By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
As a leadership development coach, the recent speech by Sen. John McCain on the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare struck me as a living example of Value Based Leadership.
What is Values Based Leadership? Brent Gleeson, a Navy SEAL combat veteran writing in INC.com, sums it up nicely:
“Many organizations will charge ahead for years with relative success while not having ever truly defined - and written down - their mission, vision, values and purpose for existence. At some point however, all great organizations have to define these things if they want to maintain that positive trajectory.”
John McCain, love him or hate him, has served in the U.S. Senate since 1986 and has during that time clearly demonstrated a passion for the institution and for what it stands. His speech illustrates eloquently how defining and connecting to core values is essential to sustainable organizational effectiveness….and what happens when it is lost.
I’ve done some mining for values, and here’s some of what I found:
EMOTIONAL CONNECTION TO WHAT MATTERS MOST, GRATITUDE:
“(This) is the most important job I have had in my life. And I am so grateful to the people of Arizona… and the opportunities it gives me to play a small role in the history of the country I love.”
“I’ve known and admired men and women in the Senate who played much more than a small role in our history… They came from both parties, and from various backgrounds. Their ambitions were frequently in conflict. They held different views on the issues of the day. And they often had very serious disagreements about how best to serve the national interest…But they knew that however sharp and heartfelt their disputes, however keen their ambitions, they had an obligation to work collaboratively to ensure the Senate discharged its constitutional responsibilities effectively.
SENSE OF HIGHER PURPOSE DRIVING RESULTS
Our responsibilities are important, vitally important, to the continued success of our Republic. And our arcane rules and customs are deliberately intended to require broad cooperation to function well at all. The most revered members of this institution accepted the necessity of compromise to make incremental progress on solving America’s problems and to defend her from her adversaries.”
“We’ve all played some role in it (our decline.) Certainly, I have. Sometimes, I’ve let my passion rule my reason. Sometimes, I made it harder to find common ground because of something harsh I said to a colleague. Sometimes, I wanted to win more for the sake of winning than to achieve a contested policy.”
RESPONSIBILITY TO VISION/MISSION OVER PERSONAL INTEREST/EGO
“Our system… gives an order to our individual strivings... It is our responsibility to preserve that, even when it requires us to do something less satisfying than ‘winning.’ Even when we must give a little to get a little. Even when our efforts manage just three yards and a cloud of dust, while critics on both sides denounce us for timidity, for our failure to ‘triumph… This country…needs us to help it thrive. That responsibility is more important than any of our personal interests or political affiliations.”
“I hope we can again rely on humility, on our need to cooperate, on our dependence on each other to learn how to trust each other again and by so doing better serve the people who elected us.”
THE COST OF ABANDONING VALUES BASED LEADERSHIP
“We’re getting nothing done…Our healthcare insurance system is a mess… Something has to be done. We Republicans have looked for a way to end it and replace it with something else without paying a terrible political price. We haven’t found it yet, and I’m not sure we will. All we’ve managed to do is make more popular a policy that wasn’t very popular when we started trying to get rid of it.”
If someone told me they have a leader that values the following: Trust, Diversity, Collaboration, Emotional Connection to What Matters Most (Vision, Mission), Humility, Connection to a Higher Purpose over Ego, Results, and Gratitude, I’d say you’ve got the makings of great leader.
If someone told me they have a leader with hard to define, inconsistent, or no values, I’d say they have a leader whose success will eventually become unsustainable.
Kind of like the U.S. Senate.
Perhaps a former navy POW and now U.S. Senator recently diagnosed with brain cancer who had the courage to speak and then vote the truth as defined by his values will serve as a beacon forward for this institution seemingly now lost at sea.
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
Steven M. R. Covey’s book, “The Speed of Trust,” is a timeless gem for anyone working in or with organizations seeking to get more sustainable results. The very bottom line premise is that improving trust significantly leverages the efficiency of everything else you do. High trust cultures produce a “trust dividend” and low trust cultures produce a “trust tax.”
The same can be said for “Vision.” Vision paints a crystal-clear picture of why your organization exists. At its most powerful, a vision statement is an inspirational calling forth of the best an organization has to offer the world.
And, as I look around, I see many organizations busy with the execution of strategy geared to the achievement of short term goals, at best, and more often, the quenching of the fires of the day. A powerful question I often ask my leadership client’s is, “To what end?” This often results in silence. A slowing down. And, this is a good thing.
Sure, organizations can get things done and be profitable with only lip service to vision. Just know, there is a cost, a tax, to this approach. If we don’t seek to connect to our vision daily, we lose sight of what is important, what really matters. This often results in wasted time and resources. Worse yet, if we don’t have a vision, we are likely to come up for air someday, exhausted and burned out, asking the question “How did we get HERE?” and “WHERE are we, anyway?”
Connection to a crystal-clear vision lit up by the lights of passion and purpose, produces a dividend. Our vision is our guide-post that helps us determine what’s important and how best to spend our time and resources. When we are clear about where we are going, what we want to be, and the impact we want to have, we have the potential to transform from simply getting things done and maybe being profitable to being wildly successful. Dare I say, to “living the dream!”
In addition to Covey’s “Economics of Trust,” I propose an “Economics of Vision.” Substituting “Vision” for “Trust” in Covey’s model:
Decreased Vision = Decreased Speed and Increased Cost
Increased Vision = Increased Speed and Decreased Cost
Similarly, in Covey’s formula for organizational success I substitute “Vision” for “Trust.”
(Strategy x Execution) Vision = Results.
Consistent connection to a meaningful vision produces a “vision-dividend” that serves to multiply results. Disregard to vision produces a “vision-tax” that serves to discount results.
As leaders, we frequently don’t know the “perfect” next step. All success stories include chapters of “failed” steps taken. Connecting to a crystal-clear vision lets us know whether the strategies and tactics we are following are “succeeding” or “failing.” Is this strategy getting us closer to our vision? Yes. Carry on! No. Change direction. Vision paves the way to using limited resources more efficiently. And, gives us a reason to keep going when the inevitable roadblocks rise to get in our way.
At Vanguard Coaching, we asked ourselves the question, “To What End?” We knew our work was driven by our experience that there are many good folks doing good work despite their organizations. We then asked, “What if leadership in organizations worked to leverage the wisdom of their people instead of working against them?” Out of the silence (and some not so silent rigorous conversation) our vision emerged:
“High-Trust organizational cultures producing better results and better lives for every stakeholder.”
“To what end?” are you leading your organization? What’s your vision?
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
Leadership begins with self-awareness. Who am I at my core? What are the values I want to honor? If I were to raise my own flag, for what would it stand?
I had one of those self-awareness moments a few days ago working with a gifted spiritual healer, Lisa Holcomb. Here’s a look into that moment.
I say, “I have a disruptive and resonant energy swirling in my gut. It wants to emerge. It ascends into my throat. Here, the swirling slows. And, as it slows, it hardens into a lump. My throat feels narrow and tight.”
“And, the energy descends back down into my gut. Quieter now. Until, the swirling starts again.”
“And, the cycle repeats itself.”
“I am restless…knowing there is a shift occurring within me. I am wanting the energy to get past my swollen throat. I am wanting the lump to become sweet liquid honey and pour out of me, becoming what it is meant to be. I am restless, now. With this wanting.”
She says, “One of your old trees has fallen down.”
Her words echo and repeat themselves inside me. And, the self-awareness consumes me. So pure, so present, so true.
Coming to know that kind of truth starts to crack me. Like a piece of tempered glass, there is no returning to what I was the moment before those words.
“The roots are still tethered to the ground,” she says.
I look down and see the old tree with its roots twisting out from its base, curling back down into the ground. I am aware of being still attached and being free to move forward, all at once.
I live into this paradox. Alive with possibility. Resonant. Changed and The Same.
Two days later. I ask someone who is pushing against the heavy weight of a decision, “What if, for today, you just let it go?”
I realize now the question is meant as much for me and my old fallen tree.
What if the roots of my old fallen tree let go? Then, I realize, there is no “if."
One of my old trees has fallen and the roots will let go.
And, when I once again raise my own flag, for what will it stand…. now?
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
“Asking for help” * can be seen be leaders as a sign of weakness and lack of competence. Here are five reasons to consider flipping that perspective:
*I am talking about authentically asking for help when a leader feels their own skills, resources, experience etc. are not sufficient
1. Promotes Innovation and Creativity:
Leaders want new ideas, systems, products, and processes brought forward. The problem is these same leaders often neglect to recognize that their culture rejects vulnerability e.g. risk taking, making mistakes or even failing along the way. Last I checked, failure has always been a prerequisite to innovation. And, creativity without some messiness is not likely to be very creative.
Asking for help is a step into vulnerability. Brene Brown, in her extensive corporate work around vulnerability points out that you can’t get innovation and creativity without making it ok to be vulnerable:
“We want innovation but we have no tolerance for risk or vulnerability–and vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation and creativity... If we want people to come to us and say “Hey, I don’t really understand this and I want to understand it, I need some help,” then we have to model that behavior.”
2. Enhances Accountability:
Holding folks accountable in a way that enhances performance is a tough nut to crack for many leaders. Accountability in its most mission oriented form means ownership. When a leader authentically asks for help, an invitation to collaborate is extended. The giver of help becomes actively invested in the outcome as a co-creator of that outcome – they give a damn about the results. The stage is set for the creation of Steven Covey’s sixth habit, Synergize.
“When people begin to interact together genuinely, and they're open to each other's influence, they begin to gain new insight. The capability of inventing new approaches is increased exponentially because of differences.”
Asking for help shapes cultures that promote shared ownership.When I “own” my work, I am more likely to be highly accountable to it.
3. Drives Motivation:
We are in the knowledge worker age. As Daniel Pink’s research shows, the desire for “mastery and purpose” are two key contributors to knowledge worker motivation. A leader that asks for help opens both doors at once. When a leader asks for help they recognize a way forward based on my command of the issue at hand (mastery), and they bring me into the fold of meaningful contribution (purpose).
4. Increases Engagement:
U.S. employee engagement is at around 32% as measured by Gallup. According to Gallup, “Workplace recognition…. makes employees feel valued for their work. Recognition not only boosts individual employee engagement, but it also has been found to increase productivity and loyalty to the company, leading to higher retention.”
I don’t know about you, but if my boss authentically reached out to me for help, I’d take that as positive recognition.
5. Creates a Self-Reinforcing Feedback Loop:
The adage “it’s better to give than to receive” is supported by neuroscience. Oxytocin and Dopamine, the human bonding and feel good chemicals, increase when you give to someone else. This suggests that “giving” help may create the conditions for a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop. When a leader asks for and receives help the conditions are ripe for “YES, more of that!”
And, what leader doesn’t want more innovation, creativity, accountability, motivation, and engagement within their organization!
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
I am a recovering “Hyper-Achiever.”
Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence, defines “the Hyper-Achiever” this way: Highly focused on external success, leading to unsustainable workaholic tendencies and loss of touch with deeper emotional and relationship needs.”
Hyper-Achievers tend to “shun feelings” and may “feel empty and depressed inside, but don’t linger there.” They “don’t like dwelling in feelings for too long” as they are a distraction from achieving goals.
I’ve observed that there is an emotion that surfaces repeatedly for Hyper-Achievers: Overwhelm. Sure, folks like us tend to bounce out of overwhelm by plunging into the nearest achievable goal we can find. The paradox is that this reflexive, unconscious, default tendency to achieve for the sake of achieving often leads to a return to overwhelm. And, overwhelm results in NOT achieving goals.
Our very belief that dwelling in our feelings distracts us from our goals creates a powerful emotion that distracts us from our goals!
Here are a few tips to help you break the achievement-overwhelm cycle and bring some peace and joy into your life. Disclaimer: If you are a Hyper-Achiever, the following is some tough love.
Did you just cringe at the words “peace and joy?” Be honest with yourself. Are “peace and joy” something to be found over the achievement rainbow? How’s that journey going?
Ready to try a different path?
First, the next time you start feeling overwhelmed, don’t try to achieve anything. Take 15 minutes (I know there is so much you could be getting done!) and notice what it’s like to feel overwhelmed. Simply notice. Notice your breath, how your body feels, what you see, hear, smell. Notice your thoughts and let them go. Just be with the overwhelmed feeling without trying to do anything to fix it. Notice how you feel after 15 minutes. If you’re feeling a bit more peaceful, that’s ok!! Purposeful, as opposed to knee-jerk, goal achievement that doesn’t end in overwhelm is much more likely from this space.
Next, connect to what’s important to you. What’s the bigger-picture reason you are running around trying to get all of these things done anyway? Write it down. Say what you write down out loud. Imagine you’ve achieved that. Notice how that feels.
Now, start writing down your “to-do’s.” Organize these tasks into categories that make sense to you. Be sure to include a “delegate” and “ask for help” category. Don’t let that feeling that you should be able to “do it all” stop you.
Finally, what on your list is most connected to achieving your bigger picture purpose? Begin there. Set aside a chunk of time for the sole purpose of working on that.
At the end of that time, notice how you feel. Chances are you won’t be feeling overwhelmed.
Lastly, ask yourself, “What would be possible from achieving from this purposeful space more often?
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
Fear is one of the two most powerful emotions we have. The other is Love. When we are consumed by Fear, we fight, flee, or freeze. There is a heaviness, a closing down, a rejecting. When we are led by Love we tend towards “Being With.” There is a lightness, an openness, a welcoming.
We often consider these emotions to live in very different places within us. And, sometimes they are.
Unless, they’re not.
Art Shirk, an icon in the field of leadership development, passed away last week. With his passing, he challenged, and in so doing, anchored himself in all of us who are blessed to have known him
“In lieu of flowers, Art wants each person to do something you have been afraid of without worrying about success or failure.” His anchor and his challenge.
What if we looked at Fear as an ally of Love? What would be possible from that place? I’m not referring to the fear that saves our lives in the face of a real and present danger. Nor, am I referring to infatuation or longing masquerading as Love.
I am talking about the fear that stands between us and the impact we want to have in the world, the kind of life we really want to lead. And, I am talking about the kind of Love that is about fiercely connecting to where your heart is reaching and what your gut is telling you is the next right thing to do.
In this kind of space, the magic of life itself thrives, creates, and brings forth magnificence. Connecting here IS WHAT LIFE IS ALL ABOUT. Art Shirk lived his life in this space. And, sometimes it was messy. And, sometimes it was divine. And, most often, I glean from his writings, it was both.
Avoiding a difficult conversation with a colleague, boss, friend? Not going after the business or clients you want because you fear you’re not good enough? Wanting yet unwilling to unleash the strength of vulnerability because you’re afraid you’ll be perceived as weak?
Where is fear standing between where you are and where you want to be?
Feel that fear…. stay with it…. don’t run, shut down, or fight it. Don’t greet fear with fear. Welcome it….be with it…. turn up the volume…. breathe deeply...Greet Fear with Love. And, allow fear to fiercely connect you to where your heart is reaching and what your gut is telling you is the next right thing to do.
So, Go there… TODAY…NOW. Follow your Fear. It’s the gateway to the only kind of success that matters. Success built on a foundation of what really matter. Success built on a foundation of Love.
Me? I love bringing folks together doing good work into conversations that matter. I’ve got some butterflies going right now. Fear is telling me to call the leader of a highly respected statewide organization that wants my help; not to wait for the yet to be received follow up email.
I’ve got a call to make…You?
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
With all the palpable inattention to the emotional component of employee engagement, it is no wonder that it remains stuck around 30% despite billions spent on the issue. Marshall Goldsmith wondered about this and puts forth an admirable reframe of the problem in his latest book, Triggers. Goldsmith argues that there is an overreliance on programs that emphasize what the company can do for the employee to improve engagement.
His approach involves asking the employee to take personal responsibility for his or her own engagement and get off the blame and complain hamster wheel. I greatly appreciate his approach and have used it in my corporate trainings.
And, Goldsmith leaves out what I believe to be a critical factor necessary to moving the employee engagement dial, the emotional stake of the employee. Within a relatively healthy corporate culture, the exercises Goldsmith offers to help employees take personal responsibility for their own engagement can be effective. However, within a corporate culture defined by silos, poor communication, and poor alignment around a shared vision and mission, the taking personal responsibility model will likely gain little traction.
As Harvard’s award winning change management guru John Kotter says,
“You need to show people something that addresses their anxieties, that accepts their anger, that is credible in a very gut-level sense, and that evokes faith in the vision… People change what they do less because they are given an analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings.”
Yes, there is no doubt that the failure of employee engagement programs is in part due to not guiding employees to take more responsibility for their own engagement as Goldsmith suggests. And, taking responsibility needs to matter to the employee. If the employee doesn’t give a damn about all of this, nothing will change.
Again, Kotter adds some insight,
“Motivation and inspiration energize people, not by pushing them in the right direction as control mechanisms do but by satisfying basic human needs for achievement, a sense of belonging, recognition, self-esteem, a feeling of control over one's life, and the ability to live up to one's ideals. Such feelings touch us deeply and elicit a powerful response.”
Similarly, Daniel Pink, author of the best seller, Drive, argues that healthy organizational cultures are defined by the degree to which they offer employees, “autonomy, mastery, and purpose.”
Such a culture requires courageous leadership willing to get to the heart of what matters to their employees. This means sitting down with them and being vulnerable. Having authentic conversations that welcome their input. Extending trust. And, requiring strict accountability around expected performance.
Employees are people. People cannot be expected to take more responsibility for their own engagement in the absence of an engaging culture. And, that is the responsibility of the organization beginning with its leaders.
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
Problems to solve are like reporters in the White House press corps, address one and thirty others start waving their hands. Only when the Press Secretary walks away from the podium, do the hands stop waving.
Certainly, as Steven Covey teaches us, there is value in attending to problems that are “Urgent and Important.” He also taught us that getting caught up in the “Urgent and Not Important” is a barrier to success.
Like the White House Press Secretary that lingers at the podium too long, if you stay focused on solving problems, you will become consumed by them. Being caught in what I call the “problem solving trap” disconnects you from becoming what Robert Fritz calls, “the predominant creative force in your own life.”
If we spend all our time living in a problem-solving paradigm, we become reactionary slaves to outside circumstances, choosing to address “Urgent and Not Important” problems in deference to creating the life, business, or organization we really want. Fritz goes on to explain, “A person adopting this strategy does not take action to create what he or she wants…(but) takes action only to reduce the pressure that is synthetically manufactured by visions of negative consequences.” “What we really want,” gets ignored as we spend all our time working to solve problems to avoid the perceived negative consequences of not solving them.
The path forward to getting what you really want for your life, business, or organization moves through Covey’s “Not-Urgent and Important” domain. Here, the more relevant question to ask is, “Am I being the predominant creative force in my life?” And, this is about making the conscious choice to spend some time with a blank page, take a stand for what you really want, and then start filling that page with choices that lead to action around what matters most.
By Howard Stanten MPT,CPCC
Many leaders struggle with holding the members of their team accountable. Once the hard truth in step one is addressed, the next steps come much easier.
1) LOOK IN THE MIRROR to identify the one person whose lack of accountability is having the most negative impact. Make good eye contact. The person looking back at you needs a good dose of personal responsibility.
There is something for which you are responsible, able to respond to, that you are avoiding or ignoring. Have you found yourself blaming and complaining lately? How’s it working? That gnawing in your gut, knot in your throat, and flush in your face are all signaling that YOU can and must RESPOND!
So, listen to what your body is telling you and move on to step two.
2) MAKE A DISTINCTION between reactive behavior that is challenging your expectations and proactive behavior that is supporting your expectations. Reactive behavior might have you feeling like a babysitter taking care of kids from hell who repeatedly spit in your face. Proactive behavior should have you feeling like a teacher or coach eager to work with someone that has great potential. Take a moment to look for and digest the distinction. Gauge how you are feeling. Your response to each needs to be markedly different to be effective.
After making this distinction, it’s time to lead.
3) DO LEAD, DON’T BABYSIT. The team member who is repeatedly late needs to be put on a fast track behavior improvement plan and let go quickly if this doesn’t work. IT DOESN’T MATTER HOW VALUABLE THIS PERSON IS IN OTHER AREAS! Would you keep this same “valuable” person around if they repeatedly spit in your face? Think about it. There’s not much difference. That’s why you’re feeling the way you do by keeping them around.
The team member that is overly eager to implement a new workflow policy improving efficiency in her department while creating a bottleneck somewhere else deserves a different response. Help her to see what she didn’t. Praise her proactive alignment with the mission. Grow a leader. Don’t let her “mistake” cause you to squash the very qualities you want your people to develop.
After you’ve chosen leadership over babysitting, check your ego.
4) MAKE IT ABOUT THE MESSAGE NOT THE MESSENGER. Be about the vision and mission not your frustrated, angry, offended ego. It’s fine to say you’re frustrated, just don’t BE FRUSTRATED. Don’t let the accountability conversation get diluted by becoming about your attitude. Ground the conversation in why the accountability you are expecting is important to the organization. Those that care, will raise their accountability game. Those that don’t, won’t. Rebuild your team around those that care.
By Howard Stanten MPT, CPCC
I’m not a fan of hearing folks blame outcomes on how positive or negative a person’s thinking is.
There is no doubt that positivity plays a key role in achieving our big goals. Here’s the rub. It doesn’t get you anywhere without courageous action. That is, doing something outside of your comfort zone.
Yes, a positive mindset is important, and it does not on its own determine anything. The idea that simply repeating positive affirmations will somehow by itself produce opportunities and results provides false hope.
As Robert Fritz says in The Path of Least Resistance,
“Positive thinking is a willpower strategy designed to help people exert their will over themselves as a kind of self-manipulation…There is no need to control yourself…You have a natural inclination toward creating what you most truly want…. There are no inner forces you must overcome, only inner forces that might be aligned organically as part of the creative process. This is not programming yourself, but rather working with all of the forces in play-including the forces you may not especially like.”
Fritz is a critic of using positive thinking and affirmations as tools for change. Repeating “I have all the confidence I need to move forward” when the truth is “my fear is holding me back” is telling myself a lie. And, lies don’t help move us forward. In fact, a key component of Fritz’s model for creating the life you want is grounded in a sober assessment of life as it actually is; the good, the bad, and the ugly.
A positive mindset doesn’t involve telling ourselves lies about our current reality. It does involve choosing to be inspired by the life we want to create. This inspiration provides the foundation to plant one foot and just enough light to guide the other foot into taking the next step towards creating what we want.
The “Positive” in Positive Action means getting our head around the fact that we can as Fritz says, “Learn to become the creative force in your own life.” The “Action” means taking steps forward without having to know exactly how we’re going to get to where we want to be.
In fact, it’s not possible to accurately map the whole thing out ahead of time. As you act, you will bump into a world that will have its say.
The “world’s say” is feedback: YES, MORE OF THAT! Or NO, NOT THAT! Letting the feedback be our guide (not our excuse for giving up), we reconnect to our vision, plant one foot, and step with the other. In this way, we are engaging the power of Positive Action.
Positive Action means choosing to be in the process of continuously creating the life we want. And, it’s not about “willing” it that way by telling ourselves things that aren’t true. It’s about honestly acknowledging and accepting all of who and where we are.
And, from that place of truth, it’s about giving a damn enough to do something about the life we want to create.
Howard Stanten MPT,CPCC is an Executive Leadership and Professional