Blog Cover Photo: Rise To The Occasion

This is part of a blog series from a business development talk I gave. To get caught up, see: Committed to Mastery and then Transformative Teamwork.


Today, we’re covering part three of the speech: Rise To The Occasion.

The contrast of several Northern leaders needs our attention. The North, at the outset of the Civil War, was lacking in high ranking military men. Most of them had gone south at the start of the war. The few that remained, like George McClellan rose quickly. Others, like Generals Custer and Grant, would rise to the occasion.

Setting The Stage

McClellan was a brilliant tactician. His study of worldwide fighting styles, military strategies, and historical aspects of war made him highly desirable. He graduated second in his class from West Point. Dubbed the Young Napoleon, McClellan’s future was bright. Everyone expected great things from McClellan. He cared deeply for his soldiers and they loved him for it. From their perspective, they were well fed, well trained, and rarely fought. It was a pretty good arrangement.

However, between McClellan and President Lincoln, things were rarely ever smooth. McClellan became famous for requesting more supplies and exaggerating enemy numbers. One account tells of a breakdown in Confederate lines and supplies after a battlefield loss. Research seems to indicate that had McClellan pursued them and chased them down, the war would have been over in less than two years. Richmond would have been captured. Top generals would have been defeated. The North would’ve won without further bloodshed. George McClellan

Instead, McClellan estimated enemy numbers exaggerated by 20% and blamed the possibility of bad weather as reasons for a delayed attack. As a result, he called off the chase. Within two days, the South regrouped, shuffled their troops, and counterattacked. They drove the north back. For more than two additional years the Civil War would be fought because of this one failure in his leadership.

Rise to the Occasion

Contrast the brilliance, genius, and ultimate ineptitude of someone like George McClellan with someone like Grant. Grant rose to the occasion given to him. Grant’s war policy was to attack consistently and ferociously. He was adept and editing commands on the fly. He was both well prepared and adaptable. Because he knew the ultimate goal, he could change his methods as the battlefield dictated.

George Armstrong Custer, from outward appearances, had nothing going for him. He barely graduated from West Point coming in dead last in his class. Custer gained an unfavorable reputation because so few trusted him. He was often pulling pranks, spending time in detention, getting into trouble, and had an overly brash demeanor.

However, throughout the Civil War, he distinguished himself as a man of courageous action. By the end of the Civil War, he had been promoted to Major General and was in command of the entire cavalry. In an age where leaders worked from the rear and made orders for other men, he gained admiration by fighting from the front. It’s been noted that he was often the first to go flying into combat with his men trailing behind him. At the conclusion of the war, his unit was responsible for capturing more POWs and infantry flags than any other unit. He was even respected enough that he received the table that unconditional surrender terms were drafted.

Where We Find Ourselves

Three men at the same point in history take dramatically different paths in life. One, seemingly given every advantage, squanders it all. He leaves frustrated, disgraced, disillusioned, and desperate. The other two inspire, engage, and rise to the occasion. McClellan, from the top of his class, witnesses everything crumble before him. Grant and Custer rise from the bottom. Custer, quite literally from the bottom of his class to one of the highest positions available and becomes the stuff of lore and legend.

There is something inside of our DNA that loves these transformational stories. Zeroes to heroes inspire us. We long for stories of David defeating Goliath. Worst to first and victory in the midst of defeat give us hope. Blog Cover Photo: Rise To The Occasion

Undoubtedly, there are many parallels in our businesses. Perhaps you even know of a time or two in your own life or that of your company (or even an employee) where you can see now how things could have and should have worked out differently.

Individuals or companies with all the advantages that still somehow managed to fail. Mega tech companies caught with bad numbers and crumble an empire. Someone identified as a high performer busted for ethical violations or a failure to perform. An industry darling in one year is an outcast in another.

But there’s also the flip side.

A surprise hire going on to transform a business or industry.

A perpetual under-achiever finds a fire in their soul and rises to extraordinary levels of leadership.

And while nothing in life is a guarantee, what I have found throughout my years in coaching, is that there are certain tendencies and ways to “hedge our bets.”

The Power of Coaching

Coaching advances the high performers at an astounding rate, helping them to avoid burnout. It also has the capacity to equip the last place hire to deeper levels of transformation. Coaching gives a place for both the first-place all-star and the last place “skin of your teeth, you just barely made it” performer.

My start in coaching looked much the same. I began working with clients who self-identified as someone who knew they were capable of great things but couldn’t get out of their own way (much like we might have said early on about Custer).

The ICF first defined coaching as, “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

When we equip our ourselves and our staff to reach their full potential we inspire them to rise to the occasion.

 

Doctor examining patients knee with superimposed text: Addressing Our Pain Points

Part of what life forces us to do is to spend time addressing our pain points. The only question is how long we’re going to wait.

Pain Is A Clue

In our bodies, pain is a clue that something is wrong. Pain in our knee points to a muscular or skeletal problem somewhere. Astute doctors will look not just at the knee, but at the ankle and hip complex as well. They will examine the surrounding joints, ligaments, and muscles. A full diagnostic could reveal that the knee hurts because of a limited range of motion in the ankle.

(This idea often called the joint-by-joint theory).

A few weeks ago, I started to get a pain in my palm. What started out feeling like a bruise soon changed to a hard area and a small bump. I took out some tweezers, pulled back the skin and found a splinter embedded deep in my hand. After a few quick cuts, the splinter was out and my hand felt instantly better. Within a few days, my hand was completely better. Doctor examining patients knee with superimposed text: Addressing Our Pain Points

Pain is a clue that something is wrong.

Understanding Pain

This analogy works in all areas of life. Pain is a clue that something is wrong and we need to spend our time addressing our pain points.

The pain of loneliness, isolation or rejection.

The pain of fear and disappointment.

We all need to address the pain of failure.

The only question is, “Is this going to hurt a lot or a little?”

Eventually, we will be forced to deal with it. Like a painful knee, we might be able to ignore other sources of pain, but it will always have to be addressed.

As the swelling in the knee worsens, so does the pain. We start to use it less. We lose mobility and stability. This makes using the knee more painful, so we try to use it less. Either through medication or a brave trip to the doctor’s office, we will eventually be forced to deal with the pain.

Our lives are all full of painful experiences. Past memories, stories, emotions, and experiences all give us our story. Some are wonderful and joyous. Our wedding, the birth of the children, that long sought after promotion.

Others are more difficult. The divorce, the funeral, the separation, and the unfavorable review.

Addressing Our Pain Points

Addressing our deficiencies is the only way forward. From both personal experience and professional practice I can tell you this with full confidence: the sooner you address a pain point, the less it is going to hurt.

I once spent a year embroiled in a workplace conflict. Well, a sort of conflict. In reality, I spent most of that year running from addressing the pain point. Eventually, it was too late and the relationship was permanently damaged.

It hurt. A lot. Sometimes, it still hurts. I regret the ways in which it soured a potential friendship and broke previous friendship. By the time I got around to addressing my own character deficiencies in the conflict, it was too late and the pain was astronomical.

The next time I was in a workplace conflict, I addressed it right away. I sensed the discord, sought out the person, remedied the problem and reconciled the relationship.

It hurt…but not that much. It doesn’t hurt anymore. Instead, that person and I are still friends. We speak occasionally, think well of each other, and have built up a relationship of mutual respect.

Both hurt. However, one was a small scratch on my journey while the other was a gaping wound.

Eventually, we will all have to deal with our pain points: through counseling, coaching, professional feedback, or numbing the pain with distracting experiences and self-medicating it away. But just like our knee pain, masking the problem with pain doesn’t make it go away. Instead, it lies to us to believe that everything is okay, all the while the damage down to our body and our leadership is deteriorating. 

Conclusion

Pain ultimately cannot be managed, it must be dealt with. It will only be masked for so long before it becomes unmanageable.

May we as leaders resist the urge to deny or numb our pain and instead address it and experience the liberating freedom that follows. Don’t be like my younger self and ignore the pain points in your life. Instead, like a wise doctor, acknowledge that pain is a sign that something is wrong and run a diagnostic test to see once wrong. Once identified, address it, grow from it, and expand your leadership capacity.

Whiteboard business hierarchy with overlay text: People over projects

As a goal-focused person, one of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn was to choose people over projects.

A Changing Perspective

Several years ago, while living in Denver, I was helping to lead the church I belonged to through a transition. We were tasked with taking years of established tradition and creating something new. We had to honor the old while adapting and evolving into something new.

Honor the past.

Build the future.

As with any such endeavor, emotions were high. There were literally people still on the attendance roster that were there when the church started. With member number one still active, I literally had someone who could tell me in all seriousness, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Whiteboard business hierarchy with overlay text: People over projects

How do you handle the need for change without destroy what has been? How can we, as leaders, honor and celebrate the past while creating something new? Something beautiful? Something expansive?

We choose the people over the projects.

People Over Projects

I remember the moment this crystalized for me. I was sitting in the living room with my wife after I had received some negative and unfair criticism. In that situation, my natural inclination is to fight back. To wound. I wanted to hurt them the way I had been hurt.

But I also knew that I had to model something different. If those I was trying to serve were ever going to see the picture I was trying to paint, I’d have to expose them to something different.

So I mentioned to my wife, “I don’t know how to respond yet, but if I win this battle but lose the relationship, I’ve lost everything of significance.”

That sparked this idea of “People Over Projects.”

Together, we can do so much more than we can on our own. As leaders, we are called to not just lead our people, but to serve them as well.

Leading Our Teams

I have seen this idea now play out over the last seven years in a variety of fields, locations, teams, and organizations. The truth has remained. Leaders who are willing to choose the health of their employees and relationships over the bottom line numbers end up winning.

Leaders that care more about profit than people end up having neither.

Why?

Because no one will follow a leader that makes them feel dispensable. Great employees, excellent team members, world-class staff all have one thing in common: a leader that believes, inspires and equips.

Leaders that are willing to choose people over projects see amazing results in all categories.

Three Tips For Growth

Looking for ways to choose people over projects? Look no further! Here are three of my best tips to help you:

1.) Focus on people-development.

As leaders, we should always be concerned with how our people are growing. 

We also need to realize that people have lives outside of work.

An owner of a business once told me that he was willing to work 24-hours a day on his business and he expected the same from his employees.

Employees usually did .. early on during the honeymoon phase. Once that time period ended, however, employees wanted their normal lives back. Family dinners were missed. Vacations postponed. Weekend naps interrupted. 

Excelling leaders care about the whole-being of their people, not just the 9-5 shift they are working.

One way you can do this is to help your people get the right things done. When the 9-5 is taken care of effectively, they are free to enjoy their life outside of the cubicle.

2.) Focus on the right numbers.

Number matter. The problem is that we tend to focus on the right numbers. Built off of the last point, look for numbers where people are growing.

Sales are a by-product of other things done right.

Do you want better sales? Provide better customer service.

Want better customer service?

Invest in your customer service employees.

When Bill feels valued, appreciated, and integral to the health of the company, he works with more clarity, more integrity, more intensity, and greater levels of satisfaction.

The customer feels that and responds.

Even though Bill isn’t in sales, he directly affects the bottom line and the sales numbers.

Like the janitor that believed in NASA’s mission when approached by JFK with the question of what he was doing responded, “I’m putting a man on the moon.”

He bought into a larger mission and saw what was at the time beyond him.

3.) Don’t be afraid to try something new.

I’ve always found it funny that leaders are criticized for discovering a new idea or reading a new book and trying to implement it. One of the criticisms I’ve often heard is, “You’re just trying this because you learned a new skill in a book.”

Of course, I am.

That’s how learning works!

Learning is about discovering new ideas and implementing what works. But how will we know what works if we don’t give something new a try?

Maybe for you, that directly relates to your people. Maybe you want (or need) coaching for you or your team.

Or maybe it’s a new concept, time-saving strategy, or brainstorming topic.

Perhaps the conference you just attended wants you to offer more flexible working hours and you’re convinced to give it a try.

Whatever it is, go for it!

Involve your people. Offer to create an experiment (scientists do this because they don’t know or can’t guarantee the final result) and tweak what didn’t work.

Whatever it is, just keep trying. Push through fear and criticism and lead boldly.

Conclusion

Every day we are presented with a list of objectives. As a goal-oriented person, and a success coach, much of what I do is help people reach their goals, push through obstacles, and experience success.

But we must also remember that we never choose projects over people. We need each other, go farther together, and ultimately only ever find lasting success when it can be shared.

Blog Cover Picture with Title "Courageous Leadership"

We are all leaders.

The only question then is what kind of leader we want to be.

Nancy Koehn in her fantastic book Forged in Crisis sets the premise this way: “Courageous leadership is actually a result of individual people committing to work from their stronger selves, discovering a mighty purpose, and motivating others to join their cause.”

Strong, courageous leadership is composed of three elements.

First, is the strength and belief of a stronger self.

Second, is a call beyond oneself.

Third, is eliciting others to join.

A Stronger Self

We are all in the process of self-development. Engaging in blind spots, seeking sound council, expanding our minds. We read, process, develop new ideas, think, share, and refine our every action.

This is because we embody a firm belief in reaching our full potential. That there is something inside of us call to be more.

Do more. Blog Cover Picture with Title "Courageous Leadership"

Love more.

We know that there is a call within us that if we embrace it, it could transform the world.

The greatest gift we can give the world is our full self. This is not arrogant or pushy, it is a recognition of the gift God himself placed within us.

Koehn examines the development of five great leaders in history and reaches this conclusion: “The concept that, at times, the most powerful thing one can do is to invest in oneself, without signs of great outward progress … The work they did on themselves wasn’t some kind of formal bildungsroman brought to life. No, the self-development work that these protagonists did was generally unnamed and unforeseen. It was often accomplished ad hoc, in response to an obstacle in their way or a new realization. But once learned, the particular skill, aspect of emotional mastery, or powerful insight became a part of the individual leader’s tool belt—to be used and strengthened going forward. And as all five individuals came to realize, the harder they worked on themselves, the more effective they became as leaders.”

A Larger Vision

Great leaders never work on themselves as the end goal. Rather, the end goal is to complete a mission. They want to birth the vision in their mind and fan the flame burning in their heart.

We get that.

We have that same calling.

As leaders, we’re calling others to join the mission. Save the planet. Invent a product. Find a new revenue stream. Raise a child.

Whatever it is, we get it. You get it. The belief in your best self – and your continued pursuit of that – have led you to acknowledge the world-changing power contained in your soul.

When you spend time developing yourself and give detail to the future vision, you can enter step three of leadership.

Recruiting Others

The final step of great leadership (or ‘courageous leadership’ as Koehn calls it) is to recruit others. We can never complete this journey alone.

We will never reach the greatest potential on our own accord.

A mentor.

A coach.

A group of peers. Blacksmith forging iron

A tribe.

A blacksmith of the soul, sharpening your iron to bring out the greatness.

Other like-minded individuals willing to seeing the awe-inspiring vision come to life. Not just in your mind. Not just in your heart. Instead, your desire is now theirs. They want to honor you and the call in your life while charting new territory.

We are all leaders.

The only question then is what kind of leader we want to be.

I am preparing lecture notes for a master’s course in Ethical Leadership. This is a preview of the material. While the full course is private, I will be offering a version of this to the public in the near future.

 

To find out more or be put on the course waitlist, join my Elite Performers newsletter.

 

To work directly with me, sign up for coaching.

Sources:

Koehn, Nancy F. Forged in Crisis: The Making of Five Courageous Leaders (p. 3). Scribner. Kindle Edition.

 

Blog Post Title: Leadership Health and Integrity Part 2

Spiritual and Emotional Health in Leaders

The spiritual and emotional health of leaders is a necessary component of holistic health. 

We’re in the middle of a series on leadership health. Want to catch up? Part 1 is here.

Spiritual Health

Healthy leaders engage in ancient practices of development, often called spiritual disciplines. Times of quiet reflection, meditation, prayer, rest, and community discernment are a few examples.

An example of leadership spiritual growth is a hobby. Hobbies are those life-giving activities that serve as a reflection of our unique personality. Hunting, fishing, reading, flying drones, calligraphy. 

Need help? I did. Go here. Blog Post Title: Leadership Health and Integrity Part 2

In fact, I found that is often the case for high performing leaders. Engrossed in work and personal development (for the sake of further accomplishment), high performing leaders have a hard time unplugging and engaging in activities with no real goal or purpose other than enjoyment.

I’ve used comments like, “I have fun when I’m winning.” That’s enormously frustrating to people who are playing to have fun. (And vice versa).

Other similar phrases include:

  • I don’t know what to do with downtime.
  • I’m not bringing too much work with me, I’m on vacation.
  • My hobbies include winning and getting better.

(I may or may not have said all of these….) 😬

But spiritual health is rooted in calling and it is about the full development of a person’s humanity. Below, is a partial list of spiritual practices and disciplines to help you grow.

Practices for Spiritual Development:

  • Prayer
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Scripture Reading
  • Gratitude and Thankfulness
  • Fasting
  • Sabbath Rest
  • Singing
  • Silence
  • Solitude

Have others? Leave a comment and let others know how to grow in spiritual health.

Emotional Health in leaders

Emotional health is the next step to fruitful and productive leadership. In my experience, this is the most neglected area of health. The emotional health of a person sits in the unique field of being almost completely internal in nature through past experiences, while also being almost completely externally visible through actions, perceptions, and relationships.

Peter Scazzeo notes the concerns of emotional health:

Emotional health is concerned with such things as: naming, recognizing, and managing our own feelings identifying and having active compassion for others initiating and maintaining close and meaningful relationships breaking free from self-destructive patterns being aware of how our past impacts our present developing the capacity to clearly express our thoughts and feelings respecting and loving others without having to change them clearly, directly, and respectfully asking for what we need, want, or prefer accurately assessing our own strengths, limits, and weaknesses, and freely sharing them with others developing the capacity to maturely resolve.

For the emotionally healthy leader, effective emotional health requires a previous recognition and engagement with the emotional traps, snares, and shortcomings at earlier stages of life. Family dynamics, addiction triggers, and shortcomings all need to be worked through and reflected upon.

But it is important to remember that emotional health may start internal, but presents external.

Snappy comebacks.

Biting remarks.  Leadership Blocks

Constant criticism.

These are a few outward signs that something is wrong internally. Healthy leaders, by contrast, are generous. With their praise, with their affirmation, with their encouragement and desire to see others succeed and grow.

Because this is such an important topic, we are going to examine how to grow in emotional health and intelligence next week.

For now, take this test if you want to know where you’re overall health is.