Category Archives: Reflective Leadership

Effort, Habit and the Timetable of Transformation

Instant gratification is widely prized today, not the least in business circles. The number of leadership books promising tips, tricks, and secrets to achieve quick and painless change — of ones’ employees, ones’ organization, ones’ self — testifies to the number of leaders seeking the silver bullet solution.

Of course many leaders realize that things which seem too good to be true usually are. But repeated exposure to claims, even those we reject as unrealistic or fantastic, can gradually distort our perceptions of what is normal and realistic.

When it comes to leadership development, then, it is worth considering the extent that such eat-more-and-still-lose-weight promises might have led us to underestimate the time and effort needed to achieve lasting personal change.

In an article exploring collaboration and participatory leadership, well-known consultant, trainer, and author Peter Grazier offered an arresting depiction of the determination walking such a path of transformation can require.

“Although I was observing this phenomenon almost daily in my work, it took almost four years before my own decision making process became more naturally collaborative,” he writes.

Now, four years is not the timeline on which most of us chart a course of personal improvement. Not only does it seem more than a little daunting , it seems downright unnecessary. We assume that a few weeks, a few months at most, of dedicated attention should be enough to tackle most any managerial shortcoming.

And yet Grazier echoes what many other thoughtful leaders have suggested: that personal growth is valuable precisely because it is so hard-won. “As I have looked back on my own transition,” he writes, “I have gained a greater awareness and appreciation of the difficulty of changing ourselves, let alone others.”

Change, in short, is worthwhile in large part because it is so challenging.

Moreover, change requires dedication not just to act at a tactical level, but also to be vulnerable at a personal one. “It took a series of significant emotional events to have me seriously reconsider how to contemplate, explore, and make decisions differently,” Grazier writes, describing what could be termed a below-the-linechange in thinking and outlook.

Leaders—all people, really—improve not by turning away from challenges but by grappling with them head-on. They improve by hanging the mirror and asking tough questions about who they really are, what they really believe, what they value, and what m0tivates their action.

Facing these questions can be challenging. It requires effort, time, dedication, and perseverance. And in many ways, it is less a task to be completed than a far-stretching path to be traversed little by little, day by day.

But only by hanging the mirror and taking a good look at how we view the human beings around us can we create an environment that fosters truly excellent performance. Only by looking first at ourselves can we hope to develop others.

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… Continue Reading

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

Guest Blog: Leadership for the Solo Entrepreneur?

Recently, I was lucky enough to host a book club discussion for Hanging the Mirror. I was immediately drawn to this book because, in my work as a consultant to small business owners, I feel like the biggest problem they face is not access to smart strategies or good workers.  The most pressing problem is… 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

Workplace Vision in Action: One Example

Employees can bring many things to the office, but workplace vision is not one of them. Vision is an element of organizational culture, and culture derives most directly from the actions and choices of leaders at all levels. But what does it mean for a leader to instill vision in to a workplace? What does… Continue Reading

Capturing the Human Spirit

Many employees are cynical, apathetic, disillusioned with their work. This is a sad truth of the workplace. What is also true, though, is that none of us want to feel that way about our employment. We would all rather be motivated than unmotivated, rather be fired up about the work we do than indifferent. Given… Continue Reading

Taking Stock: Three Critical Elements

Crucial to growth as a leader is a comprehensive process of personal stock-taking, an ongoing discipline of objectively looking at our actions and beliefs and considering the effect they have on the individuals and systems around us. Though such reflection encompasses many constituent elements, three seem to be of particular importance: knowledge, choice, and perception.… Continue Reading

Perceptions, Authority, and Perceptions of Authority

Managers today often perceive relatively little hierarchical “distance” between them and their subordinates. Yes, they might shoulder certain responsibilities and make the final call in certain situations. But they generally see themselves as part of the team. That perception, though, is in many ways a consequence of the very authority they hold (and their subordinates… Continue Reading

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