Sometimes I have a focus issue. That statement does not surprise those of you that know me well. I am easily bored and I love to be involved with many different challenges. Most leaders have similar issues.
See if this sounds familiar:
- A member of our team isn’t a good fit, so we meet with him, but nothing really changes. Before we resolve the issue, we move on to something more pressing.
- We block off time to think through our strategy and plan, only to find that someone else requires our care and wisdom. It always sounds good to say that we are available to lead those that need us but the truth is, we welcomed the interruption. It somehow makes us feel useful to ‘adjust’ our schedule.
- A long awaited event is now two days away and we are frantically trying to catch up on the details. Subtly, we find ourselves resentful of all those who seem to just be watching us do everything.
Yep, leaders often have a hard time following through and staying with a project long enough to ensure that the right people are doing the right things to complete what needs to be accomplished.
We have excuses for our lack of focus, but at our most self-disclosing moments we are honest enough to admit that this is really not a good way to lead others. I believe that the number one leadership challenge leaders face is the ability to be thorough in what and whom we lead.
It certainly is an area where I have struggled.
My kids are twins. They’re 10. Going on 5. Or 35. Sorta depends on the day, I guess.
I have a son. He’s all boy. Sports. Dirt. Sweat.
I also have a daughter. She’s all girl. Clothes. Creativity. Curiosity.
With twins, everything’s competitive. I laugh frequently, because my athletic son cannot draw a stick man without a stencil. My very highly creative daughter, finds dribbling a basketball beneath her station. Yet – if one were to challenge the other’s skill in said ‘department’, well, let’s just say, “Game on!”
Have you ever been competitive about something you know you’re not that good at …?
Leadership is using your influence to bring about change. Sometimes this needed change stirs things up to the point where pain and discomfort show up.
Now I don’t know about you, but I am not a big fan of pain. As a matter of fact, there have been times in my past where I have not led well because I knew that using my influence would cause pain both to others and myself.
But sometimes, pain is necessary.
I have a toothache. It won’t go away. I’ve been to the dentist twice but truthfully the dentist is who has caused the pain. Everything was fine until she messed with my mouth. To say that this pain is affecting me would be the understatement of my year. But this toothache has also allowed me to learn three crucial lessons that will improve my ability to influence others.
Who would think I could learn about leadership from a toothache?
First of all
, pain has a direct affect on my capacity to make good decisions. Today if I take a sip of cold water my mouth feels like it is going to explode as pain shoots up the left side of my face. It feels like a “brain freeze”…
There are three things I know of that are growth killers for any organization.
Complexity kills - How complicated is it for people to get involved and lead in your organization? The old adage “people do what makes sense to them” is definitely still true.
Control kills – Does everything need to run through you, or a select leadership group? Or do you really let people lead? We all have control issues that threaten to limit the empowerment of others.
Overcoming complexity and control requires a strong dose of self-awareness and intentional skill development.
But the third growth killer may be the most lethal of them all.
I remember a time many years ago when my girls were young. It was a very cold, windy, snowy day and they were home from school. I wanted to do something fun and different so we decided to make snow cream. We mixed up some sugar, whipped cream and vanilla and then it was time to add the snow. My oldest daughter went outside to find the cleanest, purest snow she could as my youngest daughter and I watched from the window all cozy and warm. She collected the snow and as we began mixing it in with the other ingredients we started to see little specks of dirt show up. I tried my best to get all the dirt out but when we started to eat the snow cream we quickly noticed the dirt was still there. We decided at that point that we didn’t want to eat dirty snow cream so we gave up and rinsed it down the drain.
This made me start to think about our lives.
It all started when I was in my mid twenties. That was when I first experienced the reality that I can’t do it all myself. Actually, I’m sure I experienced this fact much earlier in life but I was too young and arrogant to admit it. Anyway, I remember specifically feeling the need for more leaders. Without new leaders it seemed that every solution to my leadership problems was short lived. No, I needed long-term solutions.
So I picked up a John Maxwell book on developing leaders and I was hooked. Developing Leaders was what my life was going to be about.
The problem was that as good as the books and seminars were there was one variable that no theory or principle could prepare me for. People. People are not very predictable nor did they cooperate with what I wanted them to do. So as I aspired to develop leaders I made every mistake that you could possibly make.
Here are three of my biggest blunders … and three common mistakes when developing leaders.
I live in the suburbs of Chicago. It’s Winter 2013-14.
We’ve had a LOT of snow (more coming this weekend!). And it’s been really, really cold this winter.
Funny thing is, I actually LOVE winter. I prefer the cold over the heat because, well, you can wear more clothes if it’s cold. But you can’t really do much if it’s hot, humid and muggy (which isn’t too rare in Chicagoland in the summer).
But – I’m weary now. Tired of it. Had enough.
Ever get that way? With anything?
In our leadership groups we always begin with the question “When did you first know that you were a leader?” As we wrestle with our memories of leadership there is a theme that circulates through most of our minds. It seems that most of us first thought of ourselves as leaders when someone else called it out in us.
“My teacher gave me added responsibilities.”
“My Youth Pastor told me that I had great promise.”
“My mom believed I could influence others.”
Years ago when my daughter turned 5, she received a kit to grow your own fish. When it came time to set it up, she refused my help and was adamant about doing it herself. I decided to let her do it on her own and thought it would be a valuable lesson in learning how to care for something. We went through the directions of how to care for the fish so they would grow and days went by with no care or attention on her part because other things took priority. Needless to say, the water became murky and the fish never grew because their environment wasn’t cultivated.
When I was very young, I had it all figured out. I was going to be an astronaut. (Am I betraying my age by sharing this?)
I got busy learning about astronomy, mathematics and the physics of flight. I drank Tang (if you know what this is, you’re just as old as me!).
Of course then summertime came and I was distracted riding my bike and exploring in the woods. So I decided that instead, I’d be a daredevil. So I built ramps and jumped over stuff. I climbed on every roof I could and jumped off. I attached ropes to tree branches and jumped from increasingly higher parts of the tree to see how far I could swing. The list was long and grew by the endless days of summer that passed.