Steven's Own Words

That’s NOT Leadership

That’s NOT Leadership

It’s opposition. Perhaps I should back up. When a leader, or a person in a position of perceived leadership, simply stonewalls, railroads, opposes without engagement, or impedes and creates division, that’s not leadership. If a leader only considers the views, needs and opinions of those who agree with them and disregards everyone else on their team, that’s not leadership.   If a leader thinks all they need is their power and their position, that the details of what they do doesn’t matter – That’s Not Leadership. Now, many of you are likely thinking at this moment – duh! No s*&t. Except that’s what many people in leadership positions do. In the face of opposition, rather then doing the real work of leadership and engaging with team members who feel and think differently, to convert that opposition into power, and to build a coalition of collaboration, the weak leader finds ways to weed out the opposition, or to stonewall until the opponent quits, or simply ignores them and does whatever they want to do anyway — to hell with everyone else. Dare I say…you only have to look as far as Congress to see this behavior in action. Real Leadership has the courage to do the work, to find the connection between their goals and what is right for those they lead. Leadership realizes that if you ask someone to do something that pushes against their values, those people will resist in the form of poor performance, low engagement, quitting, or worse. Do you know what’s hard about engaging people or changing people’s behavior – even when they want to change? The human...
On Women In Leadership

On Women In Leadership

Arthur Schopenhauer said: “Ours is not to see what no one has yet seen, but to think what no one has yet thought about that which everyone sees.” So here’s a thought beyond the obvious: I think women are naturally better leaders than men. The reason is simple: women historically live longer then men. Now bear with me here, I realize longevity has little to do with leadership – on the surface – but then again, isn’t that Schopenhauer’s point? I recently learned that there is a specific reason why women typically live longer then men. It’s not physiological. Our bodies are designed the same, so technically they should last and wear out at the same rate. It even turns out that danger has little to do with it. While there is some truth that men historically hold more dangerous jobs — hunter, firefighter, radio tower lightbulb repairman — the study I heard factored in accidental death.  Dietary habits do play a role; my wife will sometimes go for the salad while I order the burger and fries, but overall those factors don’t really explain the reason women live historically longer. But, I contend, the reason they do is the very reason they make better leaders. The answer, according to this study, is that women are more likely to ask for help. Historically speaking, this study notes, men die earlier because they take longer to go to the doctor and get help for serious illness. Consequently, men are more likely to pass the point of no return for recovery. Women, on the other hand, are more in tune with their bodies and are more likely to seek help before it’s too late. What a FABULOUS leadership trait.  ...

Where Were The Leaders?

Leadership is easy as an academic study; it’s when our opportunity to lead shows up in real life that it all gets difficult. We saw just how difficult on Sunday, aboard a United Express flight. The revelation of United Express flight 3411 isn’t: Surprise! airlines have the right to bump you from their flights any time they chose! You knew that already. It says so in the fine print of your ticket — which, I don’t know about you, but I read thoroughly every time I schedule a flight, just to make sure the terms haven’t changed in any way that would harm the airlines should my business gets in the way of theirs (can you sense my sarcasm?). I would go so far as to say that the revelation of United Express flight 3411 isn’t even that officials boarded the plane and used aggressive and excessive force. Sadly, we’ve seen that before. The revelation of United Express flight 3411 isn’t even the newest fact — that the flight wasn’t actually overbooked, it was just full, and airline employees come first. Silly you; you didn’t believe the old mantra “the customer is always right,” did you? That is merely a platitude, certainly not a belief of the airline industry. No. The revelation that keeps SCREAMING at me is that the plane lacked a single leader. No one, NO ONE, stood up and said this was wrong. Not the pilot, not a flight attendant, not a single passenger. We watched, we recorded on our iPhones, we gasped in horror, all the while letting it happen. And I say “we” intentionally, because I wonder how many...

How To Be A Rainmaker

You know the term ‘rainmaker,’ right? These are the people who bring in the money. They’re the lawyers who attract big clients, the high-grossing salesman, the partners who have a knack for finding new streams of revenue. Wanna be one? Then look a little deeper into the weather analogy it’s based on. The rain comes, the flowers grow…what’s that old saying? “April showers bring May flowers…” In terms of weather patterns, the higher the barometric pressure, the less chance there is of rain. High pressure typically means a sunny, clear day. We love to have and play in these days, but if we experience too many of them in a row we get drought – the metaphorical opposite of success.   We live in a culture of stress and high pressure — as if it’s the high pressure that will produce the “rain” of success. There’s almost this idea that if you’re not stressed, you’re not working hard enough. We are under pressure to win, to do better, to beat our previous best in a never-ending stream of improvement and “success.” But in weather, it’s when pressure lowers that space opens up for the clouds to roll in and the life-giving rain to pour. Kind of ironic, don’t you think? High pressure doesn’t make rain; low pressure does. And yet we continually place ourselves and our rainmakers under tremendous pressure. To be fair, some pressure is good. After all, we like the sunny days. They push us to get outside, to exercise or play at the park, to enjoy the beach…and as a result, we feel better (huh, now there’s a thought: pressure that actually causes you to “feel...
The Pebble, the Pond, & Leadership: How to Connect in a Black & White World

The Pebble, the Pond, & Leadership: How to Connect in a Black & White World

When you drop a pebble into a pond, it creates a splash of concentric ripples that work their way to the outer most edges. If, as a leader, you see yourself as the pebble — just trying to make a splash — then you are missing the whole point of leadership. Your job is not to make waves and then disappear. The pebble is the idea, the disruptive technology, the new thought — those things that without real and genuine leadership to carry their momentum, would just sink to the bottom. The pond, of course, is the community you lead: a company, a family, yourself, or a nation. The first wave of that pebble always touches the people closest to you: those who already agree with you, those ‘on your side.’ To get to the ones on the edge takes much longer; they can’t be reached until those ripples work their way out. We can’t change the people who are polar opposites of us — or can we? When topics get heavy, talk gets serious and tempers flare… leadership often gets pushed aside. We stop trying to connect with people, to assuage their fears, or find the value in their perspective; we too often simply shut them down to try and prove they are wrong. Leadership, however, asks so much more of us, but it doesn’t ask of us the impossible.  It asks us to be the ripple, to take the time to make gentle connections, to work our way out one ripple at a time, realizing that we don’t reach those who feel so very far from us with the splash. We reach them over time...
Fearless vs. Fear Less

Fearless vs. Fear Less

What does fearless leadership mean? To lead without fear? Is that possible? Is it even desirable? If you’re going to engage with people and bring out the best of who they are, you’re going to take risks. Not everyone’s going to like where they think you’re going. How can we not be ‘afraid’ at some level? We want to do our best and we don’t want to mess up. What if fearless leadership isn’t the absence of fear at all? What if fearless leading is simply fear-less leading? What if, instead of trying to convince ourselves that great leaders do not have any fear at all, which simply isn’t true, we instead focus on just coming one notch down – fearing just a little less? What opportunities might that open? What might we see? It’s easy to think our job as leaders is to get everyone to agree, but that’s just not true. Our job is to get people to actively and productively engage. It’s not about having no ‘enemies’ or opposition, and losing every ounce of fear, it’s about connecting with our ‘enemies,’ converting opposition into power and slowing our own fear down. The art of leadership is the art of...
Why Women Are Better Than Men

Why Women Are Better Than Men

Boy, there are a lot of leadership lessons being drawn from the fiasco of the Oscars, aren’t there? I’ll spare you another one about the graciousness of the LA LA Land producers and how well they managed a whackadooodle moment. Instead, for one of the most profound lessons of leadership, let’s go back earlier into the night. No, not to the amazing acceptance speech of Viola Davis’s, or Asghar Farhadi’s brilliant stance of accepting from afar because of the immigration policies of the current administration. Instead, I want to draw your attention to an even more powerful leadership lesson, delivered by Mark Rylance when he introduced Viola Davis as winner of the Best Female Supporting Actor. In honoring the achievements of one, he also held up the power of many. He named one of the ways women are often better leaders then men! He said, “Something that women seem to be better at then men — opposing without hatred.” Opposing without hatred. Let those words roll around on your tongue for a moment. Let them settle into your heart. Leadership doesn’t hate, or resist, or avoid, opposition — leadership embraces it....
Why Connection Matters

Why Connection Matters

A couple weeks ago I wrote about connecting. In our current socio/political climate, connecting with almost anyone can seem challenging, or at times risky. But I think it’s important to remember that we don’t have to connect with every voice — we don’t even have to connect with the loudest voice — we have choice. And we can chose to connect with those in front of us. Our neighbors, coworkers, friends, family: these are the people we love and who love us. If we can engage there, and listen more than we talk, we can share a new experience. Then, because of their starting point, they will be able to turn and reach someone who is closer to them — but further from us — and have the same positive impact. It’s a domino effect: we can’t do everything, but we can do one thing. But even more importantly? The impact is the same on us.   When we engage and listen, we’re in turn affected by those same neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family. If we have the courage to truly engage, we too will evolve, we will learn, we will shift, and we will connect with others in new and different ways because of it. It goes both ways. And that’s what leadership does. It brings opposition together and finds solutions that serve everyone, that respect everyone, that honor everyone. And, even more importantly, it recognizes that acceptance and connection don’t depend upon agreement. The goal isn’t total agreement with everyone, on the same page, thinking the same thoughts, feeling the same emotions — no. We can lead and follow people we...
When Confrontation ISN’T Confrontation

When Confrontation ISN’T Confrontation

“I don’t like confrontation.”  That is a phrase I hear remarkably often.   The perception there is that to be a great leader, you have to like — or at least welcome — confrontation. But confrontation is hard. It’s vulnerable and scary and for too many of us we feel unarmed, no matter how well equipped and/or prepared we might be about the facts of the confrontation. You know that old joke: when is a door not a door? * Well, what if we asked that same of confrontation? Question: When is a confrontation not a confrontation? Answer: When it’s a conversation! (I know, it’s not much of a joke, but it’s true). For so many of my clients around the issue of confrontation, there is a simple shift of perception that can change the game completely. Start here:  What is a confrontation? An argumentative clash, a conflict, an encounter… between what? That’s right — people.  The first breakdown exists when we lose sight of the fact that we are talking to a person and instead see them as an opponent, an enemy, a label. Consider this: Think about the “confrontations”/challenges we have with our children, even when we want to change their behavior or teach them something important. We see it less as a confrontation — and more as an opportunity to help them. Why? Because they’re a child. We don’t read any ill-intention into their actions. They’re just people learning how to grow up. Change this: When we have confrontations with adults, however, we read into every meaning, tone, intention, and body movement. We listen with bias and baggage, we think ahead of their words, not listening to their meaning but strategizing our response. With a child the conversation would be a happy one,...
Finding Connection: Two Easy Steps

Finding Connection: Two Easy Steps

20 years ago Linda Ellis penned a beautiful poem called The Dash which reminds us that though our tombstones mark the dates of our birth and death, those dates tell nothing of who we were. It is the dash in between that represents our life. How, she asks in the end, do you spend your dash? In a recent presentation about the 3-dimensional aspects of leadership, I was asked, “in polarized environments, how do we lead those that disagree with us, those on the opposite side of the fence, be that political, in our companies, or even at the family dinner table?” In that moment I thought of The Dash. It felt to me that the extremes of opinion too often represent the dates on our tombstone — the end points — but not the real meaning of life that lands in the middle. The dash. It is in that place, that place in between, where we actually live our lives. The place leadership has a chance of connecting with people where and how they live, so that it can make a difference. I know we’re conditioned to think that leadership is fast, that great leaders can change the hearts and minds of those at the extreme opposites of our viewpoint with a magic word or the power of their position. But we can’t. It takes time, and though there are many parts to the process, there are two core components too often ignored:  Engagement and Silence. Begin by choosing to engage, by choosing to connect, by choosing to honor the people that disagree with you, seeking first to understand them in the very manner you wish for them to understand...

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