Leadership: Excuse Me... But You're Standing On Your Air Hose!

July 12, 2007
Leaders need to understand that to grow things must change.

How do you perform the ultimate balancing act, from profitability and continuous improvement to growth and innovation; while of course maintaining, attracting and developing a high performance Team? Yes, that key entity, of all businesses, that will eventually dictate the success or failure of your enterprise. The TEAM! Notice we did not say your employees, subordinates or even imply levels beneath you, although we do come across these words and phrases in many businesses we have worked.

Some of the most revered Leaders of our time still issue memos or provide interviews that often refer to the individuals on their team as "subordinates." Once during a management training seminar we were asked to attend on, "Building Highly Effective Teams," the director of HR opened the session with the following comment; "As soon as you get through this training you are to get with your subordinates and go over what you have learned." I just couldn't contain myself, I tried, but to no avail. I raised my hand and said that I had both a question and a concern; immediately you could see a look of dismay come across the directors' face. They said; "How could you have a question and concern and we haven't even started?" I said, "I am confused, are we not here to learn about creating effective teams?" "If so, how can there be subordinates on a team?" "Isn't the premise of a team that everyone is equal and contributes equally to achieving the goals defined?" "I've been on many teams and not once did I ever hear a coach say "you subordinates." Although the program got off to a slow start, the director never used the word subordinate for the remainder of the program.

We recognize the complexity and numerous challenges that all Leaders are faced with, and to say it is a daunting task would be a gross understatement. Yet sometimes, we find that leaders just aren't helping themselves or their Teams out. Quite honestly, when leaders ask us to help them solve the challenges they are facing with their Teams, we have to delicately say, "excuse me... but you're standing on your air hose and its restricting the flow of oxygen!

We believe that people thrive and respond to the culture, the "circles of influence"; they work with within a company. If we believe that Leadership are responsible for creating and sustaining the culture within a Company by their vision, decisions and actions, then it should stand to reason that the leadership needs to look at themselves first in terms of what circles of influence they are creating and how they are affecting their Teams.

Although there are many key focus areas that we can present, we decided to focus on one: Intention vs. Attention, so Leaders can gain specific insight as to how their influence and behavior impacts others.

Intention Vs. Attention

The first area we look at while working with a Leadership Team is alignment between what they say they are going to do: Their Intention and what behavior they really demonstrate: Their Attention. Let's look at a scenario outside the work environment to depict this concept from a different perspective and then provide actual work scenarios.

What's Your Target?

Imagine, just for a minute you are approaching the tee box of one of the most beautiful par 3 holes in the world! Yes, you are now standing 155 yards away from the famous 12th hole at Augusta, known also, as the second hole of amen corner. This captivating hole is known for the Hogan Bridge, honoring Ben Hogan's then record of 274 in 1953, and also Rae's Creek which flows along the front of the green. The flowers are in bloom, the shrubs around the green are meticulously landscaped and there is the pure white sand that encapsulates the front and back of the green. The winds are right to left about 20 miles per hour..... You will take approximately 13 seconds before you hit your shot, what are the first two thoughts that enter your mind?

We have presented this exercise to many different groups and most recently to a senior group of business leaders. Oddly enough after we completed this exercise not one person mentioned the flag or the hole. There were comments about the bridge, water, sand, trees, everything but the "Target". This experience certainly is not unique to this group of executives, for all too often, the same result holds true for many players, where they end up focusing more on where they do not want to go. Hazards like water and bunkers become the focus more than the hole.

Although this exercise is a golf example, the key point to understand, be it golf, business and/or everyday life is that our focus (our intention) will have a big effect on the result. The really interesting thing about this occurrence is that we are often unaware that our focus, where we wanted to go, has shifted off the target and is now focused on where we did not want to go (hazard) in the first place and then we are left wondering why the ball ended up in the hazard.

Therefore, in order to get where we want to go, we must first be aware as to where are thoughts are (Intention); are they on the target or are they on the hazard. This conscious effort now enables us to align our thinking first, for it is our thinking that dictates our actions which translates into our results. So what is your target (Intention), where is it that you want to go; be it with your golf game, business or personal aspirations; you may want to first look closely at where your focus really is.

See You On Saturday!

So, how does this construct of Intention vs. Attention by the leadership affect the employees within a company? Say typically, Leadership espouses what they want: highly motivated, self directed, creative, dedicated employees who continually learn and perform community service for good measure. Most often, with the caveat: as long as they follow the rules, do it my way, and don't rock the boat... you get the point here.

What leaders say is often not consistent or congruent with their original intent. Such as when a company's leadership team adamantly states the importance of work life balance, during a regular Saturday 6 a.m. meeting. This is not exaggerated in the least, in fact this meeting went on for two years, before it was realized that this approach wasn't influencing anyone, at least positively. What it did influence was a great deal of resentment that flowed throughout the organization, driving stress and further dissention among the Team. Many times we find companies are struggling because of the disconnect between what the leaders articulate versus their demonstrated actions.

You often get results or encounter experiences in life, based on the thoughts and perceptions that are prevalent in your mind. As a leader, it would be extremely helpful for you to understand why you feel a certain way and how that ties to the way you think and behave and how that is tied to your conditioning and circles of influence which you have been exposed to. We believe this is where fundamental change within a company needs to start.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?

People will always be the key to the success of a company but it is the leadership that is truly responsible for providing an environment and culture that they can evolve and flourish in.

People look for vision, inspiration, and guidance from their leadership, consistency in thought and action and it does not include phrases such as: "What have you done for me lately?" This quite honestly may be the dumbest statement ever heard bellowed out of the mouth of a senior vice president. The Integrated Product Team had just completed a huge project with high risk and a very demanding schedule, not only did they deliver on all of the targeted goals but they exceeded them. Filled with great pride, waiting with great anticipation to present their results and be acknowledged for their excellence, they were left speechless when all they heard was "nice job, now take a couple minutes and enjoy your moment; now what have you done for me lately?"

I honestly don't think I ever saw a team so demoralized in less than ten minutes, yet the executive who bestowed this proclaimed great piece of wisdom, really believed it was the proper thing to do. Their explanation was simple, "I don't want people resting on their accomplishments and becoming complacent, they need to know that nothing is ever good enough and that way they will always strive to be better." Also, to point out a key piece of information, the Team was not looking for awards, dinners or fanfare, but something much simpler, something every Leader should have the capacity and intelligence to want to provide, a genuine and sincere thank you, that look you get that lets you know that this person truly appreciates more than words can express who you are and what you do. Teams and people alike really want to know that they truly matter. Now, how hard is that?

Take Away

Leadership represents a unique breed of individuals who have come to bestow upon us their knowledge, vision and inspiration and insight. They're here to inspire, engage, teach, guide, and empower their company and teams. Some leaders are born and some leaders are made, but the ingredients must be there, we believe, to blend together to create the package. Now, with that being said, time and time again Leaders, the very people that looked to for inspiration, empowerment, and guidance some times forget. They forget to self manage, use that ability that they honed, that ability to use their awareness of their thoughts to stay flexible and direct their behavior so there is alignment between their Intention and Attention.

Awareness is power. Awareness is accompanied by the sounds of bells ringing, the fog clearing in the brain. The preverbal AH HA moment has arrived! Awareness is the smelling salt of the mind. Awareness arouses a new higher level of consciousness. This is what enables the detection of "Gaps" in our consistency, especially in those of our focus and our actions.

Leaders need to possess this ability to summon a new level of awareness. But with all that is going on in their world, budgets, forecasts, organizational inertia, changing cultures and changing markets they sometimes get consumed by the chaos and begin to react versus respond.

So what is the secret to achieving this alignment between Intention and Attention for leaders?

Awareness; it is recognition that our inner processes, our inner thoughts, can influence as well as dictate outer ones; our behaviors. Think about it for a minute. We as leaders understand that to grow we must change. In order to change we need to shift how we think, which in turn will influence how we act. We sometimes settle for what we know, because it is safe. We have heard more than once; "This is the way it is, that's how we do it." Ask your self why? Why do we ignore this need for change? Face the source; face yourself, pay attention, become aware and quit standing on your air hose.

Rick Moroski is the President, CEO and Co-Founder of The Leadership Caddie which is a Delaware Based Management Consulting Firm. They use a distinctive approach to organizations with their customized Coaching and Consulting methodology and The Leadership Masters Series. You can contact Rick at [email protected] or call him at (302) 743-6457.

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