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Leading The Brokenhearted

I never imagined I’d be writing this post. But I have coached more stressed and grieving people over the past year than I have in my whole career. Challenges of every sort seem to be buffeting us, and their effects accompany us into all aspects of our lives… including into the workplace and into the hands of devoted community and organizational leaders like you. So here goes: an executive coach’s exploration of leadership in brokenhearted times. 

There is no predicting the accident, the diagnosis or the addiction; the mass shooting or the private abuse. The fire, flood, quake or hurricane. The disturbing national event or the cataclysmic organizational shake-up. We think of these as the unimaginable tragedies that happen in other places and to other people. Not here, to us.

But these past many months have reminded us that tragedy can strike right where we stand. The unthinkable happens, and the affected take a bit of time out to register the blow. But then – grieving, disoriented or even traumatized – they show back up to work. They may be walking back into your workplace, to your team. And there you are,  leading people in their most raw and human moments, when their well-pressed suits can’t button up their sorrow. If the tragedy has hit your whole community or workplace, you may even have to lead the brokenhearted while your own heart is in shreds.

If this happens to you, it will be a crucible in your journey as a leader, calling upon you in ways you can’t imagine. Although you can’t predict these moments, you can prepare for them: personally, relationally and structurally.

Preparing Personally 

Who you are is how you lead – and that is never so true as when the chips are down. Your own experience with tragedy will naturally shape how you manage others in heartbreaking times. So it can be helpful to review your own history with trauma, grief and loss, and take clear-eyed stock of their imprint on you as a person and as a leader. The “grit and grace” lens is one simple way to self-reflect.

Grit is a crucial leadership trait in difficult times. It helps you focus on the work at hand, drive to make progress and provide others with a sense of stability and predictability. To what extent does grit show up in you during tough times, and how does it manifest? How has that grit served you or others in tough times?

As useful as grit is, it’s also possible to bring so much of it that others experience you as uncaring or unapproachable. For example, has your own history trained you to ignore or power through your own emotions? Is there any chance that you expect (or hope) that others will do the same? Does vulnerability make you squeamish or judgmental? Becoming more at home with challenging emotions (your own and others’) can help you prepare to be more open-hearted when others are facing difficult times.

Grace. Perhaps your response to tragedy tends toward grace, which is a key aspect of the ‘consoler in chief’ role. Grace offers compassion and comfort to those in pain. But too much grace can get you in over your head. You can become so identified with others’ suffering that you lose your objectivity and find yourself crossing the line from leader to rescuer or enabler. You can be so flexible as to create havoc on the rest of the team and on productivity. So being too helpful can put you, the employee and the company at risk. If you tend to be grace-full to a fault, you might want to set up some guardrails that prevent you from going overboard on overhelping.

The optimal stance, in tragedy as in most things, is a blend of grit and grace, which allows you to be appropriately sensitive without losing your own footing. A shining example of blended leadership in recent times is Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Here’s a clip of Cruz, where her deep care and steely resolve are seamlessly woven together.

Turning grit & grace toward yourself. It’s hard to lead well when the well is empty. In times of tragedy or challenge, it’s crucial to attend to yourself. Most leaders would tell you that self-care is absolutely necessary, yet few actually put that into practice. They treat it as optional: something they’ll get around to when they have the time. But if you are leading the brokenhearted, self-care isn’t a nice-to-have; it’s a necessity that requires both resolve and self-compassion. Get sleep. Exercise and eat well. Go easy on the alcohol. Do things that nourish you. Draw on your support system; consider getting counseling for yourself. Structure your time, adjust your expectations and renegotiate your commitments to align with the realities of life in a time of upheaval.

Preparing Relationally 

You can’t know in advance what people will need when tragedy falls.  But you can prepare by knowing what kinds of conversations you’ll need to have when it does.

If you’re leading someone(s) going through difficulty, don’t make any assumptions about what support he/she/they need from you. Don’t assume that what you would want is what they want. Even if you know them well, don’t assume that you know the brokenhearted them.  Tragedy changes us and reveals aspects of us that we may not know or show under normal circumstances.

How do you know what support to give someone? Ask them. Does he need time off, or does being in the office help? How does she want you to answer other people’s questions about what’s going on? What can you share, with whom? What needs to be kept private? Do they want you to check in with them, or would they prefer that you not ask how they’re doing unless they bring it up?

Sometimes people can’t articulate what they need, but they know what won’t work. So if they don’t know what support to ask for, you can ask them what you could do that would be counterproductive or unhelpful for them. A lot of clarity and wisdom can surface there.

Even as you accommodate (as possible) someone who’s reeling, you still have to make sure that the work gets done. This is delicate terrain, where you need to keep grit and grace in balance. The best way I know to navigate this is to explicitly acknowledge the challenges of working while recovering, and make explicit plans and agreements. Talk with the brokenhearted person, and then the team, about how the work’s going to get done while someone is either physically out of the office or is present, but less mentally/emotionally available.

Here’s an example from my own experience. My father died when I was 30; my mother had died several years earlier. That second loss really threw me, and my performance was very uneven while I grappled with it. I’d get totally overwhelmed, out of nowhere. My boss noticed this new unpredictability and sat down with me to create a strategy.  We moved one of my deadlines back by a few weeks, and moved one of my projects to a teammate. We agreed that I would work in the office as much as I could, but that I could leave the office on short notice if I felt overwhelmed. Sometimes just knowing I had the space to leave enabled me to stay. Sometimes, I needed to step away for an afternoon or a day. So I briefed a co-worker on my deliverables and kept him in the loop so that he could step in at any time if needed.

It wasn’t easy, but it worked. My boss’ explicit collaboration with me and engagement with other team members gave me the room to recover without derailing the team’s ability to deliver.

Preparing Structurally 

While you may not have given these worst-case scenarios much thought, your organization probably has. Most organizations have created structures to help you support staff through difficult times. Rather than waiting till a tragedy hits to know what these structures and resources are, you can meet periodically with your HR professionals on the following questions:

  • What actions are within and beyond the scope of your role as a leader, when responding to employees going through challenging times?
  • What are the resources available through the organization’s Employee Assistance Program? How does an employee go about engaging EAP services?
  • What is the manager’s responsibility and process for notifying company officials if an employee appears to be a danger to self or others?
  • What internal programs (such as leave-sharing, disaster relocation funds) has the company established? How do they work?

Leading the brokenhearted is perhaps the most delicate, difficult and important work you will ever do. It will stretch your character, heart and competence in ways that everyday leadership won’t. Though we like to think that tragedy won’t happen to us or “ours,” the truth is that it can land at your feet in an instant.  And while you’ll never be ready, you can prepare.

 

 

Workplace Diversity: Vitamin or Pathogen?

Ever since I’ve been in the workplace, which is a long time now, diversity has been touted as a business and moral imperative. Most organizations hold diversity as a core value. Yet 50 years into this push for diversity, and with a workforce growing more diverse by the day, why do we still need to talk about this? Why are women and people of color still so scarce in top leadership roles? Why do so many organizational cultures still reflect the complexion and preferences of their founders, rather than the kaleidoscope of the current workforce? The reasons are many and complex, but I want to explore one in particular: our default mindset toward diversity.

I believe there are two fundamental mindsets that operate at both an individual and collective level: diversity as vitamin, and diversity as pathogen.

The ‘vitamin’ mindset holds that:

  • diversity (the many forms of variety that humans bring) is a necessary element to the health of the enterprise;
  • a deficiency in diversity weakens the system, and the remedy is more diversity; therefore…
  • the organization embraces and metabolizes diversity as medicine – even when it might be hard to digest.

The ‘pathogen’ mindset holds that:

  • what is different from the so-called norm is considered alien, foreign or other;
  • foreign objects stress the system and threaten its health and stasis; therefore…
  • the organization must use its informal ‘immune system’ to neutralize what is different.  This includes behaviors such as silencing, ignoring, isolating, attacking or discouraging people who are different from the norm.

Like most people, you and I would say that we ascribe to the “vitamin” theory. And at the conscious level, we probably do. But researchers at Harvard University’s Project Implicit have shown conclusively that most people have both an explicit, conscious view of diversity, as well as an implicit, unconscious one.

Our conscious mind tends to embrace difference (vitamin view), while our subconscious mind tends to house our more negative perceptions (pathogen view). Research shows that these dual mindsets co-exist within almost all of us. Because both levels of belief are operating simultaneously, we behave inconsistently. We say we value diversity (which we do), but our behavior will reveal any of our ambivalence or fear toward it.  Because we don’t tend to own or acknowledge our implicit biases, those tend to disproportionally drive our behavior. Hence, 50+ years in, we’re still struggling to embody our diversity ideals because we are conflicted.

In their excellent book, “Blindspot,” the Project Implicit researchers emphasize that these dual mindsets are not cause for shame or blame. They are part of the human package. But the beliefs we don’t own or examine can drive some very counterproductive behavior that can only be righted through self-awareness and conscious effort.

These dueling mindsets don’t just happen at the individual level; they occur organizationally, driving the behavior of an entire system.

Like most individuals, most organizations hold a consciously positive mindset toward diversity, and we can see that play out concretely. Many companies hail diversity’s rich virtues. They aggressively recruit for it. They set up diversity and inclusion programs, and sponsor affinity groups around race, gender and sexual orientation. None of this would be happening unless organizations believed, at some level, that difference is a strengthener, worthy of aspiration and investment. Diversity as vitamin.

And yet… If organizations were operating solely from the ‘vitamin’ mindset, workplace life would be very different. Employees of all kinds would feel a more consistent sense of ease and belonging at work. Variety, both in demographics and perspectives, would be reflected and embraced at all levels. Employee retention, satisfaction and turnover rates would be consistent across groups. If our sole belief were that diversity was a nutritional necessity for organizational health, we’d take our vitamins – happily and often.

Our lived experience reveals the diversity-as-pathogen mindset is also strongly at work. Often without intent, organizations will treat a person who seems “different” the same way a body would treat a foreign object: as a threat. Like the body, organizations will deploy an autonomic cultural immune system to isolate or neutralize that disruption to the norm.

Here are some of the indicators of the diversity immune system at work at the interpersonal or group level:

  • The minority person or point of view is repeatedly excluded, ignored or negated.
  • People are spending significant energy tending the wounds of conduct that, intended or not, diminishes them.
  • Some groups of people chronically struggle to be heard or included.
  • Those who raise questions about inequity are told that they’re seeing the situation incorrectly.  They’re often accused of being “sensitive,” “angry” or “difficult.”

Here are some indicators of the ‘diversity as pathogen’ mindset working at the systemic level:

  • Pay gaps might exist between different demographic groups doing the same work.
  • An organization’s retention rates may be inconsistent across demographic groups.
  • The ranks of senior leadership may not reflect a variety of backgrounds and points of view.
  • New employees who are not white, male and heterosexual may still be referred to as “diversity hires:” as if white/male/hetero is the standard of sameness and all others are, well, “other.”
  • An organization may have succeeded at hiring a diverse workforce, but finds that a disproportionate percentage of non- white/male/hetero employees feel undervalued, underutilized, over-securitized or excluded.

If your organization is experiencing any of these dynamics, it’s facing an opportunity you may not have considered. Rather than building new policies, procedures or programs, consider first examining the organization’s underlying mindset(s), and identify how those are expressed through behavior, culture, systems and outcomes. Awareness isn’t everything, but it’s the necessary starting place.

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.
~ James Baldwin

 

 

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Uber Reveals the Perils of Grit Gone Wild

Set bold goals. Drive for results. Accelerate growth. Foster competition. Push people to excel.

This is the ‘grit’ side of business success, and it’s become a favored playbook in the start-up world. This formula has produced dizzying growth and investor bonanzas for countless new companies. So what’s not to love about a strategy like this? Ask Uber’s investors and its CEO, Travis Kalanick.

Under Kalanick’s leadership, Uber’s strategy and corporate culture were overwhelmingly grit-centric:  which is to say that Uber has faltered – seriously and predictably – because of the absence of the grace aspect of the enterprise. What was missing in Kalanick’s Uber? Fairness; compassion; care for employees’ welfare; collaboration. You know – that touchy-feely stuff that, in the right amount, actually makes organizations sing.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with bodacious goals and an aggressive stance to productivity. But, if left to its own devices, grit’s aggressive ambition will ultimately bring a company down. Like a tall tree with shallow roots, like a field farmed year after year, like an engine run too hot for too long, a leader who leans on the grit and ignores the grace has followed a recipe for failure.

According to a recent New York Times article, Uber’s obsession with results at all costs – unmediated by attention to workplace equality, safety, civility and due process – has fostered some very unhealthy dynamics:

  • a hyper-competitive atmosphere which pits employees against each other and against management
  • inappropriate workplace conduct among high-performers has gone unchecked, condoned and even modeled from the top
  • incidents of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination have continued to mount

As a result, Uber’s “bro” culture became a broken culture. Customers, employees and investors are in revolt and the company is in chaos.

  • The company’s brand and profits have taken a huge hit; Kalanick’s been forced to step aside.
  • Uber’s valuation has dropped from $68B to $50B, while its customers flock to competitor, Lyft.
  • Uber is mired in lawsuits brought by employees and competitors.
  • The company will need to devote untold resources and time to rehabilitate its culture, management practices and brand.

Our experience tell us, and research confirms, that the leaders who are effective over the long term are the ones who blend grit and grace. Maybe not in perfect halves, but at least in dynamic combination. Their actions promote productivity as well as harmony, and foster competition and collaboration in healthy measure. Why? Because the blend is what gets the best results over time.

The Uber story, like the 2009 real estate crisis and Enron before that, was predictable and avoidable, because grit alone (like grace alone) can’t deliver sustainable success. So if you’re a grit-leaning leader who wants to shoot the moon without the crash-and-burn, go get your grace on.

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Grit and Grace…On Behalf of What?

I usually steer away from philosophy in this blog, focusing more on practical leadership topics. But from time to time, I think it’s important to step back from the ‘how to’ of leading with grit & grace and look more deeply at the ‘why.’  On behalf of what does this work exist?

The underlying purpose of Leading With Grit & Grace™ is to help individuals and institutions address what I call the ‘tyranny of success.’ On one hand, it is critically important to establish what we’re good at. This forms the very foundation of our effectiveness. For example, a leader discovers that she gets great results by being understanding with her people, so she adopts a compassionate leadership style. A company sees a spike in profits by downsizing, and develops a core ethos of ‘doing more with less.’ In other words: we take an action; we like the result. So we “rinse and repeat” a few times, and pretty soon, we’ve got a bona fide formula for success.  Great, right?

Not necessarily. We humans tend to fall truly, madly and deeply in love with what works for us, and this can become a problem. Over time, we may stop paying attention to whatever falls outside our loving gaze, and our attentions and actions become imbalanced without our knowing it. Seemingly out of nowhere, our once-reliable strategy for success starts to wreak havoc: not because it’s the wrong strategy, but because it’s built on a partial set of values that we believe to be complete. Sure, it’s great to be good to your people.  But at some point, too much kindness will tank your efficacy.  It’s great to maximize efficiency. But continually stressing your people and resources will ultimately exact a heavy price.

The tyranny of success occurs when we lean on one set of values (and their resulting behaviors) and neglect their necessary opposites: kindness to the neglect of firmness; profits to the neglect of sustainability; ambition to the neglect of service; growth to the neglect of recovery and stabilization.  It is in the forgetting of these necessary opposites that our strengths become liabilities and can begin to do real harm.  It is from this forgetting that burn-out, abuse, complacency, greed, exploitation, and demoralization arise.

So regardless of the scale or context in which we are working, the work we do at Leading With Grit & Grace™ is always about helping people and institutions to transcend the tyranny of their success, and to develop a more balanced and sustainable form of thought, action and impact. It is on behalf of this intention that we exist.

What about you?

What are your (or your institution’s) formulas for success?

What values are at the core of your formula?

What do those values make possible for you and others?

What are the positive opposites of those values?  Which of these positive opposites might you be overlooking or undervaluing?

How might you integrate some of those neglected values more fully to support your success?

Resolution or Inspiration?

Like most of us, I love the new year.   It’s a great opportunity: a blank slate on which to write a promising imagined future.  But what do we tend to write on this promising blankness? Resolutions.  Yuk.  More goals for me to be ‘resolute’ about. More stuff I have to martial my willpower to accomplish or improve. More deficiencies that I’m going to try to “re-solve” for the umpteenth time again this year.

If you’re like a lot of us, there’s something about resolutions that can cause us to channel our inner schoolmarm: heavy, grim, and headed for certain disappointment. And I don’t know about you, but I tend to work harder to rebel against that mean old bag than to obey her.

So this year, I’m firing New Year’s resolutions and looking instead for New Year’s inspiration. Rather than resolving to do or be something (which requires a sort of turning against myself), I’m looking for what’s inspiring me, what’s calling me forward. Inspiration can create as much vision and momentum as resolution, but without the internal friction or shoulds. Yes, there’s still effort – and sometimes pain – involved in making change. But working toward something, vs. against ourselves, usually supplies more motivation, energy and odds of success.

What about you?

You might be much better than most of us at resolutions, able to create ones that work for you and don’t feel oppressive.  In that case, let the change begin!

But if you’ve created resolutions that evoke any sense of ‘should-ing’ on yourself, you might want to question whether you truly believe that real change comes about as a result of a good swift internal kick in the pants.  If your resolutions have a stale or bearing-down quality to you, try switching gears.  Take a moment to put all striving aside.  Drop into your heart, into your body, and relax.  Sit with these questions and allow the answers to arise from the silence:

  • To what do I feel inspired this coming year?
  • What is calling me forth?  Ready to be born?  Interesting, appealing?
  • Is there some shift that feels like it’s pulling me to it, the way the moon pulls the tides?
  • Is there something that I’m ready to release, the way the snake sheds its skin?

However you choose to move into the New Year, may 2015 be your best year ever.

 

 

Grit Gone Wild – How to Torpedo Your Brand In One Memo or Less

A client said to me once, “Really, Leslie, what does grace have to do with leadership? Does the heart really matter?” My answer is absolutely ‘yes,’ and Microsoft CEO Stephen Elop has given us a master class in why.

A couple of weeks ago, Elop sent out an all-company memo announcing layoffs at Microsoft. If you haven’t seen it yet, read it here. It’s spectacular – and not in a good way. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/07/microsoft-lays-off-thousands-with-bad-memo.html

Elop began the memo by rambling on about business conditions and product line strategy, using passive voice corporate-speak. After eleven excruciating paragraphs, he finally got to the punchline: Microsoft will be laying off about 10% of its people over the next year. Elop took all of one sentence to address the human side: “These decisions are difficult for the team, and we plan to support departing team members with severance benefits.” What a peach.

I get it. Tough times require tough choices. But the mistake that Elop and so many other executives make is to become hyper-rational in implementing those choices.  They hide behind numbers, market share and productivity stats while taking actions that alter people’s very human lives. Yes, the decision will hurt.  But when leaders cut themselves off  from the humanity of the situation, they cause additional injury to those affected, to those who remain, to the culture and to…themselves.

Elop provides all leaders with a cautionary tale of what can happen when executives implement tough decisions with gritty objectivity alone.

1.  His own brand plummeted. The firings won’t hurt Elop’s reputation nearly as much as the robotic way in which he communicated his decision. I would suspect that he’s lost significant leadership credibility: not only within the walls of Microsoft, but also among the worldwide business community (thanks to social media). That memo makes him and his entire team of advisors look out of touch and utterly tone deaf.

2.  He undermined his own corporate strategy. Here is the first phrase of Microsoft’s Vision statement (from its website): “Global diversity and inclusion is an integral and inherent part of our culture, fueling our business growth while allowing us to attract, develop, and retain this best talent.” Trust me, Mr. Elop. If I’m the best and brightest, why would I want to work for a company that handles a firing that way?

3.  He’s given the ‘survivors’ more pain to process. Layoffs are always traumatic. But announcing a layoff the way Mr. Elop did adds insensitivity to injury. More pain means a longer recovery.

What’s important to remember is that while Elop’s actions were an epic example of what not to do, he’s by no means alone. I’ve seen many executives abandon their company’s core values when times get tough. I’ve seen them hide behind numbers when talking to people whose lives they’ve just upended. I’ve seen them take the stance that “This is just business,” when it’s a whole lot more than that.  What they don’t realize is this: extricating themselves from the humanity of a difficult business decision doesn’t only affect their people. It affects their own reputation and credibility as leaders. So does the heart matter? Heck yes.

What about you?

  1. When have you skirted away from the human side of a difficult decision?
  2. What’s your ‘way’ of doing that?
  3. What are you trying to avoid or protect by doing that?
  4. What might the costs have been – to individual employees, to the health of the organization, and to your own credibility as a leader?
  5. What would you have to do differently in order to carry out a difficult decision in a way that acknowledges the humanity of the people affected?

 

 

 

“Respect For The Humanity Of The Adversary”

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing, the world is saying good bye to one of the greatest leaders of our time – indeed, of all time. Over the last week, so much has been said about his character, his brilliance, his humility and his impact as a leader. I find myself with nothing to add to the analysis. Rather, I think the most useful thing I can do is to put myself on the hook of a difficult question: “How can I help to carry forward Nelson Mandela’s legacy?”

It’s a ludicrous question, really. Mandela (like other transformative leaders) provides an exemplar of what is possible. But this example is so remarkable as to seem unattainable. “Sure, but that was Mandela. What does his phenomenal quality of heart and character have to do with me, who’s just slogging away in my small corner of the world?”

It seems to me that one of the ways to honor Mr. Mandela’s legacy is not to learn to be like him (good luck with that), but to learn from him and to translate his example into our own context and scale. The invitation is to take even an iota of what he showed us is possible, and carry that forward in our own way.

The way to answer that invitation, I think, is to chunk his example down to mortal-sized pieces, and apply it to the mundane but meaningful interactions in which most of us engage.

The aspect of Mr. Mandela that has captivated my own imagination is his respect for the humanity of the adversary. Nelson Mandela stands tall in our collective view in part because of his extraordinary ability to maintain a deep respect – not just for the kind of run-of-the-mill adversaries that most of deal with, but for people who hated him, tortured him, even wished him dead. I have no idea how he managed that; it just boggles my mind and stymies my heart. And yet, to quote James Joseph, former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, “If Mandela could do that, maybe I can too.”

I don’t know yet where this exploration will take me. I know that my efforts will look laughably humble and mundane. But the greatest way I can honor President Mandela is not with my admiration or adulation, but rather with my action – holding myself accountable to step in a fuller way into some aspect of what he’s taught me is possible.

What about you?

What was it about Nelson Mandela that touched or inspired you most?

In what way is that inspiration an invitation to you to keep Mr. Mandela’s light shining?

How will you put that into action in your world, at your scale, in your way?

 

Dear Congress…

You are the best example of why I do the work I do. And that is not a compliment.

Beyond all the rhetoric, positions and posturing, what I see unfolding is the destructive potential of grit-only leadership, which, at its worst, is a bully’s stance. The beauty of grit lies in its potential for strength, focus, and resolve. But when grit becomes divorced from grace’s capacity for collaboration and compassion, leadership devolves into what I call “growl” mode.

With its ‘my way or the highway’ and ‘winner take all’ mentality, growl leadership isn’t strong; it’s brittle. It doesn’t move things forward; it fractures them. It isn’t grounded, it’s stuck in cement shoes, taking everyone down with it. Growl doesn’t create sustainable growth; it fuels the kind of greed that torpedoes countries, economies and ecosystems. It shuts down governments.

It’s only downhill from here if we can’t learn to stand for our principles while flexing our positions… if we can’t encourage both accountability and kindness and craft policies that do the same. I know this kind of blended leadership is possible. I’ve seen it, and it’s productive and transformative. And it’s necessary now – from you.

Congress, please do this work. Learn to stand and bend at the same time, in service to the principles and ideals that we all share deep down. Stop striving for the perfect answer or the big win. Please aim higher than that. Show us the true power of firmness and compassion braided together for the greater good, not for the next election. You have shown us the worst of ourselves. Now show us the best.

Are You Missing The “Potent Pixels” of Leadership?

I’ve noticed that leaders often have very interesting notions of what constitutes ‘leadership.’  Some managers view leadership as something that exists outside and apart from them. They think of leaders as only those who make the grand speeches and set sweeping agendas. So, often, when my clients’ jobs don’t require this sort of large-scale thought and action, they dismiss the reality of their role and squander their potential for impact. If you asked them, they’d say that they are being appropriately modest. But I’d say they are missing the boat.

On the other hand, some of my clients are the speech-makers and agenda-setters. They have their eye on the far horizon and the big picture. They identify themselves as leaders, but don’t see their small actions as having anything to do with the task of leading.  By focusing on the large perspective and the grand act, they’d say that they are maintaining necessary focus. But in the process, they are overlooking the potential for impact that’s right under their noses.

What’s the limitation of both these points of view: either that we are too ‘small’ to have real impact or too important to worry about the impact of small things? Both perspectives overlook what I call the “potent pixels” of leadership. Potent pixels are the small details of behavior and demeanor that your followers are watching like hawks. They are the undramatic, often unconscious gestures upon which others determine your character, form your reputation and decide whether or not to trust you with their loyalty. Whether or not you’re paying attention to the pixels, they are absolutely forming the picture of your leadership.

What are some examples of potent pixels that you may not be leaning (and leading) into? It’s what you do (or don’t do) once you’ve made a commitment, however insignificant.  How you respond (or don’t) to the distress on a colleague’s face. Taking the risk to surface the unspoken tension that’s arising around the table. The small move you make in a meeting to make it safe to bring a wild idea. A passing smile in a hallway.  The consistent reiteration of an important goal; the consistent applications of standards of performance. The sincerity and specificity of your praise. The questions you ask and the spirit in which you ask them. The energy and engagement with which you listen. What you do – and how you do it – when someone pops their head into your doorway and asks, “Do you have a minute?”

It is in the pixels, at least as much as in the grand speeches, where your leadership legacy gets laid down.  But most managers never see these moments come or go.  As a result, fail to capitalize on the most powerful leadership moment they have: the one that’s happening right now, right here, with this person.

You don’t have to create leadership pixels; you don’t have to schedule them into your already-crammed schedule.  They’re already sitting right in front of you, and they are there for the leveraging. The question is whether you are observant enough to see them and engaged enough to make the most of them.

 

McKinsey makes the case for women at the top

This is a very informative video summarizing McKinsey’s research on the bottom line impact of women in senior leadership.  I appreciate McKinsey’s initial research question: Does it actually matter to have women at the top?  Do women leaders make a difference to organizational effectiveness?  Their findings: yes. Women Matter | McKinsey & Company