Leadership is not always easy, but it’s worth it.

Here are a few ways that indicate you are doing a good job as a leader – even when it feels like you may not be.

  1. Connection. People initiate a connection with you. They come into your office. They reach out to you. They seek your advice. Initiating connection is an indication of trust.
  2. Results. The results are there. You are achieving your goals. You are achieving the goals of the organization. And you’re doing it as a team.
  3. Empowerment. People around you feel good about their own success and the success of the team. They express pride in working together to achieve something difficult. Credit goes to the team, not you.
  4. Self-Honesty. Just questioning whether you are a good leader indicates humility and an effort to be honest with yourself – qualities of a great leader. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t admit to a healthy dose of self-doubt every once and awhile.
  5. Enjoyment. This is, for me, the most important measurement. I suppose there are a few incompetent leaders who enjoy themselves, but most are stressed and anxious. When you’re enjoying yourself (at least most days), and the people around you are relaxed and having a great time doing hard stuff, you are doing something right as a leader.

You may have your own list. I’d love to hear what is on it.

We all have blind spots

Despite our sincere efforts to be a good leader, we all have blind spots – behaviors that are harmful to our leadership and we are unaware of. And because we don’t see them, we just keep managing the demands in front of us, with our blind spots leaving a destructive wake. Just as there is always a gap between what we espouse in our culture and the reality of our culture, there is always a gap between the self we think we present and the way others see us.

Unacknowledged blind spots will limit your impact and diminish your overall leadership capacity.

Five strategies for working with your blind spots:

  1. Make working with your blind spots a priority. Accept that you have them – we all do – and be committed to uncovering them. It’s not the blind spots per se, that are destructive. It’s our unwillingness to see them and work with them.
  2. Be curious. Carve out time for self-reflection. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have a sense of what our blind spots are. For me, one is when results aren’t immediate, and I’m stressed from not having the control of the outcomes. And when I’m stressed, I’m tense, and I question the impact I am having on my team. Other blind spot possibilities to consider include insensitivity to your people in a drive for results, over-valuing being right, a lack of strategic thinking, inflexibility, etc.
  3. Get regular feedback from people who know you and will tell you the truth. Feedback can come from a trusted confidant, a coach, or a support group. It can also come from your team – even if you start by making it anonymous.
  4. Acknowledge your blind spots and ask your team to elaborate. In my case, Marg, my VP of Client Care, elaborated on my blind spot when she explained that when results are down I have a tendency to disconnect from my vision, get stubborn and rigid, and resort to black-and-white thinking. This diminishes and disrespects the efforts of the team, while dis-inspiring people. Tension is contagious, and the team withdraws.
  5. Thank your team for their courage, recommit to make a change, and ask for their support. I find it useful, at this point, to craft an accountability agreement for how we will help each other grow.

Working with your blind spots is less about a destination and more about a method of travel.

Openly embracing your blind spots on a regular, ongoing basis restores your commitment to grow, keeps your vision fresh, and is a way for your team to continue to build courage, trust, and openness with each other.

Leadership – Connecting Is At The Core

Life depends on connections, and the quality of your life depends on the quality of your connections. Every system depends on connections. Circulatory systems, nervous systems, organizational systems, ecosystems, family systems. You name it – it’s about connection. If you can’t make a connection, not much else matters.

All the people in my life that I call a leader created a place where I belonged. And connection was at the core.

My grade 1 teacher, Mrs. Betker, cared about me. I was an anxious, shy kid, and in her class I felt safe. My grade 7 teacher, Miss Arnold, took time after class to help me write better. And my high school football coach, Mr. Gustafson, inspired me with a vision for my contribution on the team and a belief in myself. He took the time to know me and know what I could contribute best.

Compassion, humanity, grace, forgiveness, togetherness – unfortunately, these are not words that describe our world. We’re divided by hate and fear rather than united by love and empathy.

But not on Ted Lasso. The show provides a respite from all of that. More importantly, it reminds us what we could do if only we all tried to follow Coach Lasso’s lead. In the series, we see Ted’s capacity to create commitment through caring. His infectious positivity inevitably brings out the good in those around him, even those reluctant to embrace him. By doing so they all create a better, more loving, more welcoming place.

With all the important talk about diversity, equity, inclusion and treating people fairly, if employees still don’t truly feel that you care and they belong, organizational efforts are missing the mark.

Corporate Vision – Three Components That Are Often Missing

The purpose of a corporate vision is to unite and inspire people around a shared goal. It clarifies what is important to the organization so everyone can get their hearts into working together towards a shared higher purpose.

There are three key components to a solid corporate vision that are often missing:

1. Corporate vision needs to start with a compelling personal vision. You won’t put your heart into a corporate vision until it aligns with what matters to you personally. People have to feel that their personal sense of purpose and values are in the game. To have energy and meaning, everything at the corporate level needs to start at the personal level.

2. According to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, a corporate vision involves discovering your organization’s core ideology (the enduring character of an organization) and a vivid description of a ten-year ideal BHAG. The core ideology includes your core values (the guiding principles by which a company navigates) and your core purpose (your organization’s fundamental reason for being). You don’t create or set core ideology – you discover it. You don’t deduce it by looking at the external environment; you understand it by looking inside. Ideology has to be authentic.

3. You have to keep your vision front and center. Keep it alive. If it gets stored on your hard drive or merely sits on the wall in your office, it will become part of the background and will die a slow death. Your corporate vision is a living entity that requires energy – energy that comes from ongoing inspiring personal visioning, conversations, and agreements. Every person in the organization needs to understand how their personal passion, vision, values, and contribution aligns with the corporate vision.

If you need support with aligning personal and corporate vision and values, discovering your core ideology, or keeping it alive in your organization, reach out and schedule a complimentary call with me: marg@davidirvine.com. I would love to hear from you.

How To Lead – The Authentic Way

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
― Maya Angelou

A friend recently told me about a boss he had when working in the oil patch thirty years ago. Anyone who has worked on the rigs knows that the typical boss in that world is a brutal, kick a** individual. It isn’t uncommon that the first mistake you make is the last.

But my friend’s boss was, in his words, a “generation ahead of himself.” If you made a mistake, he would carefully go through what happened, discuss your rationale for your actions, and talk about what you learned. Then he would respectfully go through a list of the expectations and how you could make improvements going forward. At the end – and this is what stood out for my friend – he would shake your hand. It was clear that you were trusted, respected, and expected to be accountable.

Every morning he would have the team gather for a 15-20 minute informal coffee. This was a chance to learn something about what was going on in people’s lives away from work, and for him to get to know his team. If guys came in hungover or half-drunk he would respectfully send them on their way.

This leader had an authentic way of creating a safe and respectful place to work – even though he wouldn’t use those words. His approach wasn’t about techniques or gimmicks or management fads. It came from his human goodness. It was his presence not his position.

This man set the benchmark for my friend’s leadership philosophy for his entire career. The impact on his life and his leadership lasted a lifetime.

Leaders truly create ripples in time that extend for generations.

Let us make a resolve to be a better leader today by being a better person.

Let us re-commit to leadership – the authentic way.

How to Demonstrate Caring in the Workplace

I care a lot about caring. So much so I wrote about it: Caring Is Everything: Getting To The Heart Of Humanity, Leadership, and Life. When people feel cared for, appreciated and valued, the workplace becomes a happier and more productive place. Here are five ways to help your team feel cared for:

  1. Look in the mirror. Honestly ask, “Do I care about the people on my team and what matters to them? Do I care about their success? Am I truly serving them or am I expecting them to serve me?” You can’t fake caring. People will see right through you. People will grant you a lot of grace if they know you care, but won’t give you much if they know you don’t. If you truly don’t care, do yourself and your organization a favor and get out of management.
  2. Listen. Listen. Listen. Take an honest inventory of the amount of time you spend listening to your people versus the amount of time you spend talking. Ideally, it’s good to spend at least twice as much time listening as talking. Listen to what matters to them. Get their input on how to make the workplace better. Get feedback on your leadership. It may start with complaints, then move to problem solving, but what matters is to keep the conversations going.
  3. Get to know – and respond to – people’s appreciation language. Gary Chapman and Paul White’s book, “The Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace,” explains that everyone has a unique way of feeling appreciated. Some need words of affirmation while others respond best to tangible gifts. Some need quality time and may not need praise and recognition. Others intrinsically enjoy working and seeing tasks completed. Some need to be left alone while others need hugs and handshakes. Care enough to get to know their unique nature and preferences and how to best respond to people uniquely. Don’t assume that your style is what everyone needs.
  4. Practice flexibility. Caring leadership is not the same as pleasing leadership. Leading doesn’t mean trying to make people happy. Caring means a commitment to serve, to help people get the resources they need to get their job done, not necessarily what they want. One thing the pandemic taught us is the importance of flexibility. While some positions require being in the office, others can be done remotely. To care about people, you need to be flexible in negotiating a win-win relationship.
  5. Be honest. Tell people what you know; tell them what you don’t know; and tell them why sometimes you need to withhold some information for the greater good. Set high standards. No one takes pride in doing something easy. While support statements need to accompany expectations, let people know when they aren’t meeting your expectations. Have a process for ongoing honest and mutual developmental feedback. Don’t be a “seagull manager,” where you fly around and crap on people.