Category Archives: Leadership

Leadership is a Promise Kept

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Leader Beware

The mantle of leadership is bound to a set of unspoken promises. These promises are born out of the paradigm followers develop about the role of “leader” and are shaped by society, personal experience and individual priorities and values. They may vary somewhat based on context or culture but the important thing to remember is that these promises are very real and always active. No amount of rationalizing or excuse-making will free us from the implications they represent.

You might call them “table stakes”.

When these promises are clarified, understood and reflected in our actions the results are trust, support and influence. When they are not…the game is over before we even begin talking about change, vision, goals, etc.

From the Perspective of the Follower

“You promise to operate with the same level of accountability that you expect from me.”
“You promise to live by the values you tell me are important to our organization.”
“You promise to tackle the issues or questions you tell me you will address and keep me informed.”
“You promise to listen to me without checking your email or taking phone calls and give attention to my ideas.”
“You promise to be consistent in how you enforce organizational standards and yet treat me as unique.”
“You promise to help me focus my time and energy on the things you said were most important.”
“You promise to keep the things we discuss in confidence, confidential.”
“You promise to give me a chance to prove myself trustworthy and then give me the freedom and resources needed to do my job.”
“You promise to let me learn from my mistakes rather than treat me as a failure.”

How Do We Know?

If we truly want to know which promises we are being held to, with or without our agreement, the best approach might be to sit down with our team and simply ask. Conversations along this line can be quite enlightening for all parties since these “promises” generally operate at a subconscious level until they are triggered by something in the environment. Another benefit is the opportunity to bring our expectations into the open so that an effective and co-created working agreement can be established.

Conflicting Promises?

I remember one particular experience from early in my career that demonstrates how these promises can appear to be in conflict depending on the context. An employee on my team routinely challenged me on whether or not I was being consistent in how I enforced the standards for work and behavior within the team. This belief was rooted in the perception that I did not follow the same approach with every person. Because I felt the need to keep my individual performance discussions confidential, (another promise), I really had no means to “prove” otherwise.

The day came when he was faced with a difficult conversation resulting from a violation of the attendance policy. Suddenly his expectations shifted from my being consistent to arguing that I should consider his unique circumstances and make an exception because, after all, it’s only fair to appreciate that “every situation is different”. Knowing his expectations of leadership enabled me to bring the conversation full circle and reach a resolution that was both fair and consistent.

Moving Forward

We are rarely going to effectively meet all the unspoken promises that come with our role as leaders but by understanding that those expectations exist and factoring them into our choices we can avoid the problems and pitfalls that distract the team from the more critical mission.

What step will you take today to make sure you are keeping your leadership promises?

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Let Them See What You Believe

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“If you knew me you would understand.”

One of our opportunities as leaders is to bring our values and beliefs into the open for others to see. Our actions may be confusing or even appear contradictory if we leave it to people to guess where we are coming from. When we provide a framework that allows others to understand our motives and actions we give our team the benefit of context. To make this possible there are important steps we can take.

  • Reflect upon, understand and shape our beliefs.
    As leaders it is important that we take the time to learn what we believe. This is different from what we “think” we believe. It requires close examination of our actions, reactions and emotions.  When we discover our true beliefs we may find that some of these beliefs are harming rather than helping us and that we need to make changes to better align with our values and the vision we have for our lives. This is a cycle we should repeat often. If we are open and willing to fearlessly examine our choices these beliefs will continue to evolve throughout our lives.
  • Openly share our beliefs, at least as it relates to our leadership philosophy.
    We can speak to our beliefs and approach to leadership with our team and continue to reinforce those ideas during individual conversations. This will create accountability and encourage us to act in alignment with our words. As different events occur where we are called upon to act, and do so in a manner consistent with our stated beliefs, we will increase the confidence and security the team feels about our leadership. The opposite is also true, when we act erratically, inconsistently, and provide no context for our actions, we create an environment of uncertainty and even fear.
  • Invite others to share their beliefs and be open to letting them influence us.
    Because our beliefs are subject to our unique life experience they will sometimes come into conflict with beliefs held by others. In these moments it is important to listen and try to understand the source of the disconnect. In some cases we may truly disagree and this will require further reflection, communication or action to resolve; in other situations the gap may simply be a misunderstanding and we find that after talking it out we are not so far apart. In every case these discussions provide the opportunity to reflect on what we believe and consider the possibility that we may need to revisit our position.
  • Seek an honest, outside assessment of our alignment.
    It’s easy to think we are acting in ways that agree with our stated beliefs. Yet we are all capable of significant rationalization and self-deception. It can be difficult to open ourselves up to feedback that contradicts the perception we have of our selves but the risk is worth the reward. By asking our team for this level of honest feedback we not only create a path to improve our leadership effectiveness, (and our own self-esteem), but also strengthen our bond of trust with those we serve. When we admit where we have missed the target, and make the required changes to our behavior, we model a way of leading that deepens our connections and influences others to follow in our footsteps.

When we let others “see what we believe” we open the door to positive growth for ourselves and for our team. Have you had an experience with sharing and living your beliefs as a leader that might benefit others? I’d love to hear your story.

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