Monday, August 21, 2017

Leadership is a 'Willingness to be Scarred'

Yep, the title says 'scarred', not scared...though you might be scared in moments that could lead to scarring. According to one leadership summit speaker, Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative, our capacity to lead is not based on our income nor our number of successes. Our capacity to lead is solely on our 'willingness to be scarred'. When I think of scars, I think of close proximity. But that's not how I've gotten my physical scars. I got them from participating wholeheartedly and aggressively in sports, and jumping in to help with machinery repairs. If you too have experienced scarring, you know these truths. Therefore, you'll see how leadership truths are similar.
1. You have to be in the 'neighborhood'. You only have power if you're in the proximity. I tell leaders to quit the Open Door policy and start practicing Open Tour. Don't make them come to you. You go to them. If you stay in your ivory tower, you're isolated. You don't know what's happening on the front lines. And more importantly, they don't know you. I can't watch 'Undercover Boss' for that reason. It's unconscionable that executives are making decisions to change 'the work' without understanding what 'the work' is. The best people that know the work are the ones doing the work, and therefore the best ones to make decisions about changing the work are the ones doing it--not the ones far removed from the action.  And that leads to the second point.

2. Change the narrative that sustains the problem. We have assumptions about the problem, the product, the processes and the people. What story are we telling ourselves about the problem or the people? Stevenson says that we have mass incarceration because our government decided to fix the problem through the courts. The narrative is that addicts are criminals. We could have viewed them as people with health issues and worked to fix the problem mostly through the health care system. Similarly, we sometimes view our people as incapable of making decisions. Yet even in an organization with strict chain-of-command, command-and-control structures (US military), they allow a lot of latitude for the forces in the battle to make corrections to the plan--i.e. make some decisions that affect their tactics. In a study of high-risk, high-performance teams, reported in Smithsonian magazine a number of years ago (I can't find it again), namely Navy carrier flight deck teams and air traffic controllers, the teams could make decisions on the spot. They also gave feedback on the strategy (what worked, what didn't) to the upper levels of the organization. Great Game of Business, and its parent Springfield Remanufacturing, practice 'High Involvement Planning' which does the same thing. They want to hear from the people 'in the know' (the front line) on whether the strategy will work. If your narrative is that your staff is ignorant, untrustworthy and incapable, you'll make all the decisions--unfortunately based on ignorance, incompetence and isolation. The problems will be sustained, and not changed.

3. Stay hopeful. You're either hopeful or part of the problem. On my office board, I had written: "Lead past the fear, insecurity, hopelessness..." You can have moments of doubt and fear. You can share them but as leaders, we need to be brave--to take action in spite of the fear--in the name of hope that something good is going to come of the effort.

4. Do the uncomfortable. This can mean all kinds of things like learning something new, being humble, seeking diverse opinions, letting others take charge, jumping into help, making an extra bad news and listening to uncomfortable truths about yourself. You might get wounded a bit from this: you'll experience complaints and anger; you'll have your feelings might even lose some self-esteem. We all have blind spots--those areas at which we think we're great (!) but everyone else knows we're not. Hearing about those blind spots might lead to scarring, and a change because you may have to give up something you had believed brought value to the organization.

First, if you're not in the fight, you can't get scarred. If you can't get scarred, then you can't lead. No one leads from outside the arena.

P.S. Please don't cancel others' vacations and then go on a vacation yourself. That is really the opposite of being willing to be scarred.

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