“Great leaders are not defined by the absence of weakness, but rather by the presence of clear strengths.” John Peter Zenger
While most people have never heard of John Peter Zenger, they may have heard the latter quote or something akin to it. Zenger was an important figure in American history as the printer of the “New York Weekly Journal” and was famously sued by colonial governor William Crosby for libel. When he was acquitted he became a symbol for the freedom of the press.
Zenger was German immigrant to the American Colonies. Zenger and his family immigrated in 1710 as part of a large German Palatines group. The colonial Governor promised all of the children in the group an education and Zenger worked under the first printer in the American Colonies, William Bradford.
It was in 1773 that Zenger printed the article that would cause Crosby to sue him. Cosby wasn’t satisfied with is salary and couldn’t control the local government so he removed one of the judges and placed someone friendly to his party in the former judge’s seat.
Zenger and his paper being part of the opposing party, continued to print articles disagreeing with Cosby’s actions. Alexander Hamilton and William Smith Sr were his lawyers and eventually winning the libel suit against Zenger.
As the summer weather starts to settle in, those people in leadership roles might want to take advantage of a nice day through outdoor team building activities. Getting your team out into the sunshine can be a nice change of pace and a reenergizing experience, especially for a team that mostly works indoors and/or sitting at a desk.
A scavenger hunt might be a common activity; however, one can turn it into a team building exercise. Especially when you encourage people to work with those they don’t normally work with. Leaders can use this activity to break up social cliques in the workspace.
Making the scavenger hunt task-oriented with problem solving activities is another way to increase the team-building aspect of the activity. This might include puzzles and riddles as well as searching for particular objects. Each team should receive an identical list of tasks and there should be a deadline by which all tasks need completed.
The “human knot” is another fun activity that is well suited for a sunny, outdoor space. Depending on the number of participants, you may want to break people up into several groups. The instructions are simple—everyone should stand shoulder to shoulder in a circle and facing each other. First, everyone sticks out their right hand and grabs a random hand across from them. Then the same with their left hand. The goal is to untangle the knot without releasing hands. Success is dependent on team work and communication.
An “egg drop” using office supplies is another possibility for a game—instructions for variations on egg drops are available online. But the gist is that teams will use common items from the work space to construct armor for their raw egg. After a set time limit is up, each team will drop their egg from the same height to see which team constructed the best armor. Obviously, this messy game is easier to clean up outside.
These are just a few examples of team building activities that don’t happen in a meeting room around a table. Try them out. That nice weather will have people’s attention wandering from common, indoor activities.
When we speak about success, leadership, the workplace and other goal oriented parts of our lives we typically think of distractions as bad. How to avoid all those things that lead our attention away from responsibility and personal betterment have been a large part of the conversation of success. But what if distractions weren’t all bad—which seems to be the popular narrative about distractions in America.
According to an article in Psychology Today distractions can very much be a good thing in many situations. The article suggests that distractions are one of our primary coping mechanisms for dealing with physical pain. Not only that, but also mental pain such as anxiety. In children, pre-surgery anxiety is very common. In one study, three groups of children were studied for pre-surgery anxiety. There were three groups: one was given an anxiety medication; one group was given nothing; one group were given video games to play. The study found the video game group to have the least amount of measurable anxiety. Another study found that adult patients given video games to play experienced 50% less pain during wound cleanings.
But clearly distractions are also bad at time. How can we tell the difference? Dr. Jane MacGonigal has written extensively on the subject of distraction and she suggests that we simply ask ourselves whether we are using the object of distraction as an escape from our lives or are we using it to enhance our lives?
In the workplace, in a group as the leader, is a particular person or group using a distraction as a means to avoid uncomfortable conversation, to avoid boring or challenging work, to disengage from useful problem solving? Maybe it’s OK for your employee to play Words with Friends for fifteen minutes to ease their anxiety about please an important client. Maybe some off-topic conversation at a creative meeting is just want the group needs to relax and be able to share the ideas they think might be good, but are afraid of.
When traveling the road of life, we won’t always be the one in charge or be put into a labeled leadership role; however, that doesn’t mean that exemplifying leadership qualities isn’t important. So, how can one act like a leader when they aren’t leading?
First always be a clear communicator. Leaders don’t talk behind people’s backs, they don’t complain behind closed doors. They never say yes when they mean no. Leaders speak what they believe and they stick to their guns, unless presented with good reasons to change their outlook. Good leaders are always flexible as well. Teams function best when everyone is giving an opportunity to be a specialist. Let the other team members shine when it comes to what they are best at. Weigh your teammate’s abilities and perspectives equally.
Another two-sided coin of demonstrating your leader-like qualities is to not let people walk all over you. Make your voice heard. Don’t be afraid to help someone, but don’t let them take advantage of you either. The best leaders bring others with them on their ride towards success—this is how success works share it, but take your credit when it’s due. Likewise, if something is your mistake, don’t be afraid to own! If you are under a good leader, they will understand, and the team will be there to help make the best of the situation. When you are acting like a leader, a mistake must be owned by the person who made it, but the team will want to help them.
Finally, don’t put up with bullies—whether it is someone trying to dominate a conversation or marginalize a co-worker, stand up for what is right. You’ll be surprised how quickly most people are to rally behind the morally-upstanding person who speaks out first.
“Every time you have to speak, you are auditioning for leadership.”
James C. Humes is most famously known as a presidential speechwriter. He has served as a communications advisor to major U.S. corporations, including IBM and DuPont. He is the author of twenty-three other books.
Humes wrote speeches for presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Gerald Ford, and Dwight Eisenhower. Before his speechwriting career, he represented the U.S. State Department in lectures on American government all over the world. He has served as a communications advisor to major U.S. corporations, including IBM and DuPont. Mr. Humes is a well known author, most famously for Confessions of a White House Ghost Writer (Regnery Publishing) and the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Churchill: Speaker of the Century.
One of the last living Americans to have met Sir Winston Churchill in person, Mr. Humes has played Sir Churchill on stage and at numerous events. Mr. Humes lives in Pueblo, Colorado.
As James Humes once said, “The art of communication is the language of leadership.” If you want to be a leader, you must be a presenter that connects with the audience and delivers a memorable message.
What can you control?
This question shifts the focus from focusing on that which is beyond the protégé’s control and onto what someone can actually do about the situation the find themselves stuck in. One might not be able to change an unfair policy immediately, but they may be able to find short-term answers to help themselves deal with it while they work on longer-term solutions.
What obstacles are facing you?
Protégés may be not want to share the challenges they find troubling, or may not have really thought them through. Asking about them directly allows the mentor to explore the challenges with which the protégé is struggling, and discuss the individual’s strengths and weaknesses in addressing them.
In three to five years how do you want to change?
Since the business world changes at such a fast pace today, focusing on a shorter window still allows enough time for creative, aspirational thinking without the distraction of how different the workplace might be at that time. The answers may reveal how the protégé wants to grow, or fundamental changes they need to make to achieve their goals.
What is the outcome you want?
If the protégé is facing a complicated situation, that is often the best question you can ask to help them lift their head up and start to look at the situation from an entirely new angle.
What does success look like to you?
Asking what success looks like can refer to long-term goals and planning. However, when applied to a specific situation, it can help determine what the immediate priorities are for a project or situation.