Knowledge v. Wisdom

One can read a hundred articles about the best leadership traits or ten mistakes new leaders make—and this is written with the irony understood that this is yet another article on leadership—and if one took notes they would probably find that there is, out there in the ether, generally accepted knowledge about leadership.

Think of leadership in terms of the order in which on takes college course work and earns a degree. As an underclassman many of the classes one takes, the 101s, cover the history and best practices of the subject matter. Students memorize pertinent facts and theories and get to practice them on a small scale. As an upperclassman, students begin debating and testing theories, the projects include real-world application. Grades are based more on how you use what you know than what you know. You start build wisdom, not just knowledge.

As we know wisdom comes from experience. Talk to other leaders, share your experiences. Ask each other how you have put knowledge into practice and what were the outcomes? While anecdotal evidence doesn’t make for the most scientific data, discussion and sharing lets us share wisdom, which in the world of leadership is probably more valuable than another article which sites several studies that conclude praise is most appreciated on Tuesdays after lunch time.

Once you have become a student of the knowledge of leadership, the next step is to share wisdom (experience) among your peers and learn from each other.

 

“Classic” Leadership Mistakes to Avoid

There are some common mistakes that all leaders, new and veteran, should avoid.

First and most importantly, many leaders do not trust their team members and either micromanager the team or take on too much work themselves. Focus on outcomes, not how things happen. Don’t insist on being kept in the loop on the minutia—no one likes feel like they are being spied on.

Next is a symptom of the modern world and that is being overly connected. While often the characteristic of new leaders wanting to seem “in on” the digital revolution, many veterans may see over-connectivity as a way to make themselves seem still relevant and with the times.

Modern technology encourages not just leaders but employees to be tuned in all the time and never shut down from the work day. This can lead to what is being commonly called “hurry sickness”. This “disease” makes us feel that because of technology and being constantly connected we continually have to do more and do it faster.

For the leader, stretching oneself too thin over digital communication actually makes them less accessible, not more so. Likewise, do not expect this from team members, set clear boundaries for everyone and let the team know that the work day has a clear beginning and end.

The last mistake we will address is a “classic” in leadership discourse. That is, needing to be liked. Even in organizations that are almost 100% “just for fun” whoever is in charge is going to have to make decisions at times that are not popular among all team members. Even if this is your adult softball team or a Fortune 500 company.

Many new leaders misinterpret the respect and understanding they see team members giving other leaders as “being liked” or even friendship. While respect and understanding are not mutually exclusive from friendship or “being liked” they are far from the same thing.

More often than not in trying to please everyone, leaders will please no one. But if they make logical decisions that are best overall for the team and are based on the available facts of a situation that leader will earn respect and understanding even if a decision is not popular.

 

 

Embrace the Chaos of The Non-9-to-5

Being a small business owner almost guarantees one isn’t going to work a simple 9-5. Some may start their day only a few hours after night owls are going to bed, while others may have nothing but empty hours until lunch time and then it all comes rushing in at once. Others may experience a trickling in over 10-12 hour days.

Working with these irregular hours is key. Breaking up when one works will help maintain energy, focus, and problem solving—we have all experienced a scenario in which no matter how much energy we put into a project we loose sight of what is truly important, become exhausted and our thinking becomes muddled and useless.

When on concentrates on a non-work project for a while it allows our mighty subconscious to come to life and do some problem solving for us, while we get whatever else done. One will come back to the work project with fresh eyes, fresh ideas, and energy to implement them.

Embrace the irregularities involved in running our own business. Insisting on a the standard and rigid 9-5 only limits the possibilities and opportunities. Staying flexible means more opportunities and the time to take advantage of them, not less.

Of course, embracing the chaos requires one to keep an accurate schedule whether paper or digital. Write down important dates and times, make lists, set reminders. When working within the rigidity of the 9-5 it is often easy enough to know you’ve got eight hours to get it all done, not so for the small business owner.

Finally, while embracing the differences between the rigid 9-5, which for many is a challenge easily met, on must recognize their own limitations. Yes, do things non-traditionally. Yes, take advantage of more opportunities. Yes, be available for an overseas client at 4am and the local client at 4pm. But. On must recognize their own limitations are it is all for naught.

For many new independents it might be difficult to know, at first, what their limits are. Be prepared to recognize that moment in which although you’ve taken juggling lessons you begin to wish you had four arms.

Why Good Team Members Leave (Talent Needs Nurturing)

All leaders in business and non-business organizations will have one of their best quit on them. Sometimes it’ll be obvious why, other times leaders will be left scratching their heads as to why one of their best and brightest is suddenly gone. Especially with the new trend of “ghosting” in our society—leaving suddenly and without explanation—leaders may want to heed the following thoughts.

While a seasoned leader probably wouldn’t make the classic mistake of overworking their best, which is tempting when a peer is particularly talented (why wouldn’t you want them on every project?). A leader might also under appreciate their best team member’s talent. These are some more obvious reasons someone might up and leave. Yet there are some less obvious reasons an employee might suddenly disappear. And it should be no surprise that these reasons are somewhat all a different side of the same issue.

First, make sure you are challenging your best team members. Those who aren’t being given work according appropriate to their talent. Sure, this employee will get the job done and probably in a timely fashion but piling on what feels like busy work will lead to boredom and force this talented person to seek challenges outside their comfort zone elsewhere.

Second, make sure you aren’t cramping their style. Top performers are passionate about their work and are always looking to expand their horizons. They’ll want to find new opportunities for development and explore new ideas. Don’t make it a hard and fast rule that they must focus only on the work they are given. Unsurprisingly, if they aren’t allowed to explore in their own manner, they probably aren’t being challenged either.

Don’t force your top performers to work in a certain way—they know what they are capable of and can handle not only assigned work, but additional opportunities. These are your future leaders and if not allowed to develop they will wither under poor conditions or seek opportunity elsewhere.

Third, sometimes it will be up to the group’s leader to provide the development opportunities. And this won’t be about learning skills alone but having learned new skills your best team members will want opportunities to put those skills into practice.

Talent needs nurturing and it is up to the team leader to make sure that is happening. Un-nurtured talent will seek the best opportunity to grow like a plant reaching for sunlight. Be the strongest source of light.

What Focus Means in Leadership

While many already realize that “focus” is a both a quality of leadership and something that good leaders provide to those they lead the traditional definitions of focus–those that make focus seem singular–might not be as useful a definition or a way of going about things as previously thought.

Some believe, in fact, that there are three essential kinds of focus for a leader. These kinds of attention can be grouped into three broad lenses: self-focus; focusing on others; and macro focus (focusing on the world at large).

Creating a triad of awareness will help a good leader foster emotional intelligence by looking inward to help themselves and outward to help others and will help them stay innovative and diverse in their thinking by keeping an eye on the where the world is headed.

Looking in only one of these directions provides little benefit and bucket loads of harm.
When focusing on yourself and looking toward your gut instincts be aware of where your motivations and influences are coming from—a piece of a literature, a parent, a friend, a mentor a historical figure? Examine the source to understand oneself. No man is an island, understanding yourself, your motivations and their possible pitfalls is essential to being a leader.

When looking to others a good leader needs to be able to understand another person’s perspective, to feel what someone else is feeling, and to be able to sense what it is they need. Help them do for themselves what you do for yourself when trying to understand your motivations and influences.

Looking out to the world and trying to anticipate what is coming will allow you and your team members to bring together what you have all found during your self-discovery and apply the best features of the team to try and innovate solutions that will work for a changing world.

The Physical Traits of Confidence

Appearing confident (even if one isn’t) is very much about body language and to exude confidence we must present a “total package.”

First, steady eye contact is a must. Looking around, looking to a digital device, to the side or to the ground is a no-no. Eye contact makes people feel important and engaged.

There are a lot of opinions about handshakes and while a lot of people dislike “firm” handshakes, that is because many people over do it. Don’t crush someone’s hand but do be firm. Also, don’t play the game of trying to be the last to let go, this is more likely to lead to awkwardness than make one look confident.

Another way to create a persona of confidence is to engage someone by very lightly touching their shoulder. President Obama is famous for doing this. It can signal leadership, confidence and put the other person at ease.

When speaking to a group keep your feet firmly planted on the ground. Shifting your weight or crossing and uncrossing your legs makes you look nervous and fidgety. Take up space with your hands. Don’t be afraid to fill the empty space physical with your presence. Gesturing while speaking and filling the space with your presence with controlled and calculated movements will make you seem more confident, however be careful not to do it too much or too quickly, this can look chaotic.