Posts Tagged With: Leadership

Hike Leadership Metaphors Forward: Sunflowers

One of my favorite sights, as I hike in the summer months, is the sunflower. They are so tall and bright, and I am always struck with their majestic appearance. Somehow there are a source of encouragement and seem to reflect the power of the sun itself. I think the sunflower makes a great picture of an organizational leader. Van Gough painted a series of works of this fantastic flower, so here are six facts about sunflowers that help to paint this leadership metaphor.

#1 There are 70 different species of sunflowers. The most common is the bright yellow flower with brown centers, but others are copper, red, brown, orange, and bi-colored. So, effective organizational leaders come in all varieties and colors. Leadership is not determined by the color of the skin or the gender of the individual. The varieties of experiences, backgrounds, giftedness, talents, and strengths enable many individuals to raise up as sunflower leaders.

#2 The sunflower is one of the fastest-growing plants. It can grow 8 to 12 feet in 5 to 6 months. The effective leader is always growing and is growing as fast as he/she can grow. A leader is a life-long learner always striving to know more and to go deeper into the understanding of his/her ministry. 

#3 The sunflower can grow just about anywhere because of its adaptability to soils from sand to clay and a strong tolerance to dry soils. Two key characteristics of every good leader are adaptability and tolerance. The old saying, “Bloom where you are planted,” seems to capture the parallel between the flower and the leader. The soils of life might not always be rich and moist and conducive to growth, but the effective leader adapts and makes the best of every opportunity for growth.

#4 A sunflower needs at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight every day to reach its maximum potential. They grow tall in order to reach as far above other plant life as possible in to gain even more access to sunlight. An effective leader recognizes his/her need for truth and wisdom. A leader must spend time, lots of time, the majority of his/her time being exposed to the light of truth and integrity and honesty and understanding.

#5 A single sunflower can hold 2,000 seeds, and those seeds are filled with vitamins and minerals. The seeds are high in energy containing 584 calories per 100-gram serving. An effective leader is always looking to multiply his/her leadership by raising up others around him/her. The leader is looking to plant seeds and cultivate a harvest-field full of other sunflower leaders filled with talents and abilities that can change their world.

#6 The is a tea that is made from sunflower leaves that is effective in treating fevers. Another tea made from the flower itself is good for treating malaria. The crushed leaves of the flower are used in many medicines for sores, swelling, spider and snake bites. A good leader might not have all the answers to every question, but he/she should be ministering to the needs and concerns of others. Hurting people need sunflower leaders.

For more facts and insights into sunflowers that might add to this metaphor, check out the following websites: 70 Interesting Sunflower Facts To Brighten Up Your Day | Facts.net and 50 Amazing Facts About Sunflowers (shesaidsunflower.com)

Sunflower photos – The Rough Collection

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Hike Leadership Forward – Teachable

An effective employee is teachable. A good mentee should be teachable. To institute a new protocol or establish a new management system demands that the entire organization be teachable. So what about the leader – is he/she not to be the teacher of the teachables? Not really. The leader might have a teaching role from time to time, but the effective leader must actually be the exemplar of the teachable spirit. The wise leader should be a life-long learner. The teachable leader must strive to absorb understanding like a sponge soaks up water.

So, what does it take to be teachable? As a leader, how do I know if I am teachable or not? Let me suggest seven test questions to help evaluate one’s desire to learn. If you hate tests and hesitate to read on, that is a pretty good indicator that you are not very teachable. With that little guilt trip out of the way, let take the test.   

Question 1. Is it easy for you to identify and admit that you have limitations and inabilities and that you lack knowledge and wisdom in many areas of life?

I have worked with leaders that seem to know everything, that have underwear emblazoned with a capital “S,” and somehow manage to hide their capes when not flying to work. If you wonder if they are omniscient, just ask them and it will quickly become apparent that their encyclopedic grasp of knowledge is a source of pride and confidence. There is no need to admit a limitation if you have done. There is no need to consider the wisdom of others if you already know the best (only) direction for the organization.

On the other hand, I have served with other leaders who were quick to identify their strengths and their weaknesses. They were always looking for ways to get better and to compensate for limitations in their training, experience, or education. Recognizing and admitting areas of weakness is the beginning of teachability. 

Question 2. Are you able to learn from those younger than yourself; new to the organization; or an entry level employee?

What could a teenager possible teach me? Answer: just about anything that deals with technology; translating anything into terms that the next generation will understand; novel perspectives and new boxes never thought of before. They have only been with the organization for two months – what insights of value could they have in such a short amount of time and without any experience? Answer: Windows into our blind spots; questions about our sacred cows and long-term traditions; the fresh air of the world outside our company. A teachable spirit is open to new insights, challenges to existing protocols, a better “best practice”, and a question of concern from any source – young or old; the new or the seasoned; the entry-level or the senior-level; male or female; black, white, or any shade in between; the high school grad or the Ph.D. The effective can and should strive to learn something from every person around them.       

Question 3. Are you ready to try something different even if it is not your own idea? Are you prepared to look stupid, offer a wrong answer, make a mistake? A good leader is open to new ideas – a great leader is willing to hop on the mechanical bull and look stupid as he/she is being thrown off, if there is something to be learned in the experience. I am such a status quo kind of guy. I shy away from trying something outside of the tried and true. This is an area that I need to improve in order to increase my teachability.  A leader does not need to take reckless chances just to prove his/her teachability, but the leader does need to be open enough to ask a dumb question or to probe an idea that he/she might not know much about, so that the organization can grow and so that he/she, as an individual, might learn about a new concept. 

Question 4. Do you find yourself asking for help on a regular basis? Do you have go-to people that provide you with guidance and advice – do you pay attention to them?

Take a quick look around your leadership influence. Is it filled with “yes” people and heads that bob with enthusiastic agreement? It is good to have loyal, encouraging employees – those who cheer you on, and lift you up, and make you look good, but you also need people who can confront you, challenge your thinking, throw new ideas your way, hold you accountable, and provide alternative perspectives. If you are fortunate to have these kinds of accountability partners around you, be sure to listen to them, appreciate them and value them. The leader does not always have to agree with them, but the teachable spirit will be consistently affirming the critically important role they play in the overall mission of the organization.  

Question 5. How do you respond when you fail? Do you blame others – quit and move on to something else – get up and or seek help (YouTube videos, DIY books, manuals, professional coaching and counsel)?

Most teachable leaders are book poor – their libraries are filled with the experiences and ideas of others. Today, you can find a video on just about any topic imaginable. You might not agree with the video/book but checking it out is a sign of the learner. Refusing to seek good instruction or rejecting the idea of reading Chapter One is a good sign that your teachability rating might be rather low.    

Question 6. Are you a better listener or a better talker?

When other people begin to share (whether it is around the board table, the lunch table, or the pong-pong table), do you listen to the ideas being explained or do you just formulate your challenge to their thinking with the three reasons why their ideas won’t work. A teachable leader wants to be able to say “yes” to good ideas. He/she wants to expand, modify, build upon, or adopt straight up, a creative light bulb. In order to be ready to give a thumbs up, the leader must be a creative listener. He/she must energize his/her ears into Giger-counters that can discover powerful insights. Active listening results in a sensitivity and alertness to those sparks of genius sitting just outside the proverbial box.   

Question 7. Can you change your mind?

Do you already know the best way? Are you usually the smartest guy/gal in the room? Is your major goal to persuade others and convince the team that your plan is THE plan? Leaders with blinders firmly attached their heads often find themselves behind in the race.

Another good way of exploring this area of teachability is to ask yourself, how often am I convinced during a meeting that my way was not the best way? Honestly, how often does pride rule in your decision making? Teachability actually demands humility. If a leader is too full of himself/herself, there is no room for anyone else. An excellent mindset is not to have your mind set.

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Hike Leadership Forward – Sportsmanship

An effective organizational leader knows how to win and how to lose. Sometimes knowing how to win is more difficult than knowing how to lose. Both winning and losing demand integrity, humility, sensitivity. Since we live in such a sports-minded society and a world that competes athletically in many international events, sportsmanship seems like a good descriptor for leadership. As we look at five attributes of sportsmanship, transfer these ideas to your organization and your leadership role within the company.

According to Masterclass, there are five qualities that contribute to the overall concept of sportsmanship: 1) Be supportive, 2) Have a positive attitude, 3) Be respectful, 4) Be willing to learn, and 5) Practice self-discipline. As we explore each one of these qualities in a little more detail, think about winning, then think about losing and how these characteristics surface in both outcomes.

#1. Be supportive. Words of negative criticism and blame casting can be so discouraging that they cause additional errors instead of correcting them. On the other hand, positive encouragement and supportive comments can inspire others with forgiveness and understanding. Hopefully, there is no one in the organization who wants to do a bad job or to let the rest of the team down. If you have hired people who buy into the mission statement and desire to see the organization succeed, then you can assume that they are all doing the very best job they can and they want to win. Don’t take a disappointment out on your employees; don’t shift responsibilities from your shoulders to someone else’s plate. Sportsmanship involves cheerleading, being a motivational speaker, offering a genuine fist bump or a high-five of celebration and renewing the confidence of a good employee who made a mistake.

#2 Have a positive attitude. If you are by nature a pessimist, check you attitude before every meeting, during the meeting itself, and after the meeting is over. If you are not having fun, if you are not laughing, if you are not finding the positive light in the situation, you are most likely leading your organization into a dark cave filled with bats. Childish behavior, temper tantrums, and quiet pouting can splash freezing cold water on evaluation, goal setting, strategic planning, and teamwork. I have a dear friend who shared with me that his goal is to be most positive person in any room he enters… and he accomplishes it. I love being around him, I will follow him at a moment’s notice, I believe we can accomplish whatever he suggests. His positive attitude is contagious, and I desire to catch it.  

#3 Be respectful. Verbal put downs directed toward colleagues or opponents only serves to tarnish the leader’s reputation. The natural tendency to trade slams and to return evil for evil might temporary satisfaction for the leader, but the impact of sportsmanship is scratched and dented. Whining about decisions and arguing among the team can destroy the spirit of sportsmanship. Negative trash talk should stay in the trash. Bragging and rubbing in should find the circular file as well.  Respect for others, whether above you, on the same rung, or lower than you on the organizational ladder, should be the demonstrated with upmost care. Don’t let pride or ambition get in the way of good sportsmanship.  

#4 Be willing to learn. If you win, capture what you did right, evaluate the combination of elements that brought a victory, and make note of the potential pitfalls you avoided. If you lose, make an honest list of your mistakes and design a plan to mitigate or eliminate those errors. It is often easier to learn from mistake than it is from successes. The mistakes are usually more obvious, while the details in the recipe for victory might easily get overlooked. Once the positive and negative elements are identified, practice doing the good stuff and be careful to eliminate the mistakes.  Learning from the past and striving to improve as an organization promotes a spirit of sportsmanship in the organization.

#5 Practice self-control. Of the five characteristics, this is the most practical and important. Sportsmanship is determined and defined by the amount of self-control demonstrated by the leader. Yelling, banging of the desk, losing your hold on your emotions, losing the appropriate selection of vocabulary, and throwing things across the room set the standards of sportsmanship of fire. People can push our buttons, red tape can frustrate our patience, opposition can crush our vision, “no” can bend the enthusiasm of “yes.” If the leader focuses on his/her emotions, sportsmanship will suffer in the heat of battle. However, if the leader can focus on the mission and embrace the journey as an adventure, the hurdles, the buttons, the opposition, all become part of the end game.          

How to Show Good Sportsmanship: 5 Qualities of a Good Sport (With Video) (masterclass.com)

Photo: Good Sportsmanship — Parks & Rec Business (PRB) (parksandrecbusiness.com)

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Hike Leadership Metaphor Forward – Recipe

My wife is a great cook. I watch her do her thing in her kitchen without getting too close as to disturb the creative juices and the momentum of the delicious smells flowing from pots and pans. Once I asked her how she got so good, and she shared that she started by following recipes, and then over time the recipes became second nature, and now she just flows with the fixing of food (that is my alliteration for the day). However, if she wants to try something new, a recipe appears on the kitchen counter and provides the protocol for perfect preparation (sorry the P’s just happened).

An organizational leader is so much like the recipe. Let me share what I mean by mixing three leadership ingredients together to bake this metaphor.

#1. A recipe typically starts with the list of ingredients needed to make the dish. It is very specific and detailed: 1 ½ cups uncooked rice; 3 cups chicken broth; 2 teaspoons margarine; 5 cups thinly sliced or bite-size pieces assorted vegetables; 2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese….. An effective organizational leader needs to know all the materials and resources needed to accomplish a task or a project. Nothing can be more discouraging than to run out of an essential resource halfway through or worse yet when the project is in its final phase. The leader must ensure that the specific needs are met with the precise materials needed. Having to sit and wait because the leader failed to be prepared is not a recipe for success

#2 The recipe provides the steps of execution. Rinse, boil in a 2-quart saucepan, reduce heat, cover and simmer, stir, sprinkle, All the needed steps of actions are listed for the novice or experienced chef. A good organizational leader understands and communicates the steps needed to accomplish the mission of the organization. I am not advocating micro-management or detailed mandates, rather I am emphasizing the big-picture steps. Assigning the right managers to the right tasks, creating a timeline that prevents train wrecks and traffic jams, and prioritizing organizational flow so that the cart does not find itself in front of the horses. Just as a recipe sometimes allows for flexibility and substitutions (replace 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 2-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour; use chocolate pudding instead of vanilla pudding), so leaders need to be creative and flexible in adapting the steps toward the goal, but the basic recipe (mission) should not be compromised.

#3 The recipe is careful to communicate how the chef is to combine the ingredients. Sometimes it is as simple as, put all the ingredients into a blender and blend on high speed until smooth. But most of the recipes call for a more sequential and strategic combination. Melt margarine in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat; add chopped garlic and cook for 30 seconds; stir in vegetables; cook for 2 minutes stirring frequently; etc. The organizational leader needs to be a master at combining the resources at the right time and in the right sequence to optimize the effectiveness of the company. Mixing all the ingredients (people, budget, programs, projects) together in the unique culture and climate of a particular organization can be challenging, but the leader, just like the recipe, coordinates the blending and mixing of all the elements to produce a delicious meal.   

Photos: Check out the picture and the recipe for Juicy Meatballs at Juicy Meatball Recipe (VIDEO) – NatashasKitchen.com; Ingredients: The Rough Collection

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Hike Leadership Forward – Realistic

Some leaders have difficulty creating and communicating their vision for the future. They may have many strengths as a manager and organizer, but they fail in seeing how their organization can impact the future in powerful, positives ways. However, other leaders have incredible dreams and can paint a vision of world-wide change and global impact. They have a vision to lasso the moon, but they are not really sure how to get there. Their optimism, excitement, and zeal have no realistic legs to carry the organization forward. People want to follow these visionaries, but they must be convinced that there is a realism behind the grandeur; a blueprint behind the imaginary castle; a doable plan behind the mission.

Five areas of clarity will assist in bringing a sense of realism to our leadership. Unrealistic thinking can push others to a point of frustration and discouragement that they send out resumes and applications to other companies. Let’s explore these five areas.

First, followers want vision but not fantasy. Effective leaders spend time crafting their vision in understandable language and discernable steps of accomplishment. Instead of painting the picture of the organization’s first office on the moon (your ultimate vision), you might want to start with an initial step of opening another office across town, then an office in a neighboring city, then 10 offices throughout the state, then….. An excellent novel can be fiction without being science fiction – the same is true of a vision.

Second, followers want realistic goals. Short term goals should be challenging but not out of reach. We have the goal of selling 1,800 widgets next month increasing our sale by 100 widgets over this past month, might be realistic. We have a goal of selling 18,000 widgets next month which will equal the total sales of widgets last year – this goal might be so far out of sight that it crushes the motivation of the widget makers   

Third, followers want realistic assignments. Make assignments that recognize and celebrate past success. Acknowledge the talent and ability of others, but don’t fail to recognize the human limitations of a group/individual. You did such a nice job presenting the first step of our new design to the visiting group of donors, I would like for you to develop and present the material for the remaining 21 steps to the board tomorrow night. Since step one took a week to develop, it would seem absolutely impossible (unrealistic) to expect 20 additional steps overnight.   

Fourth, followers want realistic timeframes and results. An effective leader needs to be realistic when placing demands of time and quality on others. To demand a working protype be ready by Monday, or the scale model to be built in three days, or the 200-page report submitted by the end of the week may be unrealistic demands. Good followers want to do an excellent job and they desire to be proud of their work. Unrealistic deadlines can cause frustrations, disappointments, resentment, and resignations.

Fifth, followers want clear and realistic expectations. Insensitive expectations can backfire in a leader’s face. Anticipating that an excellent employee can handle more responsibilities without additional time, resources, or compensation is unwise. Hard working lieutenants are most often working at 100% capacity. To be rewarded with more work without any additional assistance can break the motivation and spirit of your trusted employees. Higher, realistic expectations should be accompanied by additional resources, coworkers, authority, and time.

A wise and effective leaders will be realistic. Paint the vision, call the people, enter the race, clarify the target…. and then be realistic moving forward. Be willing to take a risk, be ready to take a leap of faith, be excited about open doors, but keep it real.  

Photos: Large Unrealistic balloons – Unrealistic Expectations | Veritus Group; Small balloon picture – War for Talent: Retain Employees & Improve Culture | Wejungoballoons – https://veritusgroup.com/unrealistic-expectations/

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Hike Leadership Metaphors Forward – Quarterback

Johnny Unitas

Back in my early childhood, Johnny Unitas and Bart Starr were my favorite quarterbacks in professional football, then I remember the scramblings of Fran Tarkenton, Broadway Joe Namath, and the consistent Roger Staubach. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana filled my TV screens on Sundays in early 80s and then there were the highlights of Dan Marion and John Elway in the 90s. The early 21st century brought Brett Favre, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, and Kurt Warner to my list of great QBs. I don’t watch the NFL much anymore, but I still enjoy watching college ball – go Buckeyes!

That was a rather long first paragraph just to introduce the position of quarterback, but if the names brought memories to your mind, then not much more needs to be said about the importance of the QB to the success of a football team. He controls the tempo and the flow of the game. His actions (good or bad) have a huge impact on the outcome on the game. I think the quarterback is a powerful metaphor for the organizational leader. Let’s take four snaps of the ball to see if we can score with this analogy.

First Down – The quarterback directs the team in the huddle. Whether the play comes in from the sideline or the QB calls the play himself, the quarterback communicates the play to the team in the huddle before the team moves to the line of scrimmage. The team is confident that everyone on the team knows the play and that the quarterback will put the play into action enabling each team member to do his part as designed.

An effective leader knows the play, whether the board has provided the direction, or the leader has personally developed the strategy. The leader must then be articulate and clear as he/she communicates to every member of the team/organization. Every person in the company must be on the same page  before the day begins. With clear communication comes confidence (notice the 4 C’s or is that the Four Seas?) in the leader and the plan. Making sure that everyone knows the mission, the QB enables each person to use his/her talents and positions and authority to accomplish the goal. The quarterback leader is the communicator

Second Down – The quarterback needs to make quick decisions. He handles the ball every down and must decide to run, hand the ball off to a running back, or pass the ball to one of his receivers. On many designed plays, the quarterback must decide which option is the best one. One option is to keep the ball and carry the ball forward himself. Another option is to hand the ball off to a teammate and trust the running back to gain yardage while protecting the ball. Or the QB can pass the ball to one of several receivers. The quarterback must be able to see the whole field and quickly spot the open receiver with the best shot of catching the pass.

The organizational leader needs to run with the ball sometimes, hand it off to a trusted co-worker at other times, and on other occaisions throw the ball into the outstretched arms of a colleague. Initiative, trust, and delegation are all options for the leader. Discernment in decision making is critical for his/her success. There are somethings that are in the “Do It Yourself” category because of convenience or expectation or necessity. Other activities present opportunities to hand off to others in order to help the team member grow or to utilize the giftedness and talents of those within the organization. Passing responsibilities to others is sometimes imperative but the right receiver must be selected. The pass is a risk but the results can be significant.

Third Down – The quarterback must know when to change the play from the one called in the huddle. The QB must know how to read the defensive formation of the other team and decide if the planned play needs to be altered. If a change is needed, the QB calls an audible while the team is on the line of scrimmage. Through a series of symbolic words, the quarterback communicates to the entire team the change in the play before the ball is hiked. Every player must know the play and the count in order to start together. If one moves earlier than the others, it is a penalty. If someone begins late, the play is usually not effective as timing is often critical to the team’s strategy.

The quarterback leader must call audibles occasionally. As the leader sees the whole playing field and the details of a particular situation, he/she must quickly change the plans and direction of the day. The change must be communicated well and thoroughly to the entire organization. This communication might not be easy, but it is essential, if the change is to be effective.   

Fourth Down – The quarterback is not a coach on the sidelines, but a player in the midst of the game. He is not cheering from the bench, rather he is executing the play from the front line. The quarterback calls the signals to start the play. The quarterback both coordinates the play and participates in the action.  The actions of the quarterback impact every offensive play and dictates the responses of every other member of the team.

The quarterback leader might from time to time be a coach (mentor) and a cheerleader (filled with raise and encouragement), but when he/she is the quarterback, he/she is actively involved in the mission and workings of the organization. His/her sleaves are rolled up and his/her presence is front and center. He/she is visible as the wheels turn in the workings of the company. The leader must recognize the importance of his/her behaviors and should make the most of his/her positive impact on the other stakeholders in the organization.    

Touchdown!! I hope.

Photos: Johnny Unitas – (519) Pinterest; Football – Wilson TDS NFL Official Size 9 Rubber Cover American Sports Football Wtf1858 for sale online | eBay

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Hike Leadership Forward – Qualitative and Quantitative

I have had the privilege of working with doctoral student as they have embarked upon the journey of writing their dissertations. There are two basic methodologies for conducting scientific research: quantitative research and qualitative research. Quantitative research is shallow but wide; qualitative research is deep, but narrow.

In quantitative research the researcher looks at a limited number of variables (salaries and longevity for example) and surveys as many people as possible within the organization (the entire workforce if possible) and sees if there is a statistically significant correlation between the salaries being paid the employees and the number of years that employees stay with the organization.     

In qualitative research the researcher might zero in on a small number of employees (assistant managers) and interviews each of them around a topic or a phenomenon (like how assistant managers balance the demands of the direct reports while leading others within the department). Qualitative research typically uses open-ended interview questions to gather the specific answers from the participants.

Effective leadership must have both quantitative and qualitative characteristics. Let’s go just a bit deeper into these two ideas and explore the leadership attitudes and actions exemplified by both.

Quantitative leadership looks at the big picture within the organization as a whole. This aspect of leadership wants to see the forest, the tapestry, and the health of the entire population that is touched within the organization. Quantitative leadership attempts to see potential cause and effect relationships; systemic synapses that impact the mission; the power of one variable to change the climate and culture of the company. The quantitative leader is interested in everyone’s opinion and desire to count every hand, hear every voice, consider every perspective.  

On the other hand, qualitative leadership probes deeply into a critical question facing the organization. The personal stories of a selective sample within the organization is the target of the inquiries. The richer the back stories and personal life experiences of the participants, the more meaningful the data will be to the leader. Qualitative leadership involves diving deep into the actions and behaviors of a selected group in order to understand the mindset, the morale, the challenges, the benefits, and the dreams of the sample.

In scholarly studies, there is also the combination of quantitative and qualitative research called mixed methods. Researchers combine a big picture view of major variables a the deep excavation into a specific area of concern. Good leaders must have both Q’s firmly in place as they oversee the organization. The quantitative leader must constantly be flying over the forest to get a fresh look at the overall movement of the company. It is so easy to go down rabbit trails, and waste value time on an insignificant issue, if the leader does not keep the big picture clearly in sight and know what elements play the most impactful roles in accomplishing the mission of the organization.

On the other hand, the qualitative leader must know his/her people and understand the unique challenges that face the generals, the lieutenants, the sergeants, and the privates in the company. The qualitative leader strives to know how each group of stakeholders views and interacts with the goals and ministry of the organization. Spending time interviewing, evaluating, networking, and analyzing the needs of various groups that make up the whole is a critical role of an effective leader.  It is equally easy to miss the critical needs of a small group when the leader is always flying at tree top level. Both Q’s are important and striving for a good balance between the two is a key to effective leadership.

Photos: Dissertation – The Rough Collection; Quantitative Big Picture – The Rough Collection; Qualitative interview – Qualitative research: 3 types of interview to choose from (intotheminds.com)

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Hike Leadership Metaphors Forward – Pioneers

I love the frontiersmen of the late 1700s and early 1800s – Men like Daniel Boone (1734-1820), Simon Kenton (1755-1836), Davy Crockett (1786-1836), and Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman (1774 – 1845), but when I think of the word “Pioneer,” the wagon trains on the Oregon Trail in the 1830s and 1840s come to my mind. I remember playing an early computer game called The Oregon Trail and I also remember how many times my character died in route. Just imagine yourself as a pioneer headed for Oregon with the hopeful promises of open plains and lush farmlands but with 2,000 miles of hard travel and danger ahead of you.  

It wasn’t until 1836 that the first wagons were used on the trek from Missouri to Oregon. A missionary party headed by Marcus and Narcissa Whitman bravely set out to reach the Willamette Valley. The Whitmans were forced to abandon their wagons 200 miles short of Oregon, but they demonstrated that determined pioneers could go west by wheeled travel.

In the spring of 1843, a wagon train left Independence, Missouri, destined for Oregon. The train consisted of nearly 1,000 people and despite a mighty chorus of naysayers and doubters, the so-called “Great Migration” made it safely to Oregon. The train comprised more than 100 wagons with a herd of 5,000 oxen and cattle trailing behind. The vast majority of the pioneers on the trail survived and reached their destination, but some died from dangers like drowning in river crossings, the accidental falling off mules or horses, and contracting diseases like cholera, dysentery, measles, mumps, and typhoid fever.

The mindset and the bravery of the Pioneer reminds me of the characteristics of an effective leader. In this metaphor, let me fill six wagons with comparisons.

The first wagon is filled with the Spirit of Adventure. The pioneer leader needs to embrace the thrill of adventure and must be willing to enter into places of the unknown. Much of leadership is walking new paths and blazing new trails. Adversity awaits but the effective leader realizes that there is no adventure without adversity. When adversity comes the effective leader embraces that adversity and makes the most of the challenge. The leader, like the Pioneer, must move with caution and care, but must be willing to run into the unknown with purpose and vision. 

The second wagon is packed with Calculated Risks. The Pioneers put everything they owned, placed all their dreams for the future, and loaded their children into a covered wagon. Then they left the security of an established town for the promise of a new land and a new start. Organizational leaders are often faced with risk. Financial risks, new program risks, relationship risks, delegation risks, failure risks, etc. Leadership decisions not always based on the knowns – they are sometimes reached on the thin ice of the unknowns involving risks of personal income, a comfortable environment, a solid place of security, and an established professional reputation. Leaders take risks on the hiring and promoting personnel, advertising and outreach, new products or services, and the challenges of new ideas. Please note: the 1843 Pioneers were careful and strategic in their risk taking – they followed an established pathway and the wagon train involved 1,000 people (safety in numbers). They did not travel with total abandonment or with a haphazard mindset. Pioneer-minded leaders take risks, but they do so with as much preparation and understanding as possible.  

The third wagon is jammed with a Vision for a better future. Pioneer-minded leaders see tomorrow, next week, next year, and five years down the road differently than most folks. They have big dreams that fill the horizon. They experience a calling that pulls them with excitement and urgency. They can see the adventure of the future and they are driven by a deep desire to be part of it. These leaders are not just okay with the potential change of the future, they are energized by it, they are all in, they have their wagon packed and ready to hit the road.  

The fourth wagon is loaded with Determination. The Pioneers understood the challenges of the trail and yet they were dedicated to reach the destination. They knew that the journey was going to take months and yet they had the tenacity to persevere the daily adversities in order to see the promises ahead. The path held 2,000 miles of rugged terrain and dangerous territory but their determination kept their eyes on the prize and feet moving forward.   

The fifth wagon bulges with Confidence. One of my favorite reality series is The History Channel’s Alone. Ten individuals are dropped off by a helicopter in some isolated place (like Patagonia) with the goal of surviving in the wilderness. They have no food and no shelter. They are allowed to choose a limited number of items to bring with them (axe, saw, fire starter, tarp, etc), but the list is extremely small. What amazes me is the confidence that every participant expresses. They all begin the season with the resolve of spending an entire year in the wilderness. That is the pioneer spirit: the spirit not only to survive but to thrive. The leader with a pioneer mindset has the confidence and motivation to move forward. There is no turning back, the only choice is to accomplish the mission, the only option is to follow the vision.   

The sixth wagon in the train overflows with Flexibility. Just like the Pioneers that headed west, the leader must learn how to bend but not break. The wagon train was faced with mountains, rivers, drought, dust, and storms and they needed to dig deep into their creativity of problem solving. Giving up was not on the table – they needed to move forward. Today’s leader needs to learn how to become elastic and not get bent out of shape; how to adapt to every situation without losing the message; how to change the packaging without compromising the quality and integrity of the ministry. If things change, be flexible; if things break, be adaptable.

Today’s leader is very much like a Pioneer. Hook up your wagons and join the adventure.

Photo: Pioneers – Kids Discover

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Hike Leadership Forward – Prepared

A leader can adopt a servant leadership style, or a steward leadership style, or a transformational leadership style but if they are not a prepared leader, they may not be very effective. This blog underscores the need for the leader to bring his/her A-Game every day in every setting. A popular saying (possibly attributed to Ben Franklin and definitely incorporated into the leadership philosophy of John Wooden) aptly pertains to prepared leadership: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” 

So, let’s take a step back and consider what preparation means. To give a little structure to the definition of this concept in the context of leadership, I would present six boxes of preparation for the leader to check off.

Box 1– Be ready with what you know. Preparation involves research and networking. Collect as much data as possible so you can interact with knowledge and understanding. Preparation involves study and communication. The effective leader learns about the many perspectives that make up an issue. Networking with management, upper-level leaders, stakeholders, venders, competitors, and employees allows the leader to see the various sides of the diamond and the values that participants in the organization place on the jewel under consideration. Preparation means to know what you can know.

Box 2 – Be ready for what you do not know. Even more important than what you know is the unknown. This aspect of preparation involves reflection and developing probing questions to answer the unknown dimensions of the issue at hand. We have the money to build the cafeteria, but what are the monthly costs of maintaining the cafeteria? What is the life of the equipment/furniture and the replacement dollar needed?  Did anybody price plates, silverware, glassware? Do not assume anything – question everything – be prepared for the unknown.

Box 3 – Be ready with an adaptive plan. It is rarely (maybe never) a good idea to go into a meeting with a blank legal pad or an empty planning folder. The effective leader should have a potential plan for every agenda item. On the other hand, every plan should reflect an adaptive flexibility. A concrete plan, complete with re-bar, can miss a great idea or an exciting alternative. When the unknown is probed and the answers are provided, the plan might just morph into a super plan that goes beyond the expectations of everyone around the table.

 Box 4 – Be prepared with an open mind and carefully tuned ears. This preparation is personal. This preparation challenges the leader’s ego. The leader typically believes that he/she knows the best direction, the best decision, and the best road to take. The most effective leaders also recognize that blinders exists and that blind spots can cause huge accidents. Take the keys to your thinking and unlock your pride so that you can consider the ideas of others. Open up your ears and listen before you engage your tongue to pontificate. Be prepared to listen twice before you decide – measure twice, cut once.  Pride sometimes gets in the way of the leader and without this preparation of openness, the bull is set loose in the china shop.

Box 5 – Be prepared to change. Similar to Box 4, this box is a mental and emotional one that prepares the leader to think and consider ideas outside the box. The small sphere of knowledge (no matter how thorough Box 1 has been completed) can always be expanded. New ideas and creativity might be found from any member around the table. Invite novel thinkers and trusted confidants to interject challenges and resistance to the momentum of the meeting. Resistance can be a friend if it prevents a pothole decision or a journey into quicksand.  

Box 6 – Be prepared to act; be prepared to table; be prepared to do more research; be prepared to debate; be prepared to think, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate; and most important of all, be prepared to pray. Decisions must be made. Be ready to make a decision. Your organization looks to you for decisions. But be wise and be proactive. Be prepared so you may know if the organization should move forward, sideways, backward, or if it should stand and wait. Discernment is a key element to preparation and the effective leader must learn to discern.

Box clip art found at Check Box Empty Svg Png Icon Free Download (#5235) – OnlineWebFonts.COM

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Hike Leadership Forward – Observant

One of the most important aspects of leadership is often the most overlooked. It takes time, it takes self-control, it takes patience. It is the art of observation. Observant leadership can be effective if it is nurtured, practiced, and intentional.

One of the best ways to understand observational leadership is by using the five senses: hearing, sight, taste, smell, and touch. Each of the senses opens doors of observation that can increase the effectiveness of leadership and the awareness of the leader.

First is the sense of hearing. Observant leaders have active ears. Active listening is an art not seen very often behind the meeting table. Too many leaders like to, want to, demand to speak. There is a tendency among leaders to yield to the extroverted mistake of quickly entering the fray of ideas with their “correct” perspective and their “wise” counsel. An observant leader practice the intentional art of being quiet and keeping his/her mouth shut. By listening the leader has the opportunity to evaluate the skills and abilities of those around him/her. Who has good ideas? Who rambles without much content? Who expresses creativity? Who has difficulties with change?

Listen to employees, board members, middle managers, those above you, those who report to you. Listen in the hall ways, listen at the coffee pot, listen during casual conversations, listen in the break room. Listening does not mean believing, but listening does mean evaluating. An observant leader leads with his/her ears – what can you learn through listening?

Second is the sense of sight. Our eyes are the windows to reality. Just as listening is increased by being quiet, so seeing is enhanced as we minimize our tongues and give our full attention to what we see. An observant leader has active eyes, for there is a difference between seeing and observing. Observation involves analysis, synthesis, logic, induction and deduction. As Sherlock Holmes notes in A Scandal in Bohemia, “You see, but you do not observe.”

An observant leader watches the dynamics of relationships, the body language involved in dialogue, the actions and the reactions of others. Many watch the primary movements and behaviors of others, but the observant leader attempts to watch the secondary and even the tertiary perspectives and reactions to decisions, discussions, and suggestions. What was the athletic directors response to the principal’s announcement? What did the faces of the administrative assistances communicate around the lunch table? How attentive were the administration when the CFO gave his report?

Third is the sense of taste. As an observant leader has active tastebuds. As the leader walks the footprint of the organization, what flavors does he/she taste? Is the environment filled with the sweetness of unity, or the sourness of discontentment, or the spices of creativity? Just as the tastebuds in our mouth shout out with messages of saltiness or pleasure, so the inner sense of taste must communicate to the observant leader.  

Every organization has a culture and a climate that can be recognized and felt. I remember going to my church for the first time. As I opened the front door, there were several people with smiles and words of welcome. I was greeted by many others and made to feel right at home from the very first service. My clothes did not matter, my age did not matter, my newness did not matter. The church tasted like grace and the good news. An observant leader must taste the culture of the organization, he/she must take note of the climate and taste the message it proclaims.

Fourth is smell. The observant leader has an active nose. If you work in a factory, there is most likely a distinctive smell about the organization. If you report to a school every day, there is a special smell about the classroom. If you work outside, there are certain smells associated with your environment. These are not the smells that I have in mind. The old expression, “Something smell a little fishy to me,” is more aligned to the leader’s nose. What does honesty smell like? What odor does discord and animosity emit? As you take a huge breathe in your organization does it smell healthy, and alive? As you take puffs of air do you find yourself coughing with smells of arrogance and power. An observant leader can smell a bully a mile away, and can enjoy the soft fragrance of rose on the manager’s desk. 

Some smell are very dangerous – the smell of nature gas can explode if not addressed. Some scents can calm the heart – the aroma of lavender is a stress reliever. An observant leader must practice in order to discern odor from aroma. He/she must sensitize his/her nose to understand what is fishy and what is savory.       

Fifth is touch. I am not talking about group hugs or high fives after a meeting (although these are not bad things). An observant leader is an active kinesthetic leader. Let me use three colloquial phrases to communicate the concept. One, A leader must be willing to” put his toe in the water.” An observant leader does not jump in without investigation, but he/she must be aware and anxious to test the temperature and nature of the water. Is this the time? Is the opportunity hot and the environment ready to jump in or is the timing cold and unproductive? Gut feelings can be right on, but a quick toe in the water can confirm the reality of choice. Two, a leader knows how to “touch the sore spots.” During a physical exam, the doctor is trained to poke and prod to check for sore spots, indicators of physical problems. An observant leader needs to know how to touch the sore spots to gage the health of the organization. Wounds that are left to fester can cause illness, amputation and even death. Three, an effective leader keeps “his finger on the pulse.” The touch of the leader must go to the heart of the organization. The leader must not be distracted by peripheral issues or programs outside the mission of the organization, lest he/she lose the pulse of the team’s purpose and the overall health of the company. 

An effective leader is an observant leader. These skills of observation are not easy to obtain or maintain but they are critical to helping an organization grow and thrive. These skills can be crippled and easily forgotten if we talk too much and fail to listen, see, taste, smell, and touch. 

Photos: ears – Top 10 facts about ears | 2013-10-23 | 438603 | Express.co.uk; eyes- Easily recognizing prominent eyes (advisemystyle.com); taste – 10 Fun Facts About Your Tongue and Taste Buds (onhealth.com); smells – 5 Simple Natural Ways to Get Rid of Cooking Smells – Cook Taste Eat;  pulse – Western Sydney Business Connection – Membership (wsbc.org.au)

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