Building Potential in the Midst of Failure

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“Don’t focus on the failures. Focus on the journey toward results. It’s better to do something and fail than to not try anything at all.”       ~ Ajaero Tony Martins

Do you focus on the failures of people or their potential?  Leaders are passionate about leading others to make something better.  This is called vision.  However, with the drive towards excellence can also come a keen awareness of where things are not right.  This is called discernment.  We need to see where things are lacking to move to the better.

I love to speak into the potential of people.  Last night, I was encouraging a family member about their intelligence and my desire to invest in them.  However, that same day, I had also become consumed with the failings of another family member.  I was frustrated and angry about their lack of change.  All that I was seeing was their past and their lack in the present.  I was staying stuck in this view of them, which was leading to bitterness.  I needed to also see their potential.

Leaders need to walk a tightrope with their perspectives.  They can’t ignore when things go wrong.  Mistakes need to be acknowledged.  However, they can’t become stuck there.  They need to lead others to see how the failures are part of the journey to something better.  Failures, just as much as successes, can be opportunities to cast vision towards potential.

Here are some practical tips to promote potential amid failures:

Be Aware of Your Own Issues with Failure (Model Giving Yourself Grace When You Fail)

Dan is a leader who gets a lot done, but is often fire-fighting to fix problems, rather than focusing on top priorities.  In the long run, this is hurting the organization.  He realized that he is driven by anxiety.  He is fearful that these problems will be viewed as mistakes and so is driven to fix them immediately.  As he evaluated his anxiety, he realized that he had a big fear of failure stemming from a past job where the board only pointed out where he was lacking.  Dan is now stopping when feeling anxious, focusing on the truth of his potential and making choices with his time accordingly.

Are you fearful of failure?  Do you give yourself grace when you fail?  Others notice how we live, not just what we say.  You can tell others that it is okay to make mistakes, but then you also need to model that.  As leaders, we need to evaluate our own underlying issues with failure.

Be Aware of How You Treat Others When They Fail (Disarm the “Hot Buttons” of Failure with Empathy)

Many of us have been conditioned to dislike mistakes.  For example, when I saw the items I missed on a test at school, I saw where I was lacking instead of where I had the potential to learn.  Because of people’s own “hot buttons” with mistakes, how we approach mistakes with others can build them up or tear them down.

As leaders, when a mistake happens, we want to help fix the problem with very good intentions.  We start to ask a myriad of questions to find the solution.  However, our good intentions can unknowingly create a wall with the other person.  We need to first acknowledge the grief that goes along with the mistake before we jump into problem solving.   For example, “I see the disappointment (or sadness, frustration, anger, etc.) you are feeling with this not turning out the way you wanted.  I am here to process through this with you.”  Remember, questions without empathy become interrogation.

Don’t Assume – Ask

Elizabeth has a passion to build a strong team.  She is very diligent with her hiring process; however, her last hire has not worked out.  Hiring can be a time-consuming and emotionally intensive process.  She begins to question herself and her abilities as a leader.

Can you relate to this leader?  We can all be self-conscious at times, and this is only heightened when we feel we have failed.  When we begin to doubt ourselves, we can easily believe that others are doubting us too.  This can especially shape our interpretation of what others in authority are saying to us.  We can assume that our boss, board, parent is only thinking the worse of us, but our perspective can be totally skewed.  And, this will only erode our trust in them, which can have enduring consequences.  Don’t assume what others are thinking.  None of us can read minds.  The relationship will only grow stronger by engaging in conversation and asking for their thoughts.

Trying, failing, and learning are all a part of the journey of achieving the best.  We all need encouragement in times of failure to see the potential.  Be aware of how failure can be emotionally charged for you and others.  Give yourself compassion and grace, extend empathy to others and use it as an opportunity to engage in relationship and cast vision towards potential.

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More Expert Tools to Empower Others

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He had been a successful leader of this organization for several years; however, two of his staff members were in an unhealthy conflict that was impacting the whole team.  The staff members did not show love or honor for each other.  Their words tore each other down, and they gossiped about each other.  They were not being held accountable for self-control or how they responded to each other.

Have you ever faced unhealthy relationships within your team?  In last month’s article, we discussed the first four of the seven pillars of healthy relationships that will lead to empowerment of others to accomplish your mission.  These pillars are love, honor, self-control and responsibility, which provide a foundation.  However, the leader in the above scenario also needed to apply the next three pillars of truth, faith and vision to bring his team to unity and empowerment.

Empower through Truth

When I ask others about values that are important to them, honesty is a common item on the list.  Honesty requires truth.  But why is truth so important to us?  Because truth is the basis for trust.  A relationship cannot survive without trust.  Without trust, division is the result and the downfall.  A famous quote of Abraham Lincoln is, “A house divided against itself will not stand.”

You can’t empower others without trust and therefore without truth.  You need to create a safe place (love, honor, self-control and responsibility) where truth can be spoken and received.  The leader in the above story needs to speak truth to both staff members.   Do you speak the truth to yourself?  Do you speak truth to others?

Empower through Faith

Faith is the ability to hope for what is not seen.  What do you put your faith in?  You need to define this for yourself.  Traveling through circumstances and with people can be a rocky road.  Faith is what keeps us steady.  Horatio Spafford composed a well-known hymn titled, “It Is Well with My Soul.”  It is not written because of the many happy circumstances in his life, but instead is his declaration of faith as he sailed past the area where four of his daughters died after a shipwreck.  Faith is what kept him and his wife moving forward in purpose.

Faith can keep us steady amid relationships.  It helps us not to be codependent on others and their actions.  Faith is a foundation rather than our success being dependent on an outcome or a person.   It allows us to empower others with freedom.  With empowering others, there is always a risk, because you ultimately can’t control another person.  However, the benefits of an empowered person towards a common mission far outweigh the risks!

The above leader needs to step out in faith as he confronts the unhealthy interactions within his team.  How does your faith help you to empower others?

Empower through Vision

Vision is what keeps us together.  You can’t empower someone without having a clear vision of where you are going.  First, you need to be strong in who you are and where you are going.  Next, before you can empower another, you need to know who they are and where they are going.  A mistake is to empower someone else and then find that they are in another boat going the opposite direction.

Take time to know the other person and if their vision is aligned with you.  Building relationship and connection is important here.  Sometimes you can define quickly if there is an alignment of vision, other times not.  It can be a process, and don’t label the process as good/bad.  In helping someone define who they are, you have helped them even when your vision is not aligned.  You also in the process have clarified your vision.

I was working with a leader who hired a new person who looked like the right fit for the position.  However, as he helped her to get to know who she was and the requirements of the position, she realized that part of the position fit her, but the highest priority of the position did not.  It would be foolish to continue to empower her in the position that did not fit her and would not take them in the right direction.

Summary

Part of the conflict in the story at the beginning of this article with the two hostile team members is that they were not united in the vision.  They each had a different perspective on that vision.  I wish that I could say that this story has a happy ending, but the leader of the organization let fear of conflict control him.  He was unwilling to step out in faith to speak truth into these relationships and to clarify the vision.  He did care about each of these staff members, but he did not honor them by calling out the best in them.  He also did not hold them accountable for self-control and responsibility.  Instead he swept the pursuit of healthy relationships under the rug and now the organization is tripping over the bump in the rug.

How will you use the seven pillars of healthy relationships to empower others to the potential of your people and your organization?  I challenge you not to ignore these pillars but to be proactive in building a healthy culture that will empower you to your best.

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Expert Tools to Empower Others

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“As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.”

– Bill Gates

Do you want to empower others?  Do you want to know the essential ingredient to empowering others?  It is relationships.  You cannot empower another person unless you are connected to them.  And, the quality of that connection will determine your effectiveness in empowering others.

Recently, a friend of mine had surgery and received care at two different hospitals.  At one hospital, she felt deeply cared for, and you could see the impact on her physical and mental well-being.  But, at the other hospital, she felt like a task and that the staff did not care.  It negatively impacted her attitude and well-being.   The relational connections at these hospitals could empower her to health or not.

So, how do we build healthy connections that will empower?  Danny Silk is a worldwide author and speaker about healthy relationships.  In his book, Keep Your Love On!, he discusses seven pillars to healthy relationships.  I believe that these seven pillars give much practical insights on how to maintain connections that will empower others.

Empower through Love

There are a lot of definitions for love.  I can say that I love ice cream, which means that I have a strong attachment and passion for this food.  We can say that we love a lot of things.  But, I think that the most powerful form of love is applied to people.  The dictionary defines it as: unselfish loyal benevolent concern for the good of another.  It reminds me of the definition of philanthropy – the love of mankind.

You empower others through love when you help them to feel valued and significant.  It is when they feel cared for, safe and protected.  Think of a time when you felt valued and protected.  Probably just reflecting on this memory, you can feel your confidence build to accomplish anything.  This is the power of love to empower others.  Do you pursue the people you want to empower so that they feel known and valued?

Empower through Honor

Honor is the practice of calling out the best in one another.  It is not just honoring someone out of duty because of title, age or authority.  Honor goes deeper than this, and we can choose to honor anyone.  It is the belief in the potential of someone and then calling them out to rise to that potential.

We can honor someone by reminding them who they are and what are their strengths.  It is encouragement.  We can do this by celebrating when people have done a job well.  We also need to honor another when we need to speak the truth of who they are when they have not done well.  It is pointing out how what they did wrong is not in alignment with a greater potential of who they are.  We care too much for them to see that potential not used.  How will you speak into someone’s potential?

Empower through Self-control

Self-control is the ability to demonstrate that we have power over ourselves.  We can set goals, make choices and follow-through.  We can choose the good over the bad.  But, even beyond this, we have the ability to discern and choose the best over many good options.  This is because we have set our priorities and follow-through.

In a relationship, self-control leads to confidence that you will do what you say you will do.  The other person does not have to wonder if you will follow-through.  We empower others when we demonstrate self-control in our own lives and hold them accountable to self-control.  Where do you need to grow in self-control?

Empower through Responsibility

Responsibility is responding to the world around us rather than reacting to it.  It starts with knowing who you are, your identity and values.  This is your foundation and directs how you control yourself and the choices you make.  Life can have many storms.  Do you want to be the tree that falls in the storm, or the tree that still stands because its roots are strong?

Do you know your purpose?  Responsibility allows us to make choices based on our purpose and our goals.  Relationships can have many challenges to them.  Responsibility allows us to respond to others based on who we are, not just a flippant reaction.  If you want to empower others you need to be responsible and lead the way for others to be responsible.  How are you helping others to know who they are, their purpose and goals and then to make choices accordingly?

I know a manager who has done a 180 degree turn with empowering others.  Every day he would be frustrated with lack of productivity, and it would come out in harsh comments to others.  However, the way he was responding to others was not true to who he is.  He does deeply care for people and wants them to succeed, but he was allowing circumstances to pull him down into negative interactions with others.  He now focuses on valuing others by getting to know them, honoring them by mentoring them, setting priorities so he has control with his time, and responding with others rather than reacting.  Now, he is amazed by how others come to him for advice and help so that they can do their work well.

We have discussed four of the pillars of healthy relationships towards empowerment.  However, the above manager, along with other successful leaders, have also applied three additional pillars.  Please join us in our next month’s article, as we discuss these additional pillars and helpful tips.

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Three Tips for Seeing the Potential in People

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Do you want the people around you, your work team, your family, your community, to reach their greatest potential?  If so, do you fully see the people around you?  You may see the outward form of people.  When you walk into your office, you may say, “There is Bruce.  He is our communications manager.  I recognize his brown hair and eyes.  He is sitting at his desk updating our website.”  This may be all true about Bruce, but do you really see Bruce?  The most powerful leaders see not just the outward form of people but see their inward form.  They fully see people and the depths of who they are.

They know how to tap into the potential of people which will benefit the greater potential of the organization and the mission they serve.  Based on the acronym: S-E-E, we will discover three tips for inspiring the potential in people.

Seek Relationships

We often go into our day with a long list of things to do.  Last night my husband was sharing his long list for his week ahead.  I could feel his anxiety rising as he discussed his list.  Can you relate?  I know that I can!  We also then can feel reward when things are accomplished.  Now, it is good to set goals and to accomplish our objectives.  However, we must be aware of this mindset distorting our perspective when it comes to people.  When people become seen as just objects on our to do list (or sometimes seen as obstacles to our to do list), we lose out on seeing the potential in people.

We do this when we interact with others as a transaction rather than as a relationship.  We focus on getting the task done rather than engaging with the person.  At work, this happens when we tell someone to get a project done, but then don’t listen to hear their ideas and perspective on the project.  We see this in non-profits when we seek money from a donor as a transaction instead of engaging them in their values and passions for the cause.  At home, it happens when we treat our children as another item to take care of instead of listening, playing and engaging with them.

When starting your to do list, write “Seek Relationships” at the top.  It is the most important perspective and “to do” item that you can take into your day.

Encourage Outcomes

With the to do list mentality, can also come the perspective that the value of people is based on what they accomplish.  It is good to celebrate the completion of a work project, getting good grades or winning a game.  However, the process in HOW we encourage people to reach objectives, can either inspire their potential or lead to limiting them.  When we only focus on people accomplishing a certain task or goal, we never help them uncover their greater value and potential that could have a multiplication effect on many goals.

When working to release a person’s greater potential, focus on internal leadership outcomes, not just tasks.  I was working with a leader of an organization to develop a leadership development plan for his coming year.  He had a whole list of tasks that he wanted to accomplish.  However, these were all outward items to do.

One of his tasks was to complete a strategic plan.  A very important task, but the deeper question was: What greater potential in his leadership needed to be tapped?  After self-reflection and feedback, he realized that he had strategic and analytical strengths that he was not valuing or using.  He spent all day executing and left no time for thinking and planning.

He set an outcome to value his strengths of strategy and analyzing.  As he grew in this potential, a strategic plan did happen, but also much more.  His staff were empowered to do their jobs instead of him executing for them.  This happened because he set an internal outcome, not just an external task.

How will you help others to see the potential within them?  Don’t just focus on tasks, but set outcomes that will release their inner potential.

Energize Strengths & Passions

I often see leaders who want to release the potential of people around them, but don’t know where or how to start.  We have been so conditioned to just accomplish tasks that we need to learn a new way to think and see.  When we focus only on doing, we often end up just striving and feeling depleted.  Another perspective requires us to switch our focus to our being (who we are) as our starting point and out of this will come a flow that leads to productivity and creativity.

The best place to start is to help people discover their strengths and passions.  There are many resources out there that can be a springboard for people exploring their strengths.  Strengths Finder 2.0 is a book with an accompanying assessment that can help uncover strengths.  The Values Index is another profile which can help people understand their passions.  As people discover more of who they are, as a leader, you can create a culture and structure that allows them to live more authentically in that potential.

How will you help people to use their strengths in their positions?  How can you help one team member’s strength support another team member’s weakness?  How will you tap into their unique internal motivations and passions that can lead to an on-going reservoir of productivity?

In summary, I encourage you to SEE the people around you.  Recently, I was talking to a very accomplished leader.  She had been able to fix things for many clients; however, she was depleted, overburdened with responsibility and tired of striving.  She realized that she saw herself as invisible to others and based her value only on what others saw in her doing and accomplishing.  As a result, she decided that she first needed to see herself.   I can also relate.  I remember when I had the first realization that I am seen, that I have value in being seen and need to also see myself.

I bless you in your journey to see yourself, to see others, and that you live in the joy of your and others’ potential!

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The Paradox of Irritating People in Leadership

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“Happiness does not come from doing easy work but from the afterglow of satisfaction that comes after the achievement of a difficult task that demanded our best.” – Theodore Rubin

Do you have irritating people in your life?  Do they seem to put obstacles in your path every day?  It could be someone who sows discord with you and your team.  Maybe it is someone who seems needy and drains your time and attention.  Is it someone you feel like you must avoid because they will only waste your time?  Or is it someone who disagrees and fights your decisions?

These are all examples of irritating people and situations that I have heard from others recently and have faced myself.  None of us is immune and yet we try to avoid it like the plague.  However, irritating people can make us stronger in character and as a leader.

Here is what an irritating person can teach us:

Calmness and Patience

Have you ever prayed for patience and then ended up in the longest check-out line everywhere you went?  Our character is developed through experience.  Irritating people give us the opportunity to learn to respond instead of react.  Being calm so that you can respond and not react is a key trait of a strong leader.

I often can get irritated by people who are driving slowly ahead of me.  One day my husband and I were traveling to a friend’s dinner party, and we were bringing hot soup.  To keep the soup from sloshing out of the pot, we had to drive carefully and take turns slowly.  A thought popped into my head wondering if we were being irritating to other drivers!  Now, when we drive behind a slow person, we say to each other, “They must have hot soup in their car.”

To be calm and patient with others, we need to change our perspective and seek to understand.  Recently a leader was very irritated by one of her team members who seemed to be avoiding her.  Instead of being reactive, this leader became proactive and met with her.  She remained calmed, listened and learned that this person was facing a difficult personal issue.  How this leader responded only solidified their relationship.

Guard Your Mouth

When around an irritating person, everything within us can want to spew out our frustrations all over them.  Irritating people seem to know how to hit the “hot buttons” in our lives.  If we are not aware, unhealed hurts can unleash hurtful words.  As leaders we need to know our triggers.  Are you a person with a strong drive?  Be aware that people who slow you down may be a trigger for you.  Are you a person who is sensitive to feeling inferior?  Be aware that people who question you, may be a trigger for you.  Are you a person who seeks harmony or is sensitive to acceptance?  Be aware that discord, may be a trigger for you.

Marshall Goldsmith in his book, Triggers, gives a helpful principle.  He recommends asking yourself the following question when faced with triggers: “Am I willing at this time, to make the investment required to make a positive difference on this topic?”  Sometimes, we may have a positive response.  Other times, we may need to not say anything.  And at times, we may need to just say, “Thank you for your input, and I will get back to you.”

Don’t Take Things Personally

Taking things personally is owning what people have said as being more important than what you know is true about yourself.  Don Miguel Ruiz in his book, The Four Agreements, says, “As you make a habit of not taking anything personally, you won’t need to place your trust in what others do or say.  You will only need to trust yourself to make responsible choices.  You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you.  When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.”

My daughter was hurt by the words of a bully, an angry person.  After taking time to empathize with the hurt, we discussed that angry people are often people who are deeply hurting on the inside.  Their angry words are more about them than really being about a characteristic of her.  We then discussed not to take the monkeys off the back of angry people.  Sometimes people walk around carrying a lot of monkeys (their issues) and they try to throw the monkeys on to others.  However, we have a choice to not take the monkey.

The benefits of not taking offense are open relationships and unity.  When we hold on to an offense it leads only to walls in relationships and division.  Remember how others have been patient with you when you have been the irritating person.  Choose to be a leader who models calmness and patience, who guards his/her mouth, and who extends grace because they don’t take any thing personally.

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