Everyday Leaders

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted. Honestly, I’ve been having a small crisis of confidence. Even now as I write down these thoughts, I am thinking “why me?” What do I know about leadership? Yes, I have over 25 years of leadership experience, but so do quite a few other people. Longevity alone does not make me an expert on leadership. I know I have strong opinions about leadership. Again, others have strong opinions too. Are my opinions better – more worthy?  Strong opinions and a platform for expressing them certainly do not make me an expert on leadership. They just make me another shouting voice in the wilderness. Why me? Why should anyone listen to what I have to say?

Maybe I’m asking the wrong question.  Perhaps, I should be asking…Why not me?

I know theory. I know the research.  Even more important, I care, and not just about theory and research. I care about people.  It’s true. I may not have the platform of Oprah or be able to motivate like Michael Hyatt, but I do have influence. I interact with people every day who expect me to lead. They need vision, decisions and confidence. My team is together everyday, waiting for someone to lead them.  The wonderful people under my leadership need to know someone cares about them as people, not just as a position within the organization. They need to be assured that they are truly seen and not just observed.  These great people want to know where we are going, how we are going to get there, and who is going to show them the way.  They look to me to answer these questions.

I am an everyday leader who leads everyday.

I’m not the only one. There are many of us out there. Businesses and organizations are full of leaders who make a difference in the lives of the people they lead. Be confident my friends! Lead from your heart and the depths of your souls. Care about others and let them know you care. Guide them gently to places they didn’t know they could go. Your leadership matters.

Stand up. Be confident. You got this!

Leadership Strategies that Work

Although I now work in Higher Education, my background is in K-12 education. As the Dean of Student Life and as a Principal, I often spoke with teachers about engaging students. We focused on support for the student beyond the classroom or academic assessment. Many of the strategies I would discuss with teachers easily transfer to leadership.

Be Visible. Every leader must make a point to get out of the office and be visible to those he leads. Management by Walking Around (MBWA) is an old tactic but still a good one. It allows a leader to get to know the organization, but more important, it allows the leader to get to know the team. As a K-12 administrator, I received more real information when walking through the quad than I did in formal meetings. Casual hallway conversations with faculty allowed me to understand the most important matters to them. Similarly, casual interactions and greetings with your team set the tone for a culture that is open and welcome to shared ideas. Leaders must be intentional about their visibility.

Take Interest. There is a strategy in education called “2-in-10.” It is used to engage difficult students who had behavioral issues in the classroom. The strategy asks a teacher to spend two minutes every day engaged in getting to really know the particular student. After ten consecutive days, the change in behavior is usually noticeably better. Students flourish when they know their teacher cares about them as people first and students second. The people we lead are no different. They want to know you are interested in them as people first. Take time do discover your team’s interests, their talents, their passions. You may be surprised.

Listen. When a student was sent to my office for discipline, my first question was always “tell me your story.” The response was often far beyond what I had asked. Employees are the same. They each have a story. As leaders, our job is to listen – really listen – to those stories. Often this means we must listen to what is not said as well as what is said. Most people want to know they are heard and their viewpoint is valued.

None of these tactics are new or difficult. Most of them are common sense. Leaders must be intentional about including each of them into their leadership style.

Reflections on Becoming Dr. Karavedas – No. 2

As promised, this journey has been transformative. I’ve quickly learned a secret – one they failed to mention when I was admitted. In order to become a transformational leader, you will be transformed personally. It is becoming increasingly clear that this program will require me to look inside and truly evaluate what I see.

Much of the beginning work of this program has focused on evaluation and assessment of my skills as a leader.  I’ve evaluated myself, those I supervise have evaluated me, those who supervise me have evaluated me, those I worked with before and those I work with now – all have evaluated me. This process isn’t for the faint of heart.   It’s easy to say you want feedback, but do we really? Do we REALLY want to know what others think about us? I think we do.

Have you ever watched those remodel shows on HGTV? What’s the first thing they do when renovating – DEMO!

You have to be willing to tear down the old in order to replace it with something new.

I’ve been learning to identify old ways of thinking that need to be demolished because they don’t reflect current practice. I’ve identified old habits that must be removed to provide room for a new set of habits that focus on serving others. I am destroying bias that has hidden in the walls of my leadership style without detection. Leaving it there is toxic. Tearing down is necessary. It provides the freedom and space to rebuild. That’s exciting.

Like many people starting down this road my focus was squarely on the goal – becoming Dr. Karavedas. Truth is, I hadn’t given much thought to the change within me that would occur along the journey. Each step along the pathway I become more aware of the changes taking place within me.

Strengthening the infrastructure isn’t always pretty. Sometimes it isn’t even visible. But, it is absolutely necessary. A strong inside allows the outside appearance to not only look beautiful, but to actually be beautiful.

Passionate Curiosity

Millions saw the apple fall, but Newton asked why.  (Bernard Baruch)

As I watch my two-year old grandson use the laundry basket for a car or try to climb his parents’ stone fireplace, I smile at his curiosity. Curiosity is innate in children. They naturally investigate.  As we get older, we somehow lose that natural curiosity. We settle for what we see rather than search for what we don’t see.

The best leaders are curious leaders.

Embracing curiosity and allowing it to flourish will open your eyes and your life to new experiences. As leaders, curiosity builds into our organizations by giving permission to dream of what could be. When leaders create a culture of exploration, they allow natural curiosity to drive discovery.

Curiosity can be cultivated. There are steps we can take to intentionally recognize and develop a character of curiosity within our daily lives. The following steps will help develop the curiosity already within you.

Ask Questions: I have been always a natural questioner. It’s the way I process what the world brings to me. Asking the right questions – the powerful questions –builds curiosity. Never settle for what you see before asking is that all there is. One word of warning – be careful not to become cynical. Curiosity isn’t questioning the motive, it’s looking for added value. Curiosity seeks to understand if there is more to be discovered. If so, let’s go wherever it takes us.

Dare to Dream: Too often, curiosity takes us to a place we might be afraid to go. The unknown seems too big or too great, so we dial it back to a safer place. We stifle the curiosity of what could be. If Steve Jobs had stifled his curiosity, I wouldn’t be writing this blog while sitting in my backyard enjoying the morning. Curiosity fuels the dream. We need to allow that dream to create the vision within us, without limiting its boundaries.

Expand Your Mindset: In her book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck explains that the difference between high achievers and low achievers lies in mindset. Those with a growth mindset believe that answers can be found and growth achieved through continued development.  Embracing growth and as a natural part of our intellectual development creates room for curiosity. Growth minded people are curious people. They keep searching until they find the answer the question being asked.

Curiosity feeds creativity. Creativity fuels innovation. We can only discover if we become curious about the “what if”.   Don’t be afraid to climb to the top of the hill – even if it’s just to see what’s at the top.

Executive Function for Executives

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.

Leadership, Motivation and Candy Crush!

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!”

All the Small Things

“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.

Find Strength in Vulnerability

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.

Who’s In Your Mirror?

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.

Self Assessment

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”