Archive for May, 2010

Simplify.

Written on Thursday, May 20th, 2010 in UncategorizedNo Comments

Effective Leadership need not be complicated.

I live in the middle of Amish country in Pennsylvania.  The Amish are a religious order who emigrated from parts of Switzerland and Germany in the 18th century.  The most well-known and visible part of their culture is that they have decided to forgo modern conveniences such as electricity and motorized vehicles.  They live relatively simple lives; focused on work, family, community, and their religious faith.

Oh yes- one more thing- they are also successful business leaders, even though very few have any formal education beyond the eighth grade.

There have been quite a number of articles written recently about the business success of the Amish.  According a study in the Global Business and Economics Review over 90% of Amish businesses are still successfully operating after five years, compared with less than 50% for small businesses in the US.

What accounts for their success?

Their success is enabled by the parts of their culture we can’t see- yet underlies everything they do- their values.

The Amish culture is founded on some basic core values, which include humility, honesty, community, and service.   Their behaviors, in the home or at work, are extensions of these values.  Examples of this range from their transparency and authenticity when engaged in conversation (even with us “English”), to Amish business leaders working hand in hand with their employees, regardless of the task.

They also recognize a higher purpose in everything they do.  It’s not about the money.  They see great meaning in their work; from tilling the soil in their farms to their beautiful craftsmanship in many creative disciplines from furniture building to carpentry.

Their businesses are successful because of the values they hold, and because their behaviors and mission are aligned with these values.  No pretenses.  No ambiguity.  Simple.

It’s interesting, but not surprising, that in Jim Collins’ classic book Good to Great the values he associates with great leaders (Level 5 leaders) are many of the same values one would associate with the Amish culture.

I used to think that the Amish were “backward” and “missing out”.  Now, after seeking to understand them, and learning about them, I know better.

Effective leadership isn’t complicated.  It’s actually pretty simple.  We are inspired by leaders who reflect back to us the best within ourselves.  We are energized because we can see our own values, our own capacity, our own creativity, in and through them.  Great leaders connect us to our own greatness.

Management gets complicated sometimes- running businesses in the modern world in all this global complexity requires a lot of experience and knowledge to create productive and efficient operations.

But this isn’t about management.  It’s about leadership.

So perhaps one of the keys to effective leadership is actually to simplify your approach, and get back to basics in much the same way the Amish have never left theirs.

Know yourself.  Know your values.

Behave in a way which is aligned with those values, and exemplifies the best in you.

In that process, you will enable those around you to recognize, and realize, the best in themselves.

Listen.

Written on Monday, May 10th, 2010 in UncategorizedNo Comments

Are you listening, really listening?

Often in a meeting we will simply stop and observe – Who is not listening? Who is not speaking?. A simple observation can provide valuable insight on the current capacity for relationship and trust in a team.

As we observe the speaker, its not just the amount of air time they “consume”, its also the mood they convey as they are speaking. As we observe the listener, it’s not just the silence they provide, it’s the level of curiosity they create as someone is speaking.

You see, the difference lies in the intention- when we speak with the intention to authentically share and discuss, an opening is created.  When we listen with the intention to truly understand another perspective, we open the doors to learning and growing.

Too often we speak with the intention of telling- and we listen with the sole intention of “waiting them out” so we can speak again, all the while sitting in judgment of the speaker.

Its sad, actually sad, to see a team with the capacity to be extra-ordinary settle for status quo because there is little authentic communication.  A lot of talking, not a lot of understanding, or learning.  What a shame.  What a lost opportunity.

When a leader actually engages their team, and allows the team to engage with each other – the level of sharing, trust and connection can be felt like you might feel the temperature in a room change.  You can actually feel the energy shift of an aligned team where ideas are exchanged without fear of judgment or reprisal, in the spirit of learning and exploration, and debate is productive.

What if we really valued listening, really hearing another’s point of view?

The main concern with listening is that it takes too much time. There is so much to do, and so little time in which to do it. We sacrifice listening for perceived speed. What we really sacrifice, however, is genuine understanding.  We sacrifice an opportunity to expand our perspective- and learn something.  And we sacrifice the possibility of  establishing an authentic, trusting connection with another human being.

An old indigenous saying goes “If you want to go quick, go alone; if you want to go far – go together”.

When we take the time and focus to engage with another point of view we actually see more.  No two points of view are alike and in the spirit of learning – that can be a very good thing.  We expand our field of vision, and connect in a way which allows us to become more effective- to “go farther” than we knew we could.

Steven Covey tells a terrific story about observing himself as he spoke abouthis son. He says “I don’t understand my son…he wont listen to me”. Read that again if you would. Do you hear it? Do you see it? If you want to understand someone, you would listen- truly listen- to them.