Recently, I’ve been reading a lot about the concept of executive function as a means of helping students achieve more in school. Executive function is the idea that students can be taught to handle the daily tasks needed to be successful in school – paying attention, organizing work, planning for the future, controlling impulses, etc. Training students in methods designed to assist with executing the functions of school will provide opportunities for their minds to learn, understand and demonstrate competency in the academic concepts being taught. Executive function employs activities to train the brain, which benefit students regardless of academic ability or level. Is there an executive function to leadership?
Leadership development typically prefers to focus on areas of inspiration, vision, collaboration, team building, and all the topics that make us feel great about leading. Every leader understands, however, there are many other areas of leadership that – while absolutely necessary – may not be quite as exciting.
It isn’t enough to cast the vision; leaders must lead the work to achieve it.
Leadership requires sustained attention to details, self-monitoring and awareness, flexibility to move from one idea to another, and the ability to organize and plan well. These executive functions are absolutely required for successful leadership. The behind-the-scenes hard work necessary to achieve success is not always evident to those we are developing to lead with us. As leaders, it is our responsibility to teach others all the skills necessary for successful leadership. To do less will only create frustrated leaders who have a vision and desire to lead well, but have not developed the skills to take themselves there.
Excellence is a habit (Aristotle)
Let us develop habits of excellence in those we lead. Excellence in all areas of leadership.
Beginning March 1, I will share reflections from my journey toward becoming Dr. Karavedas.
This journey actually began several years ago as I sat in the crowd waiting to see my daughter receive her Masters degree. As I stared in awe at doctoral candidates in their hooding ceremony, my husband leaned over and said “you wish that were you don’t you?” It took more than 5 years to gain the courage to begin. Now, I’m here and well on my way!
Reflections from my doctoral journey will be shared on this website next to my other posts on leadership beginning next month. I’d love to receive your comments as we take this journey together.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about motivation. How can I motivate others? (I can’t). Where does motivation develop? (Inside). Is there a difference between motivation and inspiration? (Yes, definitely). The strange thing about motivation is you must be motivated to get motivated.
Getting started is the most difficult part of motivation. Once you begin the journey, motivation grows with each step. The most important step is the first one. A person cannot move anywhere without taking that first step. But, that first step is the most risky. Motivation asks us to begin the journey without knowing where it will end. We must remember, however, that the journey is the ultimate success. Success arrives at many different points along the path – not just at the end.
These great moments of wisdom occurred during the stimulating brain activity that is Candy Crush. Yes, the game. I may have a bit of an addiction. A confusing addition, I admit. Why do I continue to play a game that regularly tells me I’ve failed to achieve the goal? As a leader and career coach, I understand this is not the usual method for encouraging a person. I’ve asked myself – what motivates me to try to reach the next level? There is no prize, no great gain. In fact, completing one level only leads to another, typically more difficult, level. Yet, I continue to try. Why?
My motivation for Candy Crush is derived from inside. A desire to prove I can accomplish the goal. Even though Candy Crush reminds me I’ve failed, I know the goal is achievable. I have the skills to be successful. The goal is just far enough out of reach to make me desire to try a little more.
This is motivation – the knowledge that I have the ability and skill to successfully accomplish the goal.
Motivation best occurs when the skill required is just a small stretch from what is already possessed by the individual. It is unlikely a pee wee baseball player would be highly motivated to play against a major league All Star – or vice versa. If a goal is too easy, a person becomes bored. Too difficult, they may stop trying.
Continue reading “Leadership, Motivation and Candy Crush!”
“Pay attention to the small things for one day you may realize they really were the big things.” Kurt Vonnegut
This is one of my favorite quotes. It sets the tone for my approach to life – personal and professional. In leadership, I’ve experienced those moments when small things like appreciation, kindness, remembering make a large impact. A word of encouragement to a student can inspire them to try again. Remembering a staff member’s birthday shows they are valued for more than their organizational skills
Small things are often easy to do.
These concepts can be embraced by all leaders and put into practice immediately. I know there are many “small things” lists in the leadership world. This is mine.
Be courteous. One of the first traits we teach our children is to be polite. This should be the first trait of leadership as well. Use the words please and thank you always. Model the behavior we learned as children. Say hello and goodbye when you arrive and leave, even when stepping out for lunch. Most of our parents taught us to be courteous. We need simply to do what we already know we should.
Ask, don’t tell. Words are important. Rather than telling your team to do something, ask them. It’s a small, but very big difference. Asking, “Does anyone have space in their schedule to teach an additional course” is different than “I need you to teach this course.” Whether a student, a staff member, or a colleague, we value people by being careful that instructions or requests are not delivered as commands.
Be flexible when possible. I heard a parenting expert once advise parents to – whenever possible – say yes. By doing so, when required to say no, it is more meaningful and acceptable. A similar concept can be effective in the workplace. There are many areas where leaders can be accommodating – flexible start/end times, choice of office location, room accommodations, and more. None of these ideas require great cost; yet, each speaks volumes to employees about their value.
It doesn’t take much to make a big difference. Small actions show you care. Today’s workforce wants to feel valued and appreciated. Leaders have the opportunity to do just that.
I sat in the audience listening to the keynote speaker. He was a former leader of a multi-billion dollar company – an author, speaker, and leadership consultant. I should have been engaged in learning from this expert. Instead, I was focused on his somewhat tedious delivery. He had a lot of great things to say, but he hadn’t grabbed my interest long enough to make me listen. Then he said something that changed everything.
In the middle of some point on leadership, he just stopped, stared at the audience, and said, “I have a confession to make. I’ve only been doing this four months. I just left my extremely high-paying job to do this – deliver keynote talks. I’m scared to death.”
It was honest. It was vulnerable. And, it grabbed my interest. I listened closely to all he said for the next 45 minutes.
Authentic vulnerability is extremely desirable and extremely difficult. It’s risky and frightening. Personally, it has been the most difficult thing I’ve had to learn along my leadership journey. But, leaders who understand vulnerability, lead teams who are willing to risk anything for them.
Leadership vulnerability creates a safe place for people to risk, create, and dream.
When leaders are vulnerable, their followers are secure in the knowledge that perfection is not the expectation; willingness to try is the expectation. Vulnerability makes you human, but it must be exercised carefully.
It isn’t… ”I have no idea what I’m doing on this project.” It is… ”Although I have expertise in curriculum development, I need to lean on your input for assessment.”
It isn’t… ”Your job and mine are on the line unless we make our numbers.” It is… ”We had a tough first quarter, and we need to pull together to achieve better results. Fortunately, we have a great team and I know we can do this. Where should we start?”
Vulnerable leaders inspire dedicated followers. Draw in a big breath and be honest with your team. Their strength will develop within your weakness.
The field of education contains an instructional process called the Plan, Teach, Assess, Reflect cycle. This type of reflective practice allows teachers to determine whether students truly understand a lesson or should changes be made to either content or delivery. It’s not a bad process and it can easily be applied to leadership. Reflecting on your leadership actions allows you to examine whether others truly understand your message. Your leadership reflection reveals what others see in you.
Reflective practices look different on different people.
Some people love to journal. Their reflective practice includes several pages of notes routinely written at each day’s end in a beautiful leather book. Others reflect more situationally. They review each leadership opportunity and reflect on its results. Were meeting goals achieved? What would I do differently? How did my team respond? And then there are those who blog. Bloggers seek feedback inside and outside of the organization. They write down their reflections for the world to read.
The method of reflection is not as important as the practice of reflection. Leadership – like teaching – is intentional. Regular reflection of your leadership practice allows you to make small adjustments before they become large problems. Continuous improvement as a leader occurs through genuine, honest evaluation of your leadership activities. Plan, Lead, Assess, Reflect.
Great leaders reflect often. Don’t be afraid to look in the mirror.
I’m often asked about the qualities of a great leader.
The truth is these qualities may look different in different people. Leadership isn’t a list of character traits and skills you can put on and take off like clothes.
Great leadership begins by knowing who you are, what you want to be, and being willing to do what it takes to get there. It’s developed by intentional focus on developing leadership qualities needed to be transformational.
There are excellent self assessment tools for guiding you on this journey. Some of these tools may be familiar to you; however, when the results are reviewed together in light of your leadership development, the experience can be powerful. Together, these tools provide a roadmap for your leadership journey.
- Emotional Intelligence (Travis Bradberry) – You have likely read a myriad of literature on the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace. Current hiring practices often give greater focus to EI than to work experience and education. Bradberry’s easy-to-read book provides a good overview of the significance of emotional intelligence, as well as a self-assessment tool. The assessment allows you to make an honest examination of your life personally and professionally and make the adjustments needed to grow as a person and a leader.
- StrengthsFinder 2.0 (Gallup) – The StrengthsFinders assessment reveals one’s natural talents and abilities – the areas of “strength” that make a person stand out from everyone else. This assessment will provide you with rankings for the 34 strengths themes as they present themselves in your life. Most leaders focus on understanding and applying their top five strengths within their work life.
- Transformational Leadership Skills Inventory (Larick and White) – This assessment may be a bit more difficult to find. Developed by educational researchers in 2012, it measures leadership characteristics through the four domains of problem-solving and decision-making, character and integrity, personal and interpersonal skills, and communication. Other options for assessing leadership skills are appropriate and acceptable if the TLSi is not available in your area. It is most important that the leadership skills inventory assesses transformational leadership in areas similar to the four domains described above.
Leadership is risky. Failure is possible.
But growth as a leader depends upon a willingness to accept the challenge to step outside your comfort zone and take that risk. Your growth as a leader will provide personal fulfillment and satisfaction.
Even more important, your growth will allow you to better meet the needs of those you lead.
Continue reading “Self Assessment”