Key Point: Taking deliberate action is a key element for effectively leading under the emotional heat of extremely stressful situations. As noted in a recent Harvard Business Review blog, acts of violence are not the only extreme situations that a leader may need to confront. HBR asked the following: If the unthinkable unfolds, “How can you practice leadership if you don’t know when or where you’ll be called to lead?”
The author asked Col. Casey Haskins, the former Director of Military Instruction at West Point, what his recommendations might be. His comments included:
“When we make decisions very quickly under stress, we don’t usually have access to a full understanding of the situation, and we don’t have access to all of our calm, rational resources.” He goes on to note: “Even if you don’t know the specifics, your odds are much better if you act than if you don’t.” Why? Because, “If you’re already acting, that by itself helps you remain calm.” And more…
“You have to train so that what you’re really practicing is staying calm, thinking quickly, and problem-solving. Deliberate thinking itself becomes a drilled, automatic response. Your decisions will still have a very high error rate — your error rate making decisions under stress is much higher than when you’re calm, rational, talking like we are right now — but that is still better than the error rate you’ll have if you do nothing.”
We need to PRACTICE staying calm, thinking deliberately, and critically taking action. By doing this, we will be practicing leadership. The key thing is to practice when we don’t think it counts. Practicing in “smaller” situations will prepare us for the moment the “big one comes.” And that big moment, which hopefully does not involve violence, will come to all of us. We need to be ready.
If we look for it, there are opportunities to practice taking deliberate action. It may be a stressful meeting, a traffic jam, a loved one needing emergency medical attention, etc. The key thing is to recognize that there is a space or gap between stimulus and response. (See my previous blog on utilizing the space). When we effectively use that space to measure our response, we are likely to make more deliberate and better action-based decisions.
Remember that taking action under stress is much better than paralysis and taking no action, (the proverbial “deer in headlights”). As Col. Haskins states above, if you’re already in motion, (but NOT panicking), that by itself contributes to being calmer and more deliberate. If we make the space noted above too big, we might become slow and stuck.
Practicing to take advantage of the “space” between stimulus and response, will also help you take into account others in your presence. The brave, beautiful, loving, teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School, practiced for a school lock down and as a result took deliberate action that saved many lives. And that is heroic leadership under the most extreme, and deadly stress.
Key Point: Japanese companies famous for quality and lean systems have this great management ethos about applying the FIVE ACTUALS. The essence of this leadership principle is that you need to go to where the work is actually being done to REALLY understand what’s going on. It is a simple and straightforward concept, but too many leaders get lost in meetings, emails and spread sheets. They embrace a different management principle: “Lost in translation.” Which leader are you? An “actual” leader or “distant” leader?
I heard a great story today about the President and CEO of the Canadian airline WestJet. The storyteller was on a flight from Toronto to Calgary. As the flight begins to take off, Gregg Saretsky (WestJet’s número uno boss), takes the audio system, introduces himself and welcomes all 130 passengers. During the flight he helps flight attendants serve the passengers, and even pick up all the trash. He then says hello to all the people on the plane. He thanks them and asks for any input on how WestJet can get better. He concludes the trip by hosting a contest for all the passengers. The person closest to guessing the weight of the airplane fully loaded wins a free trip to anywhere WestJet flies. Wow. When the passengers and entire flight crew landed, they exited as raving fans. So what was the benefit for the CEO? He captured all the learning from applying the five actuals. Like Saretsky, you can be an “actual” leader regardless of where you work and what role you have. If you aspire to actually becoming one, apply the following.
Actually get out of your office/cube, go down to the floor or where the work is being done, and talk to the employees there. It’s extremely important to do this and find where there’s waste, inefficiency and identify/encourage the people doing things well.
Actually observe the processes in action. Don’t listen to somebody else and have him or her tell you how processes are working. You really need to watch it yourself, because unfortunately in others transferring the message you’ll be surprised what gets lost in translation.
Actually engage the people doing the work. They’re the experts and know the answers if you ask them and genuinely listen.
Actually collect data on what’s going on with the processes. Observe what the situation is and what the problems are. Use the metrics as evidence.
Actually understand how value is being delivered from a customer point of view! Challenge the processes.
If you apply the above you will be actually in touch. When people working with or for us think we don’t actually know what is really going on, they lose faith and become less engaged. If you don’t know or care what’s actually going on, why should they care?
Just one wonderful thing about having a 5-year-old grandson is the opportunity to snuggle up with him in a big leather arm chair, and watch a “kids” movie (like Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax.) The iPad and iPhone are out of reach. It’s just him, Dr. Seuss and me. The Lorax has many messages worth reflecting on; greed, purpose, exploitation, the environment and much more. But I think the heart of the movie is prefaced by the adverb, “UNLESS.”
The challenge inspired by the word “unless” hits me on the noggin literally every day. While I never want to absolve others… Management, governments, or any other group from their obligations, things only become better for us because of what we do individually. And the root of much of what we decide to do stems from whether we really care or not. It is easy to wish for something but ultimately one has to really care to inspire action for change.
I recently watched Stanley McChrystal (four-star general, former Green Beret and top commander of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the U.S.,) present to a packed auditorium of Stanford MBAs. The message was about leadership and at the core was McChrystal’s view that leadership is not about talent or a gift. It’s about choice. It about caring and UNLESS you and I determine what to actually focus our efforts on, nothing really changes.
Watch The Lorax. If you can, watch it with a kid. Let yourself wonder what “seed you want to plant and grow.”
Give yourself some quiet time to reflect upon what you tell yourself and others when discussing what you really care about. Then check how much you have devoted to your “care.”
UNLESS you care… Really care… And choose to act, nothing will be better for you on that matter. Recognize that caring… Really caring… Is hard work.
And deeply caring and acting on something with conviction is true leadership.
Key Point: Perhaps the most over used term and least clear word in management speak today is “communication.” Of course everyone wants to be a great communicator. Leaders are challenged to be great communicators. And when you ask people what their communication framework or model is, they often look at you like, “I don’t even know what your talking about… You know, just be a good communicator.” The following guideline can really help us improve as effective, leadership driven communicators. People really listen to communication that is INTIMATE, INTERACTIVE, INCLUSIVE, and INTENTIONAL. Read on to learn more:
Be Intimate. Great conversation means finding a way to be personal and authentic. Even in large groups we can have a more personal discussion. Top-down pronouncements and being on transmit just isn’t very effective. Associates become good at taking mental vacations while sitting back looking at a monitor and/or watching us standing at a podium. We have to find ways of connecting personally. I would love to see organizations filled with real or metaphorical kitchen tables and a lot more old-fashioned “family dinner” settings.
Be Interactive. It is important to have a conversation WITH colleagues and not just at them. Face-to-face is the best. Yet even with all the work mobility, workplace variety, and employees scattered everywhere, interactive tools like Yammer or others allow for more open and interactive dialogue. Blogs and discussion forums need to be common discussion tools for all of us. We can be interactive at a distance.
Be Inclusive. The best way to engage others is to involve them in understanding and building the message. Everyone in the conversation has to work at it. In today’s world, informing does not necessarily mean that we’ve communicated. Dialogue means we are active with each other. How often do you see people sitting back, arms crossed while some executive is out in front trying to be profound, sweating and doing all the work as the transmitter? Everyone has to be involved in telling the company story and/or communicating the key message.
Be Intentional. What is the intended outcome of your conversation? Does everyone you’re communicating with know what the expected result is? How do you know? Make sure the agenda and outcome is clear. Sometimes the communicator thinks it’s obvious. That is often not the case. Verify the target audience gets the intention. Check in with them before, during and after the conversation.
Being on transmit and exclusive top-down communication is a telling process. It is not necessarily effective communication. Email is often a lousy surrogate for communicating and a long email string is rarely representative of a great conversation. It certainly is not using conversation and dialogue as part of the leadership system. So when you’re about to send that email and/or give that big speech and think you’ve communicated, you may want to test it against the framework of an organizational conversation and supplement it accordingly.
The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ... Read more about Lorne Rubis
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Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.
What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?
The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:
Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame. Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process. Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.