Lead Me to Lead You by Michelle Kunz

Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders. — Tom Peters

I’ve got to follow them – I am their leader. – Alexandre Rollin

Barbara Kellerman of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government is on fire about followers. She believes that over-emphasizing leadership at the expense of overlooking those we lead can result in dramatic failure. Because there has been such huge growth in recent years in the leadership growth industry, she is now speaking out on behalf of followers, and has even written a book on the subject: Followership, released this weekend.

It is not only refreshing, it is important that such a book has been written, not only for followers, but for leaders. Learning to identify the kinds of followers we have on our team (Ms. Kellerman identifies five general types) can help us learn how to engage with them, listen to them, motivate them and ultimately learn which are the truly essential and trustworthy members of our teams.

As leaders, we would prefer that all our team members become essential, valuable players. But experience tells us that this is often not the case and we need to know how to manage the situation when faced with an employee who is simply punching a time clock or worse, subtly sabotaging our best efforts or those of other team members. We often spend far too much time trying to convert these people into raving fans, when perhaps that is not the model they are working from and all our energy and activity is for naught unless we figure that out before making big investments.

Learning from those we lead

Gathering feedback is one of many ways we can learn from those we lead. There are many good ways to do this and many fairly ineffective ways. High level leaders with very good intentions often miss the mark when trying to assess what is going on down in the trenches. Why? Because they don’t get down in the trenches to find out. Instead, they resort to impersonal surveys, assessments and other data gathering tools which aggregate information. This can be useful if we are looking for trends, but if we really want to know what people think, what they are doing, what they think should be done differently and so on, nothing beats face to face conversation on their turf.

Some of the greatest leaders in history were known and are known for their ability to get down and dirty with their followers. Not only does this promote a greater sense of loyalty because of the personal connections forged, it allows the leader the opportunity to walk in the followers’ shoes and experience things from their perspective. When we do this, the world shifts and so does our thinking. We become more open to new ideas, more accessible, more human, more fun, more real. And our ability to see what works over here and not over there, why these people need this and those people need that, why this particular person does it this way and that person does it that way increases dramatically.

Creating more leaders

The ability to empower those we lead so that there is no clear line of demarcation between us and them when we are working together on a project is the mark of a great leader. I’m not suggesting that we abdicate all decision making or responsibility. The more we engage with our teams in actual work, the more we understand what their lives are like, the more they come to know us and we them, and the greater the trust and loyalty we build between us. As a result, when they make suggestions, we are more likely to listen, and when we make requests, so are they.

By contrast, leaders who foster environments where decisions constantly need final approval, strict controls must be followed for the sake of control itself, and workers feel stymied by rules, culture, personalities, or chaos create greater hierarchical dependency (perhaps) but disempower their teams. This leads to greater turn-over, lower efficiency and efficacy, lower productivity and ultimately lower overall success for the organization.

As uncomfortable as it may make some leaders, it cannot be denied that in most cases a strict, hierarchical leadership model no longer makes sense for most organizations. Teaching, coaching, mentoring and leading others to lead themselves and others is ultimately more satisfying and more productive for all involved.

The characteristics of humility, honesty, authenticity, patience, integrity, trustworthiness and compassion, among others are critically important to this process. A great degree of self-awareness and desire for greater levels of conscious choice also largely determine the degree of success one can expect to attain when letting go and letting others lead.

Powerful leaders embrace the challenge. They willingly step into the shoes of the follower when appropriate, open to all that may be observed and shaped into future opportunity. The flexibility to move from leader to follower and back becomes a pleasurable stretch because with every new experience something new is brought forward for the benefit of all. Embrace your flexibility and find a new situation in which you can exercise that opportunity for growth.

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Excellence is Giving by Michelle Kunz

Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.
– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807 – 1882)


I have come to believe that giving and receiving are really the same.
Giving and receiving – not giving and taking.
— Joyce Grenfell

Perfection is taking.
Excellence is giving.

In the second quote, Joyce Grenfell makes an important distinction between receiving and taking. This distinction also gets to the heart of the important difference between perfection and excellence for the purpose of our discussion.

Tracing our steps, perfectionism begins when we become vested in our being right. We become entrenched in the status quo, defending it hotly and building great arguments against change. We gradually come to fear all that change represents as we continue to find every excuse why our way is the best way. This fear leads to anger and frustration when others cannot or will not conform to our ideas about the way things ought to be. As we tighten our grip on our perceived sense of order, we drive others to anger and frustration as they feel our rigidity cutting off their creativity and individuality. Finally, we apply our version of right and wrong to challenges we face and mire ourselves in the tyranny of judgment.

Given the fear-oriented, rigid position of the perfectionist’s view of the world, it is understandable that such a person might be tempted to adopt a “What’s in it for me?” attitude toward challenge, including change, risk and sacrifice. Fear encourages us to see the possibility of loss and/or failure, and as a result, we grasp at everything we have now and what little we see might be available to us in the near future. We want to get and keep a tight hold, in case it all disappears, because this is what we fear most.

The dynamic created by a grasping orientation is essentially one of taking. We reach out and bring to us anything within our reach, whether it is right for us or not. We do this because we are collecting all we can against the possibility of ultimate loss and/or failure. This stockpiling of successes and material goods is an empty endeavor in the end because one can never fill the hole that fear creates deep within.

How are giving and receiving the same?

When we shift our orientation to one of excellence, which is grounded in a willingness to be wrong, gives us confidence to take risks, empowers us and others to be spontaneous, and looks for ways in which to accept what is in the current moment context, we free ourselves to see possibilities instead of failure. This freedom results in an openness to generosity — in both directions. Rather than look for “What’s in it for me?” we begin to shift to “What’s in it for us?” or even the more empowering “What’s in it for you?”

This openness allows us to not only give freely, but also to receive without suspicion or guilt. When we are stuck in a “What’s in it for me?” mentality, it is easy to believe that everyone else is stuck there with us. When we move away to a more open, generous belief system, it doesn’t matter. We take people as they are and appreciate whatever we find because we are looking for possibilities.

Why is giving important in building powerful leadership?

When we begin to give freely and actively seek the advantage for the other person, a marvelous thing happens. Powerful leadership begins to take root. To quote BNI’s motto: “Givers Get.” What do they get? It’s hard to predict exactly, and true givers don’t try to manipulate the outcome. Some of what might come back includes:

  • Trust — people trust those who have their interests truly at the center of all they do
  • Admiration — people admire those who commit their energies to advancing the common good
  • Respect — people respect those who dedicate their time to helping others win
  • Wisdom — when we listen deeply to what others need we learn more about ourselves and the world around us
  • Humility — giving to others shines a mirror back on all that we have and helps us feel grateful
  • Authenticity — giving deeply of ourselves removes the filters we keep in place when we withhold, requiring our true selves to come into focus
  • Integrity — aligning our values with principles which do not change greatly simplifies the challenge of walking our talk

These are some of the qualities of a powerful leader. Truly great leaders aren’t always made. Sometimes they simply are. Allowing that to take place can be a much bigger challenge than acquiring an impressive resume or the accoutrements of success. Great leaders know how to let go and allow their best selves to brilliantly shine.

Perfection vs Excellence, Part I: Willing to Be Wrong by Michelle Kunz

If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward. — Thomas A. Edison

If you’re creative, if you can think independently, if you can articulate passion, if you can override the fear of being wrong, then your company needs you now more than it ever did. And now your company can no longer afford to pretend that isn’t the case.
– Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative

As a recovering perfectionist I was given a list of distinctions between perfection and excellence about a year ago. After reading Slow Leadership’s post on perfectionism, I thought it might be of value to my readers to explore the subtle differences brought to our awareness by the anonymous author in a series devoted to the topic.

Perfection is being right.
Excellence is willing to be wrong.

As in all things related to perfectionism, the idea starts out with the best of intentions. Isn’t it good to be right? We have all been through the academic system, and being right guarantees high test scores, perhaps entrance to the college of your dreams, nailing that interview. Some situations absolutely depend upon being right; a heart surgeon cannot fool around with being wrong, nor can an airline pilot or anyone else in whose hands we place our lives.

But for most of us, being right or wrong is rarely a matter of life and death, and it is here that perfectionism can begin to take hold and place us into a rigidity death grip from which all our creativity and freshness is squeezed if we do not exercise a high level of self awareness. Whenever being right becomes the most important thing and life/death is not at stake, we are stuck.

In their book Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control, authors Allan Mallinger and Jeannette DeWyze discuss some of the problems with a preoccupation with being right:

  • difficulty in making even relatively simple choices (what if I don’t get it right?)
  • relationship damage and erosion of trust (why can’t you get it right?)
  • procrastination (I have to get it right, so I need to get ready first)
  • worry and stress (did I get it right?)
  • black and white thinking (there is only one way to get it right)
  • score keeping (you against me or me against myself or general scorekeeping)

And the list goes on.

Sadly, many leaders are extremely caught up in getting things right. And for good reason. There is a lot at stake. They have people to answer to above them, and people looking to them for answers below. In all directions there are people watching and the pressure feels tremendous. No wonder we so very badly want to get it right.

So where is the value in being willing to be wrong?

The value lies in giving up control over things we have no control over to begin with. Control is a mighty word. It sounds like something we all should have and want more of. But when we look realistically at what we have control over, the truth is rather uncomfortable. What we have control over is what we choose to do and what we choose to think about: how we choose to respond to our emotional state, how we choose to respond to others, what we choose to do with any given moment in our lives, and what thoughts we choose to spend time and energy on.

Everything else is out of our direct control. So when we make a decision (something we have control over) and things don’t work out because the economy changed, the company did something differently than we had hoped, someone was out sick and we got behind schedule, someone quit, someone else didn’t get their work in on time, we were out sick, or maybe someone gave us incorrect data, we end up with a wrong decision, but none of the reasons were within our control.

Yes, we may have to answer to all the people looking to us for answers. Great leaders learn the art of admitting they were wrong with humility, dignity and grace. They learn how to move the energy forward in spite of being wrong. They know that being wrong means a chance to learn something that moves you one step closer to true creative genius.

Which is much, much better than simply getting it right.