Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing the Broadway tour of Finding Neverland. This show is an adaptation of the 2004 movie of the same name; the story of J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan. As the story goes, J. M. Barrie was inspired by the young children he saw playing in the park one day, and created a world where boys never grow up, fight with pirates, and live with fairies. At one point in the play, J. M. Barrie and the cast participate in a number called “Play” to shake the serious actors out of their cynical take on the child’s tale. It begins with this phrase:
“Can you remember back when you were young, when all the simple things you did were so much fun? You got lost somewhere along the way, you’ve forgotten how to play, every single day.”
In our leadership development exercises, we ask our participants to create their leadership timeline from their very first memories to 20-30 years into the future. The past timeline highlights moments that stand out as formative; the future timeline is intended to create purposeful opportunities for leadership development. Some participants focus on their experiences; others note movies, books, tv shows, etc. that shifted a view of their thinking about leadership.
But what about the moments that aren’t as memorable? What about those times just playing? Pretending to be a magician, a ship’s captain, a lion tamer…or just creating games with friends to fill up time in the day? Identities slipped on and discarded as quickly as the imagination could come up with the next idea. Just simple fun. I hope everyone has those types of fun memories.
But as we grow older, we seem to forget how to play. Yes, we have more responsibility as adults, experiences have taught us self-preservation and society shapes our thoughts on what is foolish and what is logical. But perhaps we have lost too much? Perhaps not everything needs to be so serious. Perhaps we can still find opportunities for playfulness. In my opinion, one of the best attributes of multi-domain leadership is the freedom try out different leadership styles in domains other than work. In the same way children are free to try on different identities while at play; participation in other domains allows adults to also try on different leadership identities. Are there simple things you did when you were young that you can re-incorporate into your life? Can you volunteer in ways that allow you to play? Are there things you can observe that make you happy but also connect to your leadership abilities and challenges?
For me, watching musical theater is a delight. And Finding Neverland reminded me that we shouldn’t forget to play (and to give thanks for the professionals who can entrance us with stage magic!). What have you experienced lately that allows you to learn from areas outside of your work?
Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Image by Polly Clapp
My grandmother passed away yesterday. As many families do at the time of loss, my family got together to remember, start the process of grieving, and reflect on the mark my grandmother made on the world. Whether we are intentional or not of making a mark on the world, we invariably do. There are so many wonderful qualities about my grandmother – she was kind, brave, self-determined, strong willed, and always friendly. She never wanted to be a bother to others and she didn’t let adversity slow her down. In fact, the day before she died, she stopped breathing for a little bit. But then she started breathing again, came back to, and went to lunch. That was simply the type of women she was, not be let a moment of death slow her down her keep her from lunch.
When I first started to study leadership formally, that is, in business school, and I was asked to think of a leader who inspired me, Grandma always came to mind. I never knew if it was cliché to think of my grandmother as an influential leader or, worse, sometimes I didn’t really understand why I felt influenced by her. But I did always see her as someone whose behavior I wanted to model. You see, she always had the respect of others because she always respected others. She never demanded trust or respect, but always earned it through integrity and relatedness to humanity.
As much as I want to tell you more about what an amazing women she was, the true point of this blog post is to reflect on our futures and our ends. Many leadership consultants will take clients through an epitaph exercise, in which they project on how they would like to be remembered. As kitschy as this may seem, in moments of loss, you can’t help but be moved by the legacy some people leave behind, how fondly they are remembered. It is years of consistent behavior that build these legacies and most often, they are projected onto many domains, not just work. I raise this domain orientation, because at mid-life where I sit at the moment, I seem to be thinking much more about how I can have an impact at work, but at life’s end, will that really matter? Will I be comfortable hearing people I worked with fondly remembering what I did for the organization at the expense of my kids and grandkids reflecting on how little they knew me, how successful I was at work, how much stress I brought home, and the family sacrifices I made for my career success? No, that doesn’t appeal to me. So, when I think about my leadership and the mark I will make on the world, in which domains is my mark the most important to me? By seeing how my many domains are integrated, it becomes easier for me to see how what I value in my work domain can enrich what I value in my family and community domains.
What do you want your legacy to be? How will your domains remember you?
Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Have you ever wondered if the leader you see in yourself is the leader others see? There are a host of theories I could regale you with to explain how and why we come to see ourselves as certain types of leaders. However, on the very basic level, the question of finding congruence in how we see ourselves and how others see us is a matter of self-awareness. The most important piece about becoming self-aware is getting feedback. Many organizations implement systems such as 360 assessments and annual reviews as mechanisms to provide feedback. Sounds like a good idea, right?
Well, the problem is that organizations do a good job with building the structures, but a terrible job at the very human element of the feedback loop – how to craft feedback in a developmental way, how to absorb feedback that may not always be positive, and how to turn such feedback into actionable items for improvement. If you are human like me, your gut reaction to feedback might be dread in anticipation of feedback and sulking if it is negative. Because we all feel this way, we have a tendency to give positive feedback, which is nice to have something reaffirm how great we are, but not always developmental, because it may make us think that everything we do is just fine. The truth is, we all have room for improvement.
I might suggest at this point that we all just suck it up and learn how to process feedback so that we can turn it into something positive. This isn’t bad advice and I would recommend training yourself to use a learner mindset in receiving feedback about how you lead. But this blog post is about how to get really honest and complete feedback. When you want to hear the hard news, who do you turn to? The people who know you well, who support you, and who can be honest with you. In short, where strong relationships exist, so, too, does honest feedback.
Because of this, it is almost silly to use only 360 degree feedback, i.e., only in the workplace. With 1080 degree feedback, that workplace information can be augmented by family and friends, and members of our community domain (volunteer organization, church group, sports club, etc.). This gives leaders a panoramic view in high definition. When the leader they see is not the leader others see, the 1080 view will make it clear why, because the feedback is more complete and in some areas, likely more honest.
How often do you ask your friends and family about how they see you lead? We have evidence from our research that the way they see you lead has an awful lot to do with the way you see yourself lead. Furthermore, our research shows that the more your friends and family acknowledge you as a leader, the more effectively you lead at work.
There’s a lot of power in 1080 feedback. Are you ready for it?
I’d like to return to an earlier topic we covered, multi-domain leadership (MDL). In earlier blogs, we describe what MDL is, the benefits of it, and the value of enrichment by applying what you learn and experience in your work, social, or community domain to another. But organizations can also encourage MDL by thinking through the different “silos” that come to exist and motivating workers to look beyond their current departments.
I recently had the pleasure of facilitating a leader identity training for an organization in the midst of a restructuring. Employees who were used to dealing with procedures and stakeholders in one manner were now being asked to change their outlook and adapt to different processes, customers, and co-workers. They were being forced to integrate their identities into a new, larger domain. It reminded me that we all, at some point, need to integrate our skill sets away from one specific functional area into a larger organizational view. When we do that, we need to look up from the work in front of us and interact with co-workers from other departments. Anyone interested in upward mobility in an organization must keep an eye on how they can attain different skills sets to continue to be successful as they get promoted. Managing people or projects requires individuals to move beyond their functional or technical skills to include people skills, budgeting expertise, or general oversight of how departments interact in a larger organization.
So, how does one gain these other experiences? The advice is similar to how we recommend enhancing leadership skills –by looking for opportunities that allow cross-pollination of ideas and by choosing to open up the landscape to which you are exposed. Does your organization have training programs for different skills sets? Is there a mentor in a different department that you can tap to allow you to learn and experience different approaches? Are there outside resources that you can leverage to gain necessary skills? One does not become a partner in a law firm, an accounting firm, a manager in a financial institution, a founder of a start-up, or a leader in an educational institution without obtaining different skills sets such as sales, fund-raising, people management, or creating a business plan. Even within the work domain, MDL can enhance your success by encouraging you to integrate new and appropriate behaviors to enable career progress. Good luck!
Leadership training and development programs are ubiquitous, They’re also big business as part of a $14 billion industry. Despite the great interest, some companies are asking if it is even worth it?
Ironically, attempts to answer that question come from - wait for it! - the same organizations who provide the training. And the answers are usually some form of, “Not exactly...except for the way we do it!”
Fortunately, we can now provide a better answer that is grounded in scientific evidence. A recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Applied Psychology examined results from 335 studies of leadership training. The results were surprisingly robust, and suggested that leadership training programs can lead to:
The article also suggests some best practices for a successful training program, including:
In our 3 part series on goal setting, we discussed the importance of approach goals, implementation intentions, and coping plans. Today I want to talk about the areas of your life in which you plan to implement them.
Leader development is personal development. As we grow in self-awareness, self-control, adaptability, self-confidence, and personal responsibility, we become better leaders and better people. That’s great news as the pay-offs of our hard work can be experienced in all aspects of life.
We have written on the benefits of taking a multi-domain approach to our own development and some of the ways our family life benefits our working lives. I’d like you to think for a moment about what you want to work on and how you can use the various aspects of life as a “developmental playground” in which you can practice as you progress towards your goals. As leadership is about relationships, we can often practice in other relationships.
While the payoffs can be great and our own development can be accelerated, I need to say: This isn’t easy. This is hard work and sometimes the dynamics of some areas of life make it even more challenging. Perhaps the obstacles and associated coping plans look different in different domains. We need to celebrate small wins and not let setbacks get us down.
Written by Rachel Clapp-Smith
Photo by William Bout
In the “barbaric yawp” post, we discussed how awareness of small moments of leading can have big effects on how we make sense of our own leadership. In this second part of the ‘making sense of leadership” series, we will unpack the first step in this sensemaking process: seeing opportunities to lead and develop leadership.
Often, we are triggered to lead when we see a moment that is familiar, which can come in the form of having had a similar experience in a different domain of life, yet, the situation and requisite behavior to lead is familiar. An example might be that you have to motivate people in your volunteer organization all the time by inspiring them. Your work might call for similar leading behaviors to motivate your subordinates. In these moments, our internal thought process is that the moment is connected to other past successes in leading and all we have to do is behave just as we have in the past in similar situations in order to influence. Such moments we label “noticing connections,” and while these are great moments for us to claim leadership, rarely do they challenge us to develop into more complex leaders with broader skill sets. In short, what we have always done always works, so we keep doing the same thing. A connection.
But people tend to develop and grow when they are challenged. Leaders are no exception. When people lead in many domains, i.e., at work, with friends, with family, in the community, the demands for leading may differ. When a person uses the same leading behaviors with family or in the community as at work, sometimes those behaviors are ineffective. These become head-scratchers for the leader – how is it that I’m so effective influencing change at work, but I can’t get anywhere convincing my child to do his homework? In these moments, the leader is seeing a disconnection.
Disconnections often come in the form of conflict, challenges, and in some instances, they can be quite profound. As an example, one of our students described a disconnection when he realized that his organization valued a certain leadership style: aggressive, abrasive, and at times, abusive. The student had adapted his leadership to fit into the organization’s culture, and had been very successful there as a result. He had been promoted a few times and was constantly praised by his supervisor. However, feedback from other life domains identified that this abusive manner of leading was spilling over to where it did not belong, namely, in the family domain. By seeing this disconnection, our student became more mindful and deliberate about his leadership behaviors. The manner by which he was triggered to reflect based on this disconnection is the topic of the next post in the making sense of leadership series. Take a look at your own leadership in the domains of your life. Do you see connections? And how about disconnections?
Part 1 of Making Sense of Leadership Moments: Intro to Barbaric Yawps
When I teach leadership to my undergraduate students, they are very quick to apply a theory of leadership in vague terms. When I show Robin Williams as the poetry teacher in Dead Poet’s Society, my students spew academic terms: he’s being transformational by using inspirational motivation or individualized consideration. But these are terms that remain academic and somewhat meaningless to my students until we pick apart the small, micro-moments of leading.
Moment by moment, we relive Ethan Hawk yawping, first as an uncomfortable mouse, then slightly louder yet just as uncomfortable, until Robin Williams pushes him to yawp like a true barbarian. Where Robin Williams stands, the body language he uses, the words that show empathy, yet challenge Ethan Hawk. These details we try to become more aware of, to see the micro-moments, so we can understand how the leader/follower interaction occurs. We want to get at the core of moments that truly influence, that bring about change in attitudes or behavior.
Why do I ask my students to seemingly split hairs when it comes to understanding what is happening in each moment? Well, it helps to think about the choices leaders make about how to behave, out of the many ways they can influence. Leading is nothing more than standing in certain spots, using certain words, conveying certain emotions, in the attempt to influence someone or some outcome. In academic terms, we call these many, micro-behaviors acts of claiming leadership. Such acts are effective when others grant us the leadership, or, they simply follow.
So, when do leaders decide to lead? How do they assess their effectiveness in leading? And, the ultimate question, how do these moments accumulate to build a competent leader in many situations? To answer these questions, we look at the process people use for making sense of leading and incorporating that sense into future claims for leadership. In very basic terms, the process involves seeing, understanding, being, and doing. It probably comes as no surprise that we also have more academic labels for these, but the basic gist is the same. In a series of blog posts, we will break down each of these, so check these out, keep practicing your barbaric yawps, and let’s turn each small act of leading into a profound moment of influencing others.
Written by: Gretchen Vogelgesang Lester
At the end of my day-long interview for a Ph.D. Program focusing on leadership, my future advisor asked me who I thought the best leaders were. I froze. It was 4pm on the longest day of my life – having gotten up a 5am to take a flight from Chicago, Illinois to Lincoln, Nebraska, interviewed with multiple faculty, advisors, and potential future peers throughout the day, and then finding myself sitting across from a well-known and somewhat intimidating leadership scholar. I stammered out one of the only leaders I could think of: Oprah. Oprah! I felt so foolish – how could a talk-show host be a leader?
I have not been able to get that moment out of my head – going on 15 years now. I was sure I had blown the interview. Luckily, I didn’t, but I wonder sometimes if my advisor thinks of that answer as a good one or not. But to be honest, I do see Oprah as a leader. A woman that could make a book, a chef, a designer, a personal trainer, a product become so successful just by endorsing it on her show. A woman that could break the internet (back in its earlier days) just by including a product on her “Favorite Things” show. A woman who has since started her own TV network, brought attention to overlooked stories of powerful women, and served as a cultural force for decades. When I see Oprah in her magazine, on TV, or hear about her accomplishments, I’m immediately transported back to that July afternoon.
I didn’t know it yet, but that was a moment that mattered to my conceptualization of leadership. Oprah is a great example of an individual that influences followers to take action. And that moment, where I immediately felt so foolish but eventually came to understand that my belief in leadership as an influence process instead of a dictatorial or directive approach shifted my perspective on how I learn about leadership, how I teach leadership, and how I enact leadership on a daily basis.
So how can others search for those moments that matter, or trigger moments? My example with Oprah is about shifting perspectives – something important for an individual leaving one career in industry for an academic life. Other ways to use trigger moments include noticing when and where leadership opportunities arise. Perhaps you were not selected for a training program at work – this is a leadership opportunity. Perhaps you ended up refereeing for your kids’ soccer game because no other parents showed up. Perhaps you coordinated a night out for your friends to celebrate someone’s birthday. These might not seem like leadership opportunities, in fact, they might seem like disappointments or distractions from your career goals. BUT, reframing them as leadership opportunities creates a developmental opening.
Not selected for a training program? – set a meeting with your manager to determine why or why not. Make it apparent that you are ready and willing to move to the next level by accepting any constructive criticism that comes your way.
Refereeing a soccer game? Be sure to reflect upon the things you notice during the game – which kids are playing well together. Which directions are accepted by the children? Which parents are encouraging or frustrating their players? What emotions do you feel during and after the game that you can recognize and incorporate into your leadership style?
Coordinating a night out for friends or family? What actions are you taking that are leadership behaviors? Which style is effective – do you need to be more directive or participative? Compare this to your approach at work. Which behaviors get a better response from your group?
By treating these types of different occasions as leadership development opportunities, you are building your leadership behavioral repertoire. Keep your eyes out for as many chances to emerge as a leader as possible, and you will continue to stock up your leadership toolbox. Maybe it even involves Oprah.
Finding yourself at crossroads, unsure of where to go next?
Confident in your path, but looking to continuously improve?
Interested in more research-backed information on leadership?
Feeling stuck – like you’re incredibly busy but also bored?
Needed greater integration (or maybe some clearer boundaries) between work and non-work?
If any of these ring true, you’re in the right spot!
The intersection represents the most valuable space for exploration and growth
We are university professors (Mike, Michelle, Rachel & Gretchen) who have cultivated our passion for developing better leaders in all areas of life. We each have our own stories and styles, but all work to the same goal: leadership development. Through our research, coaching, and experiences, we have discovered that the intersection represents the most valuable place for exploration and growth.
The intersection is the point where science meets practice. Where decades of research evidence is held up in real-world complex situations. Where our own intuitions and experiences can be challenged.
The intersection is the point where all areas of our lives come together – our work, our families, our communities, our selves.
The intersection is the point in which we focus on both who we are and what we do. Where we take stock of what we’re doing and what’s important to us.
The intersection is the point in which we create and implement. We create new knowledge, information, ideas, and relationships and implement both novel and tried-and-true methods.
Over the last few years, we’ve learned (or re-learned) a few things about ourselves and about what it is that we are doing through The Leadership Professors:
Taking all of this into account, we made a strategic decision to leverage our efforts into something of a spiral of development:
Clients bring us challenges and problems →
We apply our expertise and learning →
We create solutions with the client
Every competent consultant does the steps above, but we continue the spiral through our work at the intersections to:
We work at the intersection of
What to expect
In a nutshell, we are beginning to blog as a means of creating knowledge and learning together. The topics we will cover generally represent some areas of those intersections. Some entries we will share research and discuss the relevance for the practice of leadership. We will highlight interesting cases organizations and individuals of all types and discuss the lessons learned. Other times, we’ll share our personal stories – the victories and struggles on our own leadership journeys.
We're here to learn and grow together and are in the business of building people up. Thank you for joining us at the intersection! We’re excited you’re here.
Our very best,
Mike, Michelle, Rachel & Gretchen