On Tuesday I wrote about the importance of shared definitions. (Click here if you missed it.
So, what’s the benefit of a shared definition?
I played basketball in high school. One year our coach drew up a play we called “Oklahoma”, and the play would end in a lob pass to the basket. The play itself was a pretty big leap for our collective ability, but that didn’t diminish the excitement.
Then, in a game, he called the play. I quickly ran through the mental motions and realized I would be on the receiving end of the lob pass at the basket–my chance for a Sportscenter top 10 highlight play.
One problem–not everyone knew the play. Not to throw someone under the bus, but the other post botched the execution which in turn eliminated any possibility of my going on to play basketball professionally. There was no lob. There was no highlight. There was no cohesion.
When we share definitions, we get on the same page as those around us, and they get on the same page as us. When we agree that we all start from point x, and we all move to point y, then we move as a unit.
Shared definitions lead to unity.
Shared definitions lead to increased impact.
Shared definitions lead to greater influence.
As a leader, our job is to navigate the waters of multiple priorities, trying to provide a clear direction for those we lead.
What situations are you facing that would benefit from a shared definition, a common goal? What arena of poor communication is preventing your influence from growing more and more? Are you willing to make the necessary changes? What’s the first one? What are you waiting for?
I’ve always been enamored by people who could cook using cast iron pots and pans. For years they seemed to have been a mystery to me.
Then, starting in January, I began cooking my breakfast every morning using a cast iron pan. I learned how to prep the pan, how to cook in the pan, and how to clean the pan, and I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to using a non cast iron pan again.
The more I have used my new favorite cooking pan, the mystique and intrigue of cast iron has slowly faded away. What used to be a mystery has become a staple in my routine.
What fascinates me is the mystery was greater when I hadn’t tried cooking with cast iron. It was something “they” always used, not something I used. I would read about how to use it, but the best growth came through experience.
I’m probably moving in an obvious direction at this point, right?
Leadership is the same way. We can read about leadership. We can watch and admire what “they” do. But until we roll up our sleeves and start exercising leadership, theory is only theory.
Leadership is messy. Plans don’t go the way we want. We make mistakes. We pull the trigger too fast on some things, and not fast enough on other things. We look back and see what we could have done differently.
But at the end of the day, leadership only grows when it’s being used.
My success as a leader is not based on my most recent endeavor. My success as a leader is based on my ability and willingness to move forward in spite of or inspired by my most recent endeavor.
What decision are you holding off on because you’re afraid to move forward today? What’s your cast iron pan? What is the thing that intimidates you? Step up to the metaphorical stove and start cooking! You’ll be glad you did.
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Growing up I spent countless hours on tractors. When plowing, I would make “rounds” which meant driving down one side of a terrace and back on the others side. It truly didn’t matter which way I went, but I generally went in a counter-clockwise direction. I never knew why, it was just what felt more natural.
Then one day I discovered why.
There was an old implement in one of the fields. I guess it was more alongside one of the fields. I had never used it, but it had always been there.
One day I asked my dad about it. He told me it was called a “one way” and it was what they used to plow when he was growing up.
Care to guess why it’s called a one way? Because it could only make the rounds one direction.
Care to guess what direction? Counter clockwise.
Can you see where this is going? I was living out a reality that was established by an implement decades before I ever existed. My dad grew up driving a tractor with a one-way, which trained him to go a certain direction. In turn, when I was old enough to plow, my dad taught me the same way he knew and had been doing for decades.
It was tradition.
Tradition always starts somewhere, and usually for a good reason. Tradition often times, however, moves into the realm of “does it really matter” after a little while. The tractors and implements we were using were mechanically ambidextrous, but our tradition-driven habits were not.
As you lead, you will encounter traditions and people who are unwilling to change because of tradition. Sometimes, the tradition is valid. Sometimes, the tradition exists because it’s what is comfortable and known, but the tradition itself is simply strange.
Your role, as a leader, is to help navigate the traditions. Find the good in traditions and maximize it. Find the bad in traditions and erase it.
But understand, traditions are hard wired into everything we do. Eventually, some traditions get so hard wired into our systems that we don’t realize the shortfall. But sometimes, knowing is half the battle.
One last thought: be sympathetic to traditions. Yes, sometimes you have to take a hatchet to a bizarre tradition, but that doesn’t negate the emotional connection.
Ultimately our job as leaders is to lead people, so we have to learn to navigate the emotions people feel when it comes to traditions. Lead with grace and understanding, but also lead with courage. The balance may be difficult, but it is definitely worth it.
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It’s that time of year again: time for Lessons from the Farm.
This is my third year to post about different leadership learnings I picked up while growing up working on my dad’s farm. You can click to see some of the previous posts that deal with learning when to stop, when to keep going, perspective, and working until the job is done.
Now, on to today’s lesson from the farm.
One of the benefits of growing up working on the farm is getting to drive. I was driving a tractor at the mature age of 7. Around 9 or so, I started driving pickups around the farm.
One summer, I was spending a few days at what we call “the Ranch” – my paternal grandparents’ operation. My aunt needed to feed some cattle, and asked me to go with her.
We rolled out to the pasture in what, to my mind, was an awesome pickup – a late 70s green extended cab Ford pickup. We didn’t have a pickup like this on my dad’s farm. His were way worse (at least, in my mind).
We got to the field and my aunt decided the best plan was to have me drive, while she sat on the tailgate opening sacks of feed and dumping them out as we drove along. Pretty standard procedure, and well within my realm of ability.
Except for one thing: that wonderful green pickup had a touchy gas pedal.
I’m not going to say that I popped wheelies that day, but I think my aunt thought that was what I was trying to do. After getting thrown off the back of the pickup about three times, she helped me figure out what I was doing, and we finished the job.
In leadership situations, sometimes we don’t realize how touchy the gas pedal really is.
A situation we see with an obvious solution may give people on our team whiplash when not approached appropriately.
A decision we are ready to make may carry a few more consequences than we anticipate.
Two different relationships we are trying to establish will move at different speeds.
Approaching each of these situations with awareness and discernment will pay dividends in the long run. As you lead, be careful to not lead so quickly or furiously that the people sitting on the tailgate get thrown out of the pickup.
Ultimately, however, as a leader, we accomplish more when we master the gas pedal. When we are leading people, we have to remember that our goal is not just forward movement, but forward movement together.
What situation are you in where you keep throwing people off the tailgate? What situation are you in where you need to go ahead and press the gas and move forward?
Think of your favorite vehicle. Not your dream vehicle, but out of the vehicles you’ve owned, what has been your favorite?
For me, it was a GMC Yukon. It had after market rims, but that wasn’t what I loved about it. You want to know what I loved? Heated seats and an automatic start. It was my first vehicle with both.
I loved driving that Yukon. My youngest was still an infant, and that car was a dream, except for the mileage.
Every vehicle since then has been compared to that Yukon, and probably from here on out (until I find a new favorite), every new-ish vehicle I get will get compared to it.
The same is true in leadership. We compare what we see to what we have seen.
The comparison of the present to the past is not negative, unless we let it become that way. The past, when remembered fondly, grows more legendary with every positive remembrance.
When my wife and I first got married we were broke college students who could barely afford to eat out, and only if that eating out was 49 cent tacos at Taco Bell. We were broke. But guess what, I look back on that time with great love. But I would never go back to it.
Our memory will naturally elevate the glory of things we remember fondly. The opposite is true, as well. Negative memories, when left unresolved, will grow more negative, as well.
Back to leadership. In our personal lives, we compare what we see to what we have seen. This could be positive or negative, depending on our approach.
As with most things, I advocate for awareness. When I realize I have a bias toward the present based on the past, then I am more likely to take what I see for what it is, not for what it has been previously.
Put another way, just because something went poorly in the past, doesn’t mean the ending is the same this time, although sometimes it is.
Just because something worked in the past, doesn’t mean it’s the best way of accomplishing something, although sometimes it is.
Just because someone betrayed you in the past, doesn’t mean a new someone will treat you the same way, although sometimes it does.
Allow the past to inform the present, not dictate it. Learn from your experiences, but don’t allow them to handcuff you.
And understand the people you lead are searching for the same balance along the way. Help them navigate the present and the past, and watch your leadership influence grow.