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Core Principles of Leadership Development

Brian Smith

 
 

Leadership development is personal development, done in a public setting. There are countless books, trainings, workshops, and even college courses that purport to teach leadership. These courses seldom actually take the participants through anything related to leadership development. Rather, they address management training, which is a skill that can be learned. Yet, if such training was truly effective, institutions such as Harvard and Stanford should be consistently churning out incredible leaders. Clearly, this is not the case.  

Three principles that drive leadership development are:

  1. Great leaders empower others

  2. Great leaders don’t play the role of a leader

  3. One cannot distinguish between great leaders and great people

None of these are new ideas. In fact, none of them are essentially mine. These are time-tested ideas that have served great leaders for millennia. In the 6th century BC, Lao Tzu laid out these principles in the Tao Te Ching:

The highest type of ruler is one of whose existence the people are barely aware.
Next comes one whom they love and praise.
Next comes one whom they fear.
Next comes one whom they despise and defy.
[…]
When his task is accomplished and things have been completed,
All the people say, "We ourselves have achieved it!"

Both leaders and organizations thrive through service, not profit. Rabindranath Tagore teaches this succinctly in his beautiful poem which reminds us that action in the service of others will give us that which we seek:

I dreamt and slept that life is joy
I awoke and saw that life is service
I acted and, behold, service is joy

All of these are principles that, when applied by any individual, will improve their ability to lead. Over time, as they live their life in accordance with these principles, they will find that the people around them look to them as a leader. Leadership doesn’t require a C-level position, ownership of a company, or a defined set of followers of any sort. Leadership is a characteristic that can be developed through deep, personal work. If someone must stand on a stage to tell you that they are a leader; a leader they are not.

A great example of this principle can be seen on the show VEEP on HBO. The humor in the show is that there is not a single leader in the entire show. The politicians in the show hold power, but they are not themselves leaders. As power shifts throughout the show, so does the loyalties of the political staffers. The only loyal employees are portrayed as having deeply flawed psyches. The show is a stark reminder that simply because you hold a position of power does not mean that you possess any leadership abilities whatsoever.

Businesses are often no different than the political catastrophe portrayed in Veep. Simply starting a business does convey any meaningful leadership ability. Likewise, proficiency in business functions does not translate to leadership ability. Don’t mistake longevity in a role with leadership ability either.

True leadership isn’t displayed by standing on a stage, commanding those in front of you to do your bidding. True leadership is sitting amongst the members of the crowd, engaging with them as a peer, and through your conduct and your example, guiding them in how to make decisions for themselves that best serve the group. When your work is done, as the Tao says, the people you’ve lead will say “we ourselves have achieved it!”

The biggest hurdle that most people encounter on their journey to this zenith of leadership is their own perceptions of what a leader should look like. We’re accustomed to seeing leaders celebrated. We see presidents, prime ministers, and monarchs on a stage, cheered on by the fawning masses. We watch shows like The Apprentice and Shark Tank that lead us to believe that leadership involves control of resources or money. We’re taught at a young age to respect the position someone holds, such as a teacher or principal, without consideration of the worthiness of the person holding that role. This, however, is power and position; not leadership.

To become a truly intentional and conscious leader we must relieve ourselves of the notion that we are a leader simply because we hold either power or position. Often the emperor has no clothes. Being a founder, CEO, or owner, doesn’t mean you’ve got any leadership ability. It means that you wield some degree of power.

Leadership development is hard work. It involves letting go of the image you hold of a leader and, instead, working on becoming the best human that you can possibly become. Leaders first and foremost connect with other humans. They stand with others, rather than stand out from them. A leader is humble. A leader is in touch with oneself, one’s own feelings, one’s own needs, one’s own strengths, and especially one’s own weaknesses. A leader understands that their greatest asset is the ability to communicate with others and that it’s a leader’s responsibility to ensure that others correctly interpret their message. For this reason, leaders work tirelessly to improve their communication with others.

The question then remains, how can someone transform themselves into a leader? Where does one acquire the deeply personal alignment that predicates a commanding and holistic leadership? The answer is not skills training, or management school. An MBA, assuredly, does not guide one to leadership. The stark truth is that one requires challenge, introspection, and personal alignment of one’s true, inner landscape in order to effectively transform into a truly effective leader.  These are not skills taught to us in school or in workshops. The intensity of challenge required to accelerate one’s growth into a true leader is a journey that most of us are either unable or unwilling to complete on our own. Transformational work & leadership growth can be greatly accelerated through truly deep, personal work, guided by a professional.

This is what guided me to become a coach.  After watching countless people in positions of power and authority lack the moral fortitude of even a shred of leadership, I began to realize that we were facing a crisis. Can a company, or community, or world function without genuine leadership; or can they function when those who hold powerful titles lack the core skills of being a leader? It is since then that I have dedicated myself and my life to working with high performers to transform their core skill and power into truly aligned leadership.

Each person who is set to make a meaningful & lasting positive impact in the world must forego the brute force of power and step up to the challenging journey of transforming oneself into a leader.  This will come, not through courses or seminars or even an expensive education. Leadership will only come through personal transformation and direct deep work.


Leadership development is the core of the work I do with my clients. Are you ready to take your leadership to the next level? Are you ready for the challenging growth and skills necessary to be a truly conscious and generative leader? Contact me and let’s have a discussion about how leadership and personal development can change your life, your organization, and the world, today.

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Establishing Authority Through Boundaries

Brian Smith

 
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Founders, entrepreneurs, and high performers naturally resist boundaries. We resist them because it’s our nature to challenge obstacles - and we often make the mistake of treating boundaries as obstacles rather than tools. One of the last things we consider is creating boundaries for ourselves. This is entirely understandable, but a poor response to the challenges we’re facing.

Creating boundaries is one of the most effective interventions my clients consistently employ. The establishment of clear boundaries can create a dramatic and swift change in nearly any area of your life.

How do boundaries create authority?

Boundaries give us a type of “rules of engagement.” For example, inside your home you can make and enforce any rules you want, like asking everyone who enters to remove their shoes. However, if you walk to the local park and demand that everyone remove their shoes, you may end up in an asylum. Why? Your authority to make rules ends at the walls of your home. Outside of your home, your authority quickly diminishes. It’s the boundaries (walls) that create authority.

The most common place where I see lack of boundaries creating problems for entrepreneurs is their own job description. Most entrepreneurs have a job description for everyone but themselves. Everyone but the entrepreneur knows exactly what they have to do in a given day and they have the de facto ability to say “no” to any task that falls outside of their job description. The entrepreneur without a job description is the only one left without the authority to say “no.” These entrepreneurs are left picking up all of the little tasks that fall through the cracks. Whether it’s running payroll, answering the phone when the receptionist is on break, or taking out the trash, the entrepreneur without a job description becomes “human duct tape,” picking up odd jobs to hold the company together. I’ve heard myriad excuses from founders in an attempt to validate their decision to not write a job description or to pick up these odd jobs, but they are all simply excuses. This structure benefits no one.

Writing a job description for the entrepreneur empowers the entrepreneur to say “no” to these tasks and, importantly, accurately assess what tasks are not currently being covered by another person on their team. It’s the entrepreneur’s job to build an organization that solves problems - not to act as human duct tape and solve the problems herself. An accurate job description creates boundaries for you so that you can stay focused on your mission (building an organization) and hand off all tasks that don’t directly support that mission.

Boundaries that serve a purpose

Your only limits in creating boundaries is your creativity and your mindset. Begin by considering what type of authority will best serve you, then work to create boundaries that support the establishment of that type of authority. Here are a few examples my clients and I have effectively used:

Meetings:

Meetings often fail to be productive or, worse, turn into conflicts when those present don’t have clearly defined roles and reasons for their presence at a meeting. Ensure that everyone who shows up to a meeting has a reason to be there. Every person in the meeting should be responsible for a specific business function, process, or objective. No one is there to observe. Empowering everyone to be responsible for a specific area within the business ensures that all important business functions are being considered. It also ensures that conflicts are much easier to handle. Each person at the meeting is responsible for advocating for the particular position that they are there to represent. If the person responsible for budget has a strong opinion about a marketing effort, it’s their responsibility to argue their point from the perspective of budget and what impact the marketing effort will have on the budget they oversee.

Relationships:

There’s no universally accepted definition of what a mother, father, husband, or wife is. We all have developed those understandings over the course of our lives. The problem is, each of us has our own definition of these roles. Because of varying definitions, relationships often run into conflicts. A husband expects his partner to act in a certain way, in accordance with his understanding of how a wife “should” act. When his wife acts counter to this expectation, he feels hurt or upset, creating conflict within the relationship. To avoid these conflicts, partners can lay out their expectations for both their partners and themselves, creating a sort of “job description” for each other. This ensures that both partners are in agreement with respect to what is expected from them and what to expect from their partner.

Schedules:

Entrepreneurs are often overwhelmed by the demands of their work. They lose themselves in their work, neglecting their personal lives. I often speak to entrepreneurs who tell me that they don’t have a personal life and spend 12+ hours per day in their offices, yet they still don’t feel productive. I find these entrepreneurs have difficulty prioritizing their projects and commitments because they say “yes” far too easily. Unsurprisingly, these are the entrepreneurs who tend to be the most stressed.

The simplest and most effective intervention I’ve found for these entrepreneurs is to have them make regular personal commitments. These take the form of committing to meeting friends after work, signing up for exercise classes, joining a book club, or some combination of these. I call these simple and effective commitments “lynchpin interventions.” Simply having a commitment on their schedule that takes them out of the office forces them to more accurately assess their available time and commitments. Knowing that they’ve committed to an activity (and to themselves), gives them these entrepreneurs the authority to say “no” to low priority items and forces them to be more critical of how they spend their time at work.


I constantly work on authority and boundaries with my clients. Are you curious to learn more about how boundaries can create clarity and authority in your life? Contact me and let’s have a discussion about how these approaches can change your life.

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Procrastination and Victimhood

Brian Smith

 
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Last week, I shared the Drama Triangle with you. This week, we’re diving into one of the most common types of victimhood and self-sabotage that I regularly see with founders, entrepreneurs, and high-achievers: procrastination and busyness.

Busyness

Many of the clients I work with come to me on the verge of burnout from the sheer amount of activities and commitments they have on their plates.  Initially, most of these clients want help becoming more productive or better managing their time so that they can “get it all done.”

Procrastination

Some clients of mine present procrastination as a challenge they are trying to overcome. Often, their procrastination is masquerading as busyness (“I just don’t have enough time to get ahead”), but this is simply an excuse.

Inevitably, as we dig into their schedules and their to-do lists, we find that busyness or procrastination has become a crutch for them. When we view this through the lens of the Drama Triangle, we find something very interesting:

What the client thinks:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Busy schedule
Rescuer: Takes many forms

How the client talks:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Poor work quality, poor results, unhappy investors, etc.
Rescuer: Procrastination or Busyness

Wait, what? How can the problem act as the Rescuer? Simple: most of us treat these excuses as legitimate conditions or ways of being. We often accept them as a reality, rather than actively challenge them. The excuse of being too busy to give a project your full attention, or waiting until the very last moment to complete a task rescues us from having to face the reality: we didn’t do as good of a job as we believe we are capable of doing. What would have happened if you gave that project 100% of your focus and attention and it still didn’t turn out the way that you wanted? What would that mean about you?

Most of these challenges don’t magically appear once you begin building a company. Especially procrastination, and to a lesser extent busyness, appear early in many of our lives. Procrastination typically becomes very apparent in college. Let’s examine how it works with an example:

You’re in college and it’s the end of the year. Finals are coming up. You’ve got multiple projects and papers to do, so you don’t really know where to start. Not to mention, everyone will be leaving for summer break, so you want to spend time with your friends. So many competing commitments and desires! You put off studying until the day before your statistics test. You stay up all night, fueled by caffeine and Adderall, to cram for the test. You walk out of the test feeling pretty good about how you performed. A few weeks later when you get your grade, you got a B+. You think to yourself “damn, I did pretty well consider I only studied for this test the night before taking it!”

Everything in our lives serves a purpose, so what is procrastination is serving in this example? Procrastination and busyness both serve the same purpose: they save us from facing our true selves. By procrastinating, you don’t give 100% effort to a task or project. You’ve got a built-in excuse for not doing as well as you believe you could. And that’s the key: we want to believe that we’re capable of accomplishing much more, but we didn’t simply because we procrastinated.

The procrastinator is trying to avoid a situation where they put 100% effort into a project and still are met with less than optimal results. For example, if you were to study all semester for an exam and you still only got a B+, you’d be forced to face the fact that you may not be as good as you thought you were. While we all want to believe we’re A+ students, landing a B+ despite your best efforts can be hard to face.

The reality of procrastination and the Drama Triangle is:

Victim: Self
Persecutor: Fear of not being good enough
Rescuer: Procrastination

This is exactly why productivity tools, changes in habits, and task management systems almost never work to cure procrastination or an overly packed schedule. The issue isn’t in how the work is completed or scheduled. The underlying problem is the fear that you aren’t good enough. Sorry, but Asana & Trello can’t help you with that.

Overcoming procrastination is a process of challenging the way that you relate to perfection and failure. It requires the ability to face yourself head-on and recognize that you may not be as skilled or competent as you once thought you were. This type of personal growth not only improves your productivity but makes you a better leader. Being honest about your abilities and shortcomings instills trust in your leadership, but it helps you to build a more functional, cohesive, and well-rounded team.

Functional steps to Overcome Procrastination:

  • Admit to yourself (and others!) that procrastination or an overly packed to-do list isn’t a byproduct of your work habits or situation. It’s an excuse.

  • Pick a single project and put your focus entirely into that one project. Don’t allow yourself to switch between projects throughout the day or week. Work on one until it’s done.

  • Prioritize your projects and commitments. Don’t allow a lower priority to encroach upon a higher priority project.

  • Practice saying “no” to things that are not supporting your highest priority projects.

  • Work with a coach or a confidant who can help you to address feelings of inadequacy, impostor syndrome, or fear of not being good enough. This work can be powerful and the impacts of addressing these feelings can have far-reaching impacts in your life.

Ready to attack procrastination in your life? Contact me to schedule a time to discuss the impact coaching can have on your life.

(Image credit.)