadership. I think back to Jim Mattis’s comments in his book, Call Sign Chaos, claiming that a “leader must be willing to change and make change.” Leaders must get results for their organization and stakeholders absolutely, but I truly believe that alone is insufficient. Leaders must also make the organization and others better; organizational change is critical to effective leadership. Continue reading → Activating the Levers of Organizational Change

My Hard Lesson Learned in Leading Through Crisis

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Leading through crisis has certainly been the hot topic on leadership over the last five months since COVID hit the US. There is no shortage of new work addressing the challenges of and need to lead through crisis well; a simple internet search can offer hundreds of perspectives and ideas. It is an important topic to discuss, though. A crisis can be defined as a stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, especially for better or for worse, is determined; turning point. A crisis can threaten the wellbeing of our people and mere existence of our organizations; crisis requires effective leadership.

While recognizing the importance of leading well through crisis, I initially chose not to write on the topic. I felt I had no relevant or fresh perspectives to offer on it. But then a friend asked if I would share some personal thoughts on the topic for his blog (below and here). While I was happy to share and humbled by the consideration, I did not feel passionate or qualified on the topic. To be honest, I ended up writing about what I call my “leadership philosophy”: how I intend to authentically lead regardless of circumstances or environment. I think I subconsciously did that to send the message that leaders need to remain authentic to themselves and committed to the organization as they were before the crisis; we don’t merely alter our leadership in response to a crisis. Continue reading → My Hard Lesson Learned in Leading Through Crisis

The Feedback Primer Part 3: On Leaders Creating Their Own Feedback Loops

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Brené Brown, one of my favorite authors, uses Teddy Roosevelt’s 1910 speech as the foundation for the title and structure of her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. She asserts that this quote perfectly encapsulates her research into why we find being vulnerable such a hard thing to do.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

So, what does this have to do with feedback? Well, I think everything. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 3: On Leaders Creating Their Own Feedback Loops

Do Your People Feel Safe? How Leaders Create Psychological Safety.

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A few years ago, Google studied to determine the keys to successful teams. Through their research, they found that the #1 key to the highest-performing teams was psychological safety within the team. This means that team members feel safe to take risks and be vulnerable in front of each other, without feeling insecure or embarrassed.

High psychological safety across the team provides a number of key benefits such as:

  • It encourages members to speak up with ideas, professional dissent, and necessary questions.
  • It enables a culture of feedback and accountability within the team – up, down, and across.
  • Fosters higher levels of innovation, especially from more junior members.

But leaders can’t just create this safety out of thin air, nor can they demand it from their team. We can’t merely tell our teammates, “I want you to feel safe here” if our actions communicate otherwise.

Leaders must build a sense of psychological safety for their team. This is done through deliberate, consistent behavior over time. Here are a few ways that we can start practicing it more now: by using inclusive language, making vulnerability OK for them and for us, trusting first, and enacting our leader love languages. Continue reading → Do Your People Feel Safe? How Leaders Create Psychological Safety.

Words Matter – The Importance of Our Language as Leaders

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If I were to define my “leadership philosophy,” or maybe the top three ways I prefer to lead, I’d articulate it as: leading with love; generating high engagement across the team; and creating clarity for everyone on who we are, what we do, and why we do it. It’s easy to see how important effective communication and use of clear language are when trying to live out that philosophy each day.

Moreover, a mentor of mine taught me years ago: “use precise words precisely.”

While my amateur writing my not live up to those standards, I’m sure all can see that the bottom line is: our language is a critical component to our effectiveness as leaders and developers of other leaders. Even the details of how we structure a question, statement, or word choice can have meaningful impacts. Continue reading → Words Matter – The Importance of Our Language as Leaders

They Must Become Greater, I Must Become Less: On Leadership & Humility

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“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

─── C. S. Lewis

Whenever the topic of leadership and humility comes up, this is the quote I immediately turn to. And while this idea can certainly stir some inspiring emotion in us when we talk about it, it is also easy to do just that…merely talk about it. Our lives are undoubtedly checkered with plenty of experiences involving selfish, self-centered, and arrogant leaders.

To be transformational, to be leaders of character, and to develop other leaders, we must be humble leaders. This does not mean being weak or timid. It’s exactly like C. S. Lewis states above – how can I think less about myself as the formal leader and more about my people in every situation I can. This type of thinking and style is proving more necessary in 21st century leadership. We need to lead through teams of teams, where we likely don’t have all the information and we are likely not the most skilled person in the group in many different ways. We must create engaged teams where we can solicit diversity of thought and ideas up, down, and across the team.

This is best enabled by humble leaders. Continue reading → They Must Become Greater, I Must Become Less: On Leadership & Humility