Servant Leadership: Character + Competence = Credibility

Servant Leadership

Character + Competence = Credibility

“Character without capacity usually means weakness in a leader, but capacity without character means danger,” says David Gergen. Servant Leadership development and character formation go hand-in-hand. Who a leader is is just as important as what a leader does.

Street Cred

When describing the core elements of how to persuade and influence others to a particular way of thinking, Aristotle said that effective leaders must possess three things: ethos (character), logos (logic) and pathos (emotion). Ethos was foundational to the other two qualities as it served as the “credibility-factor” of the speaker-leader.

The Ethos Factor

Today we call this the authenticity-factor, integrity, or trustworthiness. That’s why leadership is an inside job. It begins with the leader as a person and emanates outward. Today ethos still matters because some research suggests that 8 out of 10 people don’t trust leaders. Trust erosion has real consequences tethered to it. The challenges we face today are rooted not in economic, political, social or technological shortcomings, but ultimately in failures of leadership.

Both/And Leaders

Even Harvard Business School has made recent changes to its famous leader-building MBA curriculum. Harvard CMO Brian Kenny, said, “These changes are aimed to create leaders of competence and character, rather than just connections and credentials.” Being smart is not good enough. We need leaders who are smart and possess character.

Leadership Is Character In Action 

That’s why leadership and management are different. Both are vital to the success of an organization. Management is about doing (planning, budgeting, organizing). Leadership is about being (who we are and how we express our character). James Hunter said, “Character is our moral maturity and commitment to do the right thing regardless of personal costs. Character involves the will to respond to stimuli according to values and principles rather than to impulses, whims and urges.” Leadership is character in action.

Problem-Solving: Lessons From Pac-Man and Harry Houdini

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Lesson From Pac-Man

It was in the 1980s that the immensely popular video arcade game Pac- Man hit the market. Constantly being chased by his enemies Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde, Pac-Man tried to elude his captors while moving end­lessly through the maze eating pac-dots. His reward for successfully eating all of the pellets, was being promoted to the next level to start the process all over again!

Increase Our Value-Add

As leaders, when we get good at solving problems, our reward is that we get to handle bigger problems…and more of them. I’ve often thought that senior leaders could reduce their job description to a couple lines on their LinkedIn account, and one of those lines would be “solving problems all day long.” We increase our value-add to an organization or team when we become effective problem solvers.

Problems Are The Breakfast of Leaders

One distinction I want to make though is if we keep having the same problem year after year. Now that’s a problem! Sometimes I feel like Pac-Man, but instead of eating pac-dots, I encoun­ter an endless supply of reoccurring problems in my path (and hopefully not the same one). If Wheaties is the “breakfast of champions,” then as Henry Cloud says, “Problems are the breakfast of leaders.” And if problems are connected to adding value, and if problem solving is a part of the daily regimen of every growing leader, then learning how to become a creative problem-solver is a worthy goal to pursue. One of the ways to get better is to see problems correctly.

Drowning Versus Swimming In Deep Water

James Baldwin said, “We stand as witnesses that swimming in deep wa­ter and drowning are not the same thing.” Although that’s true, at times they can feel the same. I learned to swim as a kid at a neighborhood pool during summer break. I also learned to tread water by being thrown into the deep end and told to paddle and kick for two minutes! The lifeguard (that’s what he called himself) would slap your hands away from the side of the pool if you got tired and tried to rest on the ledge. I still remember those two long minutes. I thought I was going to drown. The good news is that I survived and learned two important lessons: (1) I can tread water better and longer than most people care to ever learn, and (2) There’s a dif­ference between swimming in high water versus water that actually takes you all the way under. This lesson applies outside the swimming pool as well. I know there are times that all of us have felt like the waters of life are going to wash over us, pull us down, and snuff us out. In those times, we must reframe our perspective. Don’t be afraid of problems or of making mistakes. Both are part of life.

Reframing Problems As Opportunities

Like most things in life, how we see something affects how we interact with it. Learning how to see problems through the correct lens is very helpful…and strategic. As we reframe problems into opportunities, we position ourselves, in a very real way, to not only ask the right questions, but to generate creative solutions that we never dreamed possible. Creative problem-solving is a skill-set that will be in high demand in the com­ing years as we operate in a workplace that is ever changing.

Most All Problems Are Solvable

One of the secrets regarding effective problem-solving is to never think that a problem can’t be solved. Sometimes when we can’t generate solutions to our problems, it could be because we haven’t found the right person to help us yet. It could be that we are too emotionally involved to see the problem objectively. It could be that we’ve made up our minds that this problem will not be solved. The danger in framing problems like this is that once our minds are locked and closed, even if something did open up, we’d miss it, because we weren’t looking for it.

Harry Houdini

I love the story of Harry Houdini, the great stunt performer, magician, and escape artist of the early 1900s. He was known as one of the greatest tricksters and lock-pickers of his day. He could crack his way out of any­thing. Once he accepted a challenge to pry his way out of a locked prison cell that was designed by one of the most notable security companies of the day. With the clock ticking, Houdini pulled out his tiny instruments and began picking away. Soon, he became frustrated. Finally, soaked in perspiration, Houdini declared, “This lock can’t be picked!” He quit. Ex­hausted, Houdini leaned up against the cell door, and surprisingly it swung open. They had tricked him! Houdini was actually put in a cell that was already open. He was set up. The cell was never locked. Houdini tried to open something that was already open. But because it was locked in Houdini’s mind, he couldn’t open it.

Opportunities In The Making

The same is true for us as well. When we lock things down inside, give up trying to solve something, and say it’s impossible even if it is open, we won’t see the open door because we’re not looking for it. Let me encourage you: define your problems accurately. See them as opportunities in the making. Even though the waves are high and at times, you feel like you are in over your head, you will not drown! You will make it over to the other side and sometimes the way over is through. Believe that your problem can be solved because believing often helps us see. It’s important not to “lock out your mind” and stop looking for answers that might not be that far from your reach. And for all you know, the door might already be open and just needs you to push against it in a new way.

Problems + Disruption = Opportunity

Increase From The Ox

Problems equal profit Chris MeadeOne of my favorite metaphors from the ancient agrarian world is encapsulated in the saying, “Without oxen a stall is clean, but great is the increase by the power of the ox.The sage explains a choice every farmer had to make (and we do too). If they wanted a full harvest, abundant fruitfulness, large profit, and a steady increase from the efforts of their hard-working ox, then they had to feed the ox and keep its stall clean. Those were the pros. The cons? Lots of poop had to be cleaned up each day out of the stall. The other option was to have a clean stall, with no poop to clean up, and no ox to worry about. This, of course, equates to little or no harvest (profit).

Fast forward to the 21st century and this principle is still relevant. We each have to make this same choice in our lives as business leaders. If we steward and solve problems well, we’ll receive its reward––increase. Or we can sign up for a life and a job with no problems and a clean stall, and we’ll receive the result of that option as well––little or no increase. It’s either door number one (ox, poop, and great increase) or door number two (no ox, no poop, no problems, and no increase). Becoming an effective creative problem-solver brings increase into our lives financially, personally, professionally, and relationally.

TGIF

The funny thing is that most people today don’t want any more problems on their plate. In fact, we often define our happiness factor based on how many problems we have or don’t have. The restaurant TGI Fridays’ slogan is “In Here, It’s Always Friday!” This international restaurant chain took its name from the expression TGIF (Thank God It’s Friday). TGI Fridays’ clever mantra has actually become part of popular culture, and it’s the goal for many Americans––living for the weekend to forget about their problems. Research has shown that people are happier on Friday than on any other day. More people suffer heart attacks on Monday than on any other day. Surveys indicate it’s because people are back at work and stressed out over their problems on Monday, and on Friday it’s all over for a few days.

Precursor to Opportunity

Part of the secret to creative problem solving begins first in how we view problems from the get go. If we want to be good at solving problems, and receiving the reward (increase from the ox), then we must view problems differently. Creative problem-solving first begins as an attitude. We must see problems as the precursor to opportunity.

Problems = Profit

Years ago, I started a service/sales business. The company also specialized in emergency fire and water damage restoration. Our normal day-to-day work brought in normal revenue. Good service, a talented sales force, efficient systems, hard work, and being really frugal were the bread-and-butter building blocks needed to turn a profit. But every now and then, insurance companies would call on us to help in an emergency disaster of some sort that involved fire or water damage. These jobs were incredible headaches. They added lots of complexity as well as many long hours to our daily work routines. But, it always paid very well. We could make a large profit in a relatively short amount of time. These large-scale jobs were a kind of love-hate opportunity for us.

Lesson From a Javelina

One time the phone rang in the middle of the night and we were called out to a school in the foothills. It was a beautiful new school with top-of-the-line furnishings, equipment, and décor. I drove to the school and met the principal out front. He told me a wild javelina had broken into the school in the middle of the night, and was trapped in his office. (A javelina is a large, wild boar-like animal with sharp tusks and teeth that is native to southern Arizona). The principal then dropped the bomb on me. “He pooped all throughout our offices and all over our furniture.” I went into the office with the principal after Animal Control removed the javelina. I was about knocked over from the most sickening smell you can imagine. Long story short, the principal wanted our company to thoroughly clean every piece of furniture, as well as conduct other restoration and decontamination processes in the their facility.Problems equal profit Chris Meade

“We focus on fire and water cleanup. We normally don’t do this kind of stuff. You should probably call someone else,” I told him. I thanked him and left. Later, he called back and said he couldn’t find anyone who was willing to do the job. He begged us and said he would pay whatever we wanted if we would just take on the job. We ended up saying yes. We bid the job high because of all the unknowns. We ended up making a very large profit from that one job. I learned that day that the bigger the problem, the bigger the potential profit. Javelina poop never smelled so good from that day on! Amazing what several thousand dollars can do to a person’s nose! If you want the increase from the ox (or the javelina in this case) you have to be willing to clean up the poop in the stall!

Reframing Problems as Opportunities In The Making

To be successful in life we must reframe our “TGIF worldview” to a lens that views problems as the precursor to opportunity, increase, fruitfulness, profit and mission fulfillment.  Forward-thinking leaders have trained their eyes to see the harvest and not just the poop in the stall! Having the right perspective is always a competitive advantage. Seeing problems as opportunities in the making is a timeless truth. The Chinese character for “crisis” is actually two words: danger plus opportunity. As leaders, managers and business professionals who live in a changing and competitive global economy, those two words describe our world pretty accurately. The right perspective is everything. Problems are connected to increase. The bigger the problem, the bigger the potential reward for solving it.

Problems = Profit

Let me ask you, are you facing some problems and disruption at work and in life that you have labeled as “poop in your stall” rather than a necessary precursor to future possibility? If so, let me encourage you: Don’t be afraid of the poop! It’s very possible that some of the problems and frustrations you are facing right now, if reframed as opportunities in the making, might very well be the first of a series of actions that will eventually bring about increase, breakthrough, innovation and mission fulfillment for you and your team in the near future. Remember: Most every realized opportunity first manifested itself in the form of a crisis, problem or challenge of some sort.

Overcoming The Pitfall of One-Dimensional Thinking

Getting Beyond The First Right Answer

Leaders who are open to new perspectives are often able to arrive at better and more complete solutions to the problems they encounter in life and work. Yes, the answers to some questions are black and white, yes and no, plain and simple. But for many other questions, quick fixes, memorized sound byte responses, and one-dimensional conclusions don’t always fix systemic and multi-layered issues and problems. Bottom line: Multi-dimensional problems can’t be solved long-term with one-dimensional solutions.

One-Dimensional thinking

As a kid, I remember when I thought I had the world of one-dimension­al mathematics figured out. Pat answers to my multiplication and division flash cards seemed manageable: memorize the sequence and regurgitate your answer, fast and painlessly. Then a teacher introduced me to the world of math word problems. She added a whole new dimension of complexity to my very small world.

Pyramd copyWhole Picture, Whole Solution

Life is more like a word problem than it is a flash card with an easy and predicable answer. Sometimes arriving at “the whole truth” about something is being able to look at something from a different angle. Many times a correct answer has more than one component or side to it. One of the benefits of a high-functioning team is that it helps us get beyond one-dimensional thinking and arriving at one-dimensional conclusions. Sometimes answers are multi-dimensional. They have several layers of complexity or sides to them. One side isn’t the “whole truth.” Like the distinct sides of a pyramid, truth, or what is correct, is sometimes all of the sides at once. It’s when we are able to step back and see the whole picture that a whole solution can be reached. Working in the context of community helps generate and sug­gest whole solutions.

Multi-Dimensional Challenges Need Multi-Dimensional Solutions

Wise people do their best to suspend making a final judgment about something or someone until they have the full story. Usually, the pieces don’t all show up at the same moment. As we work together as a team we are empowered to see multiple sides to an issue. It’s not that any one side is wrong; it’s just that it’s an incomplete picture. We need to be able to understand, hear, or see all of the sides in order to make our best and full decision. That’s why multi-dimensional problems can’t be solved long-term with one-dimensional solutions.

Arriving at the Whole Truth or Solution

As kids when we got in trouble as a pack of brothers, we were brought in one by one to tell our dad our side of the story. Each brother brought their own version and pleaded their case! Each brother’s story was usually different. Each of us told the truth according to our interpretation of the particular event. After my dad had heard all four sides of the story, he would then make a multi-dimensional decision, which usually meant that all four of us got a spanking! Each brother was partially right, and some more right than others, but all the brothers had an element of truth to their side. My dad needed to see the “complete picture” before he could discern the “whole truth.”

Multiple Voices and Diverse Perspectives

Not only is this principle dependable in resolving complex family issues, but it’s true in the world of business and leadership, too. If we focus on only one portion of the equation, we become lopsided and one-dimensional. The whole truth is all parts working in concert together. Much like that of a “pyramid” the answer is not one side, but rather all of the sides coming together as one complete object or picture. Truth copyToo often, we carve life up into discrete slices and categories and fail to see the situation in its completeness. Therefore, we arrive at incomplete solutions because our diagnosis was depth-less, cursory and one-dimensional. To be a leader that consistency arrives at the “whole truth” in our decision-making, we often will need to put ourselves around multiple voices and diverse perspectives. This experience will aid us in getting our heads around the different sides of the issues so we can discovery the best multi-dimensional solution.

Keeping An Openness Toward Others

The world is our school. Problems are our curriculum. People are our teachers. That’s why staying open to people aids us in generating valuable and multiple solutions to complex situations. If we stay closed off to others, we reduce life to a kind of one-dimensional existence, a life of “Me.” (That thought should actually scare us.) So let me ask you: Are you faced with a business, leadership or personal problem that actually is multi-dimensional, and you or others have unintentionally tried to solve it with a one-dimensional solution? If so, let me encourage you to step back and assess all the sides of the pyramid before generating a solution. Enlist some new sets of eyes to help you see. My hunch is that if you do, you’ll have a better right answer than when you started.

Leadership 101: Our Perspective Colors Everything

As Our Perspective Brightens, Our Effectiveness Broadens

Our perspective fuels our emotions and emotions fuel our actions. Success in work, life and leadership is first an inside job. Our internal perspectives and the way we see things affect everything about us. Like a row of dominos that fall when one is pushed over, our perspectives create a ripple effect that sets off a chain of emotions and actions in our lives. In this post I want us to look briefly at the power of our perspectives and how they can help to bring about exceptional life outcomes for each of us.

WhiteBoard Scribbles Chris MeadePerception Colors Everything

Our perceptions (real or perceived) affect everything about us. Everything will be affected either positively or nega­tively by the way we see things. Our perspectives color our world. If our perspective is clear and is trained to be able to see what’s good, then our lives have a propensity to lean in that direction. On the other hand, if we always see what is wrong, negative, and bad with every­thing, then our lives tip in that direction. Make no mistake, the domino effect will be seen, felt, and experienced by all; but it’s always our choice. How we view things has everything to do with the future direction that our lives will take.

Common Denominator of Success

Over the years I’ve noticed that one of the common ingredients that many successful people share, is a positive attitude and a healthy perspec­tive toward life. Their eyes are full of light. Men and women who have an excellent spirit about them possess an orientation that tilts toward optimism instead of criticism. domino effect chris meade They believe in possibility rather then unattainability. They choose the high road and strive to see the best in others, rather than de­scend onto the low road of criticism and complaining. They pitch their tents in the land of hope. This way of looking at life is a core ingredi­ent of most successful people. As our perspective brightens, our effectiveness broadens.

You Find In Life What You’re Looking For

One of the amazing truths of life is that we find what we are looking for. If we’re looking for what’s good, we’ll find it. If we are looking for what’s wrong about something or someone, we’ll find that, too. For example, there could be 100 things working right in a rela­tionship, with a job, or in yourself, but if we are always looking for what’s not good about some situation, we’ll always find it and miss the 99 other wonderful things that surround us. One proverb said it this way, “If we search for good, we will find good; but if we search for the bad, it will find us.” What we pay attention to draws us toward it because it focuses our minds in that direction. Our brains are actually created to operate this way.

What We Focus On Pull Us Toward It

I remember a while back, riding my bike down a steep and winding mountain hill. As I was rocketing down the highway, I had to concentrate so I didn’t crash into the side rail as I banked hard on a sharp turn near the bottom. I remember how I started to become mesmerized at one point by watching the side of the road so intensely. The more I focused on not coming too close to the guardrail, the more I felt myself actually drifting toward it. My brain wanted to go where I was focusing. It felt almost like a magnet was pulling me toward it. This is why when we’re first learning to play baseball, the coach always says, “Keep your eye on the ball.” Why? It’s because our body wants to follow our eyesight and align our body with our perception. What we focus on pulls us toward it.

Reticular Activating System

The reticular activating system (RAS) is an area of our brain that serves as a type of filter. The RAS determines what we notice and what we don’t notice. Most of the time our brain works overtime to help us tune out unimportant information so we don’t go crazy with data overload. At the same time, our RAS works like a laser-guided missile system in pursuit of a target. When we do decide to focus on what’s most important, our brains are hard-wired to go after it. We see what we are looking for.

Look For the Good Chris MeadeTarget: Ford Escort Wagons

Many years ago, my wife asked me if we could buy a new economical car. She told me this popular model was called a Ford Escort Wagon. I told her, “I’ve never heard of it.” Long story short, we ended up going down to the local Ford dealer and bought a brand new white one. As we drove it home, with three kids in the back seat, I was shocked. Everywhere I looked somebody was driving a Ford Escort Wagon. There were Ford Escorts ev­erywhere: white, blue, red, green, and silver! I couldn’t believe it. I told Mary, “We just bought the most popular car on the road!” Let me ask you a question. Do you really think all these Ford Escorts just appeared out of nowhere? Of course they didn’t. They were always there. I just didn’t notice them because my brain filtered them out because I was not looking for them. They were unimportant to me at that time. But once I was looking out for them, they jumped out from everywhere. Why? Because my RAS was awakened and locked onto its target: Ford Escort Wagons.

Focusing Your Brain’s Reticular Activating System

Many people who are successful in life and business understand this principle of being able to see and find what they are looking for. They do their best to channel their RAS to their advantage. These men and women know that “seeing” is the precursor to “doing.” So, they put a “seeing plan” together that identifies their target goal. This not only clarifies what they want and what they are looking for, but it awakens and focuses this unique part of their brain. When we set our focus on the achieving our goals, while understanding how our RAS works, we gain an advantage because we have now activated our minds to help resource us with added energy, high-definition clarity, and fully alive brainpower. What we choose to focus on will naturally pull us toward it. So choose wisely!

Iron Sharpeners: Team-Building in the New Economy

Team Building

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.

Developing your potential is important. It’s a foundational building block of success. Developing the best in someone else is even more impressive. But developing the potential and capacity of a team of people really raises the bar. It sets leaders apart in this new economy. Developing a team is a prized skill and makes a huge difference in the lives of others.

Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Team-builders or “Iron-Sharpeners,” as I like to call them, strive to win championships, not just games. They are convinced that they can be more, do more, and give more with the help of others. If they don’t have a formal team, then they forge outside alliances with others that can help them. They are convinced that the days of the go-it-alone, Marlboro-Man-solo-leader is over.

Iron-Sharpeners align and utilize the talents and strengths of others. They harness the power of unity out of diversity. They create team synergy through architecting a sense of genuine community and trust. At the same time, they’re focused and aligned in accomplishing a shared goal.

Better Together

Having the right perspective on the inside affects how you lead on the outside. Iron-Sharpeners are convinced that we are better together than we are alone or off in silos working and minding our own business.

There’s an old proverb that says, “Two people are better than one because they get more done by working together. If one person falls, another can reach out and help, but people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble…A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back to back and conquer, and three are even better for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”

The Three-Fold Cord

Working together as a team is likened to the collective strength of cords being braided together. Collectively, they are stronger when they are twisted and intertwined with each other. Not only are we better together, but we’re also made by our Creator to be in healthy community with other people. This includes our work life.

The Marlboro Man Mentality

Rugged Individualism Chris Meade LeadershipAlive.comThis idea of community and team is actually counter to what many people in our society think. Our culture applauds rugged individualism. And of course, there is something admirable about it. Our nation was founded with a pioneering and courageous spirit. We love old Western’s that glamorize the go-it-alone, tough cowboy. But we’ve all seen or heard of how something good in an extreme form can end up going south. Radical individualism that creates isolation in love, life, and work is unhealthy. We forget that even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. Choosing to go it alone, and taking the position that we don’t need anybody else is not necessarily a sign of confidence but of hubris, insecurity, and fear. Sometimes the Marlboro Man mentality works against us and can take us right over the cliffs.

Sharpening Your Blade

In my next post, I’ll explore some  practical ways we can sharpen one another, “like iron sharpens  iron,” by first looking at how the ancients actually sharpened knife blades. But for now, let me end with two questions to consider:

(1) Who are you sharpening? Remember, this is a prized skill-set to possess and it will set you a part in your organization as you help others grow.

(2) Who is sharpening you? All world class athletes have coaches. Who is your coach for this season and what is your training regimen and rhythm you have committed to? Why? Because what we pay attention to gets better.

Sharpening One Another Toward Greatness

Iron Sharpeners

Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. Ancient Proverb

Financially Alive Chris MeadeIron-Sharpeners are leaders and team-builders that align, utilize and sharpen the talents and strengths of others. They harness the power of unity out of diversity. They create team synergy through architecting a sense of genuine community and trust. At the same time, they’re focused and aligned in accomplishing a shared goal. Iron-Sharpeners bring out the best in others. There are many ways to do this.

Lessons From the Ancients

Here is my list of some practical ways we can “sharpen” one another, “like iron sharpens iron,” by first looking at how the ancients actually sharpened blades. We all know that a dull-edged blade can actually do more harm than good. When a blade is dull, it takes more force to use and it’s harder to control. All knives and bladed tools have a tendency to get dull with use over time. Edges wear off and chips occur. The ancient sharpening process of a sword, knife, or tool would usually include three steps:

  1. Pound out the iron
  2. Use an iron file or a piece of iron ore to rub out the defects and small chips on the side of the blade or tool
  3. Rub and polish the side of the blade in order to lift the edge so it will become as sharp as a (This is where the old expression, “He’s lost his edge” comes from.)

Keeping Your Edge

We all lose our edge just through the normal process of usage. We can all get rusty and become dull. Just like a knife or bladed tool needs friction to bring out its full potential, we too need to be buffed and polished by others so our capacity can increase and our character can expand. People who value the sharpening process willingly place themselves in environments where this calibrating process can happen in their own lives. They know that just as blades can’t restore themselves, they can’t sharpen themselves to full potential without the help of others. People need other people.

Staying Sharp (and Sharpening Others)

Here are 10 practical suggestions on how to sharpen people and bring the best out of them.

  1. Show genuine care for people. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” – John Maxwell.
  2. Provide clear expectations. People need to know where they stand at all times, what’s good, and what needs improvement.
  3. Engage in regular honest conversations. Accountability, truth-telling, crucial conversations, confronting difficult issues; be hard on issues and soft on people.
  4. Praise in public and correct in private. Brag publicly on the positive, but correct people behind closed doors so you don’t speak shame and guilt into their future.
  5. Discover and develop people’s strengths and passions. When you do you unlock their potential.
  6. Build genuine relationships.  Conversation creates relationship, and trust is built upon it.
  7. Share the credit. Amazing what gets done when no one hogs the credit, and how something so simple motivates everyone.
  8. Speak vision and possibility into people. Believe that seeds of greatness are in every person on your team; use your influence to build others up.
  9. Share leadership. Look for opportunities to stretch and advance others upward; be ambitious for the success of one another.
  10. Have fun along the way. Fun, laughter and humor is the shortest distance between two people. – Victor Borge

Iron-sharpening is a 21st century skill that unlocks wealth creation in all of its forms (financial, relational, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, organizational, personal, etc.). Iron-Sharpeners polish others so they have an opportunity to grow, learn, share, expand, and transform. Hearts are encouraged. Minds enlightened. Spirits inspired. Leaders and supervisors who can help sharpen others know the benefits of two blades rubbing together. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

A Sense of Community Strengthens the Heart

Redwood_LeadershipAliveWhen a work team has been sharpened as “iron sharpens iron,” hearts are strengthened. Experiencing community dispels discouragement and fatigue among members. Like the old Kenyan proverb says, “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.” One of the benefits of community is the encouragement, strength, and support that are available to each person when they are inter-connected with each other.

Redwoods that grow in Northern California are known to reach almost 350 feet tall. But that’s not what’s amazing. It’s the roots––they are only six to 12 feet deep and they spread out horizontally 50 to 80 feet on each side of the tree! The reason the giant redwoods don’t fall over in stormy weather is that their root systems are intertwined with each other. The roots from other surrounding trees actually support the lone redwood swaying in the wind. It’s the grove of trees and the roots of the surrounding redwoods that support the individual trees. In times of stress, they can lean on the others. It’s a beautiful picture of strength in the midst of community.

The same is true in our lives. As we are able to lean on one another in times of difficulty, fatigue, and discouragement, we’re strengthened and we’re better because of it. Cultivating a work team culture that genuinely cares for, supports, and encourages its members will prosper. Iron-Sharpeners know this and do their best to build work cultures that provide this for their members. It’s not fake or cheesy. It’s genuine to the core, and people at work come alive. Everyone wins: the team, the members, the leaders, the company, the customers, and the bottom line.

Catalyzing Your Talents and Potential

Apply What You Are Learning

When I was a freshman in high school, I started to play the electric guitar. Soon after, I was invited to join a rock band. The only problem was that I knew only three chords! But since I had my own guitar and amp, I was in, chords or no chords! A band member gave me a bunch of new chords to learn that were in some of the songs we would be playing. I had just a few weeks to learn the material, so I practiced my chops every day after school for about four hours. Within a month, I could play all kinds of new songs. I amazed myself. Looking back, I can see that my learning accelerated because:

1. I had a goal that I was passionate about.

2. I practiced all the time.

3. I was accountable to someone (my band members).

Learning How to Accelerate Your Potential

One of the overarching principles behind my rapid growth was consistent application. We grow best and learn more deeply when we immediately apply what we are learning. All good teachers know this. That’s why they design learning activities that drive home the point of the topic they are talking about. Otherwise, we confuse knowledge with learning. They are not the same. It’s kind of like the difference between listening to and really hearing someone. They are similar, but different. We accelerate our growth when we get involved with the material, join the team, start helping, or begin to practice what we are reading about, etc.

Wring Out Your Sponge

Learning is like wringing out a sponge. A sponge can hold only so much water. You can blast it with a large hose hooked up to a fire hydrant, but it will only retain so much water. You can take a sponge and submerge it into the Pacific Ocean, but it will only absorb so much water. How does a sponge absorb more fluid? Only by wringing it out. Each time the sponge is twisted, and the water is squeezed out, the sponge snaps back to its origi­nal state. It’s now ready to pick up more water. Slurping up new water is contingent on wringing out the old. The same is true with us.

Wring Out Your Sponge - LeadershipAlive.comGrowth Is Connected To Participation

When we wring out our sponges and apply what we are learning, we set ourselves up to keep learning. Our absorbency level is constantly able to re­set and thereby retain new knowledge. There is truth to the old adage “use it or loose it.” No wonder I plateaued in my guitar playing. Why? I played the same old licks and songs. Today, I don’t practice any new material, and I’m not in a band! The same is true in life, too. What do you know in your head that you have yet to apply? What new skill can you begin to use more consistently? What positive attitude can you practice at work? What strength do you possess that you can bring to your work team? What character quality can you begin anew?

Begin Today

Spectators grow at a snail’s pace. Participants skyrocket. Jumping in and getting involved catalyzes growth. Start serving other people and you’ll see your character deepen. Give and you’ll become more generous. Deploy your talents and they’ll transform into strengths. Use what you have. Take the time to teach others what you know and you’ll get smarter. Wring out your sponge and watch what happens.

 

The Reflective Practitioner

The Reflective Practitioner

Thinking deeply is quickly becoming a lost art in our fast-moving Western so­ciety. For example, if you visit a country in the East and come across an elderly man working quietly in a beautiful and serene garden, you would not interrupt him because he’s doing something that’s culturally perceived as important. On the other hand, if you were in the West and saw someone running around in the office like a chicken with his head cut off, texting with one hand, stacks of papers in the other, and a Bluetooth fastened to his ear, you wouldn’t interrupt him because in American culture he’s per­ceived as doing something important. But in the East, we can interrupt a person moving fast, and in the West we can interrupt a person going slow and reflecting.

All that is to say that I think we’ve lost something valuable in our cul­ture––the art of thinking deeply, critically, and reflectively. Too often, con­cepts like personal reflection are only thought of as a stress-relieving therapy or a  spiritual discipline, rather than one of the most powerful assets business leaders have at their disposal. There’s a huge payoff in taking time to think.

Secret Of The Swing

Author Len Sweet first introduced me to an insightful principle that I’ve come to call the “Reflective Practitioner.” Most of us have spent some time on a swing-set in the park. If you remember, the secret of how high you could get came when you learned how to lean back in the swing and pump your legs. The more efficient you were in your pumping backward, the higher you went forward and upward. As Len puts it, “The secret of the swing: Backward propulsion creates forward momentum.” The same is true in life.

Thinking Deeply

Reflective_PractionerWhen we take time to reflect, to slow down and think deeply, it em­powers us with creativity, insights, breakthroughs, and new learning. This process fuels us to soar to new heights. There is no way we’ll ever reach our full potential without learning how to lean back into our swing. I encour­age leaders (i.e., lifelong learners) to carve out time to think, reflect, debrief, journal, pray, etc. Often, because many of our work cultures don’t understand this principle, they won’t pay you to do it while you’re on the clock. We have to do it on our own time. Some people would even get in trouble if they closed the blinds in their office, turned off the phone, shut down the com­puter, and just spent time thinking and reflecting. Many a boss would say, “Do that on your own time. You’ve got work to do! Chicken, get running!” So, let me encourage you to find a swing! Go to a park and lean back and pump! Do this in your personal, professional, relational, emotional and spiritual life, too.

Think Kaizen

Yes, as life practitioners, we must be out in the arena working for a liv­ing, but it’s important to take time to reflect on what you do right and what you could improve. Be a reflective practitioner. Think Kaizen. Journal what you learn today while you’re out in the marketplace. Jim Collin’s used to keep a win/loss journal in his pursuit of becoming a “Level 5 Leader.” Muse over the challenging conversa­tions that you had with a coworker during a meeting. What went right? What went south? What will you do differently? Learning is tethered not only to application, but to reflection regarding the application. Let me encourage you to renew the art of thinking critically. Sched­ule time to reflect. Remember: Forward movement is tied to leaning back in the swing and thinking deeply.

Overcoming Learning Stagnation: Randomization

Overcoming Learning Stagnation: The Practice Of Randomization

The act of intentionally randomizing life helps us from getting stuck in our routines. Changing the environment, breaking up old patterns, and being exposed to new contexts fuels new learning. New learning increases capacity. We can all get in boxes very quickly and live our whole lives out of them. Most people gravitate to a life that’s comfortable, familiar, and routine-based. So, to prevent learning stagnation we must choose to inten­tionally create random rituals that randomize and break up the patterns of life. This helps us stay open to new ideas, people, perspectives, and ex­periences. Different kinds of experiences and environments, coupled with intentional reflection surrounding the learning process, accelerate learning. This is because these experiences and environments cause different kinds of reactions and responses within us. Randomization helps stretch our in­tellects, hearts, and spirits.

Pattern Breaking

Pattern breaking helps us stay open to things we would probably not naturally gravitate toward. For example, whenever my wife Mary and I go to a restaurant, I almost always try and order something new from the menu. Yes, this sometimes gets me in trouble and begging for some of her food, but it’s a randomizing ritual that I value in my life. Choose to put yourself outside of your comfort zone. Lifelong learners choose to stretch their thinking in order for new synapses or connections to form. Neurosci­ence has actually proven this to be true. New brain synapses form when we learn, unlearn, and innovate.

When we put ourselves in unfamiliar places, we expand our minds. When we break the patterns in our lives, we enlarge our perspectives. Ex­perience a new culture. Learn outside your field. Read things you disagree with. Make friends with people who are very different than you. Try and get your head around diverse things and watch your learning skyrocket.

Benefits of Formal Learning

That’s also one of the reasons why I like formal learning (class­rooms, workshops, seminars, coaching, etc.). One of the beauties of formal learning is that it pushes us into areas we wouldn’t necessarily go on our own. It is a kind of randomizing ritual. In formal learning, we are usually not in con­trol of the curriculum, agenda, assignments, and readings. We often learn more in these settings because we’re being exposed to things, that in most cases, we weren’t even aware of or would have been attracted to in the first place. Formal learning forces us to interact in new ways with new people, new information, and with an opportunity for new application. That’s a rich and powerful learning environment.