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

Are You Thoughtful & Deliberate in Everything You Do as a Leader? Because Some Small, Careless Behaviors Can be Sending “Anti-Belonging Cues” to Others.

Last week, I had the great fortune to listen to a lecture by author, Dan Coyle. Both his lecture and his book, The Culture Code (which I highly recommend), emphasize a concept of belonging cues. These refer to small, consistent behaviors that leaders enact to show others that they belong. It communicates that “I value you, your contributions to the team, and that what we are doing is important;” these build psychological safety.

Additionally, I listened to a wonderful Intentional Living & Leadership podcast episode with guest, Ryan Hawk, over the weekend (Ryan is the host of The Learning Leader Show, one of my favorite podcasts). In the episode, the host, Cal, and Ryan discussed how leaders sustain excellence. Ryan’s answer boiled down to the need for leaders to be thoughtful and intentional in their leadership. I couldn’t agree more.

So, why do I share about these seemingly random and insignificant anecdotes? Well, in pairing the ideas from these two sources, I began thinking on some particular ways that leaders unintentionally violate those messages daily in ways that we don’t often think or talk about. Continue reading → Are You Thoughtful & Deliberate in Everything You Do as a Leader? Because Some Small, Careless Behaviors Can be Sending “Anti-Belonging Cues” to Others.

What’s Defining Effective Leadership Today? Inclusiveness.

The key to success in today’s technology-saturated, complex, and adapt-or-die environment is cohesive and disciplined teams. Standard chain of command, pyramid-shaped organizational structures are no longer sufficient. We need people and teams to adapt, act on disciplined initiative, and solve and prevent problems at their own level. And today’s cohesive teams are inclusive teams.

Today’s leaders need to be inclusive ones. So, regardless of rank, position, or industry / field, we need to talk about inclusive leadership. Continue reading → What’s Defining Effective Leadership Today? Inclusiveness.

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

Leading Via Social Justice

By Chaveso Cook

Both individuals and organizations around the nation – and the world – are stepping into conversations and actions regarding race, social justice, systematic oppression, and equity. Whereas this is undoubtedly a good thing, the inevitably uncomfortable conversations ensuing came from even more disconcerting events. The recent violence that has gripped the nation is not new and it is not a series of isolated events. Many have come to realize that instead of solely being not racist, we must do as author Ibram X. Kendi suggests and become actively anti-racist. Beyond that, we surely must condemn and actively fight against racism, injustice, inequality, intolerance, prejudice, entitlement, and abuse of power as well. But beyond consuming articles and documentaries or reading books like “White Fragility” or “The New Jim Crow,” how does one do so?

In moments like this we must offer a counter question – “Are you a leader?” Leaders have a responsibility to improve the lives of those around them and make their organizations better. Connecting with, including, and developing people who may not look like you will push diversity into places of opportunity and higher levels of leadership, fostering the momentum for much needed, equitable, systematic change. Continue reading → Leading Via Social Justice

Thoughts on Leader Self-Development: Do Better

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I did not take ownership of my professional development and deliberately commit toward self-development until almost four years into my military career. But even when I did start with habits like developmental reading, choices such as my book selection and approach were not intentional; my efforts were scattered and random. And it was still years after starting until I discovered personal book favorites that had major impacts on my life and leadership. I have spent years since then repeatedly saying, “I wish I read (or knew about) this years ago before I was a platoon leader or company commander.”

I share this to disclose something I have come to eventually realize: that our self-development efforts can be frustrating sometimes. My efforts over the years are littered with feelings of personal regret and disappointment for not knowing or doing the things I learn through self-development earlier. After I gain new knowledge or ideas on how to lead better through my self-development habits, I quickly default to thinking, “I wish I knew this years ago!” and “this would have made me a better platoon leader or commander.”

But I recently found this quote by Maya Angelou – an American poet, singer, and civil rights activist – and it immediately adjusted my perspective and personal worries on my self-development: Continue reading → Thoughts on Leader Self-Development: Do Better

The Feedback Primer Part 6: Conclusion – Now Get Out There and Get Started!

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Feedback within the realm of leadership is a challenging topic. There are so many subjective dynamics to delivering it well, integrating it across our teams, and using it to improve our leadership and performance. Yet, despite its complexities, feedback is critical for our leader growth and team performance. Through this Feedback Primer, I aimed to provide everything I have learned and experienced on feedback in a commonsense way to help you and your people. Over this Primer, we have looked at: Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 6: Conclusion – Now Get Out There and Get Started!

The Feedback Primer Part 5: Making the Abstract Tangible – 3 Example Feedback Loops for Your Consideration

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After spending much of this Feedback Primer saturated in abstract concepts about feedback, I want to offer some tangible ideas to consider moving forward. My hope is that by sharing three examples of organizational feedback loops, we can see how all the concepts introduced in this Primer so far integrate to materialize quality developmental feedback for ourselves as leaders, and for our people. More importantly, I hope sharing these examples inspires and equips leaders to create their own. Adopting these examples is certainly feasible, but I challenge you, as leaders, to think how you can adapt them to best fit your team’s specific needs, contexts, and restrictions.

As you read through the examples, pay attention to the diversity of the feedback loop dynamics (from part 4) and how leaders can practice the nuances of giving and receiving feedback well within them (offered in part 2). Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 5: Making the Abstract Tangible – 3 Example Feedback Loops for Your Consideration

The Feedback Primer Part 4: Innovating Feedback Across Your Team

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Through our openness to and desire for feedback from others as a leader (addressed in part 3), we have hopefully begun to inspire others to do the same. Following this, it is time we expand these efforts to a collective level. We, the leaders, must create feedback loops for our people and team. We must own and innovate mechanisms to allow feedback to permeate throughout the team; we are not merely victims of our organizational circumstances and should not wait for “them at corporate” or “higher” to create these systems for us. Such feedback loops within the team do require some creativity, leader time investment, and commitment – but it is possible with resources that are universally available. We can start this now. Continue reading → The Feedback Primer Part 4: Innovating Feedback Across Your Team

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