Managing Yourself

My wife Eleanor and I were alone on a three-week kayak expedition in Prince William Sound in Alaska. Eleanor was in college; I had just graduated. We had spent plenty of time in the wilderness but never just the two of us, and never this kind of wilderness. When we landed in Anchorage, I looked around for a currency exchange desk before Eleanor reminded me we were still in the U.S.

Prior to arriving, we prepared meticulously, studying the nautical charts, plotting our route, and practicing our kayaking skills. We paddled into the nastiest surf we could find and then rolled ourselves upside down to see how quickly we could either roll back over or get back in the kayak if we came out. In Prince William Sound, there’s no margin for error. You can survive in the freezing water only four to five minutes.

Now that we were on Prince William Sound, we were thankful for all the preparations we had done. And knowing how quickly the weather changes in Alaska, we had a ritual of precautions we took every morning before pushing the boat off the relative safety of the beach. We carefully packed everything in waterproof bags and placed those bags in the watertight compartments in our boat. We kept all our essentials — VHF radio, sun block, signal mirror, peanut butter, and chocolate chips: the stuff we couldn’t live without — in a dry bag in my kayak cockpit.

And every morning, before we left shore, we asked the same question: If we died today, what mistake would Sea Kayakermagazine get us for?

Before coming to Alaska, I read through the accident reports in every past issue of Sea Kayaker magazine I could get my hands on. The reports identified the mistakes and poor decisions people made that led, more often than I shared with my parents, to their deaths.

One person knew he shouldn’t paddle that day because the weather was bad and the surf was rough, but he had a meeting to get to and didn’t want to miss the ferry home. Well, he missed that ferry and every one since. Another kayaker, on the last day of his trip, didn’t bother to pack his gear in waterproof bags since he didn’t expect to need it. But then a wave hit his boat, and he flipped, and everything got wet. He got back to shore but had nothing to keep him warm, and, eventually, died of hypothermia. Then there was the Outward Bound course that found itself surprised by strong winds and currents off the coast of Baja. Three of the students died.

So each morning, before pushing our kayaks away from shore, I stood there for a few minutes thinking about the day — our plan, the weather, our gear, pull-out points, our skills, challenges we might encounter — and then I asked the question: If we died today, what mistake would Sea Kayaker magazine get us for?

And now, years later, from the safety of my office chair, I still think that’s the right mentality with which to approach each day. The questions are slightly different. The risks are very different. But the idea is the same: are you prepared for this day? For the meetings you have planned? Have you really thought about the work you plan to do? Anticipated the risks that might take you off track? Are you focused on the larger goals you want to achieve? Will your plan for this day bring you one day closer to achieving them? And, finally, if something goes terribly wrong, what mistake would you get yourself for at the end of the day? (See my last post, The Best Way to Use the Last Five Minutes of Your Day, for advice on how to incorporate a five-minute review into your daily routine.)

In Alaska, we completed our trip successfully because we took the time to prepare for each day as if that day was the most important day of our lives. Because, in fact, the risks were great enough that if we had not prepared that way, it might have been the most important day of our lives — the last one.

Why not treat today, given that it’s the only day you’ve got right now, with the same importance?

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

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managing yourselfJulie Anko*, the head of a division of a retail company I work with, was at risk of getting fired. Here’s the crazy thing: she was a top performer. She had done more for the brand in the past year than any of her predecessors had in five years.

The problem was that she was a bear to work with. She worked harder than seemed humanly possible and expected the same of others, often losing her temper when they wouldn’t put in the same herculean effort she did. She was also competitive and territorial; she wanted the final say on all decisions remotely related to her brand even when her peers technically had the authority to make a decision. She wasn’t good at listening to others or empowering them or helping them feel good about themselves or the team. And, though she was working all hours, things were falling through the cracks.

But none of that was the problem for which she was at risk of being fired. The real problem was that she didn’t think she had a problem.

I was asked to work with her, and my first step was to interview everyone with whom she worked in order to understand the situation and share their perspectives with her.
When I did share the feedback, her response surprised me. “I didn’t know it was that bad,” she said, “but it doesn’t surprise me.” I asked her why.

“This is the same feedback I received at my previous company,” she said, “it’s why I left.”
We could look at Julie and laugh at her ignorance. At her unwillingness to look at her failures and, as a result, repeat them. But the laugh would be a nervous one. Because many of us — and this includes me — do the same thing.

I’m often amazed at how many times something has to happen to me before I figure it out. I believe that most of us get smarter as we get older. But somehow, despite that, we often make the same mistakes. On the flip side — but no less comforting — we often do many things right and then fail to repeat them.

There’s a simple reason for it: we rarely take the time to pause, breathe, and think about what’s working and what’s not. There’s just too much to do and no time to reflect.
I was once asked: if an organization could teach only one thing to its employees, what single thing would have the most impact? My answer was immediate and clear: teach people how to learn. How to look at their past behavior, figure out what worked, and repeat it while admitting honestly what didn’t and change it.

If a person can do that well, everything else takes care of itself. That’s how people become life-long learners. And it’s how companies become learning organizations. It requires confidence, openness, and letting go of defenses. But here’s what it doesn’t require: much time.

It only takes a few minutes. About five actually. A brief pause at the end of the day to consider what worked and what didn’t.

Here’s what I propose:

Every day, before leaving the office, save a few minutes to think about what just happened. Look at your calendar and compare what actually happened — the meetings you attended, the work you got done, the conversations you had, the people with whom you interacted, even the breaks you took — with your plan for what you wanted to have happen. Then ask yourself three sets of questions:

  • How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?
  • What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do — differently or the same — tomorrow?
  • Who did I interact with? Anyone I need to update? Thank? Ask a question? Share feedback?

This last set of questions is invaluable in terms of maintaining and growing relationships. It takes just a few short minutes to shoot off an email — or three — to share your appreciation for a kindness someone extended, to ask someone a question, or to keep someone in the loop on a project.

If we don’t pause to think about it, we are apt to overlook these kinds of communications. And we often do. But in a world where we depend on others to achieve anything in life, they are essential.

After several long conversations, Julie came to appreciate the efficiency of slowing down enough to see the others around her. She saw that she was working so hard and moving so fast, that even if she was delivering quality results, she was working against herself, putting her job at risk, and making things harder for everyone.

So, over time and with great discipline, she began to change. And, slowly, people began to notice. I knew things were going to be OK when I left her a message expecting a call back in several weeks, if at all, but she called me back that evening.

“Hi Peter,” she said, “I just wanted to let you know I got your call and I appreciate you reaching out to me. I’m heading out with the team for some drinks. I’ll try you again in a few days.”

And, sure enough, she did.

*Names and some details changed

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

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best-gifts-are-not-expensiveA few weeks ago was my birthday. I turned 43.

43 doesn’t mark a new decade. It’s not one of those birthdays people usually celebrate in a grand way, and mine was no exception. No one threw me a lavish surprise party. I had a few small dinners with close friends and family. I opened two presents.

And yet as I emerge from this birthday, I can’t imagine feeling any more appreciated, respected, and loved. Because on this particular not-a-big-deal birthday, in addition to those two presents, I received some other gifts — gifts that cost nothing, and that I have come to realize are, actually, a very big deal.

As we enter this holiday season, it makes sense to pause for a moment and think about gifts. What’s the point of them?

On a basic level, we give gifts because we’re supposed to. On certain occasions — birthdays, anniversaries, dinner parties, the end of the year — it’s customary.

Underlying that custom is an important purpose: appreciation. We give people gifts to show them that we are grateful for them and value the role they play in our lives.

But here’s a common misconception: the bigger, more valuable the gift, the more it expresses our appreciation. I know people who’ve received huge stock grants who feel severely under-appreciated.

Because gifts don’t express appreciation, people do. And when people don’t express it, neither do their gifts.

The gifts I received that meant so much to me on my forty-third birthday? My wife Eleanor asked a small group of my friends to write me a note of appreciation, “a thought or intention or poem,” she wrote to each friend, “that encourages him to accept himself just as he is.”

Just as he is. There is no more powerful way to acknowledge others than to be thankful for them just as they are.

And yet we almost never do this. Especially in a corporate setting where we often ask people to be change and where we value them for what they can do for us and for the company.

Think of our corporate end of the year rituals: performance reviews, holiday parties, and, sometimes, if we’re lucky, bonuses.

Performance reviews are supposed to identify our strengths, and the best reviewers spend most of their time dwelling on strengths. But it’s not a review unless we also look at weaknesses, areas “to develop,” places where we fall short. In other words, immediately after we tell people how great they are, we tell them how they aren’t good enough.

Holiday parties usually include a speech by the CEO or other leader thanking people for their hard work over the year and encouraging them to continue working hard over the next year. It’s an important ritual but it’s impersonal, given to the entire company or department at once. And it’s typically about what we’ve been able to accomplish, not about who we are. People don’t feel individually recognized.

And bonuses are a business deal, based not on appreciating us for who we are, but on compensating us for what we achieved, often delivered with no ceremony and no clearly expressed appreciation. The huge stock grants that left people under-appreciated? They were, literally, placed on people’s empty chairs overnight. No note. No conversation. Just a piece of paper on a chair.

I’m not suggesting these rituals aren’t important. People work together in organizations in order to accomplish things so it makes sense that our organizational rituals appreciate people for accomplishing things and for increasing their ability to accomplish more things in the future.

But I’d like to suggest an additional way to appreciate the people around us. A way that costs nothing and feels great to everyone involved: in a handwritten note, tell them why you appreciate them.

Not for what they do for you. Not for what they help you accomplish. Not even for what they accomplish themselves. Just for being who they are.

If you’re hesitant — maybe you think it’s too touchy-feely, too sappy — just think about what it would feel like to receive that type of note from the people around you.

Here’s the hard part: don’t be stingy.

You should do this even for people about whom you feel conflicted. Perhaps you don’t like everything about them. Maybe you don’t always appreciate who they are.

That’s OK. This isn’t a performance review. You don’t have to address everything about each person. This is a gift. There’s no reason to hoard your appreciation; it’s unlimited in supply. Just think about what you do appreciate about people and describe that part. Let them know what about them makes you smile. What you admire. What makes them special to you.

Then hand them your notes and thank them, individually, for working with you. Or, if you’re feeling bashful, just leave the notes on their chairs overnight; there’s no risk they’ll open them and feel under-appreciated.

I know, for me, it made my otherwise insignificant, mid-decade birthday the most significant one yet.

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

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The Value of Ritual in Your WorkdayI recently saw the movie The Last Samurai for the second time. Set in Japan in the 1870s, it tells the story of an American civil war veteran who was captured by samurai fighters and, over time, learned to honor their ways.

The first time I saw the movie, when it came out in 2003, I was enthralled by the beautifully choreographed fight scenes.

But this time, I was most moved by a scene I don’t even remember seeing the first time: a samurai drinking tea.

Sitting at a low table, he moved deliberately, singularly focused on his tea. He contemplated it. Then poured it. Then sipped it, tasted it, and, finally, swallowed it.

This, I realized, was the source of the samurai’s strength.

His acrobatics were impressive, but they were merely ademonstration of his strength. The source was this tea ritual and many other rituals like it. His power as a warrior came from his patience, precision, attention to subtlety, concentration, and his reverence for the moment.

The power of ritual is profound and under-appreciated. Mostly, I think, it’s because we live in a time-starved culture, and ritual is time-indulgent. Who can afford the luxury of doing one thing at a time? Who has the patience to pause and honor an activity before and after we do it?

We all should.

Religions understand and leverage the power of ritual. In Judaism, blessings are as plentiful as iPhone apps. Wake up? There’s a blessing for that. Wash your hands? There’s a blessing for that. Experience something new? Eat a meal? Go to the bathroom? There’s a blessing for each one. Every religion I know has similar practices to make our experience of the world sacred.

Which might be why we avoid ritual in the business world. Religion is so loaded, so personal. But ritual doesn’t have to be religious; it’s just a tool religions use. Rituals are about paying attention. They’re about stopping for a moment and noticing what you’re about to do, what you’ve just done, or both. They’re about making the most of a particular moment. And that’s something we could use a lot more of in the business world.

Imagine if we started each meeting with a recognition of the power of bringing a group of people together to collaborate and an intention to dedicate ourselves, without distraction, to achieving the goals of the meeting. Perhaps even an acknowledgement that each person’s views, goals, and priorities are important and need to be heard. Of course, that would require that every meeting have a clear goal, an agenda, and a purpose. But those are just nice side benefits.

What if every performance review began with a short thought about the importance of clear and open communication? If every time we worked on a spreadsheet someone else created for us, we paused to acknowledge the complexity of the work she did and the attention to detail she brought to it? If at the beginning of the day we paused to honor the work we are about to do and the people with whom we are about to do it?

Here’s what makes it easy to get started with this: no one needs to know.

Start with just yourself. Sit at your desk in the morning, pause before booting up your computer, and mark the moment. Do this by taking a deep breath. Or by arranging your pens. Whatever it is, do it with the intention of creating respect for what you’re about to begin. Do the same before you make a phone call. Or receive one. Or before you meet with a colleague or customer.

Each time we pause, notice, and offer respect for an activity, it reminds us to appreciate and focus on what we’re about to do. And by elevating each activity, we’ll take it more seriously. We’ll get more pleasure from it. The people with whom we work will feel more respected. And we’ll feel more self-respect.

Which means we’ll work better with each other. And produce better results.

That focus will help us accomplish our tasks more carefully, more proficiently, and more productively, with fewer distracting under-the-table BlackBerry texts. And all the research shows that that kind of singular focus will make us far more efficient.

In other words, that time-indulgent ritual thing? It might just be the perfect antidote to a time-starved world.

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

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Don't Let the Package Distract You from the MessageMy wife Eleanor and I came home from dinner the other night, and found our babysitter, Leslie*, in tears.

“Is everything OK with the kids?” I asked.

“Yes. They’ve been sleeping the whole time. It’s not that.”

“Do you want to talk about whatever it is?” I asked her.

“He broke up with me in a text message.” she said, holding her phone. She had been dating Ned for a few weeks and they had grown close quickly. The break-up text was a complete surprise to her.

“A text?” I said. I had never met Ned but I was already angry at him for such a cruel move.

“He broke up with you?” Eleanor said, wanting to learn more.

The problem

As soon as I heard Eleanor I realized my mistake; a mistake many of us make when we communicate about anything sensitive. Which includes just about everything.

We confuse the package with the message. We get so distracted by the awkward, sometimes inappropriate way in which someone is communicating that we miss what the person is communicating.

It’s not just the mode of communication. Sometimes it might be a tone of voice. A yell, sarcasm, or particular words that are used. A simple question like; “How did you come to that conclusion?” could be taken as a challenge, an accusation, a support, a query of curiosity, or something else.

With Ned’s break-up text message, I was focused on thepackage — how uncool it is to break up with someone in a text message (By the way, just for the record, I think it isuncool to break up with someone in a text message). But Eleanor looked beyond that. She was focused on the message itself — what Ned was trying to say in his text.

This package-message thing plagues organizational life and decimates productivity. I was talking to a friend of mine, Malcolm, who is a few months into a new job, and he is already afraid to write emails:

“It seems like everything is politics,” Malcolm told me. Then he mimicked some of his colleagues, “Why did you cc that person? Why didn’t you cc me? Why did you bring up that budget issue?” He paused and looked into space as he mused, “I spend half my time trying to craft my communications just right. What a waste! Frankly, it’s easier and smarter to just not communicate.”

Here’s the real issue: we are all clumsy communicators — both in what we say and in what we hear.

Add to that cultural, religious, geographic, gender, age, language, and socio-economic diversity and it’s a miracle we understand each other at all.

Which is why we spend so much of our time confused, upset, disappointed, suspicious, or angry at many of the people around us.

The solution?

Try this:

  1. Notice. Anytime you feel a negative emotion about something said or written to you, it’s a warning sign that you might get distracted by the package. Anger, sadness, frustration, disgust, and disbelief are all good prompts to go to step 2.
  2. Pause. Take a deep breath. Then recognize you’re vulnerable to reacting emotionally to howsomething was communicated. And remind yourself that communication is hard and often done poorly. Cut yourself, and everyone else, some slack. Don’t assume malicious intent. Don’t take it personally. Resist the urge to be offended.
  3. Interpret. Now reread what was written, or think about what was said, and unscramble it. Think about what the person was trying to convey. Search for value. Strive for understanding.
  4. Respond. A good rule of thumb is to use a different medium than elicited your emotional response. If a text upset you, don’t text back. If an email set you off, pick up the phone. And when you do reply, ignore the package and focus on the message.

As a general rule, assume clumsiness. Picture someone who is moving fast, trying to get a lot done, and not skilled at communicating perfectly. Assume they’re not a jerk. Overlook their inelegance.

Then, when it’s your turn to speak, address the real issue not the clumsiness.

As soon as I realized I had gotten distracted by Ned’s use of a text message, I switched gears, took Eleanor’s lead, and asked Leslie to read us Ned’s text.

As we unpacked the text, as we read between the lines, it became clear that Ned was overwhelmed by his feelings. He needed to slow down. But it was also clear that he really liked Leslie.

After the three of us discussed it, Leslie decided to ignore that Ned had used a text message and call him to talk about what he was experiencing. Ned’s text message turned out to be a present. A present Leslie almost discarded because the wrapping was so ugly.

But she took the time to unwrap it. Which led to their conversation. Then a walk. Then dinner. And then…well, that’s a package only time will unwrap.

*Names and some details changed

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

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Motivate Employees with Good Advice But InvisiblyConsider this, from Science Daily, Dec. 1, 2010:

New research by University of Minnesota psychologists shows how social support benefits are maximized when provided “invisibly” — that is, without the support recipient being aware that they are receiving it. The study, “Getting in Under the Radar: A Dyadic View of Invisible Support,” is published in the December issue of the journal Psychological Science.

In the study, graduate student Maryhope Howland and Professor Jeffry A. Simpson suggest there may be something unique about the emotional support behaviors that result in recipients being less aware of receiving support. Receiving social support, such as advice or encouragement, is typically thought of as positive, a generous act by one person yielding benefits for another in a time of need. Effective support should make someone feel better and more competent, it is generally acknowledged. However, what is supposedly considered “support” may make someone feel vulnerable, anxious or ineffective in the face of a stressor, Howland and Simpson found.

It seems to me that this study is as relevant for managers as it is for romantic partners, who were the actual subjects in the study. It is a truism that employees need support, and that enlightened management does all it can to provide support. But this study suggests that if the support is provided too obviously, too visibly, it can actually make a person feel worse. Support that is too blatant risks making the recipient feel as if he needed support, which is not a feeling most people in the workplace feel comfortable acknowledging. Well-intended though it may be, visible support can backfire, and make the employee feel resentful, insecure, and worried.

So what is a manager to do? Withhold support? We know that causes problems. Give support? We see that that can cause problems, too. So what then? Send anonymous notes of support? Sneak up from behind the employee and whisper in her ear, “We value you!” then disappear before she can turn and see you? Kidding aside, how you offer support can turn the well-intended but clumsy offer into the kind of support that actually boosts performance.

The best support comes naturally, organically; not on cue, not on script. The best support feels as if it is simply a part of the ongoing conversation in the workplace. It enters seamlessly into the discussion. If the manager intended to be supportive, the employee never detected that intention. Spouses yearn to hear the words, “I love you,” but if they are asked for or sound the least bit rehearsed, they mean nothing, or can be counterproductive. Same deal at work. Employees yearn to feel valued, but if the manager doles out statements of valuation he can actually undercut the employee’s feeling of worth.

Making an employee feel valued is one of the most important things a manager can do (my book Shine goes into some of the ways, based on the latest psychological evidence, that managers can bring out the best in people). But as the study by Howland and Simpson shows, it is also one of the most difficult things for a manager to do.

The takeaway: Learn how to value people subtly. How? Subtle actions, like making eye contact; asking a person his or her opinion on something, anything; noticing the person, not complimenting, simply noticing; recalling something the person said yesterday, last week, or last month; giving a high five; or recalling a past success when times are tough. These are subtle expressions of support — and if you start to think about it, you can come up with scores more.

But the best are the ones you don’t even think of. You just do them naturally, invisibly, because you feel what you feel. You’re glad to be working on your team and you show it. That’s the best support.

What works for you? How do you show support? What kinds of support make you feel the most valued?

About the Author

Edward Hallowell, MD, is a psychiatrist, served as an instructor at Harvard Medical School for 20 years, and is the director of the Hallowell Centers in New York City and Sudbury, Massachusetts. He has authored eighteen books, including the national bestseller Driven to Distraction, that have sold millions of copies.

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Leaders Should Lead Without ControllingThis was the fourth day of our five days together, and we were swirling in chaos. There were almost thirty of us in a small room as part of Ann Bradney’s leadership workshop I wrote about last week.

Sara* was on the floor, cradling the arm and leg she had broken several months earlier, feeling broken herself, crying as she thought about her son who died five years ago. A few feet away from her, Angelo stood with his hands on his chest, also crying, immersed in his experience of alienation from his mother. Across the room, Zoe was huddled with her sister, Chloe, as they felt the pain of losing their own mother and confronted their fear of losing each other.

As I looked around the room, I saw two or three other people scattered about, each struggling with deep emotions of loss, fear, anger, and sadness. The noise was disorienting. People were crying, laughing, shouting, hugging, and comforting each other, all at the same time. It was completely out of control.

Just like life itself.

We were a microcosm of the world and of every organization I’ve ever known. Not just the pain, though that certainly exists wherever we’re brave enough to look, but the multiplicity of activity. The variety of individuals and groups, each occupied, engulfed even, by their own concerns, needs, and desires.

To top it off, we had only one established leader, Ann, to manage the mayhem. It was an impossible job. She couldn’t be in seven places at once. She couldn’t support each of the people who needed her. She had set herself up to fail.

Which, it eventually dawned on me, was her plan all along.

Ann didn’t just let the chaos happen by accident. She welcomed it. Because the perfect ingredient to draw out leadership is exactly the one most of us, including leaders, fight so hard to avoid: overwhelm.

Leaders like to be in control. I know that’s true for me. I want things to turn out right and I feel — often mistakenly — that if I have control over them, they will.

But here’s the thing: the more control I have over something, the less room there is for other people to step into their own leadership. If Ann didn’t need the help, many of us would have sat back watching, happy to let her lead.

When I took a bird’s eye view of the room, I saw that there were only six, maybe seven, people who needed help at that moment. The rest of us, close to twenty, were in a physical, psychological, and emotional place where we could offer help.

But it’s hard to offer help, to step into your own leadership. It requires tremendous courage. You have to risk being wrong, overstepping your bounds, and standing alone.

Which is why we needed a nudge.

So Ann created a situation that she couldn’t possibly handle by herself, and people stepped up. One participant, Janice, went over to Zoe and Chloe, the two sisters, and spoke softly to them. Another participant, Holly, sat next to Sara, who was mourning the loss of her son and held her. And I went over to Angelo, who looked up at me for a moment and then fell into my arms crying.

It’s not that Janice, Holly, and I were the leaders in the workshop. The day before, it was me who was crying, and Angelo who did the comforting. But on this day, in this moment, we were in a position to reach out.

Designing chaos into a process is the antithesis of what most leaders do. Usually, we try to focus on one thing at a time. One objective, one concept, one conversation, one task.

But in real life, in real organizations, nothing happens one thing at a time. And no one can be on top of it all. At one point, one of the participants accused Ann of allowing too much bedlam. Ann’s response was swift and emphatic:

“No. People want to make the leader the one who sees and knows everything. I am just a human being. I can’t see everything. I can’t know everything. I make mistakes. When you make me more than human, you can bring me down while refusing to take responsibility or any risk. Step into your leadership now.”

But wait a second. It sounds great but what if everyone in an organization stepped into their own leadership? What if everyone followed his own impulse? Wouldn’t that lead to anarchy?

Maybe. It depends on the strength of their organization’s container. How clear is the mission of the organization? The vision? The values? The culture? If we know what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, what’s important to us, and how we operate, then there will be trust, focused action, and abundant, unified leadership. If not, there will be anarchy.

But if the container isn’t strong, there will be anarchy anyway. Because, no matter how much leaders would like to, they just can’t control everything. And trying to control the uncontrollable just makes things worse. People check out. They feel no ownership. They work the minimum. And things fall through the cracks.

Here’s the hard part: leading without controlling. Stepping into your own leadership while leaving space for others to step into theirs as well.

If you find yourself still wanting to control it all, try saying “yes” to everything until you’re overwhelmed and can’t possibly deliver. So overwhelmed that, like Ann, you will fail to be on top of it all.

If that happens, then, like Ann, you will grow leaders around you. Your failure will prevent others from making you more than human. It will encourage them to take responsibility and risks. To step into their own leadership.

And if, on a particular day, you feel good, grounded, and strong, with a little extra energy, then look around for someone else who is overwhelmed and reach out to help. Take the risk to lead.
*Names have been changed

About the Author

Peter Bregman speaks, writes, and consults on leadership. He is the CEO of Bregman Partners, Inc., a global management consulting firm, and the author of Point B: A Short Guide To Leading a Big Change.

(Via HBR)

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