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Leaders are Learners

It’s been quite a while since I created a post on this blog.  Something caught my attention today and I was inspired to share it through my blog.  Most of my posts relate to leadership.  Not because I hold myself up as some great leader, but because I aspire to be a better leader.

One way to become a better leader is to study great leaders.  Identify the characteristics and traits they shared and adopt them as your own.  When we think of great leaders some of the qualities we think of include:  charisma, decisiveness, honesty, trustworthiness, intelligence, ability to communicate effectively, and many more.

One of the qualities we don’t often attribute to great leaders (but one that I believe all share) is their desire to learn.

Think about it.  Great leaders are lifelong learners.  They are curious.  They want to read what other people have written.  They want to listen to what other people are saying.  They want to gain as much knowledge as they can.

This article sums it up nicely.

Read the article and share what you think be commenting on this blog.

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To most people, the concept of becoming “lean” connotes having less or doing more with less.  For example, I am 35 pounds leaner than I was fifteen months ago.  My company is managing more associations today with fewer employees than we did two years ago – we are leaner.  To many businesspeople the concept of lean is also associated primarily with manufacturing businesses.  It’s a concept that’s applied to the operations of the business, not to leadership.

I read an article recently about a book called The Lean CEO.  You can read the article here.

I think the concept of the lean CEO is interesting.  In fact, it mirrors many of the same leadership traits we often discuss in this blog.  The author of the article suggests that lean isn’t just a cost-cutting thing, or only applicable to manufacturing.  Instead, he believes lean is a cultural change that brings about success for the employees and the business.

Here are a couple of the key concepts of lean:

  • It creates an environment that is motivating to workers by involving them in making the business better.
  • It is about continuous improvement and involves everyone in that process.
  • It improves productivity but not by asking people to work harder and longer but getting them to work together as a team.
  • It’s about respecting people.  The teammates, the customers, management.

Sound familiar?  These are all concepts we have come to know and expect from great leaders.

Perhaps we should be talking more about Leanership.  I plan to read The Lean CEO.

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There are many traits successful leaders have.  We have discussed many of them through this blog.  Of course, there are some traits shared by most, if not all, successful leaders such as, honesty, focus and commitment.

There are other leadership traits that we commonly think of when we think of great leaders such as communication, selflessness and humility.

Leaders become leaders because they are often smart, well-liked, able to set and achieve goals and able to get a group (or team) of people to work together toward a common mission.

One leadership trait we don’t talk about enough is sharing.  Leaders who share their knowledge, their experience and their goals are the most successful leaders.

I recently read an article about the importance of sharing as a leadership trait.  You can read it here.

What I really liked about this article is it draws attention to something I truly believe – that great leaders are not great because of who they are, but what their team is.  Great leaders encourage and embrace a culture of sharing.  They don’t hold their knowledge close to the vest and keep others from gaining it.  Rather, they share that knowledge and in doing so, encourage their teammates to do the same.

The result?  A team of people who trust each other, are confident in their ability to do their job well and an industry leading organization meeting the challenges of its customers.

What kind of leader are you?  Do you share openly and honestly with your team?  Or are you concerned about sharing certain knowledge – afraid that doing so will make you less valuable to the team?

I challenge you to give some thought to this concept and implement it in your business.  I think you’ll be glad you did.

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I’ve often wondered if I could be a better leader if I was less connected to email, google, news feeds and apps through my smartphone.  I try not to be rude about my smartphone use.  I try hard to not check it during business meetings or when I’m in a conversation with someone else.  I was particularly struck by our connection to smartphones the other day during a family meal.  We were having a conversation.  I looked away from the table for a second and when I turned back EVERYONE in my family had their head down looking at their smartphone.  This was frustrating and eye opening.

I decided to document the number of times per day I check my phone and the approximate amount of time per day I spend engaged with my phone and not the people around me.  Here are the results:

  • I check my smartphone approximately 14 times per day.
  • I spend approximately one hour per day checking email, calendar items, news, weather, etc on my smartphone

Those numbers don’t sound so staggering.  They’re significantly less than most people.  However, the fact remains that time could be spent engaging people in face to face conversations to solve problems, create opportunities, or just make people around me feel valued.

I wondered if many business leaders disconnect themselves by not having smartphones or not using them during certain times.  Guess what – some do!  Here is an article by Sheldon Yellen, CEO of BALFOR about that very topic.

Technology has improved our lives in so many ways.  I wonder though if there isn’t a case to be made for improving quality of life and productivity by stepping back from some technology.

I challenge you to measure how many times per day you use your smartphone for activities other than phone calls and how much time that takes.  Then try to spend a day without the smartphone and see if your quality of life and productivity in business is affected.

That’s my next step!  I’ll let you know if I’m brave enough to do it and what the results are.

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I came across a great blog posting recently related to – you guessed it – Leadership.

What a cool story this blogger has to tell about their grandfather and the 20 Mantras of Great Leaders he developed through a business and teaching career.  Read the full post here.

I think my three favorite (maybe the ones I connect best with) are:

1.  Followers choose leaders they trust, respect and feel comfortable with.

(Those values of trust, respect or responsibility and caring really resound with me)

2.  Be yourself.

(People know when someone is phony and they won’t respect and trust that person. You can only be an effective leader when you are yourself.  Just because you might be a different leader than others, doesn’t mean you aren’t a leader)

3.  Integrity is the bedrock of effective leadership.  Only you can lose your integrity.

(This couldn’t be more true.  Great leaders have integrity)

These three “Mantras” of leadership are things I strive to live up to daily.  Which ones do you find important?

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Many times leaders are presented with ideas by their teammates.  How they respond to these ideas separates the good leaders from the bad leaders.

Think for a minute about how you responded the last time an idea was presented to you by one of your teammates.  Did you keep a positive look on your face or a negative one?  Were you enthusiastic or dejected?  Did you comment positively on the idea or negatively?

I recently read a blog posting on this topic that was helpful to me.  Click here to read it for yourself.

I like the ten suggested responses to ideas.  Perhaps most of all, I like the notion that no idea is perfect.  If you wait for the perfect idea or try to modify the idea so much in an attempt to make it perfect, you lose the momentum created by the idea in the first place.  I also really like the idea of running a “trial” or a “pilot” for new ideas – in other words, I like the idea, let’s see if it works the way we think it should.

I thought the 4 principles were helpful:  (my summation)

1.  Respecting the idea is respecting the idea creator.

2.  Don’t exaggerate the challenges you anticipate with the idea.

3.  If you change the idea too much, it becomes yours, not theirs.  Don’t steal ideas.

4.  If they own the idea, they will see it through.

Even good leaders can’t be good all the time for sure.  However, hopefully you more often than not encourage the development and presentation of new ideas by your teammates through positive responses.

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I recently read an article published in the New York Times about how IBM develops new ideas through a collaborative team effort.  You can read it here.

A critical value most successful teams have is TRUST.  When members of a team trust each other, they can accomplish great things together.

Unfortunately, trust doesn’t always exist on teams.

IBM has developed this interesting collaborative structure for teams that seems to work for them when trust doesn’t exist.  (Be mindful that in this case there isn’t mistrust.  It’s just that their team is either too new, too large or to disparate to have developed trust in each other).

Their collaborative process seems interesting to me.  We may try it the next time we need to find a solution to a challenge in our business.

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