Category Archives: Below the Line

Leadership Intentions for a New Year

New Years’ resolutions have a bad reputation. Gym memberships are bought and ignored; book clubs are joined and eventually dropped.  So common have such patterns become that it sometimes seems like the more earnest the commitment, the more likely its failure.

But while our intentions might often outstrip our dedication, the motivation behind New Year’s resolutions is a good one. Setting aside time to reflect on where one is in life, how things came to be what they are, and what directions we would like to be moving is a good idea for any individual — and any leader.

Most of us, though, are far less inclined to reflect on, and resolve to transform, our work life than our personal life.  Why is that? What causes such a divide? Is it because we view leadership as something we do — putting our professional persona off and on like a uniform at the door— while we view other roles in life (parent, spouse, friend) as something we are?

Such used to be the dominant view of leadership, and to some extent it continues even today. But both behavioral research and the lived experience of countless sincere and authentic leaders are increasingly calling that paradigm into question.

Warren Bennis, founding chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California, once wrote that learning to be a leader is virtually the same process as becoming an integrated and healthy person.

Take a moment to consider that statement. Leadership, he seemed to imply, cannot be divorced from the essential features of an individual’s core identity. It cannot be separated from the grit and fiber of who he or she is, no matter how many management strategies she might master, or how many motivational techniques he might learn.

Reaching down to our deepest roots, leadership is an expression of our inmost selves.  Yes, it involves action components that we “do”, but at its most basic, leadership is something that we are. And only by understanding that inner reality driving our workplace choices and behaviors can we hope to consciously shape the decisions daily defining ourselves and our organizations.

So as we all return to our organizations and agencies, a little leadership reflection, maybe even a few workplace resolutions, might not be such a bad thing after all.

Happy New Year! ~ Alan, Nancy & Mark

Fear and the Exceptional Leader

Leaders’ assumptions, values, beliefs, and mental models are critically important in shaping their day-to-day choices, choices that mold workplace culture and impact organizational functioning. But an equally important driver of behavior – and one that is far more frequently overlooked and avoided — is fear. Fear is a delicate issue in the workplace, particularly among… Continue Reading

Three Below-the-Line Obstacles to Involvement

Involving employees in workplace decisions has been associated with a wide range of operational benefits. And yet true involvement remains relatively rare in the workplace. Why? Many factors play a role, of course. But the unintended consequences of hierarchical systems of authority pose a particularly stubborn set of challenges. Common to virtually all modern organizations,… Continue Reading

Employee Involvement and Participation: Do We Really Want It?

The benefits of involving employees in decisions that affect them are clear. Victor Vroom, one of the seminal pioneers in areas of motivation and decision-making, once wrote: “Participative decision processes…can provide a training ground in which people can think through the implications of decisions. Participation can also perform a team building function, building positive relationships… Continue Reading

Unity, Discord, and the Reality of Human Nature

If it is in fact true that organizational performance rises with growing levels of agreement, collaboration, reciprocity and shared vision, why do leaders accept significant (and largely avoidable) costs of disunity?  Much has to do with widespread below-the-line beliefs that disunity is just the way things are. “It’s human nature,” clients have again and again… Continue Reading

Involvement, Group Decision-Making, and the Path to Optimum Solutions

Involving employees in decisions that affect them and their work is crucial to capturing the human spirit in the workplace. Leaders, however, often resist involving employees in day-to-day affairs. Such reluctance stems in large part from leaders’ perceptions of both themselves and their employees. Because they were promoted into a position of leadership (and their… Continue Reading

Mental Models That Inhibit the Recognition of Employees

Recognition of and appreciation for the efforts of employees is central to a culture of engagement, ownership and commitment. The success of such initiatives, however, depends on more than questions of how, when, and in what venue. Leaders’ efforts at offering recognition are shaped — and potentially limited — by a host of below-the-line mental… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Leadership is a 100 percent human undertaking. Systems are populated by people. Policies are embraced or rejected by people. Plans are enacted or ignored by people.  And because of this, effective leadership hinges on a leader’s ability to access the talent, enhance the capacity, and develop the potential of people. But what are these human… Continue Reading

What We Believe, What We Think We Believe (3 of 3)

The first part in this series introduced the concept of the espoused theories we consciously believe in and the theories-in-use that actually determine our choices and behavior. The second installment explored how it is not only possible, but likely for there to be differences between those two sets of theories. But what can be done… Continue Reading

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