Leadership from the Inside Out

“People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.” ~ Lewis Rothschild (The American President)

This is a quote I have been fascinated with ever since the first time I saw The American President.  At first, I was struck by how absolutely on-point it seemed.  Looking back though, I am concerned about its accuracy.  We look around at organizations and government and regularly see failings.  All too often I have heard people talking about how the ‘leadership’ did this or that wrong and that is why the organization went down or the government is not meeting our expectations.  My fear is that we are misplacing the blame and responsibility for this leadership solely on those people who are in postions of authority simply because they were appointed or elected to them.  If we want real change, if we do not like the way things are going, is it not our own responsible to each individually step up and lead as well?  It is not enough to stand on the sidelines and state that you see something is wrong.  You must be willing to get in the game and do something to make it right.  My experience shows me that if what you are promoting is the desire of the group, your doing so typically drives a broader sea change and others will join as well.  It becomes centralized leadership in which everyone feels a greater sense of ownership and accountability.  Leadership is not an easy task, and it can be very difficult, but if the goal is truly to improve the way our organizations and society are run, each of us has an obligation to play a part…to lead…through this process.


How would you answer?

We spend a lot of effort and energy attempting to define leadership and the characteristics of a good leader.  I have always felt that history is one of the best teachers.  More than 40 years ago, President Kennedy spoke about his vision of what makes a true leader by asking 4 basic questions.  I have had this quote posted or around my desk for the better part of my career and have always done my best to live up to the ideals so clearly identified in his vision. It is plainly evident to me that when we see leaders who are not successful or who are facing difficulty in creating the environments they want, whether at work or elsewhere, we can look to these questions and almost invariably find the flaws in their behavior.

“When at some future date the high court of history sits in judgment on each one of us, recording whether in our brief span of service we fulfilled our responsibilities to the state,
our success or failure in whatever office we may hold will be measured by the answers to four questions:
– First, were we truly people of courage – with the courage to stand up to our enemies and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to our own associates?
– Secondly, were we truly people of judgment of the future as well as the past – of our own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others – with enough wisdom to know what we did not know, and enough candor to admit it?
– Third, were we truly people of integrity – who never ran out on either the principles in which we believed or the people who believed in them?
– Finally, were we truly people of dedication, devoted solely to servicing the public good?
Courage – judgment – integrity – dedication.
These are the historic qualities of the leader.”
~ President John F. Kennedy

When you are called upon to lead, how will you answer the questions?  Will you stand strong with courage, judgment, integrity, and dedication, or will your efforts fall short?  Seek every day to reach your highest potential, for yourself and those you work with and you will find that your organizations and your efforts will be more successful, healthy, and built on foundations that can withstand the inevitable changes we all face throughout our careers.  Even more importantly, by modeling these qualities, those around you will be inspired to behave in the same way; and isn’t that the sort of place you really want to work?

Contact Touchstone Career Coaching and let our expert coaches help you on your path to mature leadership.

Hey Buddy, can you spare some change?

When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”  ~Victor Frankl

It never ceases to amaze me the amount of change that seems to be constantly going on around us.  If you ever doubt that, live in a house with 4 adolescent boys, as I do, and try and follow what is going on in their lives from day to day. I promise you, the speed and magnitude with which things change will boggle your mind.  On the same track though, we are presented with virtually endless amounts of change in our professional lives.  Many of us have had several jobs in our careers, even if they are all within the same organization.  Or we may have experienced a fundamental change in the organizational structure where we work so that we report to someone new and now have to adjust to the way this person manages.  Regardless of the types of change we are talking about though, the important thing to bear in mind is not so much the change itself, but how we react to that change.

As you find yourself in situations of upheaval or change, whether good or bad, you will often find yourself becoming exceptionally stressed, tired, and unable to focus.  The key is to find ways to mitigate the impact of the change on the other aspects of your life.  Find things you enjoy doing, get away from the situation for awhile, or work to discover the opportunities in the new environment.  Whatever the case, for your own well-being (and as my wife will attest, for the betterment of those around you), focus on getting the lessons you can out of the change and you are likely to be more successful in managing the stress and emotion that accompanies it.

Contact Touchstone Career Coaching for a free job search strategy consultation and to begin developing your career vision.

Dare to Choose

Several years ago, I worked with a large organization in the midst of some substantial structural changes.  Over the course of several months, as we re-created their entire foundation and processes, we came together to develop agreements about what we believed was necessary for each individual, and by extension the organization, to be successful.  I have held on to this and shared it many times since.

Dare to Choose

  • Choose your attitude every day
  • Choose how you will interact with colleagues
  • Choose How you will interact with customers
  • Choose to make a difference
  • Choose to speak up when you see a change that needs to be made
  • Choose to grow and excel professionally

Find It

  • A vision comes alive only when it is personalized by those who work in the vision community.  This happens when each of assumes responsibility for finding our IT inside the vision.
  • What are you doing to create your vision?
  • To what are you truly committed?
  • What is your role inside the vision of your community or organization?
  • What does success look like?
  • How will you support others and ask them to support you in keeping from backsliding as you make progress toward your goals?

Live It

Every day we are presented with countless opportunities to recreate our vision…vision moments.  Once we have found our role in the vision, we must commit to living it by living fully the naturally occurring vision moments.

Every day, commit to dedicating your efforts to defining and advancing the vision you are creating and in supporting others in their efforts to strengthen the vision.

Coach It

By creating an atmosphere where it is not only ok but our responsibility to give and receive feedback, we make the daily adjustments necessary to keep the vision strong.

Principles of coaching

  • Coaching can occur at any time, in any situation
  • Coaching can occur by anyone to anyone, it is not specific to hierarchy
  • Coaching is not a punitive action, but instead a supportive engagement between two people working toward a common vision
  • Coaching must go on continually for individuals and organizations to continue to grow and improve.

Contact Touchstone Career Coaching for a free job search strategy consultation and to begin developing your career vision.

Do what you can…

How many of you remember this scene from the movie City Slickers?

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?

Curly: This. [holds up one finger]

Mitch: Your finger?

Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.

Mitch: But what is the “one thing?”

Curly: [smiles] That’s what you have to find out.

I have been reminded of that conversation frequently lately as I have watched people around me go through some amazingly difficult times at work.  A major layoff hit their organization, and them personally.  Watching them, I was struck by how some of them were able to more easily roll with the punches, while others, seemingly, were decimated by the events.  Finally, one day, while working with one of my clients, it hit me.  While I certainly agree with Curly’s assessment that we each have to find that one thing inside of us that ignites our passion, there is yet one other characteristic that is necessary for anyone to be successful; the one factor that, if absent, will complete eliminate the possibility of growth, change, and success.  HOPE!

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope”

Take away hope and you completely take away a person’s motivation and strength.  A person who feels their situation is hopeless and who sees no possibility that things can change and improve will simply give up.  Human beings thrive on hope.  We continually hope and dream of better circumstances.  It is what drives us to take on new challenges, learn new skills, and attempt things that may seem impossible.  The simple hope that we can accompish these things keeps us striving for more.

I am convinced that the greatest thing we can do for those around us is to cultivate hope.  Focus your energies on what is possible, rather than what is not, and you will find a world of opportunity opening up.  A good friend of mine likes to say “Do what you can, not what you can’t.” When the walls are crashing in around you and you are beginning to lose hope that you can dig your way out, “Do what you can…” and undoubtedly others will follow.  It is unbelievable the strength that just this little amount of hope can bring to you and those around you.

Contact Touchstone Career Coaching for a free job search strategy consultation and to begin developing your career vision.

How do you know real leadership?

There are lots of books and discussions about the meaning of leadership.  You could spend literally thousands of dollars on texts that suggest they know the real definition of leadership.  While many of these probably can give you a good theoretical view, and some may even come close to giving you a picture of what leadership looks like, I don’t think you really understand it until you see it in action.  In a very bad situation this week I got an opportunity to see an extraordinarily good example of leadership take place.

Our agency recently announced some of the most severe layoffs in its history.  As you can imagine, this has caused an enormous amount of unrest and pain throughout the organization.  Some of the folks losing their jobs have been with the agency for 20 years or more.  It is a painful and heartbreaking time, but unfortunately one that could not be avoided.

It would have been easy for our executive leaders to hide behind the veil of budget cuts and simply hand down the mandate of these layoffs.  One person in particular though demonstrated exactly what it means to be a true leader.  Our Deputy Director came around to speak personally with each of the individuals directly affected by the layoffs.  He had no personal agenda other than to touch base with them, see how they were faring, and to find out how he could be supportive.  This process has been exceptionally difficult for him, watching people he has worked with for years struggling and having to go through such a difficult time.  His professionalism, patience, and willingness to really listen and be compassionate as they shared their fears and frustration was invaluable.  Throughout, he maintained his composure and let people vent, express their feelings, and share with him their fears.  He put no time limit on any of these conversations and it was clear that he was there for them.  I happened to overhear one of these conversations and was moved to email him afterward to commend him on his strength as a leader.  At the time I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was about the encounter that made me see leadership, until I overheard one of the (laid- off) staff who was involved in the conversation remark, “He has this amazing ability when you are talking with him to make you feel like he is 1000% present and that you are the most important person in the world at that moment.”  What more is leadership than engendering a sense of value and worth in those that work for and with you so that they are encouraged to do their best, even amidst the worst of circumstances?

 Contact Touchstone Career Coaching for a free job search strategy consultation and to begin developing your career vision.

Making Social Media Work in the Workplace

Collectively, the term ‘social media’ refers to a set of applications that make working collaboratively far more effective. When implemented properly, these tools are used for “connecting people with common interests, and more efficiently helping companies reach out to employees, clients, consumers, contacts and potential employees.”[1] However, while many upsides exist to these new methods of working together, there are also some legitimate concerns that need to be addressed for any organization planning to use them.

Just using the term ‘social’ oftentimes immediately turns managers and executives off because it seems to imply that these tools are not directly work related, but are instead intended for people to interact informally. “And yet businesses employ people, people need to trust each other to work together and get things done, and their willingness to trust each other depends in large part on being social with each other… Creating environments where this can happen more readily helps oil the wheels of business and enable staff to get things done.”[2] Informal networks are certainly part of any organization, and in fact are likely more prevalent than the connections formally identified by team assignments or other artificial means. In either case, if you define a network as “a collection of people willing to help each other and work together to achieve things then they become more apparently indispensable to business.”[Ibid.] Social networks have a number of benefits to an organization that can be immediately realized as people begin to improve their connections and communications:

1. A network can inform its participants when tasks are due or when something needs to happen;
2. Participants in a network can share information to help solve problems more quickly and efficiently since there is a broader base of knowledge from which to draw;
3. Information is shared and maintained for the future, which increases the value of the process, and the network itself; and finally
4. As a result of the interactions between participants, permanent relationships are formed and ‘experts’ identified that may have otherwise not been realized.

As Euan Semple of the BBC points out, “The biggest benefits of these networks comes with scale. At the BBC there were eventually 23,000 users of our online forum and this meant that pretty much whatever you wanted to find out about, someone would have done it before or might know someone who had. Once you start finding people chasing the same problems as you, you start to form relationships…”[Ibid.]

Organizations that take advantage of these opportunities often see immediate and dramatically positive results. “[Social networking ]…software knocks down corporate silos, moats, and walls by encouraging open communication and information sharing. Expertise and solutions to problems no longer remain hidden, they are actively sought out and exploited.”[3]

For those of you whose responsibility (or who have made it your mission) is to communicate to management the benefits of social media, I have collected the following resources that measure the benefits and potential risks.

Using Blogs for Business

Social Media and Social Networking

Contact Touchstone Career Coaching for a free job search strategy consultation and to begin developing your career vision.

1. http://www.temple.edu/newsroom/2007_2008/03/stories/socialnetworking.htm
2. http://www.simply-communicate.com/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=1110&d=68&h=60&f=75&dateformat=%25e-%25h-%25y
3. http://www.hrzone.co.uk/cgi-bin/item.cgi?id=193836&d=1063