Lean into the punches.
In part one of "What makes a leader," I offered the notion that leadership is less about characteristics but rather about the mindset that you bring - the underlying values that guide and shape how you engage as a leader. By leading with the mindset of bringing value, the leader delivers influence beyond technical knowledge but rather demonstrates what it means to have positive impact. That positive impact is what the people around the leader ultimately want to engage with - to be a positive force that has an impact.
Moving on to part II: I recently re-watched the 2004 movie, "Million Dollar Baby" starring Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank. In the movie, Swank is a rough and tumble 30 year old wanting to find a new way after being ostracized by her family most of her life. She shows up at the gym where Clint Eastwood coaches and manages boxers hoping he'll take her on as a boxer. He wants nothing to do with her. But she keeps showing up. Keeps practicing. Stays persistent. Finally, Eastwood agrees to take her on and they embark in a great story of challenge and success.
As the training begins, Eastwood shares a lesson with Swank that is at the heart of the second part of this leadership series. Eastwood tells her, "Good boxers have to fight their natural instinct to lean away from punches. Good boxers lean into the punch."
As I enjoyed the movie, two key lessons kept popping out at me that directly relate to leadership in any work environment. The first is that leaders, like Swank, just keep showing up. And, like good boxers, learn how to lean into punches.
Just keep showing up: One of the great failures of leaders is what I call "snowflake leadership." Like a snowflake, these leaders melt under pressure. What great leaders do is keep showing up, keep trying, and persevere. Persevering through challenges are what define the great leaders of our time (and even the leaders you've never heard of). Perseverance leads to strong character, and strong character is what others seek to follow.
Lean into the punches: In conjunction with "showing up," great leaders also learn how to lean into the difficulty and challenges they face. This means taking on the tough challenges head on, not looking for the easy way out or the quick fix solution. Often, leaders attempt to deal with the symptoms and not the root challenges that are plaguing an organization. An example I see often is with ineffective meetings.
A client I recently worked with talked about how their weekly meetings were more like updates, were a waste of time, and everybody was frustrated with them. Instead of taking the time to work out the root challenges, they attempted several "quick fixes," like shortening the meeting, having one person create the agenda, and having everyone come with their own lists. These were not bad ideas, but they did not address what was at the heart of the dysfunction. The root was the inattention to results and lack of purpose to the meeting. These are much more difficult to address and "fix," as it will take time to change practices and the culture of the meetings, but the long term results will be much more significant than avoiding the root issues altogether.
Great leaders learn how to identify the root challenges they and others are facing and tackle those challenges head on. It removes boundaries for others and creates a clear path for success.
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There is no one true definition of leadership. By it's very nature, leadership is so define-able, that it is actually not possible to create one definition that works for everyone. Leadership is so contextual and situational that if you have a definition of leadership in your head, there's a pretty good chance you're right.
When I see lists of what makes a great leader (and it seems like they are everywhere) or the characteristics of leadership, I cringe a little. It's not that the lists don't have merit or that what's listed doesn't actually work, it's just that I think it's the wrong approach. Characteristics and lists aren't the answer to developing your leadership. You can gain some insight from those lists, but you should know you already have the characteristics and skills you need. Leadership is a matter of mindset.
I have worked with many organizations over the last few years and inevitably there is someone in the team or the organization that says something along the lines of, "well, that's just the way I am, if they don't like it, too bad." It never ceases to shock me. What that statement clearly demonstrates is a "center of the universe" approach to working with others. This also represents a mindset that is hinging on the premise of: "what can the organization/team do for me?" These colleagues often suck the energy out of the room, cause managers to hold "closed door" meetings to devise strategies for dealing with them, and are often the most difficult to work with as they are actually taking away from the success of the organization and of others. I am happy to note that these folks do not represent the majority. However, there is something fundamentally wrong with the mindset that the world around you should change to accommodate you.
What separates leaders is a simple shift in mindset. What makes a leader? Bringing value to others.
A simple question guides this approach: "How can I bring value to my team, my organization, and my colleagues/clients?" This question removes the "center of the universe" mentality and encourages the delivery of your skills, talents, and assets in service to your colleagues and clients. Regardless of your skill set or characteristics, you can bring value.
In my own leadership journey, I find that as I enter new situations, asking myself the question, "what can I do to best be of service to the people around me right now?" serves me well. I don't always deliver value or make the right choice on what is valuable, but just by asking the question, I am more in tune with what is happening around me and the needs of the people I am working with. Regardless of weather you or I get it right every time isn't the point - no leader is infallible - the point is that without a doubt, flipping from a me-centered approach to a value-to-others approach will make you a better leader regardless of your context or situation.
Stay tuned for part II. In the meantime, give this approach a shot and comment below on what you discover. Can't wait to hear about it.
I have worked with many organizations over the years, and one thing seems to be a common thread: lack of clarity around the target market. Many clients are looking to find the tools for marketing first. I often here, "We need to expand our social media efforts," or "we need to update our mailings or brochures." These insights seem to stir up a debate between colleagues and the conversation is often met with uncertainty as to which is the best approach.
This always raises a few key questions for me. How do you know that you need to update that information or expand social media? How do you know those are the right tools to hit your target market? Do you even know who your target market is? It seems overwhelming to make a decision about what tools to utilize if you don't know who it is you are trying to market to.
Taking the "tools first" approach often leads to attempts at marketing to everyone, which is more like marketing to no one.
There are really three simple questions that can help to focus your efforts - and once you are clear on who you are trying to reach, the path to marketing becomes clearer. They may seem overly simple, but getting really clear on your market makes your efforts much more focused and effective. The questions are:
1: Who are they? This is not shocking, or even particularly insightful, but it's really important. If you had to name specifically who they are, what would you say? The more specific you can be in this category, the better. Again, you are looking at your target market, not everyone in the world. It doesn't mean that other's can't hear your message, but who are you specifically aiming to sell to? An example of the degree of specificity would be: small businesses between 10-100 employees with revenues between 5 and 50 million.
2: Where are they? Again, the more specific the better. If you are a neighborhood business, attempting to sell to "the world" (or even the whole city) isn't reality for you. If you are a small business, maybe you name a region or a few cities and start there. You can always expand later if you need to, but if you want to get good at selling, you have to be laser focused to start.
3: What is the state of mind of the people you are trying to sell to? This is an important question to ask as it brings you into the psyche of your ideal client. What state of mind do they need to be in for your product to work for them? For example, if you were a company specializing in software you might say that the ideal customer has trouble with their software and is frustrated by the whole thing. They don't want to spend their time thinking about it, they just want it to work... and that's why they need you to come in and fix it for them. This would mean that if a company were satisfied with their software, you wouldn't waste your time marketing to them but rather that you would focus extensively on the market that was dissatisfied.
Once you've answered these key questions, compile a list of individuals, a region, or organizations that meet your criteria and spend you time, money, and energy marketing exclusively to that group. You'll know what tools to use because you'll be clear on who it is you are advertising to. Once you apply your focused energy and utilize the amazing tools at your fingertips, you'll be amazed at what happens.
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