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.

It’s (still) Not Easy Being ‘Grit’

Earlier this year, my partner and I interviewed 28 women leaders about their styles of influence and how those styles work – or don’t – in organizational life. (You can request a copy of our findings in the right hand column.) One of the primary questions we wanted to answer was whether organizations relate differently to women leaders, based on their ‘grit’ or ‘grace’ style.

Our finding? Do they ever.

50% of our sample identified their influence style as predominantly ‘grace’-based, while 50% identified their stylistic preference as predominantly ‘grit’-based. Two of the questions we asked were:

“Have you ever received feedback that your style was either ‘too hard’ or ‘too soft?’ and
“If so, how was that actually communicated to you?”

We found that grit-based leaders catch a lot more flak for their style than their grace-based counterparts – even though both styles, when out of balance, can create equal amounts of organizational havoc.

Collectively, the grace-based leaders we interviewed mentioned only 3 criticisms that had been levied against them:

  • too nice
  • too slow
  • too inclusive

This feedback is probably too vague to be helpful. But while it’s not very effective input, at least it’s not cruel.

On the other hand, the same number of ‘grit’ interviewees reported 21 different criticisms. Not only were the criticisms more plentiful, but the language used was also far more specific and emotionally laden:

  • impatient
  • demonstrating a lack of respect
  • not being giving enough
  • not asking for help
  • not caring
  • working people to death
  • defensive
  • rigid
  • not inclusive enough
  • set expectations that were too high
  • high maintenance
  • too hard
  • too serious
  • too frank and direct
  • bitch
  • pushy and insensitive
  • too detail oriented
  • need to ‘step back’
  • need to get my priorities straight
  • angry black woman
  • arrogant

Um, wow.

The strength of this language may, in part, reflect the intense impact that a grit-gone-growl leader can have to his or her environment. Yet, we also know that many organizations continue to be ‘allergic’ to assertive behavior in women, the same behavior generally applauded in men. What shocked us, though, was the harsh and harmful way in which this organizational allergy gets expressed. We think this list is a wake-up call for all managers to give more objective, balanced and helpful feedback to grit-based women.

In the meantime, if you’re a woman with a fast-paced, assertive style, you know this: it’s (still) not easy being grit.

What about you?

If you are a grit-based leader, have you experienced this kind of feedback?

What do you make of it?

What impact do those kinds of messages have…

…on how you feel about yourself?
…on how you feel about leading in your organization?
…on how you navigate decisions”
…on how/when to express your strength?
What advice do you have for other grit-based leaders who receive feedback like this?

And if you MANAGE a woman with a grit-based style… How do you give stylistic feedback that’s accurate, objective and useful? How do you keep feedback freer of your own biases, discomforts and assumptions?

 

Profiles in Grit & Grace: Diana Nyad

Participants in Leading With Grit & Grace® workshops often ask me to name women who are examples of grit and grace in balance. I usually mention women in classic leadership roles: Senator Elizabeth Warren, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee of Liberia.

But the next time a course participant asks me to name a ‘grit and grace’ role model, I will name Diana Nyad. This weekend, she became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without the protection of a shark cage. She is 64 years old, and this was her fifth (and only successful) attempt.

First, let’s talk about Ms. Nyad’s obvious ‘grit.’ A key aspect of grit is persistence, and Nyad is the personification of that. She created a wild vision and has applied herself tirelessly toward it. In fact, she’s wanted to swim between Cuba and Florida since she was 8 years old. Can you imagine dedicating yourself to a herculean goal (or any goal for that matter) for 56 years? Can you imagine persevering at it through four failed attempts? Diana Nyad shows us the beauty of grit at its best: the audacity to dream an outrageous dream, the willingness to commit to it fully, and the drive to work tirelessly toward it. As Ms. Nyad told ABC news after her successful swim:

“We should never ever give up; you’re never too old to chase your dreams.”

Many athletes – and leaders in all domains – share Nyad’s remarkable persistence. But that can come at a price. We all know those grit-ful leaders who descend into a ruthless competitiveness (a style which I call ‘growl’). These are the leaders who will mow another down for their own advancement… who will bankrupt workers, investors and environments for their own obscene profit… who will threaten to kill a tennis court line judge over a disputed call.

Far fewer are the leaders who balance their strong goal orientation with the humility, compassion and generosity of ‘grace.’ The blog, “Women You Should Know” (http://www.womenyoushouldknow.net), quoted a close friend of Nyad’s as saying:

“More than the athletic feat, she [Nyad] wants to send a message of peace, love, friendship and happiness … between the people of the United States and Cuba.”

This statement reveals Ms. Nyad’s elegant ability to blend her drive for personal accomplishment with her yearning to contribute to a more unified world. Through the integration of grit and grace within herself, Ms. Nyad has turned an impressive achievement into an act of true inspiration.

What about you?

Who are the people, men and women alike, in your own life who exemplify the transformative power of grit and grace in balance?

What happens when that person brings that balance forward in his/her actions? What does that blended power make possible that grit or grace alone cannot?

Where are you being invited to grow with respect to your own blend of grit and grace?

What’s the next step in your journey toward greater integration?

 

 

 

 

“Let Her Speak” – A Job Aid for Men

Last week, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis filibustered against “SB5”, a sweeping anti-abortion bill before the Texas Senate. At one point during her 13-hour filibuster speech, several Senators tried to interrupt her. According to Texas law, any interruption in Davis’ speech would disqualify the filibuster, and the bill that she was trying to prevent would pass. In response to the attempts to silence Ms. Davis, a large crowd of onlookers in the State Capital building chanted: “Let her speak! Let her speak.” And speak she did: for 13 hours straight, amid all the chaos, successfully quashing SB5.

As I heard the crowd chant, I realized the larger truth and wisdom of the message, “Let her speak.” It made me think of the scores of times I’ve heard men in organizations request guidance on how to deal effectively with their women counterparts. I realized that the onlookers in the Texas rotunda had offered up an important key to the guidance men are looking for. Building on the crowd’s spontaneous wisdom last week, here is a starter kit for men who want to be more skillful in working with women.

Let her speak.

Simple as that. Make sure that the woman at the meeting table has as much opportunity to speak as anyone else. Let her enter the conversation, and let her finish her thought.

Listen with high expectations of her value.

Several years ago, I saw a wonderful cartoon in the New York Times. It showed a boardroom table at which were seated several men and one woman. The caption read, “That’s an excellent point, Ms. Trigg. Perhaps one of the men would like to make it.” Most women will tell you that that still happens today. So men, please expect that the woman’s opinion will be of value equal to the man’s, and listen accordingly. Don’t roll your eyes or consult your email while she’s speaking. Don’t mentally critique her hair cut, vocal tone, attire or body parts. Don’t wait for another man to make or validate her point. She has something to say: ask yourself to hear it with the expectation that it’ll matter.

Listen for the gold she may bring.

The more senior she is in the organization, the more likely it is that she’ll be one of the few women at the table. As a result, she may be offering a different perspective, a minority opinion. The minority opinion is so tempting to ignore. It’s a fly in our efficiency ointment, slowing us down. It’s also inconvenient, making us consider something we don’t, can’t or don’t want to see. But it also has great potential power to warn us of a cliff we don’t see coming, to give us critical information for a more sound decision, or to revolutionize our thinking altogether. Whether it’s a woman, person of color, or just a person with a routinely different point of view – listen hard to whomever brings the ‘inconvenient truth’ to your table.

So for anyone who wants to work with women more effectively, here are a few starting tips. Let her speak. Listen with high expectations. And listen for the gold she brings. For she is as able and likely as anyone to turn this conversation on its ear. Just ask the Texas State Senate.

 

Michelle Obama to Ellen Sturtz: Assertive or Aggressive?

From the Huffington Post today:

“President Barack Obama may have a problem with confrontation, but First Lady Michelle Obama certainly does not. Ellen Sturtz, 56, a lesbian activist protesting President Obama’s delay in signing an anti-discrimination executive order, paid $500…at a private Democratic Party fundraiser in Washington, D.C. Ellen Sturtz claims in an interview with The Huffington Post, that she didn’t plan on interrupting First Lady Michelle Obama, but her fundraiser speech triggered her emotions and she couldn’t hold it in:

“I want to talk about the children,” Sturtz said. “I want to talk about the LGBT young people who are … being told, directly and indirectly, that they’re second-class citizens. I’m tired of it. They’re suffering. … We’ve been asking the president to sign that ENDA executive order for five years. How much longer do we need to wait?”

Refusing to be intimidated, the First Lady let her know how they do it on the Southside of Chicago and shut her down. The Washington Post reports:

“One of the things that I don’t do well is this,” Mrs. Obama said to applause from most of the guests, according to a White House transcript. “Do you understand?” A pool report from a reporter in the room said Mrs. Obama “left the lectern and moved over to the protester.” The pool report quoted Mrs. Obama as saying: “Listen to me or you can take the mic, but I’m leaving. You all decide. You have one choice.” The audience responded by asking Obama to remain, according to the pool report, which quoted a woman nearby telling Sturtz, “You need to go.”

Sturtz was escorted out of the room. She said in an interview later she was stunned by Mrs. Obama’s response. “She came right down in my face,” Sturtz said. “I was taken aback.”

This presents an interesting question. Will people say that Michelle Obama was assertive or aggressive in her handling of the situation? Because for a woman as powerful and strong as Michelle Obama, that question is bound to arise. And as all women in leadership roles know, this is complex, tricky and loaded territory. Here is how I’ve been making sense of that, spurred by this recent Huff Post story.

1. Context. The first question is, “Did Mrs. Obama do the right thing?” There is a time and place to challenge authority, but this was not it. By explicit agreement, this was Michelle Obama’s stage. Her role at the fundraiser was to deliver a speech, not to engage in dialogue. I believe it was also implicitly her stage. As First Lady, she is due the highest possible level of civility and deference. Both formally and informally, this context granted Michelle Obama the right to speak without interruption. Thus, I believe that Ms. Sturtz was out of order and that Mrs. Obama was justified in asserting her right to the floor.

The second question becomes, “Did Mrs. Obama act skillfully?” And that’s where the second aspect of context comes in: filters. Like it or not, we see each other through a multitude of lenses, be they gender, age, race, sexual orientation, economics, education, you name it. These filters sharply shape our interpretation of each other’s behavior. Look at how The Washington Post described Mrs. Obama’s actions: “Refusing to be intimidated, the First Lady let her [Ms. Sturtz] know how they do it on the South Side of Chicago, and shut her down.” Wow – really? I find this a thuggish way to characterize the behavior of a First Lady who is known for her graciousness, class, elite education and impressive accomplishments.

Put a different filter on the situation. Let’s say it was First Lady Barbara Bush, whom I imagine would have also handled that situation directly. Dollars to donuts, I’ll bet that the language used to describe the same behavior coming from Mrs. Bush would be something like “forthright” or “charmingly feisty.” Now put a white male president’s face on the scenario, and you’d likely have a man who was ‘firmly in command of the situation.”

This happens every day in every work place. I’ve already gotten comments to this blog like “Welcome to my world, Michelle,” and “This happens to me every day and I’m so frustrated.” If you don’t believe that this is still true, ask any woman leader who has gotten feedback for being aggressive. She’ll tell you that her actions were mild compared to her male colleagues, but that it was she, not they, called out for inappropriate behavior.

2. Definitions. Whether we label behavior as ‘assertive’ or ‘aggressive’ also depends on how we define those very words. Joe Weston, author of Respectful Confrontation, offers useful guidance. He defines ‘assertiveness’ as “any behavior, action, remark, gesture, or facial expression that impacts another with the goal to empower, and/or is received by the other in a positive way.” On the other hand, he defines ‘aggression’ as “any behavior, action, remark, gesture or facial expression that impacts another with the goal to disempower, and/or is received by the other in a harmful, threatening way.”

In other words, whether an act is assertive or aggressive depends on three very different ingredients: the sender’s objective behavior, the sender’s (invisible) goal or intent, and the receiver’s subjective experience. I imagine each of us has our own opinion about whether Mrs. Obama’s actions were assertive or aggressive. But based on the definitions offered by Joe Weston, the only valid perspectives on this are Mrs. Obama’s and Ms. Sturtz’. And I would not be surprised if their perspectives differed from each other.

3. Words and music. There are two components of any interaction: the tangible, behavioral aspects of the communication (which I call the ‘words’) and the spirit in and from which that behavior arises (which I call the ‘music’). There’s often a miscue when the two are out of sync. For example, if you’re coming from a spirit of judgment or hurt, even the most innocent words can come across as an attack. Conversely, when coming with an open heart and mind, it is possible to deliver even the most confrontative message in a skillful, supportive and productive way. Those of us reading the account of last night’s fundraiser have no window into the music behind either Ms. Sturtz’ or Mrs. Obama’s words. So we can’t judge the full impact of that exchange. But there will be ample opportunity for both women to reflect and decide if their words and music lined up with their intent.

—————-

When I look at Mrs. Obama’s actions, I see someone who handled a very dicey situation in a strong and assertive way. I don’t know how this particular incident will play out in the media; I hope that the ‘aggressiveness’ label avoids Mrs. Obama altogether. But I share these reflections because the incident reminds me that the line between “assertiveness” and “aggressiveness” continues to hound and confound so many of the women leaders that I know and work with. We are often so quick to levy the “aggressive” label (almost always negatively) against powerful women, and behave as if that characterization were objectively true. But the distinction between self-respecting assertiveness and attacking ‘bitchiness’ is anything but clear and face-valid. The way we view a woman’s strength is still driven as much by our inner and outer contexts as by her own behavior.

What about you?

Think of a communication that was questionable in terms of where the actors fell on the assertiveness – aggression continuum.

When you look at that interaction through these three criteria (context, definitions and words/music), what do you see?
How does it shift your original assessment of the exchange and of the various actors’ behavior in it?
What was the role of context in defining how you and others interpreted and/or dealt with the behavior?
What filters were likely at play in how people (including you) viewed it?
If you could rewrite the script, what would you change to make the interaction more effective?
Have you ever engaged in behavior where your words were skillful, but your music had an aggressive undertone? Can you see how this affected the communication?

Authenticity 2.0

Authenticity at work: is that an oxymoron? A pipedream? Most of us long to be more authentic at work, yet in most organizations, authenticity is in short supply.

Here’s a quick exercise that illustrates why that might be so. Identify a current work situation that you think is being badly handled but that you haven’t confronted.  If you had a free pass to react authentically – with no threat of repercussion –  what would you do?  Now… if you actually did or said that, what do you think would happen? For many of us, that much honesty could constitute career suicide.

This is the double bind of authenticity.  We long for it, but it’s risky.   So we resign ourselves to the belief that being who we really are is only possible in ‘enlightened’ organizations – which is certainly not where WE work.

Part of our problem is that we define authenticity in a very limiting way.  Many people equate it with ‘full transparency.’ But this can easily slide into spewing our thoughts, feelings and judgments onto others, all in the name of being true to ourselves. Don’t get me wrong. Sharp honesty has its place; it can clear the air and let people know where you stand. But simply letting it all hang out backfires a lot: escalating conflict and misunderstanding, eroding trust, and damaging reputations. You’re smart to be wary of that.

So what are our choices? ‘Let it rip’ or ‘zip it?’ Ugh.

A new option has to begin with a new perspective.  Rather than defining authenticity as ‘full transparency,’ what if we see it as ‘speech and actions that arise from our deepest values?’  That’s a very different proposition. This requires discipline, restraint, clarity and skill. It allows us to be true to ourselves and to connect meaningfully with others, without doing harm or selling ourselves out.

What would that look like in practice?  Gwen, a client of mine, gave me a living example. She was a self-employed consultant, and had signed on as a subcontractor to a larger consulting firm.  She was about to undertake her first assignment for that firm, and had negotiated the rates and terms for the project. The day before the work was set to begin, her phone rang. It was the firm’s project manager. He said, “Gwen, I hate to tell you this, but we just got the final paperwork from our client today, and the approved budget is 30% less than they agreed to verbally. So although we promised you $X, we can only pay you 70% of that.”

Gwen was genuinely and legitimately furious. If she had defined authenticity simply as “full disclosure,” Gwen would likely have responded with some pretty unsavory words. But with the client expecting work to begin the next day, and with a new work relationship in the balance, Gwen had a lot at stake. She wanted to be truthful in her response, but she also wanted to be skillful. She called me to help her sort it out.

I asked her two questions; here’s how she worked with them.

  1. What deeply-held values do you want your response to reflect?  “This is my first engagement with this firm, so I want my actions to communicate that I’m not a doormat, that this is really not OK with me. Second, I believe that those who mismanaged the process should bear the largest burden of the mismanagement.  Third, I want my actions to communicate empathy and my commitment to this team. This has put us all in a tough position, and I care about both the client and my relationships at the consulting firm.
  2. What can you say or do that will successfully reflect those values?  “I want the project manager to understand where I’m coming from, so I’ll start by sharing the principles driving my response.  Then I’ll offer this proposal: I’ll carry on with the project, because I don’t want to leave the client in the lurch.  But I won’t agree to take a 30% cut in my rate.  But I will decrease my fees by 10% to acknowledge that I care about this relationship and that we’re all in this together.”

The result?  The firm gratefully agreed to Gwen’s terms. As a result of how she handled the situation, Gwen also gained the reputation as the ‘most ethical and principled’ of all the firm’s subcontractors. Her influence and political capital at the firm remained very high for the life of the working relationship.

Gwen had acted authentically. Identifying and acting on her deeper values had been the key. Had she responded simply with emotional transparency, the relationship would likely have ended in a firestorm of blame and resentment.  Gwen was true to her anger – not by spewing it, uncensored, but by using it to identify what really mattered to her and behave in a way that reflected that.

Could values-based authenticity work for you?  Take the situation you identified at the top of this article, and see what happens when you look at it through the lens of the two questions.  Does it show you something new about yourself, the situation, or how you might respond?  Let us know!

Give Marissa Mayer a Break!

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, is tasked with reinvigorating a stagnant company.  She must look for every possible lever to boost Yahoo’s innovation. One of her strategies: bring people back to work. Stimulate creativity by bringing people back into direct face-to-face collaboration. No more telecommuting.

GASP.

Actually, I get the fury.  If I were telecommuting, I would hate this policy reversal. I might have to scramble to find new child care arrangements that I didn’t used to need and I can’t easily afford. It might actually make it impossible for me to stay in my job because I depended on being able to be home to care for family members. Or I might have to sit in horrendous Silicon Valley traffic for hours a day.  Or it might just take away the treasured convenience of working in my bunny slippers and changing loads of laundry while I work. Whether the impact is dire or just inconvenient to the folks at Yahoo, it’s real and it matters.

But I have problems with the criticisms that Mayer is getting.

  1. She has deprived employees of an inalienable right. Telecommuting is a corporate strategy, not an entitlement. If a company’s practice doesn’t support a company’s current circumstances or goals, it should be changed. If creativity is a strategic imperative for Yahoo now, and if Mayer thinks that face-to-face collaboration will accomplish or support that imperative, then she should try it. 
  2. She has betrayed ‘her kind’. One of the odd narratives arising is that, as a working mother, she owes it to other working mothers to let them work from home. After all, she is ‘one of us;’ she should know better. I find this puzzling and offensive. First of all, Mayer is a wealthy working mother; I question the assessment that she really is ‘one of us.’ She may actually not be as in touch with the financial and logistical impacts of the telecommuting ban as we think she should be. But it’s also possible that as a mother, she understands, as few CEOs do, exactly the sacrifice she’s asking working mothers to make. It’s possible that innovation is THAT important right now.

And let’s put this whole issue in a larger perspective. We still have an unemployment rate of 8%. We have hundreds of thousands of Federal workers facing furloughs and even termination. For the millions of people who are now or soon to be unemployed or underemployed, having to go into an office would be a pretty good problem to have.

I doubt this policy change would be news if Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates were making it. It’s news because Melissa is making it. Because she’s a working mom, we expect her to be nice to other working moms. We expect her status as a working mother to soften the edges of her judgment, to let an assumed demographic affiliation trump the company’s need for innovation.

Really, 2013?

 

“Fatigue Is Your Enemy”

A couple of months ago, Harvard Business Review posted a good blog on the impact that fatigue has on our bodies and effectiveness.  Fatigue Is Your Enemy – Harvard Business Review  But making the case for self-care is relatively easy. Scientists, theologians, psychologists and leadership experts have proven its positive affects again and again.  But taking action for self care is a different story.  As I witness my clients wrestle with fatigue , despite knowing that they should ‘do better’ at taking care of themselves, I’ve learned how actively we collude with ourselves and each other to keep us all working to exhaustion.

To address the chronic fatigue among our leaders, staff and organizations, it’s not enough to rejigger our calendars. You’ve probably tried, and it probably didn’t work. Vanquishing the energy of fatigue requires confronting ourselves and each other at a very personal – even existential – level.  Sure, you say you want to take better care of yourself, but that has some uncomfortable and potentially serious consequences.  If your self-worth is built upon being indispensable to others, then self-stewardship will mess with that in a big way. You’d have to delegate more and discover that someone else can do the task and render you irrelevant, or that they will fail and make you look bad. Could you recover from either of those? Or maybe self-care will require you to take some time off and discover that the office operates just fine for a while without you. Then where will you be? Or perhaps you would have to deny help to someone. What would that mean about you?

Attending to your own renewal is not just complicated for you. It’s also complicated for those around you. Many of the leaders I work with have had others beg them to take better care of themselves. And yet… When they responded in earnest, when they drew a line or refused to pick up a task they used to accept without hesitation, others were not always pleased. Whether explicit or implied, the message they received went something like this: “Sure, I wanted you to take care of yourself, but not NOW.  Not in THIS recession. Not on THIS task. Not if it affects ME.”

Fatigue, if unheeded, is an enemy.  It drains your sustainability, generativity, creativity, clarity, strength and grace.  But vanquishing that enemy will take a lot more than a simple resolution to take your lunch hour, leave at 5, or use your vacation time.  It takes real courage to take the risk that your value does NOT depend on saying yes to every request.  It takes courage to tolerate the discomfort of making others uncomfortable, disappointed or angry.  It takes a willingness to step out of sync with our culture’s obsession with busy-ness, its worship of work, and its celebration of heroic effort.

It is no small feat to take this enemy on.

What about you?

How does fatigue affect you?  How does it affect your mood, sense of well being?  Your relationships?  Your effectiveness?

What 1 – 3 self-stewardship changes would you like to make?

What internal resistance would you likely confront if you actually made those stewardship changes?

What external resistance would you likely confront if you took action to take better care of yourself?

 

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.