mentoring

Leadership

Today Is the First Day of the Rest of Your Life


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“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”

Opportunity, reaching a milestone, kicking a habit, expanding your horizons…  You have unique gifts, talents that few others possess, experiences only you can learn from…  You are the only you in all the world.

So what’s stopping you?  What is the barrier between you and your goals?  What ideal self is “out there” somewhere, but for your decision to pursue it?

What if you looked back on this day one year from now and said, “That was the first day.  That was the day I decided, and now here I am.”

Why do we wait for special days—anniversaries, birthdays, New Year’s Day—to make the decisions we ought to make, to pursue the goals we ought to have reached a long time ago, but for some failing, have yet to achieve?

What’s stopping us from making today the first day of the rest of our lives?

I think we all have our different reasons, but the one we share is deceptively simple, because we don’t think about it enough:

For many of us, today is not the first day of the rest of our lives because that isn’t enough.

 

Whether or not we actively realize it, reaching our goals or kicking our bad habits or establishing new lifestyles simply isn’t enough, because most of us can do those things all by ourselves.

We can make today “the first day of the rest of our lives” all by ourselves.

And, in this instance, that is not a good thing.

Sure, it is a positive when we attain a milestone or make a positive change, but it is better when we bring others along through accountability, inspiration, or example.

 

As leaders, our line of thinking should be, “Today is the first day of the rest of someone’s life.  How can I come alongside their process?”  Or, “Today is the first day of the rest of my life.  Who can I bring with me so that it is the first day of the rest of their lives also?”

The difference between individual success and leadership is simple: involving others.

 

So what is stopping you?

 

Leadership

The End of the ‘Open Door Policy’


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“I have an open door policy.”

Managers and leaders use this phrase to convey that they are available for their people, willing to help them.

This, however, is a lazy saying.  In essence, it means, “If you come to me, I’m willing to take time out of my busy schedule to accommodate you.”  It makes an offer, but no more.  It communicates that the initiative rests with the employee.

How many managers and leaders say things like this, but fail to demonstrate it with their actions?  Even if they are available and well intended, this phrase is still passive.

And this is why we should retire it.

Instead of an open door policy, managers and leaders must cultivate a culture of conversation.  They need to live out a rhythm of intentional interactions with their people, asking good questions, and offering to help in specific ways that clear obstacles or provide advocacy.  In this way, their availability and willingness to help is demonstrated, not simply offered.

It is the difference between policy and culture.  As leaders, we should never prefer policy when it is possible to shape culture.

Don’t have an open door policy; have a culture of conversation.

 

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Phrases We Should Retire

Leadership

In Praise of Moms as Leaders


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In Praise of Moms as Leaders

Most of them don’t see themselves as anything special.  They know what they are doing is important, but they don’t feel good at it; they feel ill-prepared or under-prepared, if they feel prepared at all.  They remember their mistakes more than their successes.  They work harder than anyone else, yet receive minimal appreciation.  But they persist.  And succeed.  Incrementally, they make a difference, eventually accepting the appreciation and thanks of those for whom they sacrificed.

Moms.

No better leaders, servant leaders, exist on the planet.  Moms, you deserve to see yourself this way.  You deserve to know that we see you this way.  You deserve to know that when we walk into your homes, we don’t see dirty dishes or a floor that needs vacuuming or a kid that you can’t get under control.

No, instead we see leadership.  We see investment and a willingness to do things that no one else would do, things no one else can do, just because it is the right thing to do.  Legacies are the product of situations—each moment you handle, each behind the scenes action, whether noticed by others or not, creates your legacy.  All the pride you have in the ones you have helped to grow, to learn, to succeed—all that they have accomplished they owe, in large part, to you.

To your leadership.

Some of you know the great relief and satisfaction of having this acknowledged.  Others of you wait for that day, not expecting, but hopeful.  Whenever it comes, though, know that we notice and appreciate you as you wait.

Know, too, if you are a Mom not by blood but by choice, if you are a Mom because you have chosen to be the one who opens your home or goes out for coffee or mentors after class, that you are included in this.  You lead just as much, serve just as well, and we love you because we choose to, because you chose us first.

So hold your heads up, Moms—you don’t hear it enough and never will, but your leadership is the model that has made us who we are, and we cannot thank you enough.

We stand on your shoulders, and we love you.

Leadership

Defending Your People


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I didn’t get to watch much of the NCAA men’s basketball championship game last night, but I did see about 5 minutes of the post-game press conference, in which Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski appeared with 4 of his players.  Journalists took turns asking Coach K and the players questions, and then something very interesting happened.  One journalist asked Duke center Brian Zoubek a question about how it felt to finish his collegiate basketball career on top, and characterized Zoubek’s career as “up and down.”

Krzyzewski intervened before Zoubek had a chance to respond, telling the journalist that Zoubek had not had an up and down career; rather, that his career had been marred by injuries.  Coach K then made a joke about how the injuries precluded Zoubek from going up and down, saying, “He can’t jump.”

“Thanks, Coach,” Zoubek responded with a wry smile.

“Well, you are never going to play for me again, so…” came Coach K’s response.

“Does that mean I get to say something back?” Zoubek responded.

“No, because I can still get back at you,” and Coach K had the final word.

When Coach K first interrupted the question, it might have been easy for some to surmise that he was simply being pedantic, but it was more than that.  He was protecting his player, just as he had done for the previous 4 years of his career at Duke.  The playful banter that ensued between them demonstrated both the rapport they shared, as well as the respect with which Zoubek approaches his college coach.

Part of that respect obviously comes from the success Coach K has enjoyed over time, having won his 4th national championship at the same school last night.  More telling, though, it comes from the fact that Brian Zoubek, and probably all of Duke’s players, know that their coach, a formidable ally, is squarely in their corner–even in a matter so small as a journalist’s wording of a question.

Zoubek could have handled it himself, but Coach K was having none of that.  He did not want his player’s career referred to in any negative light–not on this night, and not on any other.  He was protecting his people.

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“I Don’t Need a Mentor.”


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“I don’t have a mentor, and at this point in my career, I don’t think I need one.”

Professional decorum kept me from saying what I thought as I listened to a senior executive from a well known company talk about how dedicated he was to developing others and helping them be successful, but in the very next sentence spoke about how he’d accomplished enough to arrive in his dream position, and therefore no longer needed such help from others.

In truth, I hear this often. It always goes something like this: “I can be a mentor, but I don’t need one.”

But it doesn’t work that way. Knowingly or unknowingly, these individuals are taking the position that they have arrived, that they have nothing left to learn–a mistake both in practice and in perception.

Done being mentored=done learning, done growing, content to stay the same.

I concede the point that the higher level one attains, the more difficult it is to find adequate mentors, but is not having one what’s best for any leader, or any organization?

Leadership

An Open Letter to Fathers


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We are someone’s hero.

Though we feel as though we have failed in moments—even many of them—the fact remains.  We are the most important person in someone else’s life, someone who suffers without our countenance.

It is a heavy burden to bear, being a father.  It involves so much more than paternity; so much more than position.  We have an inheritance to give, a legacy to bequeath.  Our best intentions will not ensure it; only our actions will.  We cannot take for granted that position or presence will suffice.  No, those must be coupled with the hard work of attention.

Are we paying attention?

It is attention that determines our outcomes as a father.  We will be judged, almost exclusively, on whether or not we paid attention. 

And so much rides on whether or not we pay attention.  Others soar or crash with or without it.  We have experienced this, no doubt, ourselves; we know it to be true.  And yet, it is so easy to become distracted, distant, selfish.

But prioritization is the antidote for distraction.  It is well within our reach, but how often do we reach for it? 

It is the heavy burden to bear—being last—serving when we’d rather be served, sacrificing when we’d rather have our own way.  But that is the way of prioritization; that is the way of attention; that is the way of inheritance and legacy, even heroism.  It is the way of fatherhood.

And fatherhood, in its truest forms, extends even to those who are not related to us.  At our best, we pick up where others left off, or never began.  We embrace the burden, learn to love it, let it change us into something we could never have been on our own.

We become fathers.

We become heroes.

And it is never too late to become what we might have been.

Leadership

Pushing Them (and Pulling Them)


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I had the chance to facilitate with a dear colleague today, who provided an insight that gave me further clarity into the poem I referenced a few days ago. 

From my initial vantage point, I saw only the perspective of “pushing” others–challenging them to greater heights, better things, previously unexperienced outcomes.  This is my natural bent as a leader, but it is/was myopic.

My friend’s observations about pushing and pulling as leaders made me think about how we have to attract people to begin with, gain their trust and permission to lead before we can begin to push.

In the poem, the speaker (leader) calls twice for them to come to the edge.  He invites them, entices them, inspires them perhaps, but somehow he gains their following.  It is only after this pulling that he pushes, and they fly.

A concept we would do well to remember so as to avoid pushing those whose allegiance to us, trust in us, has not yet been confirmed.

Leadership

Pushing Them


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Come to the edge, He said.
They said: We are afraid.
Come to the edge, He said.
They came.  He pushed them,

And they flew…

-Guillaume Apollinaire

A beautiful poem, and a lovely leadership lesson also: knowing how and when to push is nearly as important as anything else to leading well. 

For how else can we be responsible for others’ flight?

Leadership

Identity is Destiny Pt. 2


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While these are nice thoughts, they do not become my identity, my destiny, without action.

Even my thoughts, though powerful, do not become my identity; only my actions shape my identity, and alter my destiny with that of those around me.

I have dreamed of having a wife and children ever since I was a child, but they know they are my dream come true only because I tell them and show them in a way that gives us all certainty.

In this way, I shape my own identity through action–through action, I become more of all the things I long to be.  Each time I act, my destiny–the vision I have had for myself and my family ever since I was a little boy–becomes more certain. 

And with greater certainty, I shape their identities also, as they grow in the knowledge that they are special, loved, and wanted.  With each intentional moment, I make them more capable of perpetuating that which is best in my leadership.  With each intentional moment, I make them more capable of finding aspects of their identities that will make them better leaders than I was.

Identity.  Destiny.  Certainty.