Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership

pexels-photo-1339845.jpeg

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I took a bit of time at the beginning of the year to check in on which posts have been the most interesting to readers of Purpose in Leadership the past five years (2014-2018). Two main observations stand out as I consider the Top 10 from this season.

First, the discussion I offer on what the differences are between groups and teams is by far the most viewed post.  This post was viewed well over 5 times more than any other post on the blog in this time period. Understanding the importance of groups and teams, and how they differ, is so important for organizational leaders. I’m glad others have found this helpful.

Second, there continues to be significant interest in the intersection between leadership and communication. Two of the top five posts focus on the types and levels of leadership communication. I often say to students, “Although you can be an effective communicator without being an effective leader, effective communication is foundational to effective leadership.” Others seem to get this as well—effective communication is essential to effective leadership practice.

So here are the Top 10 Posts on Purpose in Leadership. I hope some of these will be an encouragement to you as you reflect on your own leadership practice.

#1.    Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

#2.    5 Types of Leadership Communication

#3.    9 Effective Leadership Practices

#4.    Don’t Confuse Motion with Progress

#5.    7 Levels of Leadership Communication

#6.    Leading from the Front … Leading with Vision

#7.    Tolstoy on Leadership

#8.    Follower Motivation and Leader Humility

#9.    Let Your Life Speak — How to Understand Your Vocational Call

#10.  37 Barriers to Change

If you found one of these particularly helpful, please share your thoughts below.

People First Leadership: Remembering Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines

photography of airplane during sunrise

Photo by Anugrah Lohiya on Pexels.com

This past week, Southwest Airlines Founder and Chairman Emeritus Herbert D. Kelleher passed away today at the age of 87.

Kelleher left quite an impression on both the airline industry and on those who worked with him. One of Southwest Airline’s achievements has been 46 years of consecutive profitability due to its approach to steady and responsible growth on behalf of its employees and customers.

The drive for Kelleher and Southwest was not merely financial. It was about people. The airline is known for its commitment to affordable travel for its customers, friendly customer service, and employee-centered servant leadership practices.

Kelleher’s business vision for the company evidenced his deep commitment to caring for employees. When asked on one occasion what Kelleher’s vision was for the company over the next ten years, he replied, “My vision is to keep Southwest Airlines job-secure for our people.” Through the time of Kelleher’s passing, Southwest Airlines has never been in bankruptcy or had a layoff of employees—an amazing claim for the turbulent airline industry.

In a statement posted on Southwest’s website regarding Kelleher’s passing, current Chairman and CEO, Gary Kelly, noted the following about Kelleher’s people-first approach to life and business:

“He inspired people; he motivated people; he challenged people—and, he kept us laughing all the way. He was an exceptionally gifted man with an enormous heart and love for people—all people. We have been beyond blessed to have him as a part of our lives.”

Kelleher provided a model of servant leadership and valuing people. Mark Strauss and I included a bit about Kelleher’s leadership in our upcoming book. Here’s a look at some of this reflection:

“Although most business executives see the general value of their employees, not all executives prioritize people as individuals. Herb Kelleher sought to do to this at Southwest for people at every level of the organization—whether fellow executives or those in line jobs as baggage handlers and mechanics.

At one of the company’s famous spirit parties, surrounded by hundreds of people circling Herb for attention, [Colleen] Barrett tells the story of Herb intently talking with a Southwest mechanic in worker’s clothes for at least fifteen minutes—a long conversation by CEO standards. Barrett writes:

‘Herb never looked over the guy’s shoulder to see who else might be there, and never diverted his eyes from this man while they were talking. Herb was courteous to everyone who was trying to shove the guy out of his space so that they could fill it, but he gave this man his time. It was clear … that Herb had no hierarchical concerns—he was completely interested in what the Mechanic was trying to tell him.’”

As you think through your own leadership, what cues might you take from Herb Kelleher? Share your thoughts below.

Authentic Collaboration — Avoiding Collaboration Overload

 

collaboration_Jennifer-Leonard

Photo Credit: collaboration, by Jennifer Leonard, Flickr

I’m a fan of teamwork. Team leadership was an area of focus for me in my Ph.D. dissertation research entitled Servant Leadership and Team Effectiveness. See some of my positive affirmations of teams in the following posts:

While teams have many benefits, there are challenges associated with teams as well. See a previous post in which I highlight and discuss the following 6 Challenges of Teams (subtitle…Removing the “I’s” from Your Team):

  • Ingrown
  • Indecision
  • Inaction
  • Inefficiency
  • Inequity
  • Inconsideration

Collaborative Overload

In a recent HBR article, Cross, Rebele, and Grant take up another important challenge in an article entitled “Collaborative Overload: Too Much Teamwork Exhausts Employees and Saps Productivity.”

In their article they provide several important cautions surrounding team member exhaustion, and in so doing remind us to not overload on a good thing. The core of the identified problem in the article is expressed in the following manner:

Although the benefits of collaboration are well documented, the costs often go unrecognized. When demands for collaboration run too high or aren’t spread evenly through the organization, workflow bottlenecks and employee burnout result.”

Cross, Rebele, and Grant go on to recommend solutions to this problem that are focused on better managing collaboration through efficient organizational and team practices. This is good advice.

Authentic Collaboration

As I engaged their work, I also began to think of another solution that I’ll label “Authentic Collaboration.”

From my experience with teams, groups, and committees, the problem is not too much collaboration, but rather too much of the wrong type of collaboration.  Let me explain.

When participants in a collaborative process are playing a role on the team, group, or committee that is authentic and meaningful, this type of collaboration tends to be energizing. When participation is inauthentic and merely procedural, this type of collaboration tends to be energy draining and feel like wasted time.

Meaningful Participation

Often from positive motivations, leaders and administrators tend to draw people into a collaborative experience because these leaders and administrators need a representative from diverse divisions or interests in their organizations.

When this practice is about wanting to authentically hear voices from these unique perspectives, this can lead to meaningful and authentic collaboration. However, when this practice is simply about wanting to placate an organizational perspective or voice, and the voice at the table is not authentically desired by leadership, this can lead to unproductive and inauthentic collaboration.

Again, I would argue collaboration is not the problem, but rather the wrong type of collaboration. When people are invited to the table of collaboration, the invitation needs to be authentic. Help people to be good stewards of their time by facilitating meaningful participation for all involved on the team, group, or committee.

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What has been your experience with collaboration? What problems and challenges have you faced? How have you engaged these problems and found meaningful solutions? Take a moment to share your experience below.

Fostering Collaboration (Leadership Practice 3)

Lomography Collaboration, enshahdi, Flickr

Lomography Collaboration, enshahdi, Flickr

I’m in a series highlighting 9 Effective Servant Leadership Practices. Servant leadership is not just a good idea. It works! The 9 effective leadership practices highlighted in this series capture core leadership dimensions that are correlated with effectiveness in the team context.

The past two weeks I highlighted the first two practices—Modeling what Matters and Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation. This week, we turn to the third practice—Fostering Collaboration.

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Dwight D. Eisenhower is attributed with saying “It is better to have one person working with you than three people working for you.” Such logic is at the heart of collaboration, and effective leaders prioritize fostering collaboration in their teams and organizations. In contrast to overly competitive leadership agendas, this leadership behavior—Fostering Collaboration—highlights the importance of leaders encouraging followers to work together over competing against one another in the organizational environment.

Collaboration and Complexity

Noting the importance of fostering collaboration, one research participant argues that, “solutions to complex problems today often require a collaborative engagement with others, the collective of which will generate the best solution.” Another participant acknowledges that no one person can meet the demands placed on leadership, and thus “collaboration allows a leader to expand the leadership resources brought into the leadership process.”

The Priority of Authentic Collaboration

Providing a key argument for viewing this practice as part of beginning with authentic leaders, one participant in my study noted the danger of collaborative gestures coming across as token invitations for follower participation. When a leader “just wants to appear like he/she is collaborating, but doesn’t really care about input from others,” such inauthentic collaborative gestures become toxic for leader-follower relationships and the broader organizational culture. However, when genuine respect for followers is blended with a listening posture, a suspension of leader predispositions, and a willingness to give credit to others and embrace solutions that come from others, there is great power in leaders working with followers on genuinely collaborative agendas.

Going Far Together

There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Those who want to go far in leadership enterprises recognize the priority of a collaborative environment.

How are you doing at fostering collaboration in your sphere of influence? Do you recognize the priority of working together in order to go far? Take the next step in fostering collaboration in your work as a leader!

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Related Posts for the 9 Effective Leadership Practices:

Cluster One — Beginning with Authentic Leaders

Practice 1: Modeling what Matters

Practice 2: Engaging in Honest Self-Evaluation

Practice 3: Fostering Collaboration

Cluster Two — Understanding the Priority of People

Practice 4: Valuing and Appreciating

Practice 5: Creating a Place for Individuality

Practice 6: Understanding Relational Skills

Cluster Three — Helping Followers Navigate toward Effectiveness

Practice 7: Communicating with Clarity

Practice 8: Supporting and Resourcing

Practice 9: Providing Accountability

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Note: For those wanting to dig a bit deeper, please check out my article entitled “A Model for Effective Servant Leadership Practice.”

4 Benefits of Teams

"A group of people with hands joined", by DG EMPL, Flicker

“A group of people with hands joined”, by DG EMPL, Flicker

Teamwork does not come without challenges. I addressed some of these challenges in a recent post (Removing the “I’s” from Your Team).

Teamwork also comes with significant benefits. Here is a quick overview of some of the core benefits I’ve observed in team practice and research.

1. Better Ideas and Increased Insight

You’ve likely heard the proverb, “two minds are better than one.” Such proverbial wisdom points to a key benefit of working in teams. Teams provide a context for idea generation. Teams provide a context for increased insight regarding complex problem solving. Teams provide a place for multiple perspectives to emerge. Teams provide a context for increased creativity as members bounce ideas off of one another. And teams provide a context for more ideas to be generated, which generally leads to better ideas being generated so long as group think is proactively addressed.

2. Increased Courage to Face Challenges

Being alone can be a challenge for some in times of calm, but it can be a major challenge when problems hit. Teams provide a context for facing problems together. Teams provide a context for esprit de corps and feeling that we are in this together. Teams provide a context for the collective group to take bigger risks than individuals. When we are in it together, there is a courage that is infused into the group that many individuals do not experience in isolation. Together, teams are able to face challenges that feel too big for any one individual.

3. The Presence of Peer Support

Because teamwork is done with others, it provides the opportunity for increased peer support. Teams provide a context for improved morale. Teams provide a context for mutual encouragement. Teams provide a context for mutual accountability. Teams provide a context for support, both personal and professional. Teams provide a context for collaboration in working toward task-accomplishment.

4. A Context for Mentoring and Training

Finally, though not exhaustively, teams provide an unique opportunity for organizations to develop younger or newer talent. Teams provide an organic context for leadership development. Teams provide a natural context for modeling preferred organizational behavior. Teams provide a context for either formal or informal mentoring. Rather than providing leadership development and mentoring as a side program, teams provide a natural environment in which emerging team members and leaders can observe and interact with tenured team member and leaders. Teams provide a context for members to be valued, developed, and and released as contributors.

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The author of Ecclesiastes reminds us of the value of laboring with others.

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor….
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

– Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12

Though not exhaustive, both Ecclesiastes and the four benefits noted above point us to the benefits that teams provide. What additional benefits have you found in your work with teams?

6 Challenges of Teams — Removing the “I’s” from Your Team

Join Our Team, by Craig Taylor, Flickr

Join Our Team, by Craig Taylor, Flickr

The use of teams and team-based structures in organizations continues to grow. Teams are associated with many benefits. One of my discussions on the benefits of teams is here (Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?).

In addition to benefits, the use of teams also has challenges associated with it. We are told there is no “I” in team. Beyond individuals bringing a commitment to the team over themselves, I’d like to also share my short lists of “I’s” to remove from teams.

Ingrown: The first “I” to remove is the challenge of groups becoming ingrown. This is just another way to talk about the reality of “group think” that teams face.  When individual members of teams are not willing to speak up and make their perspectives known, this passive posture of team participation can work against innovation and creativity. In contrast to the dynamic of group think, team members need to be willing to challenge one another’s ideas and pursue new insights, new discoveries, and new innovations as they seek to pursue the team mission.

Indecision: The second “I” to remove is the challenge of indecision. In contrast to the point above, sometimes groups are characterized by sharing many new perspectives and ideas, but the open-ended process of idea generation never translates into decision. This can translate into a form of creative paralysis for teams—always generating new ideas and perspectives, but not making decisions on the questions the team is facing.

Inaction: The third “I” to remove is the challenge of inaction. This “I” of inaction can be a result of several factors. Inaction can be a result of the indecision noted above. But at times inaction is not about indecision but rather lack of fortitude or conviction in moving from decisions to action as a team. Inaction can also be due to lack of role clarity. When assumptions are made and people do not bring clarity and commitment to their role in moving toward actions, these assumptions can also result in inaction. Teams must gather a broad range of perspectives as they resist group think, and then they must land on decisions, clarify team member roles in light of these decisions, and then be willing to act on these decisions as they work toward the teams mission together.

Inefficiency: The fourth “I” to remove is the challenge of inefficiency. As identified in a previous post (Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?), team process often can take longer than working as an individual or in a group process that simply brings together individual work. However, teams benefit from limiting this dimension of inefficiency. Although teams can take longer, it is important to maximize efficiency as the team pursues quality in its common work.

Inequity: The fifth “I” to remove is the challenge of inequity. If you’ve ever participated in a group project over the course of your schooling process, it is common for there to either be an uneven workload distribution or an uneven effort given to the workload of the team. This is an issue of equitable workload. Teams want to have team members that are full participants—team members that fully show up and engage the team process. Removing the “I” of inequity requires that team members are willing to hold one another accountable and call underperforming members to step up in their commitment to the team’s common work.

Inconsideration: The sixth “I” to remove is the challenge of inconsideration. When people come together in group and team processes, there is significant opportunity for conflict and dissention to emerge. Some of this conflict is substantive in nature—team members disagreeing over their ideas and perspectives. Other conflict is relational in nature—team members disagreeing over personal matters related to the interpersonal dynamics. Whether substantive or relational, a key solution to such conflict is consideration among the team members. Rather than engaging with inconsideration, effective teams care for one another. They care for the ideas of other members of the team. They care about the health of relationships on the team. They understand that erosion of team cohesion due to either substantive or interpersonal conflict is a threat to the health of the team and the team’s capacity to care out their mission.

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We are told “there is no I in Team.” This is a helpful reminder that team members need to primarily be about the needs of the team rather than their own self-interest. However, there are many other “I’s” that need to be removed as well. Teams need to face and remove the “I’s” on their teams—they need to remove the dynamics of tending toward the I behaviors of Ingrown, Indecision, Inaction, Inefficiency, Inequity, and Inconsideration.

How is your team doing? Are there any lingering “I’s” to remove in your team?

A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine … it also increases productivity!

Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

Photo Credit: Joy, by Alice Popkorn, Flickr

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

– Proverbs 17:22

In a recent edition of Harvard Business Review, the title of a sidebar mini-article caught my attention … “Start Your Next Meeting with a Joke.”

In the highlighted research, teams with at least one person in a good mood were more than twice as likely to solve a puzzle as teams whose members were all in neutral moods. The article explains, “people in good moods are more likely to share knowledge and seek information from others, which cues the rest of the group to follow suit.”

As noted above, Proverbs 17:22 reads:

“A joyful heart is good medicine,
but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Not only is a joyful heart good medicine at the individual level, joy is also contagious. And, according to researcher Kyle Emich, this positive spirit also leads to greater productivity in teams. In other words, joy is not only pleasant, it is also productive.

What are you bringing to your team today? Are you bringing a negative or neutral mood, or are you bringing joy and positivity?