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This leadership thought exercise will challenge you

When I talk to people about loving leadership my experience is that the concept is always well-received. I’ve never met anyone who has objected to the idea of valuing people or said that they don’t do this. It appears like I’m putting words to something so simple and obvious that we all innately know but just don’t state very often.

So if loving leadership is common sense and something that most people would say they already do, why am I so focused on writing about it? Why not, having shared the simple reminder that true leadership is grounded in love, move on with other topics?

The answer is that there is a vast chasm between what loving leadership sounds like on the surface and what it actually is.

This article poses a thought exercise to help illustrate this radical difference.

Imagine your most important meeting

Imagine that you are about to have the most important meeting of your career. If you are a business leader, this meeting might be with the CEO of the company that, should they sign up, would instantly turn your business into an extraordinary success. You also see this CEO as a role-model, someone you deeply respect and look up to more than anyone in the world.

After a few days of anticipation, it’s finally time for the meeting. You are in the elevator, heading up to the 23rd floor. The time has come.

How alert, aware and intentional are you heading into that meeting?

You arrive on 23 and are asked to sit and wait.

5 minutes pass. Then 10. Soon it’s 20 minutes, and just as you are getting nervous that the CEO might not show up, he comes hurriedly through the door apologizing for being late.

How do you react to this? Are you frustrated with the CEO, struggling to pay attention to him, not making eye contact and not really listening to his explanation for why he was late? Or have you forgiven him and started to graciously engage?

After some small talk the CEO highlights a concern about the deal you are negotiating. He starts talking about going in a direction that is different to where you think things should go. Do you cut him off and tell him that he doesn’t understand and should listen to your perspective? Or do you deeply listen to what he is saying, seeking to understand where he is coming from, having an open mind that there could possibly be merit in what he is saying?

During the middle of this conversation the CEO makes a hand gesture and accidently knocks over a cup of coffee. It splashes onto the table and onto your clothes. How do you react? Do you hold a frustrated grudge against him for the rest of the meeting, or do you chalk it up as an accident and seek to reassure him in the midst of the embarrassment he must be feeling?

After the coffee incident the discussion gets back on track and you both converge on a path forward that seems great to both parties. But just before signing the deal, the CEO asks for some conditions that you believe are unreasonable for you to sign up to. How thoughtful are you in the way you hold your ground? Do you speak to him in a flippant way that could cause insult, or are you empathetic yet clear and firm that you can’t take on board these conditions?

You finally sign the deal! You are exhilarated – it is a dream come true. The CEO then shakes your hand, and asks if he can give you some feedback. You say yes, and he gives you feedback on some things you said and did in the meeting that might be problematic for you in future situations. How do you react? Does it get your back up and do you leave the meeting irritated and speaking to your colleagues about the nerve of that CEO? Or do you accept the feedback graciously, ponder it for any truths that might be contained that can help you grow, and then celebrate the great success with your colleagues, reaffirming to people just how highly you think of that CEO?

I want you to connect with the sense of admiration and value you have for that CEO, and how that plays out in all the little moments of the meeting.

A different scenario

I now want you to imagine another meeting.

This meeting has a similar purpose – looking to get alignment and agreement on something with the other person.

But this person is very different to the CEO.

This person is in your own organization and is junior to you. They are in another department, and there is a big disconnect between your two departments. Everything this other department does seems to work against the initiatives that you are driving in the company.

This particular person has been a thorn in your side. In the last company meeting they publicly raised a whole lot of issues that could give the perception that you and your department were doing a bad job. This person themselves has had a track record of very poor results, but they seem to constantly raise issues with the way all of the other people and departments around them are doing things.

The tone, manner, and nature of the interactions this person has with you gives the impression that the person does not like you. And the things they have done in the past give an impression that they are very focused on their own success and accolades at the expense of others in the company.

You are due to meet this person about a joint initiative that seems like it has a lot more benefit for that person and their department than you.

You are walking to the meeting room. How does your alertness, awareness, and intentionality compare to the meeting with the CEO?

The person turns up 20 minutes late. How do you react? With the same genuine graciousness you held for the CEO, or do you bear an angst against them?

The person highlights a whole bunch of concerns and suggests a different path to the one you have in mind. Do you listen as deeply and entertain this other path with as much openness as you did for the CEO?

Now the coffee is spilled. How do you react?

The other person suggests some completely unreasonable conditions that they think you should adhere to going forward. How empathetic are you in the way you hold firm to your position?

You finally agree on something that is satisfactory. And then at the end the person says they want to give you some feedback on how you handled parts of the meeting? What is your reaction to that feedback?

You leave the meeting room and go back to your desk. A colleague and good friend comes and asks you how your meeting was. How do you respond? Are you harboring any ill-will against the other person and do you make any negative remarks about the person?

Loving leadership is radical

In the fulness of what it means to be a loving leader, the answers to the questions in both parts of this thought exercise must be identical. You must genuinely value the worth of the irritating colleague to the same level as the role-model CEO. And the genuineness of this must play out in all of the little moments of the conversation.

Genuine loving leadership is radical. It needs explicit intention, a super amount of discipline, and a constant willingness to sacrifice yourself for others. You can’t be a loving leader without it being the primary of all of your motivations.

It is easy to value people you naturally like. It is easy to value people who are good to you. It is easy to value people when things are going well.

But it is hard to value people that you don’t naturally get along with. It is hard to value people who are not good to you. It is hard to value people when you are under intense pressures to get a particular result.

On the surface when we think about loving leadership, we tend to imagine the situations when it is easy. And we all could rightly call ourselves loving leaders in those situations.

But real loving leadership is about what happens in the hard situations. And it is much harder for us to look in the mirror and call ourselves loving leaders in those ones.

Trying is what counts

If you are grasping the radical nature of what I mean by loving leadership, then it will start to become clear how almost impossibly difficult it is to embody true loving leadership. In every moment, in every situation, no matter how you are feeling, never diminishing for a second the value you hold for every single person.

When I hold this gold standard up against myself, I come up short.

But it doesn’t mean that I throw away the standard and settle for near enough.

I strive to embody what it is to be completely loving in each situation, and when I fall short I acknowledge it, I make amends, I learn from it, I accept the forgiveness that is shown to me, and then I get back up and keep trying again.

I am far from perfect in this endeavor to be a loving leader. But one thing I do know is that aiming for that gold standard makes a difference.  Having that intention and genuinely trying to hold to it has made a huge difference to me as a person, to my leadership, and to the impact on those around me.

Aim high, but do not fear

My purpose in writing this blog today is to encourage you to intentionally set your sights on the lofty goal of being a loving leader.

Without understanding the radical nature of loving leadership, it’s impossible to become a truly loving leader. You can’t become one by accident.

But the risk of laying out that gold standard is that it causes discouragement, because the bar seems so high.

I hope that I have been able to convey the one without causing the other in you. And if I have failed in this attempt, then I sincerely apologize.

To be a loving leader you don’t need to have everything together. You don’t need to be perfect. You don’t need to have an unwavering self-confidence (see my previous blog on healthy self-doubt).

All you need is to believe in the inherent value of people, despite all of their flaws and blemishes, and to have a heart to try and live that out in all the little moments. You will fail in this – we all do. But you will get back up and keep going, and drip by drip you will become closer and closer to that which you are striving to become. And along the way you will experience the most amazing ripple effects.

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

Do you ever doubt yourself? I know I do

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing about what it means to be a loving leader. You don’t have to formally work as a manager to be a leader – all of us can be leaders in making a difference in the lives of those around us.

Loving leadership is grounded in holding the value of every single person to the same level as your own self-worth, and intentionally striving to align every word, decision, and action with that recognition. When you show up with that intention, day in day out, moment by moment, remarkable things start to happen.

Last week Leslie Peters was kind enough to take an hour out of her busy week to talk with me about loving leadership. It was an inspiring discussion, and touched on a key point:

Your own self-worth is crucial. If you don’t unconditionally value and accept yourself, it will be almost impossible to value everyone else in this unconditional way.

I doubt myself greatly

I remember when I was a teenager I made it onto the Victorian Karate team. I’d had been training since I was 11, and lost pretty much every bout in every tournament I entered. But then when I was 14, something clicked and I started winning.

Before I knew it I found myself competing in the Victorian championships, and in what seemed like a miracle to me, I qualified for the Victorian team.

The train trip to Adelaide with the team was exhilarating. Like a dream come true. But when I arrived and saw all of these people wearing their state team tracksuits from all the different states in Australia, I had a heart sinking realization – “I’m here with the best karate fighters from all over Australia”. I felt unworthy, out of place, and extremely nervous.

The morning of the tournament I was in the bathroom, bringing up what was left of the small amount of breakfast I could stomach. I was feeling the pressure. I was trying to put on a brave face, but inside I was a wreck.

Finally it came to my division. 14 year old boys onto the mat. I walked out for my first bout. 2 minutes later I walked off the mat beaten. My heart aching, as I felt that I’d let everyone down. One of the coaches came up to me and I tried to speak. But only tears came out.

What got me through

Coming out of that experience, I could have decided to give up karate. I felt completely unworthy, and this was even more solidified in my mind after the failure.

But I didn’t give up.

Why?

It wasn’t because someone told me I was awesome and that I could do anything.

It wasn’t because I suddenly let go of any doubt about my abilities.

It was because someone told me I was unconditionally loved. It was because someone said to me that they would be there for me no matter what. Whether I succeeded or failed.

And I believed them.

I have my parents to thank for my persistence with karate. In the following years I had many karate successes and failures, but the failures never stung like that first nationals in Adelaide.

Self-worth is not the opposite of self-doubt

An important lesson I’ve learned in life is that self-worth is not the opposite of self-doubt.

Self-worth means that you recognize the inherent precious value that you have as a person. No matter what weaknesses you have, no matter what failures you’ve experienced, no matter what regrets you have chalked up, you are special and important and valued. Just for being you. A unique living masterpiece.

Self-doubt means that you have a sober awareness of your abilities and your limitations. It is a recognition that you may not always be right. Self-doubt keeps you safe from the trap of over-confidence, and in its right measure assists massively in being a successful leader.

If you combine self-doubt with a low self-worth, it is debilitating.

But if you combine self-doubt with an unconditionally high self-worth, then it inspiringly powerful.

How do you find true self-worth?

In my karate story, I had too much of my self-worth tied up in my achievements. If I was successful, I felt worthy. If I failed, I felt unworthy.

Trying to find self-worth by aiming to become better and better is a perilous path. Sure it may be the catalyst for amazing effort and achievement, but in the long run it leads to destruction. A never-satisfied thirst for the next achievement that often leaves lots of casualties in its wake as others are cast aside who don’t make the grade.

True self-worth comes from being loved. Being unconditionally loved. A toddler doesn’t get their self-worth from anything inside themselves. They get it from the unconditional love of their parents. And this foundation of unconditional love can support an even greater level of effort and achievement than without, as we dare to be even bolder with a safety net that will always catch us.

Losing in the first round of that first national tournament was in my mind the biggest failure in my life to that point. It was the unconditional love shown to me after that failure, after I felt I had let everyone down, that gave me the self-worth needed to continue on.

I’m grateful that I doubt myself

I still doubt myself to this day. I doubt my ability as a leader. I doubt my ability to write this article smoothly. I doubt that I am capable of staying afloat amidst all of the complexities and pressures of my life.

But I am grateful for these doubts. They keep me humble. They help me seek out, listen to, and rely on the help of others.

Most of all they remind me that even though there are many things about myself that I doubt, there is one thing that I can completely trust in and rely on no matter what. And that is love.

Trusting in love

It may sound strange to hear me say that I completely trust in love. But it is true.

There are two things that my life journey and leadership journey have taught me without doubt.

The first is that I am loved. I am unconditionally loved. I can fail in every way that it is possible to fail, but I will still be loved. I could write endlessly about all the different ways that I know I am loved, but this blog post is not the place. One thing I will say is that you would see the unconditional love and support of my wife and kids at the top of the list.

The second is that love can be relied on. No matter what situation you are in, no matter how complex or challenging, if you truly value those around you, engage them, listen to them, trust them, encourage them, then remarkable things happen. Every single success in my leadership career can be tied back to amazing things achieved by the special people around me. My job is to love those people and to help set up an atmosphere and environment where they can thrive.

My confidence as a leader does not come from self-confidence. It comes from confidence in the power of love. I know that if I open my heart and genuinely unconditionally love people, that the best things inside of me and inside of them will come out.

You are loved

The reason I am writing this blog today is to remind you that you are loved. You truly are. You are unique. You are special. You are exquisite. You have talents that if they were allowed to shine in their complete fullness would amaze all who beheld them. You have pure goodness inside of you, even the smallest glimpses of which deeply touch people. And no matter how much you have failed, no matter how many scars you carry, no matter how much you have been treated in a way that is the opposite of true love, no matter what your weaknesses and shortcomings, no matter what your self-doubts, there is nothing that can detract from your inherent priceless worth.

I don’t think we tell each other enough just how deeply and genuinely we value each other. And I am taking the risk of doing that this morning.

In the years of my life when I doubted my self-worth I could never have written this blog post. It is only from the foundation of having experienced being unconditionally loved that I have the confidence to write this today.

Tell someone today how much you value them

Is there someone in your life that could benefit from being reminded just how much you genuinely value them, for who they are, no matter what? If there is, then please reach out today to let them know that. We all need the reminder.

If you aren’t sure what to say, send them a link to this blog and tell them that you appreciate them with the fulness of the sentiment this blog conveys.

And remember, always remember, that your worth is beyond measure, and no matter how much you fail this will never change. By all means have healthy self-doubt and stay humble. But never doubt that you are loved. And never doubt the power of love.

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

Your leadership is defined by how you handle things going wrong

Imagine a period when everything is going exceptionally well. You and your team are exceeding all your objectives. Everything you try works out beautifully, as if the whole scenario were a perfectly written script designed to produce golden success at every turn. Everyone is on the same page and enthusiastically owns the mission. No mistakes, no confusion, no obstacles, just a smooth ride that is a joy to be a part of. You are all ahead of the game, there is nothing to fear, and every morning you leap out of bed for another uplifting day.

Leadership in this scenario would be a breeze. But this isn’t the reality of the world we live in.

If you are leading anything of significance then you will regularly run into many uncertainties, obstacles, and failures. And it is the way you deal with these situations, how you handle things going wrong, that truly defines your leadership.

Fear is the enemy

The single biggest thing that prevents or stifles a thriving team culture is fear. Fear tends to cause us to cling to our comfort zones and put up defensive barriers.

Love is the thing that drives away fear. The unconditional valuing of someone as a person regardless of any characteristic or circumstance.

When a culture has its foundation in love, then it is safe to fail. People start to come out of their comfort zones because they know that even if they make a mistake they are still going to be valued. Instead of being blamed, they know they will be supported and assisted to grow.

Fear can be instilled in a moment

Something I like to say about loving leadership is that it is built over a million moments. Even if you try and do the right big picture things as a leader, it is ultimately the collection of all the small moments that determine how people respond to you.

And it is the moments in which you deal with failure that are the most pivotal of all. Approach these moments the wrong way, and you’ll likely find people moving into a mode of self-preservation rather than inspiration and bold initiative.

I can’t emphasize enough how crucial it is for a loving leader to be aware of and intentional in how they deal with failure.

Cock-up or conspiracy?

Early in my career, a wise young leader that I learned a lot from said to me “Paul, when faced with cock-up or conspiracy, choose cock-up every time”. Something about his unexpected choice of words stuck with me (and these days when I look back I think that was his intention).

What he was saying, in his unique way, was that you should always give people the benefit of the doubt. That your starting point should always be to assume the best, and then to progressively seek to understand what actually happened in a situation.

Over the years as I’ve grown through my own leadership experiences, this principle has expanded into more detail and sits right at the heart of what it means to me to be a loving leader.

Empathetic discovery

The best phrase I have for how a loving leader deals with failure is empathetic discovery. The focus is on discovering and truly understanding the cause of the failure, while at the same time being attuned to the feelings of the people involved.

Empathetic discovery is characterized by this grid:

grid

The idea is that in any situation of failure you start at the top right. And then through conversations and building shared understanding, you explore into further reaches of the grid as required.

If you get ahead of yourself and jump towards the bottom left prematurely, you will likely end up hurting the person and leaving them feeling blamed. Whereas if you empathetically and honestly explore the grid step-by-step then you will likely get to a shared understanding of root causes without the demoralizing effect.

Using the grid

You can read the grid from top to bottom, just like the catch phrase of my mentor. For example, “when faced with execution problem or skill/ability shortfall, choose execution problem every time”. So rather than assuming that someone isn’t capable of a particular task, start with the assumption that they are capable but that something went wrong. Explore that together. If the exploration point towards a skillset gap, then you can start to honestly and empathetically discuss that at that time.

The grid can also work from right to left. For example, let’s say we are talking about an execution problem whereby a particular checklist activity didn’t get done before a product was published. Start by exploring the system issue. What could be improved in the system such that the chance of missing this activity is reduced? Could we automate the activity so that it doesn’t rely on someone having to remember to do that item?

From there, you can then take steps into the “person” column. You can get feedback from the person on what the sequence of events or circumstances were that lead to them missing the activity. What did they learn from this and what could they do next time to get a better result even if the system wasn’t improved?

The grid is designed in such a way that most fully honors the person. It facilitates you assuming the best to start with, and then progressively having the honest conversations to get to the root causes in an empathetic way.

It has to be real

The empathetic discovery grid won’t help you if you are just using it to figure out the right things to say at the right times. It will only be of assistance if you genuinely have suspended judgement and are truly open to explore. People will sense whether you have an open mind or not.

For example, a leader can say words that appear to be in the “misunderstanding” cell of the grid, but their tone, body language, and subsequent conversation convey a different message. A phrase like “Maybe I’m just reading the data wrong; you tell me” can be used in a rhetorical way that isn’t genuinely open to the possibility that there is a misunderstanding in how we are interpreting the result.

In my years as a leader I have countless examples where following this empathetic discovery approach has lead to insights and understandings that were completely different to what one might assume on the surface. If you are willing to truly listen to people and go through this process with them, they will build up a lot of trust in your leadership, and you will help them to learn and grow in a constructive way.

Be mindful

As you move into your day at work or at home, I’d like to encourage you to be mindful of how you approach the next situation where something hasn’t gone as expected. Try consciously suspending judgement, and use this empathetic discovery approach to explore the reality of what happened together. And through that process you might even discover something you weren’t expecting – a glimpse of some special quality in the person you hadn’t noticed or fully appreciated before.

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

 

Leaders – everything else is immaterial if you don’t have this one crucial thing

No matter what kind of leadership role you have, whether of a small team or a large organization, whether in a corporation or a charity, whether of a nation or of a family, there is a foundational truth that always applies:

It’s only through the aligned efforts of a team of people that your mission will be fulfilled. You can’t do it on your own.

The best possible result of your leadership is a situation where everyone involved is inspired, work impeccably together with honesty and goodwill, and bring to bear the fullness of their talents to own and ultimately fulfill the mission. People are showing up because they want to, not just because they have to, and are taking the risk to shine and achieve the special things that only inspired human beings can.

How do you lead in such a way that achieves this? What should you do, what should you say, how should you manage things?

The wrong question

“What do I need to do?” is the wrong question.

The real question is “who do I need to be?”

There are countless books and materials on all the different “doing” aspects of management and leadership. And while there are many excellent techniques that can be practiced, they will be immaterial in the long run if the foundation of your “being” is not rock solid.

The single most influential thing in your leadership is who you are – what you believe and the integrity with which those beliefs flow into your words, actions, and decisions.

Your motivation matters

Simon Sinek says in his Start With Why talk that people buy “why you do it” rather than “what you do”. The same pattern applies with leadership. People follow you because of why you do it rather than what you do.

And no matter how hard you try to present words and actions that are different to your actual motivation, people will never be convinced. Over time, in lots of subtle ways, and especially when the pressure is on, what is inside will come out.

All you need is love

It might sound like a cliché or a Beatles song, but the crucial foundation of inspiring leadership is love. Love is the thing that brings people together, that inspires, that imparts the courage to step out of our comfort zones.

If your being, if your “why”, is grounded in genuine love, then your leadership will have an empowering effect that will result in special things for the mission and for the people involved.

It must be real

You can’t pretend to love. Saying and doing the “right things” is no substitute for genuinely embodying love.

But I should be clear that the love I’m talking about is not what we think of as romantic love. You don’t “fall in” the kind of love I’m describing.

Instead, it is a willful decision. The best way I can explain it is that you hold the inherent value of every person in your team (and everyone else you interact with) to the same level as your own self worth, and strive to align every word, decision, and action with that recognition.

It is unconditional. You don’t need to have feelings of affection towards someone to decide to love them. Regardless of how well someone is performing, regardless of their background, regardless of their unique strengths and weaknesses, regardless of how the person treats you, you must strive to consistently honor their value as a person in all situations and at all times.

This isn’t to say that a loving leader is soft or avoids conflict. Genuine love is always honest, not just recognizing great efforts and achievements when they happen, but also highlighting and addressing poor performance too. But even when dealing with really hard situations when someone has done something wrong, a loving leader never diminishes the inherent worth of the person.

Not easy, but worth it

Genuinely striving to be a loving leader is not easy, but it is absolutely worth it.

The reason it’s hard is because it means striving to embody genuine love for all people you are dealing with, in all moments, no matter how tired you are, no matter how much pressure you are under, no matter how people are treating you, no matter what frustrations may arise in you, no matter what your own doubts, fears, and weaknesses are.

When you genuinely love someone, recognizing their innate worth despite any limitations or weaknesses, believing that they are special with unique talents, trusting them and giving them room to shine, and forgiving them when they stumble or fall, then truly remarkable things happen. People rise up, amazing results are achieved, lives are touched.

Over the last 20+ years I have been leading the same team in the same company. This journey has been far from static, as we have grown from an Australian technology start-up to a large distributed team at the heart of a flourishing multi-national tech company. I feel deeply privileged to have worked with so many talented people who have found a way to navigate such a wide array of challenges and opportunities.

By far the most important focus I have had in that time is to try and foster a culture that is grounded in unconditional love. Even though I am far from the perfect leader and have much room to continue to grow, I am continually amazed at the ripples that flow from striving to embody genuine love. I’ve seen people accomplish remarkable things, I’ve had people say that their life has been changed through working in the team, and I’ve witnessed the powerful ways that people have grown and transformed over the years.

The joyful rewards that come from embodying loving leadership are beyond my ability to describe.

Love your team

I have a deep desire, you could say a personal mission, to spread loving leadership in the world. The more leaders we have that ground their leadership in unconditional love, the more the world around us changes for the better.

There is nowhere near enough room in this post to unpack and explore in depth what loving leadership is, how to be a loving leader, and how loving leadership plays out in practice in the countess situations we find ourselves in. But this is something that I am committed to do.

In the coming months I will be doing regular Love Your Team posts, each touching on a particular aspect. In Q2 I’ll be releasing a book that provides a comprehensive model of loving leadership and how you can become this kind of leader. And then in conjunction with the book I’ll be launching an aspirational goal that is the biggest thing by far that I’ve ever contemplated pursuing. But more on that later…

If you are curious, if the concept of loving leadership resonates with you, then please follow along. And if you know any leaders, friends, or colleagues that you think this material may have interest or benefit for, then please send to them too.

One thing to do tomorrow

I’ll leave you with a simple thing you can do tomorrow. In the next meeting or interaction you have with people in your team (or in your family or in any other context in your life), intentionally behold those people the way that you would behold the person most special to you in this world. Remind yourself that these people have unlimited potential, that their thoughts, perspectives, and feelings are as precious as pure gold. And then try and align every little thing that you say and do in that meeting with this glorious recognition.

Listen, trust, encourage, empower. And then pay attention to the inspiring things that start to happen.

Cheers,
Paul.

Love Your Team

The one crucial thing to do when having a hard conversation (yet is often overlooked)

As leaders there are times we need to have hard conversations with people. When behaviors or results are not what they should be it is our duty to address the situation. And as much as we may prefer not to give someone feedback they might not want to hear, we need to have the courage to do this.

The preparation for this kind of hard conversation often involves a lot of thought and planning. What are the specific behaviors or results that are falling short of the mark? How can the feedback be delivered in a way that the person will understand and take onboard? What are the different ways the conversation could play out – what if the person objects to the feedback? What things should and shouldn’t be said in the conversation?

While some of this pre-thinking is good, there is a risk that the whole focus of the meeting can actually end up being centered on me. The leader who enters the meeting thinking “how can I make sure I say and do the right things so that there is no risk that I give the wrong message” is starting off on the wrong foot. They are starting on a foundation of fear and with a focus on self.

True leadership on the other hand is built on the foundation of love, not of fear. True leadership puts the other person at the center, not the self.

So if you you are going to have a hard conversation with someone, and you want to do it on the right foundation, then what is the most important thing to do in that meeting?

One word – “listen”.

There are a couple of reasons why listening is your number 1 priority in that kind of meeting.

Firstly, you don’t know the root cause of the end behaviors or results you are seeing. You can try and speculate, but you really don’t know for sure. The only way to get to the bottom of what is actually happening is to genuinely and intently listen.

Secondly, when you truly value someone, listening is the natural thing that flows. Listening is an act of conveying the worth you see in someone. You truly value them, and so you offer your time to listen and understand them.

We can spend lots of time planning and preparing to try and have the perfect hard conversation. Or we can simply prepare the clear set of observations we have, and then enter into a conversation where love for the person and listening are at the core.

If you approach hard conversations in this way, then the two of you together will find the right path forward. You may find that the person themselves volunteers to talk about the challenges before you even raise them. You may find unexpected factors and explanations for what you have been observing. You may find areas that someone needs help, and it opens the opportunity for you to help them. You may find someone thank you for helping them see something that had been a blind spot until now, but now they can start to act on it.

If you start from the foundation of love, these kind of “hard conversations” turn out to not be as hard as they seem that they will be. And in my experience they can be some of the most uplifting and transformational conversations that you can have.

As true leaders let us have the courage give our people honest feedback, and to truly value them and listen to them in the process.

Cheers,
Paul.

http://LoveYourTeam.org

 

 

The special gift every leader can give

Whether you are a leader of a team, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker, there is a special gift that you can always give to those around you. And that is being present.

This is something my kids constantly teach me. They have a way of living in the present moment that us adults seem to have long forgotten. They see details that we overlook. They let the past and future fade away and live as if the current moment was all there is. They experience and exude a joy that uplifts all who come into contact with them.

As leaders, let us humble ourselves and learn from these children. When we truly enter into the present as a child does, we are able to most fully lead our teams. When we are present we see people, we listen, we encourage, we uplift. When we are present we can find joy in our work, even in the challenging situations. And like children we can positively impact those around us.

As leaders our job is to foster an atmosphere where the wonderful people in our teams can thrive. When we head into the office on Monday, let us remember to be present like children, and build that special atmosphere.

Cheers,
Paul.
http://LoveYourTeam.org

Lead like The Martian

Last night my wife and I went to see The Martian at the cinemas. I thought it was a very cool movie, and it kept me captivated the whole way through.

I won’t spoil the movie, but essentially it is the story of an astronaut who is left behind and stranded on Mars, and his journey to survive and try and find a way home.

The thing I loved the most about the movie was the sense of humour and the resolve of the main character (Mark Watney) stranded on Mars. Here is a guy in such a seemingly hopeless situation, and yet he has such spirit and vibrancy. In the midst of desolate landscape and circumstances, he radiates life.

As a leader you will likely not end up in such a perilous situation as Mark Watney. But we do all find ourselves in significantly challenging situations from time to time. We don’t seek these situations (we would rather not get stranded on Mars!), but when we find ourselves in them the way we respond is crucial.

There are many ways to respond when the chips are down. We can run away, we can give up, we can move forward with resentment, we can move forward with fear. Or we can take the path that Mark Watney took – accepting the situation we are in, focusing on the things that we have influence over, and savouring the path we have given, finding joy even in the midst of adversity.

Early in my career I faced many pressures as I moved into leadership. A young green leader, with no idea what he was doing, feeling deeply the weight of responsibility, fearing failing and letting everyone down. I put on a brave front, but inside I was a mess. I would wake up at 3am with my stomach in knots, anxious about how I was going to handle all of the pressures of the day ahead. Hanging on for the small reprieve of the weekend, only to have the dread of the next week return as Sunday wound to a close.

In hindsight, I’m sure this constant stress was a huge contributor in my eventual 2 year struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

But many years later, things are so different. I do not wake in the night in fear, even though my responsibilities are far greater and more challenging than they were in those early years. I do not dread the start of the week, but am instead grateful for this amazing adventure of life with all its diverse experiences. I am able to find true joy, even in times of immense challenge and pressure. Maybe the reason I really loved The Martian was that I could relate to the spirit that the character conveyed.

One way that people try to deal with the pressures and stresses they face is to somehow detach, to think “at the end of the day it’s only a job”. But this doesn’t work. And if it does, you’re effectively saying that you don’t care and are happy to settle for things falling apart if it so happens. All of our responsibilities in life are important, and trying to avoid caring about them is not the answer.

So how do you find peace and joy, even in the midst of significant risk and struggle, while still caring about your responsibilities? There are two key parts to this – love and trust.

You must love your team, your product, your company, your job. This is an intentional thing and is not about what you feel. It is about constantly making the intentional decision to do the right thing by those you love. It takes discipline and dedication, and is especially important when you are tested with adverse circumstances.

And you must trust. We all trust in various things, some consciously, some unconsciously. We trust in people, in principles, in assumptions, in experiences. But all things we can trust in are not equal. To face highly challenging circumstances, and be able to thrive and find true joy in the midst of them without being sunk by stress and without letting go of care for your responsibility, your trust must be in something extremely strong, something that will not give way.

In my early stressful years, too much of my trust was placed on my own shoulders, and I could not bear the weight. If you’ve never consciously examined what your trust is in, then I strongly encourage you to explore this. It is key to being able to lead with true love in your heart, and being able to face adversity with the composure, focus, and good humour of The Martian.

My encouragement to you today at work is to look to the situation that is causing you the most stress, and to face that situation head on, with love in your heart. Go into the situation and try to find joy in it. Truly love the people in your team you are working with, and others in the business that you are interacting with and serving. And take a small step of starting to invest some trust in love itself — that people will thrive and deliver at their highest potential when they are truly loved and appreciated.

I’d be delighted to hear your story of how your day went, in the comments below.

Cheers,
Paul.
http://LoveYourTeam.org

The little things count in leadership

I sit here tonight with my back strapped after a minor disc injury. With my restricted movement, I’m reminded of my recovery from an ACL knee reconstruction many years ago.

The day after my operation, the quadriceps muscle on my left leg had shrunk to half the size of the right one. It was going to take months of rehab to build it back up. My rehab on the first day involved tensing my quad muscle for 5 seconds at a time, doing 10 repetitions.

I remember looking at my atrophied muscle, barely moving when I tried to tense it, and feeling a sense of despair. It seemed like it was such a long journey ahead to recover my leg, and the leg tensing exercises seemed almost pointless. But then I was struck with a deep clarity — the next rep of tensing my leg was the most important step in my recovery. If I did not do the next rep, my quad muscle would not be restored. What moments before seemed like a tiny insignificant thing suddenly became the most important thing I could do.

I also realized that I had no real control over the recovery of my leg. I couldn’t force the new ACL graft in my knee to knit into the bones and hold my knee together. I wasn’t in charge of the way my muscle grew and repaired. I didn’t design the remarkable healing process of my body. All I could control was what I did in the current moment – to do the right thing and do the next rep, or to let it slide.

Growing a healthy thriving culture in a team works the same way. You can’t force a team to have a tight-knit culture. You aren’t in charge of the way the team grows together. All you can control is how you approach the current moment, and let the ripples take care of themselves.

How you approach the little day to day moments is critically important.

You might be brilliant at strategy, but if you don’t give the people you interact with your full attention and appreciation you won’t have a team of people committed to executing on your strategy. You might be impeccable at organization and execution, but if you don’t truly respect and honour your people in all your dealings with them then over time your team will dissolve. You might have deep understanding of the needs of your customers, but if you don’t have true care for your team in all of your decisions then your customers will not be cared for either.

The way you handle the little day to day moments is especially important when you are under lots of pressure. It’s easy to do the right things when everything is going well, but when the heat is on is when you are really tested.

I believe that nomatter how hard or intense the situation, the following should never be compromised: true respect for every person, complete honesty, compassion and forgiveness for mistakes, wanting and acting for the best for each person, and seeing the good in people. Every thought, word, and action should be grounded in goodwill and care for those in your team, your company, and those your company serves.

All of this is only possible by aligning your heart with genuine love. It’s what is inside that counts. You can’t fake loving your team or manufacture it through external actions — what is on the inside will always come out, over time, and under pressure.

To grow in your love for your team, it is something you need to intentionally focus on. You have to approach all of the little moments with awareness, and make a decision about whether you are going to turn to and act in love, or not.

When you put love first, so many wonderful things will flow. So many gifts will be given to you and your team. Why not see for yourself, and give the Love Your Team Challenge a go?

Cheers,
Paul.

Does gratitude make a difference? And is it different to a “positive attitude”?

As a leader, is being grateful important? Does it have any bearing on your team or your results?

As I woke in the still quiet hours of this morning, I was reflecting on this topic.

I have many things I am grateful for – my health, my wife Cathy, my beautiful daughters, my parents and extended family, an amazing team, a wonderful new office building, a great company to work for, recent connections I’ve made with people. As I continued remembering things I am grateful for, the list turned to things that may seem surprising: people in my team who strongly challenge me, various pressures I’m juggling at the moment, a two year battle with chronic fatigue syndrome that I had many years ago.

As I lay quietly, with one arm around my eldest daughter who had come into bed with me and was lovingly snuggled into me, I felt deep and genuine gratitude for all of these things, even the ones that on the surface might seem unpleasant.

What struck me was the clear difference between genuine gratitude and trying to have a “positive attitude”. You will often hear people say that in times of challenge, and in fact at all times, that having a positive attitude is one of the most important things. What they are actually saying is to ignore anything negative and just think about positive things. Even though things may be falling apart, if you just force your attitude to be positive and look at the positive things, everything will be fine.

But this doesn’t work.

In my years leading up to the chronic fatigue syndrome, I used to get intensely stressed at work. I would wake up in the middle of the night with my stomach in knots, anxious about how I would meet all of my responsibilities. I would fear all of the issues and challenges we were facing, fear that my team were challenging me and maybe not aligned with where I thought we needed to go. I put on a brave face, and constantly tried to keep a positive attitude, all the time wishing that these challenges would go away. But over time the weight of the difference between inner and outer got too much. I found myself in a 2 year battle with chronic fatigue syndrome and had completely lost my health and vitality.

Gratitude, on the other hand, doesn’t ignore or run from the things that seem negative or inspire fear. True gratitude has the courage to look things that seem scary right in the eyes, and sees what really is there. This honest facing up to those things almost always highlights some kind of unexpected provision (which often becomes more evident with highsight), and without exception finds hope. Through this, you end up with a positive attitude, but it is one that is genuine and found amidst your challenges, rather than one that is superficial and tries to ignore/avoid challenges.

I might want to wish that my team didn’t strongly challenge me, but then I would miss the invaluable wisdom and protection they provide me from making foolish mistakes. I might want to wish that the pressures I am currently under were not there, but then I would miss the development of my character in particular dimensions that would otherwise be stagnant. I might want to wish I never had to go though chronic fatigue syndrome, but then I may have missed out on discovering how much of a gift life truly is. And in every situation, clinging to a wish that the challenges were not there impedes being able to truly live in the present and truly be at peace.

Holding true gratitude in your heart is one of the most tangible ways as a leader that you can love your team. Loving your team starts on the inside, and gratitude is a key part of genuine love. To fully appreciate, honour, and encourage the people in your team, you need to be genuinely grateful for them, even when they challenge you or make mistakes. Trying to force a positive attitude on the surface will not work.

When you find this true gratitude, many ripples will flow, and it will have a healthy bearing on your culture, your team, and your results.

What are you grateful for today?

Cheers,
Paul.

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