What We Need to Know About Empathy & Leadership

I recently had a conversation with an organizational leader who expressed that “empathetic leadership” is one of the biggest threats to the performance of his team. He believed that team members simply sought for their leaders to be more empathetic to their challenges and circumstance (really sympathy), and that leaders felt called to be more nurturing of their people, leading to an inability to maintain high standards of performance. As I listened to this leader speak more on his unapproving perceptions on empathy and leadership, I realized the source of the issue – I think he has an inaccurate and limited view on the role of empathy in leadership.

This issue is not unique to this leader or case. We have an enduring problem in our understanding of empathy and leadership that tends to fall into one of three issues. Continue reading → What We Need to Know About Empathy & Leadership

Building Leader Vulnerability: An Important Benefit of Personal Reflection

Thus far over my career of leading and managing others, I’ve found that my toughest challenges have not been technical work issues, struggles to meet team metrics or goals, or worries over team execution matters. While those are demanding, yes, my toughest challenges have been helping people be able to bring their full selves to the team every day, which often includes baggage from life.

I have had to fill sensitive spaces as a leader by loving, supporting, and working with others through life challenges like loss of family and loved ones, divorce, health difficulties, financial issues, harassment & assault, mental and emotional concerns, performance failures, and much more. Despite no formal education in these spaces, I’ve had to wear hats as an unofficial marriage and family counselor, financial advisor, and conflict resolution mediator more often than I can count to best love, lead, and enable people on my team to be successful – both within the team and in life.

These challenges are not unique to my own experiences or a select set of teams or industries. These span across all leadership & management roles. To feel safe and to maximize potential for success on the team, people must be able to bring their full selves to work every day. Thus, to help support others through the challenges of life, leaders must be able and willing to fill sensitive, challenging spaces. This requires a developed sense of and confidence in leader vulnerability. Continue reading → Building Leader Vulnerability: An Important Benefit of Personal Reflection

The Discipline of Habits – 4 Lessons Learned from Unique Cases of Sustained Success

By Aaron Griffing

 Editorial Note: This article highlights a political figure as a case study but is not offered as a supporting endorsement of a particular party, candidacy, or policy. It is strictly offered as a leadership example of the impact of disciplined habits.

What do Coast Redwood trees, Barack Obama, and the University of Alabama have in common?

At first glance, not much. However, in applying the lens of the discipline of habits, they in fact share many commonalities, ultimately demonstrating to us the impact of a commitment to disciplined habits can have on our sustained growth and success.

I recently finished James Clear’s Atomic Habits while simultaneously beginning Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. I could not help but notice some of the principles Clear shares in his book on habits were affirmed in Obama’s presidential memoirs. The two books left me with four major takeaways:

  • You must remain persistent with your habits – they take time to bare results.
  • We often experience a plateau effect before breaking through toward truly impactful improvement and results.
  • The best don’t rest – even after achieving success, continue to seek improvement.
  • Establishing and employing a productive process is more impactful than establishing and achieving a goal.

Continue reading → The Discipline of Habits – 4 Lessons Learned from Unique Cases of Sustained Success

The Greatest of These is Love

“Most people need love and acceptance a lot more than they need advice.” –Bob Goff, Love Does.

This quote has so deeply influenced my authentic leadership style in support of my leader philosophy. First and foremost, I choose to lead with love. I truly am passionate about making people & organizations better through leader development; this comes from a genuine wellspring of love for people and their/our work. And still, the longer I lead and the more I experience, the more I find this conviction to be true.

Ultimately, I think it surfaces the need for leaders to show up, genuinely care about others, and create leadership space for them to fill. More often than not, it’s these things that best enable team success and improvement, and less about me as the leader occupying leadership space by fixing, directing, and even speaking.

But how do we accomplish this? Continue reading → The Greatest of These is Love

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Bad Leadership Experiences

Toxic, counterproductive, ineffective. These are all synonyms for less-than-ideal leadership examples. But bottom line is, we essentially view these as bad leadership.

We have all had experiences with bad bosses and senior leaders. We wonder how they made it into that position all while putting our head down to muscle through the challenge of leading under and working for them. For many of us, we can identify such experiences multiple times over our careers.

I am no exception. I vividly recall a season early in my career where I felt surrounded by poor leadership examples – my boss was a nice person, but not a proficient and recognized leader within the organization; I did not receive clear guidance, development, or support. As a younger professional and leader at the time, I was less mature and thus was angry and disenfranchised. Continue reading → Don’t Underestimate the Power of Bad Leadership Experiences

Leaders Communicate Perspective

“Leaders communicate perspective. We show Soldiers that who we are, what we do, and why we do it are important… Soldiers who understand why and how their efforts fit into the big picture, perform better. Informed Soldiers are effective Soldiers.”

BG David Hodne

This simple quote from a previous boss and current mentor of mine has become one of the most profound leadership lessons I have learned in my now 10-years of practicing leadership. Though clear and concise, this quote can actually be unpacked to become one of the most complex and important leadership skills that I’ve tried to study and practice. We need to talk about leadership and communicating perspective.

One of my personally favorite definitions of leadership, and one I feel is the most complete, is from the U.S. Army. It states that leaders influence others by providing three things: purpose, direction, and motivation. Perspective is a critical way to provide the purpose. Leaders must create and communicate that perspective for their people.   Continue reading → Leaders Communicate Perspective

Avoiding Burnout: 9 Things to Build “Leader Resilience”

Outside of three weeks of paternity leave with my family, I have not taken any vacation or leave time since before the COVID pandemic began in March. And though paternity leave was an amazing time for my family and I, it certainly wasn’t a restful time. Bottom line is…I’m tired. Yes, I’m passionate about and love what I do, but it’s been a long year with little to no respite. I believe many are in a similar boat as me – we are at or near professional burnout.

It takes a lot to bring engaged leadership, optimism and energy, and deliberate development to our people and organizations. Burnt-out leaders can’t do that effectively. And while it is important to take necessary time for vacation and rest as leaders, we may not always be able to do that on our own timelines. As much as possible, we need to be resilient leaders able to keep showing up every day and bring the purpose, direction, and motivation that our people are entitled to.

So, we need to talk about ways to avoid burning-out and being resilient leaders able to sustain our personal and collective organizational responsibilities. It’s easy to talk about the idea of being resilient leaders, but hard to enact it day in and day out.

To help contribute this is important conversation of leadership, resiliency, and burnout – I offer nine practical things that help me show up every day and to maintain a full “leadership cup”…because we can’t pour into others from an empty cup. I expect that by sprinkling these small habits or actions over our schedule each week and month, we are able to remain being the leaders we desire to be and that our people deserve for the long haul. Continue reading → Avoiding Burnout: 9 Things to Build “Leader Resilience”

Why We Lead with Gratitude…and How

“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than is expected.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anything that keeps me inspired and committed to do what I do more than receiving a small, personal note from someone on my team. Even the humblest appreciation note that reveals the impact I have been able to have on someone else stirs strong emotion and joy.

Through such events, I have recognized the power of gratitude. It has become a part of my leadership philosophy, a mechanism for organizational change, and a favorite leader development activity.

“Gratitude is a currency that we can mint for ourselves and spend without fear of bankruptcy.”

―Fred De Witt Van Amburgh

Continue reading → Why We Lead with Gratitude…and How

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

Activating the Levers of Organizational Change

Activating the Levers of Organizational Change_3x5 Leadership

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