Archives For Professional Leadership

Don’t you sometimes wish you had a leadership playbook, laying out the rules of the game?

Although maybe not a complete leadership playbook, the fifteen rules of leadership from Colin Powell, former US Secretary of State, helps us along the road in mastering the art and skill of leadership.

Colin Powell’s Leadership Rules

1.  It Ain’t As Bad As You Think, It Will Look Better In The Morning

When you are in the situation you are often so close to what is happening, your perception of the event gets skewed.  Give yourself some room and often some time to get distance from the situation.  In the morning it won’t look so bad.

2.  Get Mad, Then Get Over It

It’s not wrong to get mad sometimes.  In fact as a leader you have to get mad at things or situations even people.  The key is to get over it.  Don’t try and get even, it takes up valuable time.  Don’t hold a grudge; it takes up valuable emotional energy.  Resolve the issue and get over it.

3.  Avoid Having Your Ego So Close To Your Position That When Your Position Falls, Your Ego Goes With It

You are not your leadership position.  Leaders sometimes identify so closely with the leadership position they fill, who they are as a person gets defined by it.  If you find yourself here, you’re stepping on dangerous ground.  As a leader you have to be your own person apart from your leadership position.  Remember you only fill a position, the position is not you.

4.  It Can Be Done

Very few things in life can’t be done.  You cannot keep your eyes open while sneezing and you cannot lick your elbow.  These two things can’t be done.  When it comes to leadership, you can harness some of the most brilliant minds on the planet, together with some of the strongest willed people you can find.  Everything is possible.  It can be done!

5.  Be Careful Whom You Choose

Leaders lead people, many times with the help of a leadership team.  Choose this team carefully, based on strong leadership characteristics you identify in them.  Not everyone is for your team, even though he/she may exhibit the necessary characteristics.  They must fit into the rhythm and culture of your team as well.

6.  Don’t Let Adverse Facts Stand In The Way Of a Good Decision

The brave decision is often the one going against the facts.  Sometimes you must make the difficult decision, even though everything else is telling you not to.  A good decision is sometimes the counter intuitive one.

7.  You Can’t Make Someone Else’s Decisions, You Should Not Let Someone Else Make Yours

Personal leadership is non-negotiable.  If you can’t lead yourself you are not fit to lead others.  This means taking responsibility for your life, being proactive and taking the initiative.  You make your own decisions and you don’t leave it for others to make it on your behalf.

8.  Check Small Things

The devil is in the details; sometimes the solution to a sticky problem too.  Don’t sweat the small stuff, but don’t ignore it either.

9.  Share Credit

If you cannot share credit, rethink your leadership position.  Leaders accomplish nothing if not for the efforts and achievements of the people he/she leads.  Be generous with sharing credit and remember – it is the people you lead who enables you to achieve anything at all.

10.  Remain Calm

Good leaders don’t lose their cool.  This is a skill you have to master, especially if you are a bit of a hot head or get anxious easily.  As the leader its your job to guide them through tough times.  You have to instil calmness in the people you lead.  You cannot do it if you are not calm yourself.

11.  Be Kind

People respond to kindness.  The best is – it costs nothing.  Being kind does not mean you are weak, in fact it shows your strength of character as a leader.

12.  Have a Vision

People need to know where they are going.  Without communicating a strong vision to your people of where you are taking them, you will soon have very few, if any followers left.

13.  Be Demanding

Do not confuse kindness with the absence of demanding high performance from the people in your team.  You must demand the highest possible level of performance.

14.  Don’t Take Counsel From Your Fears Or Naysayers

Your fear will tell you it can’t be done.  Naysayers will look for reasons to give up.  Don’t believe either.

15.  Perpetual Optimism Is a Force Multiplier

Sometimes the only thing you will have is your optimism.  Optimism is infectious.  If you can get people optimistic about your cause, you can multiply your own efforts ten times over.

Do you have any more to add?

Do you trust people?

Do you think people trust you?

If you are a leader and your answer to the second question is no, or you are not sure, you have a big problem.  A leader without the trust of the people he/she leads is doomed to failure.

Breaking Trust in Your Leadership Ability

The scary truth is we often damage and even break the trust people put in us as leaders.  We break trust by making mistakes, being inconsiderate and well, just being human.  If you think you never or seldom make serious leadership mistakes, damaging and breaking trust in your leadership ability, you are making a serious mistake.

Everyone makes mistakes at one time or another.  What you need to assess is the impact of your mistakes on the trust of the people you lead.

When you exercise poor judgment or exhibit inconsiderate behaviour, it is called “Trustbusters” by Randy Conley, Trust Practice Leader at The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Conley define Trustbusters as behaviours eroding trust, specifically in the following areas of our leadership.

Leadership Ability

Your ability is questioned when you do not deliver on your promised results.  This normally happens when you do not show the required or expected expertise in a certain area.

Leadership Believability

Your believability is a very valuable asset.  It comes into question when you break confidence or tell lies.  One of the quickest ways to damage your believability is to get involved in or tolerate gossip.

Leadership Connection

People need to feel there is a connection between you and them.  Connection is broken when people get the feeling they are not listened to.  Not listening to people is a major trustbuster.  This affects your connection with people and erodes the trust they have in you.

Leadership Dependability

Not following through on commitments is another way of breaking trust with people.  It creates a perception of you being unreliable.  Dependability is an important part of leadership.  People need to know they can depend on you when it counts.  When people doubt your dependability it erodes the fundamental trust they need to have in you as a leader.

When Leadership Trust is Broken, Can It Be Repaired?

So now you have made a trust breaking mistake in one or more of these areas.  Are you now doomed as leader to failure?

Luckily the answer is “No”.

Damaged trust relationships can be repaired and Conley highlights five key steps you must take in the process of rebuilding trust.

  • Acknowledge.  Trust repair begins with acknowledgement of the breach of trust.  The very first thing is to acknowledge the problem and then take action to fix it.
  • Admit.  The second action you need to take lies in admitting your part in the breach of the trust.  When you made a mistake breaking people’s trust, take responsibility and own up to whatever you did.  This is not easy to do, but will go a long way in repairing trust with people.
  • Apologize.  The logical follow-up to admitting your mistake is to apologize for your mistake.  It is normally the bigger person who owns up and apologizes.
  • Assess.  By assessing your mistake and the effect thereof you can identify the core elements of the trust you broke.  When you identify these elements you can come up with ways to address the situation and to rebuild the trust in the particular areas.
  • Agree.  Have an open conversation with the person with whom you broke trust and agree to an action plan to remedy it.  You have to agree with the person on what you are going to do differently moving forward to help rebuild the trust.

Trust is a very delicate thing.  It takes a significant amount of time to build it, but it can be broken in an instant through one inconsiderate act or mistake.  However it is possible to rebuild trust once broken.


She walks past your office.  Upon noticing her you get a heavy feeling in the pit of your stomach.  You know you have to address the situation.  It’s been dragging on for weeks now and at times it feels as if it is all you can think about.

You’ve been putting it off and coming up with excuses and delaying the process.  But you know, at some stage you will have to bite the bullet, call her in, sit her down and address the issue head on.  The difficult leadership conversation you have been putting off will have to happen.

I am sure we have all had this experience.  You know, the one where you need to have the difficult leadership conversation with an employee, but just cannot get yourself to call him or her in.  It drains you and as the time passes your stress levels start to rise, you feel frustrated with yourself and soon it is all you can think of.

The frustration you experience is because you know good leadership face difficult situations.  Good leadership does not shy away from having those conversations.  This all happens in a perfect world.

In the world we live in, leaders are normal people with flaws, fears and faults.  In this world leaders are people who sometimes just want to take the road of least resistance.

I think a lot of the adverse feelings we have towards having difficult conversations has to do with a lack of knowledge of how to handle the situation.  It would have been nice to have a framework within which you could conduct this conversation or at least a guideline on how to approach it.

Doug Stone, co-author of Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most offer this framework for leaders conduct difficult conversations.  He proposes five steps to practise every day in your conversations with employees and co-workers, after you have corrected the three most common leadership conversation mistakes.

The Three Major Leadership Conversation Mistakes

During a difficult leadership conversation leaders often make these three mistakes. 

  • We assume we know all we need to know to understand and explain a situation.
  • We hide our feelings, or let them loose in ways we later regret.
  • We ignore who we are, acting as if our identity is separate from the issues.

Avoiding these mistakes is not always easy.  The only way to correct it is through a shift in your thinking process.  You have to make the shift in your thinking from “you need to explain yourself or deliver a message”, to “I need to listen and learn more about what is going on”, according to Stone.

The Five Step Leadership Conversation Framework

Step 1: Prepare For a Leadership Conversation by Walking Through the “Three Conversations”

Every difficult conversation is really three conversations in one:

  • The What Happened Conversation,
  •  The Feelings Conversation, and
  • The Identity Conversation.

“We need to understand what the people involved are thinking and feeling but not saying to each other. In a difficult conversation, this is usually where the real action is,” says Stone. Before stepping into a discussion you know will be challenging, ask yourself these questions:

  • How do you see the situation?
  • Where does your story come from (information, past experiences, rules)?
  • What do you think you know about the other person’s viewpoint?
  •  What impact has this situation had on you?
  • What might their intentions have been?
  • What have you each contributed to the problem?
  • Next you have to manage your emotions.  Analyse your feelings asking yourself, “What bundle of emotions am I experiencing?”

Answering this question will help you determine the impact your emotions might have on the conversation.  By objectively analysing your emotions you can prevent being blindsided by unexpected emotions during the conversation, having a negative impact on the conversation.

Step 2: Check Your Purposes and Decide Whether to Raise the Issue

Your purpose for having the conversation can only be checked by a series of questions.  The critical question you have to answer is: “What do you hope to accomplish by having this conversation?”

  • Do you want to prove a point or change the other person?
  • How can you shift your stance to support learning, sharing and problem-solving?
  • Do you even need to raise the issue to achieve your purposes?
  • Can you affect the problem by changing your contributions?
  • If you don’t raise it, what can you do to help yourself let go?

Step 3: Start From the “Third Story”

If you do decide to raise a difficult issue, don’t lead in with your view or story.  Approach the conversation as if a third, neutral person is looking on and leading the conversation.  You have to describe the problem as the difference between your stories by including both viewpoints as a legitimate part of the discussion.  Make sure you share your purposes and let the other person know you are looking to sort out the situation together.

Step 4: Explore Their Story and Yours

Listen to understand the other person’s perspective on what happened.  Ask questions.  Acknowledge the feelings behind the arguments and accusations.  Paraphrase to see if you’ve got it.  Try to unravel how the two of you got to this place.  Share your own viewpoint, your past experiences, intentions, feelings. And constantly reframe assumptions: from truth to perceptions, blame to contribution, accusations to feelings.

Step 5: Problem-Solve

Invent options meeting each side’s most important concerns and interests. Keep in mind, one way relationships rarely last. Talk about how to keep communication open as you go forward.

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Shelia Heen.

What is your effect on the people you lead?  Do you leave them better of or are they relieved when you leave.  Asking the question about the net effect of your Leadership and Management is Shawn Murphy from Switch and Shift, articleing on the Leadership Connexion this week.

I recall reading recently a point made by a journalist that organizations are over-led and under-managed. The point connected of course to the countless problems companies face as a result of the global financial crises. What annoyed me about the comment was the flawed assumption that the two must be at odds with each other.

Such logic led me to wonder how many managers and employees might be thinking the same thing: to navigate through this mess, we just need to gnash our teeth and get things done; there is no time to reassess, regroup and rally the overworked and exhausted; they ought to know where they are needed, what needs to be sold.

But let us stop dear reader. Breathe. Count to ten.

Before you gnash your teeth or inspire and rally, think about how you want to leave your employees as an effect of your leadership and your management. Because clearly we are not playing an “Or” game, but an “And” game. We need your leadership and your management. The two slosh about together fluidly.

Where we need your head is focusing on how you are going to get your team or your company to move the ball closer to your next goal. Carrots and sticks are not enough. You must uncover what is in it for your employees. And then lead and manage the heck out of the play.

And you say, dear writer, Duh!

The nuance in this is not the action, but how your employees are after you lead and manage. Let‘s turn to Robert Greenleaf for some context.

Robert Greenleaf said this about leaders who serve their people:

 “[It] is terribly important that one know, both about himself and about others, whether the net effect of one’s influence on others enriches, is neutral, or diminishes and depletes.”

Whether you need to plan, schedule, monitor, inspire, coach, or motivate your team, think about how your management and leadership style leaves people. If you need the team to move the ball closer to the goal and regroup quickly, then stop gnashing your teeth. If you need to get a quick win gnash your teeth and tell people why you’re gnashing.

Clearly I’m exaggerating and stereotyping management and leadership. The point is that you must be clear that what you want to do and what is needed may be at odds.

You must know when to manage and when to lead. Choose your approach by thinking how you want to leave your people afterwards. You cannot afford more carnage in the form of disgruntled, unhappy employees leaving your team or organization. It will not be easy to find a replacement.

In the 21st century, businesses bump and glide in a chaotic soup that needs managers who are focused on serving his people and self-aware enough to know what is needed for people and organizational success.

Authors Bio

Shawn can be found exploring the space where business and humanity intersect. His work is to help managers create optimism in the workplace. He has a bold belief that work can be a source of joy. He is the co-founder of Switch and Shift. And you can find him in the trenches working with clients either at Achieved Strategies or Unleashing Leaders.
Connect with Shawn on Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn.

“A conductor’s happiness does not come from only his own story and his joy of the music. The joy is about enabling other people’s stories to be heard at the same time.” Itay Talgam

Short Bio of Itay Talgam

Itay Talgam debuted as an international conductor in 1987, when he was chosen by Leonard Bernstein to appear in a special concert with the Orchestre de Paris. Bernstein conducted the second half of the concert. Since then, he has conducted many orchestras in Europe. He was the first Israeli conductor to perform with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra and the Leipzig Opera house. In Israel, he has conducted and recorded with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, the New Israeli Opera, the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra, and the Israel Chamber Orchestra.

After a decade-long conducting career in his native Israel, Itay Talgam has reinvented himself as a conductor of people in business.  Itay Talgam finds metaphors for organizational behaviour and models for inspired leadership within the workings of the symphony orchestra, imagining music as a model for all spheres of human creativity, from the classroom to the boardroom.

What Leaders Can Learn from the Great Conductors

In this video, Itay Talgam gives an interesting view on how the great conductors use various approaches and techniques to bring out the best in the music through the orchestra.  He illustrates the various qualities leaders need to exhibit as the situation requires, through the work of some of the great symphony conductors.

This video is an interesting unorthodox look at leadership.  What other qualities of leaders did you notice from this talk? 

You remember our very involved leader Gary?  He is the leader from last week, making his people dependent on him.

Not only is Gary’s leadership style making the people in his organization dependent, it also conditions the people to stop thinking.  Instead of coming up with solutions to their own problems, people in his organization wait for the leader to solve the problems for them.  Therefore there is no reason for them to think and come up with creative ideas to problem solving.

If you get involved in the day-to-day problem solving, attempting to find answers to problems facing your people, you train them not to think.  However, you have to train people in your organization to think.

A Successful Leader Train People to Think

People need training to think.  It may sound strange, because doesn’t thinking come rather naturally?  The truth is very few people actually learn to think in terms of problem solving.  Thinking skills like lateral thinking, thinking out of the box and analytical thinking, unfortunately does not come without training.

As a leader it is your job to help people to develop these skills.  At first it will take a lot of effort, especially if your organization has a culture of dependency.  It will also take effort from your side, because you will have to trust people to come up with solutions and make the right decisions.  You will have to deal with wrong decisions and mistakes as part of the growing pains.

Being available as coach to guide and give advice will become your primary function during this transition.  The good news is there is a process you can follow to make it easier to train people in their thinking processes.

The Think Training Process a Leader Can Follow

Acknowledgement. Training people to think and come up with solutions to problems does not mean they will not bring problems to you.

When this happens, as the leader, you must confirm the problem.  You do this by acknowledging the stated issue brought to your attention.  Acknowledgement of the problem does not mean you take ownership of the problem. It only means you agree there is a problem needing attention.

Redirecting. The next step is to redirect the problem back to the person or group.

This is important to establish ownership of the problem. During the redirecting stage it is important to communicate clearly, although you acknowledged the problem, you are not the owner of the problem. The problem is still owned by the person or group raising the issue. It is the responsibility of the problem owner to come up with the solution.

Guidance. Your role as leader is to guide the person or group through the problem solving process, without getting personally involved.

During this stage the leader must lay down definite boundaries for him/herself as well as for the person or group. Guidance means giving direction and advice without getting personally involved in the solution.  It is encouraging people to come up with creative solutions to the problem.

Empowerment. The most important part of training people think is to empower them to make decisions and take the action necessary to resolve the issue at hand.

You can only empower people if you resolve to trust them and communicate this trust clearly to them.

Review. Lastly, the learning experienced gets entrenched by reviewing the process.

The solution and the process of getting to the solution must be reviewed.  The review event provides and opportunity for learning from the process, entrenching experience.  This empower people to handle the next challenge with more confidence.

Thinking on behalf of the people you lead is not a sign of strong leadership. In fact it exposes insecurity in the leader. Often leaders feel they will become redundant when people can function without their involvement.

This cannot be farther from the truth. The purpose of leadership is to help people grow.  It is to teach them the value of being able to function independent from the leader.

How often do you still think on behalf of your people?

Is there anything more to add to the think training process?

Meet Gary.  He is the leader of a small organization and a very “hands on” guy.  He makes a point of knowing about every single detail in the organization and gets involved in the detail 90% of the time.

Gary prides himself in his problem solving abilities. If someone got a problem, he is the “go to guy”.  Gary finds it very satisfying when people look up to him for assistance in solving a problem they might have.

He not only solves people’s problems, he also gets involved in all the decision-making processes in the organization.  In his mind he plays a vital role in solving problems and making important decisions.  Gary is convinced he is a very effective leader and his contribution plays an important role in the success of the organization.

A Leader Making People Dependant

The sad truth about Gary is he is in fact not a very effective leader.  The way he leads people creates a culture of dependence on him as leader in the organization.  The dependence on the leader causes people not to think anymore.  They become lazy to solving problems and lose confidence in their decision-making ability.

Through his behaviour Gary stifles the creative genius of the people he leads.  By not affording them the opportunity to think and come up with solutions to problems and challenges, he has made them dependant.

Gary is not only doing the organization a disservice, but himself as well.  By focussing so much on solving other people’s problems, he neglects development areas in his personal leadership, such as coaching and setting direction.  He spends most of his time involved in problem solving mode.  This steals his time, which he could have spent more productively.

A Successful Leader Don’t Need to be Present

Being a successful leader means people in your organization don’t need you around to be productive.  They can function without you.  Your role becomes one of setting direction and communicating vision.  Once you set the direction, people will move on their own accord towards the goal.  This means as leader you can spend your time on motivating, coaching and course correcting.  A successful leader allows people to make their own decisions.  You allow them face problems and come up with solutions, without involving the leader in the process of finding the solution. To achieve this, people in the organization must think for themselves.  People must train to think, but more on this in the next post.

How often do you play the role of the rescuer as a leader, thinking you are helping out, but instead making people dependant?

How do you ensure effective leadership by balancing the tension between achieving the goal and focussing on people’s needs?

I struggle with this question sometimes.  I am sure I am not the only one.  As a leader you have to achieve certain goals.  There are certain change outcomes you have to manage and in between all of this you find the people you lead.

To ensure effective leadership on your behalf, I bet you struggle with the trade-off between the outcomes and the people?

Effective Leadership Makes No Trade Off but Shift Focus

The key lies in not making the trade-off.  Effective leadership resolves the tension between achieving the goal and managing people’s needs by shifting your focus.  By focussing your attention hundred percent on the people in the organization you will also achieve your goals effectively.

To ensure maximum engagement from the organization you have to focus on four specific development areas.

Effective Leadership Focus on Succession Planning

No leadership role is forever.

Succession planning is therefore a key responsibility of effective leadership.  As a leader, identifying potential young leaders forms a crucial part of your leadership function.  Effective leadership purposefully prepare people to function sustainably without you and make sure there is someone ready to fill your shoes when you leave.

Effective Leadership Focus on Develop Others

Interaction with the people in the organization with a focus on development is important for effective leadership.  The personal development of the people you lead becomes part of your responsibility.  Through structured conversation and coaching you have to prevent stagnation in the people you lead.

Effective Leadership Focus on Mentoring Others

Coaching people will help them develop and prevent stagnation.  Mentoring on the other hand is the purposeful transfer of gained wisdom to someone else.

We all gather wisdom as we continue on our life journey.  The amount of wisdom and knowledge you have acquired will depend on your age and the amount of time you spent in a leadership role.  Mentoring shortens the amount of time needed to gain the same amount of wisdom by the mentee from the mentor.  Effective leadership therefore focus on actively transferring what you know to someone else in need of the knowledge.

Effective Leadership Focus on Stretching Other

People like to feel comfortable.   You have to challenge them to leave their comfort zone and go further than with what they are comfortable with.  Effective leadership focusses on constantly stretching people to move out of their comfort zone.  By stretching people you enable them to grow and to face new challenges with confidence.

What other focus areas did I miss?

Have you had the privilege of being led by someone who focussed on the people rather than the outcome?

Where there is no vision the people perish… Proverbs 29:18 (The Bible)

So how important do you think vision is for successful leadership?

Looking at the piece of scripture, vision does not seem important for leadership.   Note I did not say vision is not important.  Vision is very important.   I just want to make sure you understand who the benefitting party is.  Think about it, who benefits most from a strong vision?

Is it the leader?


Is it the people he/she leads?

Referring back to our piece of scripture, it seems it is the people, not the leader who suffers when there is not a strong vision.

Why is vision so important for the organization and therefore by implication for the leader?

Without Vision You Will Get There, Even Though You Don’t Know Where “There” Is

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“…So long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Without vision, your organization will experience the same problem Alice did.  They want to go somewhere, but don’t know where to go.  This creates high levels of frustration.

Vision Indicates the Direction for the Organization


People need to know where they are going.  Nobody likes feeling lost.

A clearly communicated vision fills the need for direction people experience. Vision indicates direction, gives an idea of the amount of time involved and most importantly describes the destination.  In the absence of such a vision, your people get frustrated and start feeling lost.

Vision Builds Trust In the Organization

Providing a sense of direction brings comfort to people and builds trust in the leader’s ability and leadership style.  A vision clearly communicated and endorsed by the leader through action creates a powerful trust basis for people to not only follow, but commit to the vision.  Vision is once again more important for the people than for the leader.

Vision Creates a Feeling of Cohesion

When people start to trust you as leader based on your communication of the vision, they start working together towards a common goal.  When people start working together, it creates strong feelings of belonging.  A vision powerfully communicated has the ability to pull people together and create cohesion.

Vision Mobilize People 

Once there is a feeling of belonging, establishing cohesion around the vision, the natural next step is to do something to make this vision a reality.  Having a clear direction of where to go, and a clear understanding of what to achieve, taking action becomes very easy.  Once again vision affects people more than it affects the leaders.

Therefore vision is an important component of successful organizations.  Because it affects people vision is not important for leaders, but it is something a leader cannot do without.

How often you strengthen the vision for the people you lead?

How do you formulate this vision and how do you share it?

I enjoy bass fishing very much.  I like the challenge of either getting the fish to believe the lure you present can actually be eaten, or making the fish angry enough to want to destroy the lure at the end of your line.  Successful presentation of your lure will result in the fish striking.  Once the fish bites, this rule applies;

“Reel in the slack and set the hook”

From the moment you set the hook, tension on the line is imperative.  Slack line will result in a lost fish, however too much tension could break the line, or rip the hook out of the fish’s mouth, also resulting in a lost fish.  The art lies in keeping the tension on the line just right to land the fish.

Experiencing Tension in Leadership

If I tell you the same principle applies to Leadership, you might not agree with me.  How can tension in leadership be a good thing?  Is the aim of good leadership not to manage tension away and get everyone to get along with one another?

The short answer is “No”.

Tension is not something to manage away or avoid.  The same art of keeping enough tension on the line as you reel the fish in can be applied to leadership as well.  The art of managing tension in leadership lies in how skilfully you can keep the tension in a group to produce peak performance and achieve the preferred outcome.  I agree, too much tension in a group can result in counter productiveness but the right amount of tension in the right situation will result in progress.

“One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.” – Barry Lopez

Contradiction forms part of our life, in fact according to Barry Lopez, it sits at the very essence of our lives. Contradiction generates tension.  Leaders have to deal with this contradiction on a continuous basis.  Tension always exists between available resources and demand, time and amount of work, good ideas and wrong timing.  Tension normally develops between seemingly opposite sides, even though their intentions may seem good.  Good leaders move along the tension continuum and ensure all sides get the necessary credit at the right time to move the organization towards the desired outcome.

Tension is good for progress and you as the leader can leverage against the tension in the group or organization to create the most desirable outcomes.  Through leveraging tension in the organization, good leadership induces progress.  Managing tension creates opportunity for growth and development of both the individuals and the group or organization.

During times of heightened tension, there are two factors leaders need to deal with in order to successfully lead the group or organization:

Good Leadership and Fairness

It may sound like a contradiction but sometimes being unfair is the right thing to do.  Fairness means you always try to give everyone an equal opportunity or give equal time and resources to opposite sides of your team.  This kind of fairness puts you at risk of not making decisions based on what is best in order to serve the desired outcome.

If you base your decisions on fairness, rather than on the best option for the group or organization, you may make the wrong decision at a crucial point. Leaders should not try to be fair.  They must make the correct call at the correct moment, resisting the pull of tension by the seemingly opposite sides in their group.

Good Leadership and Resolving Tension

Good leadership is sometimes to not solve all the problems in an organization and to allow some tension to remain.  Tension in the group will always be there and should be managed, not eliminated.  Leading in this circumstances means leading “…in the middle of contradiction”.  Some tensions are good for progress.  It provides fertile ground for discussion and debate, challenging old though patterns and the status quo.  By resolving these tensions you might create a barrier to growth.

The leader should develop an ability to objectively listen to both sides of the tension continuum and not let his or her personal likes and dislikes influence the decisions.  The ability of the leader to make the right decision in spite of his or her preferences marks a mature leader.  Tension is unavoidable within any group.  Keeping this in mind makes it easier for leaders to manage tension instead of trying to resolve it.

How often do you encounter tension you should not resolve?

What cause this tension in your group or organization?

So how do you get from idea to outcome?  Idea execution is the bridge, spanning the chasm between having an idea and seeing the benefit created through the implementation of your idea. During the next phase you will make sure you work according to a detailed project plan.

Draw Up a Project Plan

If you invested quality time and effort during the Definition and Research phases, you will now have a very clear picture of what you want to achieve and how you are going to achieve it.  However to make this picture a reality you will need to do some detailed planning.

The Project Plan Work Breakdown Structure

The first step is to identify and lists all the necessary tasks.  This detailed task list is called a work breakdown structure in project management terminology. So now you need to make sure you do not only have a list, but you also know who will complete the task by when.  Because you have not finalized your team yet, you will have to fill in the responsible person’s name at a later stage.  For now all you will have on your work breakdown structure is the task and by when to finish it.

The Project Plan Timeline

Once you have your work break down structure completed you must determine the project plan timeline.  Creating a project plan timeline and setting deadlines helps to keep you and your team focused on completing the various tasks.  When determining the project plan timeline the first thing you need to take into account is by when you want to see your idea implemented.  This will give you the overall timeframe within which you will have to work to complete all the various tasks you listed.

Now you can start to prioritize the various tasks, and creating milestones to indicate progress, keeping in mind some tasks can run concurrently, saving a lot of time.  Indicate clearly which tasks are completed concurrently and which tasks are sequential.

People to Work the Project Plan

During the first phase activity of Support Garnering, you focused your efforts on communicating the idea and getting people excited about what you want to accomplish.  Now you have to assemble a team of people excited enough to help you make your idea a reality.

As the leader of the project plan, it is your job to make sure you have the right people for the various tasks on your team. Identifying the people on your team’s unique skill sets will help you to allocate the tasks on your work breakdown structure to specific individuals.

Project Plan Finance

One of the biggest stumbling blocks in idea execution and making your project plan work is the lack of finance.  It is important to do a detailed analysis of the financial needs you will have to make your idea a reality.

Questions to ask during this analysis might cover the following:

Will you need any finance?

How much will you need?

How much can you invest personally?

Can you expect your team members to contribute?

Where else will finances come from?

Can you get sponsorships?

The project plan financial analysis will give you a very good indication of your financial needs and how you will service these needs.  The best way to manage finance within a project plan is through a budget.  Drawing up a budget is very important especially if you are working with sponsorships, because your sponsor might want to see how you spend the money he/she gave you.  The budget should also be linked to your work breakdown structure and the expected timeline to make sure your money lasts throughout the project.  With the budget in place it is important to apply discipline and stick to it.

Monitoring the Project Plan

As the project plan leader, it is your continuous task monitor progress against timelines and budget.  The key is to monitor the project plan in such a way not to give people the idea you are checking up on them.  Monitoring is the work of gauging the health of the project in the following areas:

  • People

The people working with you on the project are the single most important resource you have to make your idea a reality.  It is therefore very important to make sure they stay motivated and know exactly what is expected of them.

  • Progress

You need to monitor the progress against the set task lists and timelines. Delegate more resources to tasks lagging behind and keep an eye on the budget. Practise the 80/20 principle to enable faster progress. This principle simply states if something is 80% ready you go with it, the remaining 20% you can fix as you go along.

  • Problems

A project plan almost never gets executed 100% according to plan.  Prepare yourself therefore for a fair share of problems along the way. You need to know of the problems and by making use of the collective expertise in your group, come up with creative ways of addressing the problems as they come along.

Turning your ideas into reality may not always be easy.  However, the probability of successful idea execution is much higher when you start by defining your outcomes clearly and making sure you research your idea thoroughly.  Building a network of support by sharing your idea with others will provide much-needed momentum when the going gets tough.  Through detailed planning, setting realistic deadlines and monitoring your project it becomes possible to execute your ideas successfully.

I would to get your ideas on the process I describe here and if there is anything else to add?

Our company recently applied for a major investment to fund a project we planned to launch in the new year.  We put in a lot of work in preparation for the due diligence and presented the company numerous times to various people within the investment company.  We were doing well.  The feedback was positive and the process moved along nicely.

We finally reached the end of the decision process with the initial feedback being the investment was approved “in principle”.  Our proposal was going through to the board of directors for final approval.  We were exited; everything was in our favor.  We waited with bated breath.

Its Tough Maintaining a Positive Leadership Attitude

The phone call came.  The board did not approve the investment.  The voting were tied and the chairman made the deciding vote against the investment because he felt the risk was too high.

We were devastated.  All the planning, all the projections suddenly felt like it was for nothing.

What do you do in this situation?  If you take pride in your positive leadership style, how do you handle this type of disappointment?

Positive Leadership Acknowledge the Disappointment

It is no use to try to ignore the disappointment and continue as if nothing happened.  It happened.  Ignoring it or denying it will not make it go away.  The first step positive leadership has to take in dealing with disappointment is to acknowledge the disappointment.  Acknowledging the disappointment puts it in the open.  It now becomes something you can talk about and analyze all the angles.

Positive Leadership Contain the Damage

Disappointment can cause damage in an organization if it is not contained.  Allowing disappointment to filter through from the leadership to the rest of the organization can be very demoralizing.  People in the organization do not necessarily have all the information and this may lead to wrong assumptions about the health and direction of the organization.  The key is to contain the damaging within the leadership group.  This is done by making sure there is a clear communication plan in place.  Positive leadership decides what, if anything needs to be communicated to the rest of the organization.  Determining the content of the communication to prevent assumptions and the damage it can cause is also very important.

Positive Leadership Regroup

Now it is time to start regrouping.  The value of being part of a leadership is having team members who encourage one another and aid in the regrouping process.  Regrouping means to muster one’s courage stepping into the leadership role again and face the next set of challenges.

Positive Leadership Evaluate the Options

Every set back brings with it certain lessons and opportunities.  By acknowledging the disappointment and the possible impact it may have on the rest of the organization, positive leadership enables you to see new opportunities and start evaluating them in terms of taking action.  Experiencing a disappointment is never the end of the road.  There are always opportunities waiting to be discovered if you can look past the initial disappointment.

Craft a New Plan

Lay out the opportunities on the table and scrutinize them thoroughly.  Positive leadership is all about picking up your head and trying again.  Now comes the time to investigate the best opportunities you identified and to craft a new plan to take advantage of them.

None of the processes discussed here will make the problem disappear.  In fact, not getting the required investment created a number of new challenges for our company, but through positive leadership we were able to continuously seek new opportunities and craft new plans to make use of the opportunities we identify.

How do you handle disappointment?

When last did you experience a major disappointment and what process did you follow to deal with it?

It seems like society is biased against Introverts and puts a lot of emphasis on being Extroverted.  It is normally the outgoing, sociable person who gets the promotion or who plays the hero in a move.  Very seldom does one see the same hype around an Introverted person.  Simply because due to the nature of an introverted person he or she will avoid such hype at all cost.

The Power of Introverts

In this video Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, highlights the importance and power of Introverts and their way of doing things.  She also highlights the fact that Leadership is something that, although many times do not come naturally for introverts, can be something they excel at.

To understand why Extroverts and Introverts behave the way they do it is important to understand the fundamental difference between the two personality types.  The fundamental difference lays in the way each personality type deals with stimulation.

Introverts feel most alive when they are in environments of low-key stimulation and quietness.  They do not need a lot of people and conversation around them to feel energized.

Extroverts on the other hand are the exact opposite.  They thrive in high stimuli environments where there is lots of noise and talking.

When it comes to leadership positions the Introvert is often overlooked due to societal bias towards the perceived benefits of Extroverts.

Introverts as Leaders

However, research indicated that Introverts actually do better than Extroverts in Leadership positions, because they are naturally more careful and less likely to take unnecessary risks.  Introverts also deliver consistently better results when they are managing proactive employees, because they tend to let the employees run with their ideas.  This creates an environment of trust and innovation, as opposed to the Extroverts who like to put their own stamp on things, preventing people’s creativity to come to the surface.

The power of Introverts therefore lies in the fact that they can work alone and come up with their own ideas, shielding them from group think.

Are you an introvert and how do you perceive society’s bias?

Do you experience an uphill battle as an Introvert to get recognition?

Everybody seems to be talking about character based leadership.  Amidst the buzz around character based leadership, I often still find myself wondering;

“What does it really mean in practical terms?”

Don’t you?

Character Based Leadership Definition

Trying to clarify the matter for myself I came up with the following definition and I like to test it with you, so let me know in the comments what you think.

Character based leadership is the discipline to constantly focus on the greater good and to put it and the needs of others above your own desires.”

To help me make it practical, I relied on a character based leadership audit from Chery Gegelman based on answering a number of questions related to specific character areas in your role as a leader.

Character Based Leadership Focus on Authenticity and Integrity

Authenticity and Integrity is core for developing character based leadership.  It has all to do with how consistent you relate to people and the manner you treat them.

  • Ask yourself the following questions:
  • How do you greet people when you see them?
  • When you are under pressure, how do you treat people?
  • If you make commitments, do you follow through on them?
  • When others are not around, how do you speak about them?
  • Are your actions and directions to others ethical?

Character Based Leadership Incorporate Conscientiousness

You express Conscientiousness by showing great care, attention, and industriousness in achieving specific outcomes and goals.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you make sure about specific concerns, and if there is any concerns, do you address it?
  • Do you set a clear direction and communicate this to the rest of your team?
  • Are people empowered to do what is required of them and do they have the necessary equipment?
  • Do you ensure consistent support is provided for the people in your team?

Character Based Leadership Values Truthfulness

Being Truthful is much more difficult than it may seem on the surface. It takes courage to speak the truth consistently in the face of intimidation, politics, and fear.

How Truthful are you? Ask yourself:

  • Do you identify and correct unclear facts and possible misleading information?
  • Do you involve all relevant people in the discussions of matters, so as to make sure information gets shared in a truthful manner?
  • Do you ensure trust with your team by making sure your actions and your words always match up?

Character Based Leadership Have Compassion without Sacrificing Accountability

When you address the actions of others, it is necessary to keep a balance between compassion and accountability.  When you have compassion for someone it does not mean the person is not accountable for their actions.

You keep the balance by asking:

  • Do you ensure you get to the root cause of an issue?
  • Do you assess your contribution to the issue either by what you have done or not done?
  • Do you look for ways to take ownership of the issue and ensuring it gets resolved?
  • Do you continue to repeat previous actions and patterns, yet expect different results?
  • Do you have a track record of improvement or are you merely trying to minimize the negative effect of decline?
  • Do you asses your strategy regularly and are you honest enough to admit it when it is time for a change in strategy?

Completing this character based leadership audit frequently will assist you in developing your own character based leadership style over time.

Do you have any further character areas to add or maybe some additional questions?

You feel stuck in your leadership role.  You know it is time to move on, but you cannot with a clear conscience leave your position.  What about the people, the organization?  Who will fill your place?

You know leadership succession planning is a vital part of your role, but you just can’t seem to engage your possible successor and start developing the next generation of leadership.

I guess many of you feel or have felt this way.

The good news is you are not alone or a uniquely bad leader because you don’t have a clear leadership succession plan in place in your organization.

Leadership Succession Planning is not Easy

Creating a leadership succession plan in your organization is no easy task.  Jeffrey Cohn and Jay Moran emphasize in their book Why Are We Bad at Picking Good Leaders the difficulty in selecting quality people as part of a leadership succession planning program.  They argue that leaders are often faced with the dilemma of having people with the right experience, but who are not qualified to lead. This is one of the main reasons why leadership succession planning becomes a difficult exercise for any leader.

Leadership succession planning is difficult, but not impossible.  Like many other leadership skills, you can learn how to become more efficient in selecting successors.  To help you in this process, Cohn and Moran isolated seven interdependent leadership attributes contributing to leadership success.

Leadership Succession Planning Check List


Definition: Steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code or the adherence to moral and ethical principles and the soundness of moral character and honesty.

The first attribute to look for is Integrity.  Integrity forms the cornerstone of the seven attributes. In the absence of Integrity, things rapidly fall apart.  Integrity cultivates trust, which in turn leads to higher performance in organizations.


Definition: The intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of other or the identification with and understanding of another’s situation, feelings, and motives.

Once you find Integrity, Empathy must accompany it.  Empathy is a critical part of Leadership, since it also cultivates trust and you cannot lead if people don’t trust you.  Empathy creates a sense in the organization of a Leader valuing the needs of the people.  When people get the sense their interests are being looked after, motivation levels generally rise in the organization.

Emotional Intelligence

Definition: Intelligence regarding the emotions, especially in the ability to monitor one’s own or others’ emotions. It is the skill to perceive, understand and manage emotions and feelings.

Emotional Intelligence allows you to make connections between emotional feelings in the organization and the behaviour of people. If you understand the underlying motives of people’s behaviour, it becomes easier to manage them.  You want someone with high levels of Emotional Intelligence as part of your leadership succession plan.


Definition: Unusual competence in discernment or perception or intelligent foresight.

I like the definition of Vision as “intelligent foresight”. It means Vision is not just pie in the sky ideas with no grounding in reality.

You want someone with intelligence, but also with imagination, having an inquisitive mind grounded in reality.  I know this sound like a mouth full, but your successor must create pictures of possibilities for the organization and motivate people to focus their abilities to make it real.


Definition: The ability to judge, or make a decision, or form an opinion objectively and wisely, especially in matters affecting action, good sense and discretion.

Judgement gives you the ability to single out matters of importance, make decisions and take decisive action based on those decisions.

If you can find someone with good judgement, you found someone who can make good decisions.  Good Judgement is learnt through experience.  You can expedite the process of learning good Judgement through a mentoring program.


Definition: The quality of mind or spirit enabling a person to face difficulty, danger or pain without fear.

Following a Vision will bring times of great difficulty and sometimes opposition.  You will have to face conflict and deal with tension in the organization. You need someone as part of your leadership succession planning who has the Courage to deal with and overcome difficulty. Courage means you don’t allow fear to obstruct your ability to make the right decisions.


Definition: A powerful or compelling emotion of feeling.

Leaders have to cultivate strong emotional feelings about the vision for the organization. It is important for you to find someone who can communicate this passion to the rest of the organization.  Passion creates drive and a positive energy acting as a catalyst to form highly motivated teams.

Your job as a leader is to identify successors with potential to become good leaders.  Putting these seven attributes on your tick sheet for your leadership succession plan will make it easier to find the right person.  Where the person has potential but not all of the criteria, it is your job as leader to transfer the necessary skills through mentoring.

If you are feeling stuck in your leadership position, do you think applying these seven criteria will assist you in identifying your successor?