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When a leader is misunderstood

When a leader is out in front they often see what others don't.  It's a bit like an expedition through a dangerous jungle where the group is moving carefully over a long distance in single file due to the dense undergrowth.  All of a sudden after what seems like miles, they turn and begin climbing up a steep hill to the left.  The grumbling starts and the complaining intensifies with questions like, 'Why's he taking us up there?' 'Does she not think we're tired enough?'

What the group doesn't see is that the route ahead is blocked.  There may be a fallen branch, or a big snake lurking in the pathway.

Either way the point of the illustration is this; the leader sometimes sees what followers don't.

How often then, and for many different reasons are leaders misunderstood?  The answer is more often than you think.  Even if a leader is largely trusted and has a good track record, they can so easily be misunderstood.  That's probably one of the reasons why we hear the phrase 'its lonely at the top.'

Of course leaders make mistakes, some more costly and public than others.  For sure they make decisions on the spur of the moment that can be taken completely out of context.  However, the most important part of all, is that they do the right thing and not the popular thing.

When a leader does the right thing, they run the risk of dissent, waning popularity and murmuring in the camp; that's why the best leaders are resilient.

When a person takes on the position of leader, they put their head above the parapet.  If it were that easy everybody would be doing it, but it's not.

Sometimes it's good to give a leader the benefit of the doubt, because they may well have good intentions that are simply not that visible at the time.



It's time to take stock

Life has a tendency of running away with us sometimes and before we know it years have vanished into our own personal history books. I don't know whether it's an age thing, but I have found myself taking stock more often as I get older.

I find myself thinking carefully about life, it's seasons, the value of family, career direction/development etc and I form a opinion about it, so as I can decide what's really important to me. When I hear stories of others and their situations, it makes me realise that yes, taking stock is a good thing. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet, so what we do with today really matters.

If you're reading this as a parent you'll have noticed already how quickly kids grow up and that time really is important. I remember a number of years ago when my youngest son was playing a game of rugby under floodlights in Belfast. I had said I would be there but was working in Dublin that day. Unfortunately, due to traffic I was delayed and only arrived as the game approached half time.

As I stood in the crowd I noticed my son looking up and down the line each time the ball went out of play. He was clearly trying to pick me out. It was near the end of the game before he eventually saw me and the smile on his face was one I remember vividly to this day.

Taking stock sometimes means asking honest questions of ourselves, otherwise we have a tendency to tolerate certain things and ignore others. Taking stock helps us reflect and enables us to see life from a wider perspective than the one we usually see in the busyness of our every day. We can also benefit from a passion check from time to time.

To find out what we are most passionate about we have to take a step back and observe ourselves. We have to look at the little things we do within our lives and recognise what makes us feel happy and fulfilled when we’re doing them.

The Art of Communication

It should come as no surprise to many that communication is cited as being one of the biggest challenge/problems in many organisations today. Ironically, this claim exists at a time when more communication methods and channels are available than ever before. I mean we have email, text, phone, messenger, intranet, social media, the powerful face to face, and yes, even the good old grape vine.

I remember a company I once worked with deciding to trial an email freeze for one day each week. If you had something to communicate, you got off your backside and went directly to the person.  I completely understood the rationale as some people were receiving in excess of 100 emails per day, many of which were irrelevant,  but it didn't last that long.

On a different note, I was recently leading a group discussion which involved watching a short video clip. When I asked the group of about 12 people what a key person said on screen during the clip, every single person watching gave a different account. It really let me see how easily communication can drift off course.

Apart from the concentration and listening aspect of communication, I believe the reason why it is noted as a problem today is more to do with the people than the system, or indeed methods.

What do I mean?

Well, I mean it's important to take time, step back and think about the 'why' and 'what' of communication rather than the how (that can come later).

'Why' we communicate is a good place to begin. It's also the time to consider who really needs to see or hear it. The 'what' has more to do with the content being explained, requested or presented. So many of the issues I come across are to do with 'encoding and decoding.' Encoding is the presenting of the message in a way that can be easily explained. Decoding on the other hand is about seeing things from the reader's perspective and how a message will be unwrapped.

(When it comes to sensitive issues, or times of crisis, often people only see or hear certain things - it's as if they have a blind spot).

Therefore, misread messages can often be due to either content or tone, and have a way of inflaming people and missing the point completely.

The fact is that methods are many today and everything is instant.  So often, the message has been rushed together and sent out into cyber space with little time for reflection, or indeed considering the potential adverse impact . It's little wonder then when we encounter backlash to emails, or voicemails, which in turn trigger a whole other communication sequence of a different kind.

The art of communication is a complex topic, but when given sufficient time and thought, it can be very effective indeed.

The Enemy of Professionalism

One definition of the word professionalism has been described as:

The conduct, aims, or qualities that characterise or mark a profession or a professional

When you hear people say things like, 'that wasn't very professional,' they are suggesting that the conduct of an individual was not in keeping with expectation.

I have seen some surprising examples during my career, in fact I've been downright shocked by some of them.  Of course we all have areas of weakness, but I'm talking about people who put themselves out there as highly professional 'in certain groups and in certain settings,' yet away from the camera or aside from the limelight different behaviours are at work.

The clue is in the fact that there are three things that make the world go around, 'Money, Sex and power.' Or another way of describing these, 'Pleasure, profit and advantage.'  When the stakes are high enough, some of the most professional and highly reputable people drop the standard, usually having succumbed to at least one of the three.

Conduct is compromised, qualities are diluted and character is displayed in a new light.

One of the most sought after qualities of an authentic leader today is consistency.  Someone who does not waver or change to suit the environment, but rather remains steady and secure on matters of values and principles. That is a true professional.  Followers are crying out for such examples to model their aspirations on.

A person who stays true to their values regardless of audience or temptation, is becoming harder to find in a world that offers so much by way of personal gain, which truthfully in practice has a very high price tag when all is said and done.

The Humble Leader

I don't know about you, but it seems to me that a lot of people like to post about themselves on social media.  Posts like, 'I'm so humbled to be shortlisted to be the best business leader of all time..' appear to pop up quite frequently.  Now, I need to say that I'm 'all on' for encouragement and congratulations, but goodness me the need for attention does seem to be getting out of control.  I think it was Winston Churchill who said, 'If you have to tell someone you're the leader, you probably aren't.'

Where did good old fashioned humility go to?

John Ortberg in his book, 'All The Places To Go, talks about the need to be careful of the epidemic that ‘The Likes” of social media are causing.

It’s called FOMO (Fear of missing out)

If we're not careful we start comparing our lives with those of other people. We begin to think that other people are doing more interesting things than us.  We find ourselves reading about all the wonderful experiences people are having and we get worried that our lives are becoming dull, boring and insignificant by comparison.

Using social media as a counter to this, people start posting pictures and experiences that make their lives sound more glamorous than they actually are. The problem with this is now other people fear that they are missing out somehow as well - and on and on it goes. FOMO is fuelled by comparison.

Here's the thing though, If we compete with ourselves and not others, then it doesn't matter who is behind or ahead of us.  Our challenge is to do the best we can with what we've got, not with what others have.

When we get to the place where we can honestly say, 'I am comfortable with others because I am comfortable with myself,' then humility has an opportunity to play a significant part in our lives wherever we go, whatever we do, and whoever we lead for that matter.