Waiting to be asked

The line of students was snaking from the front of the room, up the main aisle and out the back door.

I wondered what they were all sticking around for. I was confused.

Turns out, they were patiently waiting to sign a piece of paper – the one piece of paper I had provided – to indicate that they had participated in class that night. It’s an honor system thing, an experiment.

When I saw the line – so many of them – and that single pad of paper they were inching towards – I shooed them out of class, promising full credit for everyone and a better process next week.

That evening I sent a note to the class asking for their help. It said, “My idea was good but the execution was lousy. Sorry about that. I want to find a better way so please send me your ideas.”

And a number of thoughtful and creative responses came my way, responses that will be put into action this week. And do you know why? First, because it’s not their first rodeo. And second, because they are thoughtful and creative people.

Something tells me that this goes for support staff, service agents, sales reps, technicians, installers, packers, shippers, processors, recruiters, analysts, coordinators, planners, etc.

Most people are thoughtful and creative. Most people want to be helpful.

And most people are waiting to be asked.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.


Leadership Lessons of the Long Leaf Pine

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Really good stuff leaders can learn from a tree called the Long Leaf Pine:

1. The LLP develops a deep and robust root system before it is ever more than a foot off the ground. Because it survives and thrives within a fire-dependent ecosystem (read “constant change”) it has to develop a nutrient rich underground source of strength and sustainability to ready itself for rapid growth. This process can take up to 12 years.

Leaders, what this means for you is that you better know the ground you stand on – who you are (values, strengths, limitations), why you are (your life and leadership purpose), and where you’re going (aspirations and the pursuit of meaning) – if you want others to follow you with their hearts through the realities of constant change.

2. The LLP grows in a low-density ecosystem. Because of that impressive root system, the trees have the capacity to stand apart from one another across the landscape while still being connected to a common cause; creating a forest. If they grew too close together frequent fires would destroy rather than replenish the system. Being separate but connected means each one must be both prepared to stand alone while being dependent on the others.

Leaders, what this means for you is that your people need you to become an expert at BOTH standing out and fitting in. Leaders who stand out well define a vision (the parameters of performance), supply the resources and knock down barriers. Leaders who fit in well make space for others to do what they do best. They support autonomy, ownership and connection. They say things like: “You decide” and “I don’t know, what do you think?”  

3. The LLP grows fast and tall, up to 80, even 100 feet. It relies on full sun, full exposure, and can live for 300 years. It’s a beautiful specimen, truly impressive. It is also home to over 30 endangered and threatened animal species. It uses it’s strength to sustain others.

Yes, leaders, a lot of leadership is about being fast and about standing proudly in the full exposure of opportunity and accomplishment. The only time that kind of leadership is meaningful, however, is when it’s practiced for the benefit, the protection, the advancement and the development of others and a cause worth fighting for. 





Who Am I Being?

Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, asks an extraordinary question of himself when he does not see his players fully engaged…when he does not see them “awake with possibility.”

He asks: “Who am I being?” He does not ask: “Why don’t they get it?” Or, “What’s their problem?” He turns the question first on himself. “Who am I being that I am not seeing the effort, the passion and the possibility that I know is in every one of them?”

His humble and massively vulnerable awareness is that his followers are always a perfect reflection of his energy, his optimism and his belief.

Is there an organization today that isn’t facing the need to transform in the face of a radically changing world? I would bet on those whose leaders start the conversation with this profound and simple question:

“Who am I being?”

Distributed Leadership

The following description of Distributed Leadership is the work of Gary Heil, with a few additions by yours truly.

Leadership is the responsibility of every employee. We cannot afford non-leaders at any level in the company. We, therefore, are not given our ability to lead from our bosses. The opportunity to lead is a right given when we are hired. The authority to lead is granted by those we hope might follow.

Distributed Leadership does not mean that every person gets to make all the decisions that they want to make in the company. It does mean that they have the responsibility to speak freely, to be informed, to challenge, to learn, to invest creative ideas and to fully participate in the process of creating the future. It means that all leaders have an obligation to create an environment where these behaviors are not only possible but an environment where these actions are encouraged and supported.

People who have successfully created a culture where leadership and learning are distributed tend to share a common set of beliefs:

Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.

Under the right conditions people seek responsibility for making a difference.

People would rather excel than be average.

Remarkable people want to work around other remarkable people.

People need to find meaning in their work.

People want their work to matter.

People will contribute more if they are truly satisfied by their work.

People will be more satisfied by their work if they are clear about how to contribute and are able to do so in ways that are meaningful to them.

Leaders have a moral responsibility to create an environment where people can grow toward their potential while making a difference for the organization.

It matters how you play the game: the end does not justify the means.

People want to be held accountable for their contribution.

People prefer positive and hopeful rather than negative and pessimistic.

Trust must be given before it is earned.

People want to get better.

People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.

The way people think is often more important then the tools they use.

People will act as leaders the way they were led as followers.

What you tolerate you teach.

I’d love to hear your additions and your comments and I’d especially love to know that you passed this along to inspire others to make it real in their organizations.