|The Eagle – A leadership Tapestry

As a committed life student on leadership, I like to ask myself every time I see a natural phenomenon what lessons can I draw on leadership. When the eagle spreads its wings, it is a sight to behold. From tip to tip the eagle’s wings measure about 1.8 – 2.3 Meters on average. This majestic bird was built to soar high. It was built for the sky. The eagle flies into the storm, as other birds run for shelter, the eagle literally flies into the storm and uses that to be lifted up high. Amazing. The eagle has many lessons that we can learn on leadership. These can be on Leading with Love, Maintaining the right attitude, focus and always flying at the right altitude.

But what lessons can we learn from this bird on leadership?

 Eagles Make Love at high altitude

We do not know how they do that, but this is true. Eagles actually make love in the air. From a leadership perspective what does this mean? Eagles Love at a high level (High Altitude), as a leader, your love and passion first for the people you lead must be on genuine and true, secondly the love for the mission and vision must also be at true. People you lead are able to read genuine love from the leader as well as a love for the mission. This act of love also means that while making love in the air – they actually do a love dance; the eagle knows for sure that it is not reproducing with a chicken 🙂 . Second, Leaders have to maintain the right relationships both privately and in their teams – dance with other eagles, fly with other eagles at high altitude, make love in the air.

 Maintain Focus and Relish Challenges

In flight, the eagle maintains a sharp vision. Looking out for both the prey and predators a like. The focus is up to about 5KM on a prey, once the eagle narrows its focus, it sets out for the challenge. As leaders, we must retain focus, cleverly avoiding distractions on our path to achieving excellence and influence. Like an eagle, we must relish challenges. No matter the obstacle, the eagle will not move its focus from prey until he grabs it.

On challenges, the eagle is the only bird that loves the storm, it uses the storm to push itself to greater heights. Once the eagle finds the storm wings, it stops to flap its wings and uses the pressure of the raging storm to soar whilst resting its wings – Operational efficiency, the rest of the birds hide in the bush 🙂 . In leadership, we need to constantly see opportunities in challenges. Use our troubles to energize our teams to rise to greater heights. Leaders relish challenges and use them profitably.

Eagles prepare themselves for the next generation, discard the worthless and renew themselves

The male eagle collects twigs, thorns and soft grass. However, the most amazing thing is that he plucks his own feathers for the female to lay eggs! This is a very important role of a leader, as a leader, we must prepare our followers into leaders, we must make sacrifices for the people we influence, we need to prepare our followers to take up the mantle of leadership. True leadership is about bringing up leaders. We ought to prepare the next generation. While at it, a leader must be able to discard the worthless and renew ourselves always.

One of the most remarkable thing about eagles is that at the age of about 40, it undergoes a painful renewal that takes about 150 days, failure to undergo this means death – read this online. As leaders, transformation is not an option, we must constantly evolve, change and transform to adapt to the dynamics of life. In order to survive, we must start a change process. Only by freeing ourselves from old dogmas do we can take advantage of the present and future opportunities.

Bringing it all together

The Eagle presents Leaders with a great tapestry of the intricacies of leadership, like an eagle, leaders need to have both the right attitude and altitude. Leaders must ensure that they surround themselves with other leaders – Eagles fly with Eagles not chicken. Finally, leaders must evolve, constantly scouting the horizon for big picture dynamics ,failure to which leadership will die. “Leadership transformation is a matter of life and death.

In Search of Progress over Perfection

You don’t need to be perfect to inspire people. 

A great number of those I interact with know that I am passionate about two things watches 😊 and leadership. I will however be quick also to state that I am not the Mona Lisa of Leadership and neither do I own or pick out the best master time pieces yet. My blog site is aptly named www.journaloftheincompleteleader.com just to constantly remind myself that I am incomplete and in constant search. This is a name I derived partly from inspiration I received from reading two books, One is – Jordan B Peterson’s, 12 Rules For Life; An Antidote to Chaos. In which the 4th Rule states “ Compare yourself to who you were yesterday not to who someone else is today” and HBR’s Collection, On Leadership, an article titled “In Praise of the Incomplete Leader” by Deborah Ancona et.al. 

Like others who do the same in various other disciplines, be it offering Financial advice or relationship advice et.al, more often than not you receive your fair share of the judgment. Many believe and falsely expect that because you openly and constantly share and study, in your area, you embody the picture of perfection in the respective area. Although only fair though that once you declare such interest and go public about it, then you strive to gain moral and or intellectual authority not only through theory but also practical application of the said knowledge and or skills, it can be a heavy burden to bear. 

Like any other skill, Leadership can be learned and, for me, it is an area that I purposely strive to learn and improve in both through theoretical study and practical use of that knowledge and skill. To grow in this area, I have used two mantras in this journey. First, Progress over perfection, and secondly, curiosity over judgment. 

Progress over perfection

As we journey through our areas of mastery, we learn and encounter new ideas some of which are aligned to what we already know and believe to be true and others that are either incomplete or partial conflict with our deeply held convictions. It is through the latter that we make great progress. And it is only when we chase progress that we can have a chance at perfection. 

By constantly opening up ourselves to challenge those ideas or concepts we have held to be true, we open up our minds to the possibility of progress. 

“Rule 4: Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to whom someone else is today”

In order it Progress we have both to learn and unlearn, 

Curiosity over judgment 

Many times I have suffered from and continue to suffer from what is known in Decision-making circles as The Dunning-Kruger effect

“A type of cognitive bias in which we believe that we are smarter and more capable than we are. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leading to overestimate our capabilities.”

But as I become more informed about leadership I pray I constantly remind myself of the need to choose curiosity over judgment. 

For it is only through maintaining a curious mind, that we can realize how little we know about a subject. This is especially true when we interact with others. Resist the temptation to think you have it figured out, you must not fool yourself, the easiest person to fool is you, but also the hardest person to lead is you. 

Bringing it Together 

So yes, people will expect perfection from you, you will be judged more harshly when you fail or make a mistake. Take it with stride, have confidence but stay humble. Great leaders don’t doubt themselves because they are imperfect, they doubt themselves because they know they are incomplete and are on a journey. 

The greatest mark of lifelong learners is that they maintain curiosity, they know that their views may constantly be challenged and that is when they learn. They also understand that each answer results in a new question, and each question presents a chance to re-examine the answers. 

So, No I don’t need to be perfect to inspire people, let them be inspired by how I deal with my imperfections. 

Yours truly,

The Imperfect Leader.

Think Again; The Fight Club

The Press Announcement

My wife and I love a good fight. Research shows that how often parents argue has no bearing on their Children’s academic, social or emotional development. What matters is how respectfully parents argue, not the frequency. 

When I took up my current role about two months ago, one of my most important and urgent tasks was to form a team that I would work with. Naturally, as I was taking up a role previously held jointly by two people, and involving multiple teams, seeking their (previous officeholders) advice and review of the current team members were inevitable. 

Eventually, I had to make the tough decisions of who to include and whom not to include in my team; some didn’t take it well and took their exclusion as a personal vendetta and attack on them. The truth is, I too would be hurt if, as a salesperson, the Accounts I have worked on over the years were to be taken away and redistributed. With one particular individual, let us call them Hawi, the conflict escalated to the extent of Hawi attacking my character as a person. Making allegations that were not true made me question how I handled the situation and Think Again. We had and still do have a relationship conflict. 

There are two types of conflict; Task Conflict and Relationship Conflict. As the names suggest, task conflicts revolve around ideas and opinions, whereas relationship conflicts mostly Centre on characters, values, emotions, etc. 

A meta-analysis (which is the study of studies) of various studies show that relationship conflicts, unlike task conflicts, are generally bad for performance. However, objective task conflicts can be beneficial in the long run. The absence of conflict is not harmony, it is apathy, and for leaders, those who do not listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say (remember the story of the naked King?). 

The Ring: Tense but Secure 

Psychologist Robert Albert says this “ The creative person-to-be comes from a family that is anything but harmonious, one with a wobble.” These families or organizations aren’t physically or verbally abusive, but they don’t shy away from conflict either. Instead, people are encouraged to stand up for themselves and learn to dish it out with respect and consideration and take it with grace and humility. They are “Tense but Secure”

Round 1: Confident Humility 

To be able to Think, we must risk being offensive. However, to learn, individuals must attain what Adam Grant calls Confident humility.

The ability to have faith in our capabilities but at the same time appreciate that we don’t always have the right solution and may not even be addressing the right problem. This dichotomy gives us the ability to hold enough doubt on our status quo and confidence to pursue new knowledge and insights. 

For Leaders, it is being able to have faith in our strengths – Confidence and being keenly aware of our weaknesses or limitations – Humility. 

Last Round – Final Word

As I try to find a way to resolve my current Relationship conflict, I am travelling on this path fully aware and constantly learning about my limitations. I would like both my team and I to have the courage to put up a Great fight for our ideas and the resilience to lose a fight/disagreement without losing our tenacity and trust in each other. 

I don’t want a team where my most passionate people become quiet because they don’t feel safe to speak; I don’t want to be the naked King. I want to grow a team and an organization at large where individuals are not only happy to discover that they were wrong (like I have discovered looking back at how I handled the relationship conflict) but also learn from the discovery.

Key Ref: Think Again, Adam Grant, On Conflict, HBR

On Leading through Conflict

One of the main responsibilities of Team Leadership is Conflict Resolution. This is both Intra-team conflict – Conflict between Team members and Inter-team conflict – conflict between your team and other teams within or outside the organization.

In this Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) world, conflict is almost inevitable. However, as pointed in my article – Conflict in High Performing Teams conflict is not always a bad thing, in fact, conflict can be used to stimulate intellectual growth and trust among team members.

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

As a Team leader, what are some of the tips or nuggets can you use to manage and resolve conflict within the team? Here are Two:

  • Seek First to Understand, then to be Understood

In his book 7 Habits of Highly effective People, Author Stephen Covey points out that most people do not listen with the intent to understand; but rather they listen with the intent to reply. Yet in order to effectively resolve conflict, the ability to understand or at least to intentionally seek to understand the point of view that is in contradiction with our own is one of the most important skill to develop. There is a reason we have two ears, and one mouth. Many times I have caught myself preparing my response when the other party is trying to put their point across while at the same time assessing their point of view from my own biases.

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.” – Leonardo da Vinci.

If you want to have or be great at handling conflict with your teammates, first, purpose to intentionally understand their point of view, ask for clarification on what is not clear, probe and ensure you truly understand their side of the story and secondly, be conscious and fully aware of your own biases then intentionally put them in check. If there is something that leaders must constantly do, is to constantly question our own assumptions and biases.

  • Don’t Just Communicate, Connect

The ability to effectively Communicate is one of the most important skill a leader must poses. To get people to work together or as a team – which I define as a group of people who TRUST each other, three things are important, Shared Vision, Shared Goals and Shared Purpose, all these must be communicated to the team. In his book “Everyone Communicates, few connect” Author John C Maxwell points out that Connecting not only increases your influence in every situation, but it also ensures that you as a leader are able to build consensus.

“If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.” —Abraham Lincoln

When conflicting ideas come up, what you say and how you say it are both just as important as what your body language communicates during that time. As leaders, your teams like children in a family, they not only listen but they also watch how you treat those you do not agree with as much as mimic how you address conflict or disagreement. During these times,, ensure you are using non-threatening language that serves to reinforce your understanding of the other person’s view as well as communicating clearly your points of agreement if any and your point(s) of departure from that view.

  • Keep a Positive Attitude, Think WIN-WIN

Few things determine the outcome of a conflict like the attitude of those involved in the conflict. William James captures this very well:

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.”

So simply put, have a POSITIVE attitude, always believe that after the conflict, both or all parties involved will come out better. This is such a simple yet difficult aspect to grasp during a conflict. It is so hard to program our minds that something with a negative connotation like conflict can actually result in a positive outcome and that we need to keep a positive attitude and mindset throughout or during the engagement.

Death by Meetings aka Reviews

About three years ago, I decided to remove the recurring Team meeting from my calendar and that of my direct reports. Instead, we decided as a team that I will send an invite every week on a need basis. This has turned out to be one of the best stress relieving medicine we as a team have taken over the last 24 months.

Why is it that managers find the need to have reviews? Why is it that particularly in this part of the world we like to have a review to review the last review meeting? How come most employees HATE reviews especially with their direct bosses?

To put this into perspective, I am not saying meetings are bad, I am for meetings and by extension reviews, it is one of the many ways Teams, managers and leaders get feedback, a manager who hates meetings is like a surgeon who hates operating on people, really all that managers do is meetings aka reviews -okay, mostly 🙂 , and the solution is not the elimination of reviews, but rather making them meaningful, engaging and relevant. Here are some ways we have used to make our team reviews less painful , stressful and boring.

Sales Force…..Microsoft Excel et.al In my line of business, Sales Force and the old age excel have been of great help. If something can be obtained from a Sales Force report or an excel sheet, why do we need to review it in an actual physical meeting? As a team, we have found that sharing the report and strictly highlighting areas that need clarifications saves everyone’s time and makes life fun. So next time before you schedule that meeting, try logging into your company’s reporting tool and see if you can get that information from the “system” as opposed to wasting valuable time getting people into a room.

“Mr. Watson–come here–I want to see you.” these were the first words of Graham Bell in 1876 when he invented the Telephone. It is over one hundred years since the phone was invented yet a big number of managers are yet to use this revolutionary invention to hold a conference call with their team and quickly agree or plan on what needs to be done. Pick up the phone, conference your team and get it going. Do not drag everyone into that room that doesn’t have Air conditioning in the middle of the day.

long enough to cover the subject and short enough to create interest. aka short and sweet

Agenda….. Agenda….. Agenda….. Stick to the agenda. Keep the meeting short and sweet. In Africa, greetings , pleasantries and unnecessary stories find their way into meetings almost 90% of the time. As a team, we decided that only the first 5 – 7 minutes will be used for this purpose – this also caters for the African time (Time between the scheduled start time and ACTUAL start time), which tends to be longer but over time we have shortened this to ensure that the agenda is followed and stuck to. Every meeting MUST start on time, remain focused and have clear action points – including ownership and timelines.

In summary, First, embrace the technology that you have invested in, secondly keep the meetings short n Sweet and if possible schedule it Every single time, do not have a recurring meeting for over 1 month!!!.

What other things do you do to make your meetings productive?

Leaders are comfortable with not knowing

Leadership is tough, being a Leader is difficult.

This is a simple yet universal truth that most if not all leaders have always known. Some accept it, some are intentionally blind to it and yet some still think leadership is a walk in the park. It is easy for us to point a finger to the leader and say He or she is not great, He is doing a bad job, he doesn’t know how to lead a team….” Theodore Roosevelt captured this very well in his “The Man in the Arena” or if you like “Citizenship in a Republic” speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, on April 23, 1910.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again.

Leadership, like greatness is a meal not for all men. It is especially difficult for leaders in the information and digital age to deliver on their mandate. As the man in the arena, and as the person whom the back stops with, what are some of those three critical things that you need to be aware of when you do not know the answers? Here are some:

Be comfortable and confident in NOT Knowing

Those we lead usually expect us to Know, however, the reality is that as leaders and indeed as humans, we are not able to know it all. It is especially difficult and takes a lot of courage and confidence for a leader to admit and say these words “….I do not know. ” when asked something. In my leadership journey, I have often had dissonance in delivering this feedback to my team while simultaneously having the need to provide guidance and solutions to my team. Admitting to the fact that as a leader you do not have all the answers does two main things in my view: First, shows that you are human and are deeply SELF-AWARE of your limitations (both technically or otherwise) at that particular time , Secondly, it builds TRUST among your team members and gives them the confidence to put forward their solutions and shows them that it is alright NOT Knowing.

“Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” — Robert Kennedy

In the digital world where information and by extension knowledge is increasingly becoming pervasive and ubiquitous, leaders must learn that there is no room for “fake it, till you make it”. By having the confidence and comfort to openly declare that at that point you do not have the answers, you open up yourself to accepting new knowledge and continuous learning as a leader. The first step to learning in my view is having the humility to admit our own ignorance, the second step, to seek out that which you do not know.

Delegate and TRUST the Team

One of the most important tasks of a leader, is to assemble and bring on board the RIGHT team. The right team is one that not only is able to deliver on its mandate, but most importantly where there is deep trust of each other. When team members KNOW and trust that each and everyone of them is looking out for their success, they deliver.

“It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to to , We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” – Steve Jobs

As a leader, it is particularly important that you not only TRUST your team, but also build their trust in you. First, that you will not get into their way to do what they are in the team to do and secondly, that you will support the team in their effort to deliver on their mandate. Not only is trusting the team important for their and your success, it is especially important that you are SEEN to be the chief advocate of your team. As seen in the article I wrote some time last week on taking responsibility (There is enough success for all) of the team, leaders can only drive the right behavior by emulating the behavior they would like to see.

As a leader, create the right culture, clearly define the goal, then have the confidence and trust to delegate. As pointed out by Steve Jobs, hire smart people so that they tell you what to do, especially when you utter those four words of confidence – “I do not Know”.

Bringing it all together

Leadership is a life long journey. The first step to becoming a better leader is being SELF-AWARE of our own limitations, and having the humility to acknowledge them. When we become confident and comfortable in not knowing, we open ourselves to learning, and we show those we are leading that we TRUST them and that it is okay not to have all the answers. Secondly, as leadership is about bringing out the best in those we lead. Getting the right people and ensuring they are playing in the right positions and then getting out of their way is important for both their success and ours as leaders. In the end:

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly”;

There is Enough Success for all, Says the Leader

Confidence they say, has no competition and Winners, love to see other winners win.

Early this year, I purposeful started priming two of my immediate team members to be able to perform and take up my role and effectively perform my duties within the Business Unit that I lead. One to be able to take up both operational as well as strategic duties, while the other to shadow me only on the operational matters.

Although I had practiced some form of this type of Leadership or if you wish management style since 2016 (just year after I took up my first official team leadership role in my career), I only got yo take it up much more seriously after setting up the necessary processes and strategic direction. This way of thinking I will tell you for free is not easy and comes with a great deal of challenges. First and foremost, as a leader, you have to understand that:

You can delegate authority, but you cannot delegate responsibility.

The responsibility for success is shared, however, the back really stops with you as the leader of the team more so when the team Fails. Here are two key lessons I have learned from this:

Only when you WIN does your team Win

As a manager, one of our primary roles is to ensure that those we are charged with leading or managing WIN. What does making sure they WIN mean to me. First, I have to make sure I WORK with them – the leader has to roll up his or her sleeves and get into the gutters with the team, failure to do this leads to lack of trust and confidence from the team. However, what every team member does in the gutters is different. Clearly defining your role as the leader and delivering on it is critical in order to gain and sustain the trust of the team. As a team leaders, your Actions speak louder than anything you say.

Secondly, INSPIRE your team. Leadership really is about inspiration, this in my view is about bringing out the best in each of your team members. In so doing, this will definitely involve putting the interest of the team before my own personal interests and encouraging team success as opposed to individual glory.

Finally, NATURE And NURTURE – the debate on these two is ongoing, however in our context, we will stick with the two. Whereas leaders need to nurture the right not only correct) behavior, we also need to ensure that we nature the right behavior. Studies have shown that human behavioral development is affected both by peoples’ natural disposition and the environment in which they are raised or are in. As a leader, select and assign roles with this in mind and ensure you cultivate the right environment to drive the desired behavior.

WIN – Work, Inspire, Nature and Nurture.

Be Quick to give Credit and Slow to pass blame

Leading a team especially of knowledge workers is especially challenging. As a first time people manager, In the beginning, I struggled with the fact that a large number of my team are much more technically knowledgeable than me -( see this article on Finding Comfort in NOT Knowing) However, having come to the realization that my success as a leader actually rested with my ability to hire and bring on board people who are smarter and indeed different thinkers than me, I quickly accepted the fact that I do not have all the answers.

True leaders pull the thumb, before they point the finger. They take responsibility… for EVERYTHING

The sooner as leaders or managers we realize that we do not have all the answers, the better our chances for success. In my area of trade (Technology) where most people end up as managers due to their ability to be star contributors individually, we are tempted to continue with this kind of thinking when we get into management. Indeed I have seen many a managers “get their hands dirty” and pride in their ability to resolve “technical challenges” forgetting their primary duty as leaders – Inspire, coach, et.al. and take up the credit while being quick to throw the team under the bus when things go south.

As a leader, one of your primary responsibility is to ensure that you not only prepare your team for winning, but also that when they win, you give them due credit as well as the opportunity for them to learn from their failures. It is not enough to just keep your team engaged and motivated, ensuring that their successes are celebrated is equally important so as to drive satisfaction.

Bringing it all together

In summary, Leadership is about Inspiration, it is about ensuring that you as a leader you are in it to WIN – Work, Inspire, and Nature. It is only when you are confident of your own abilities and aware of your limitations that you can drive the right behavior. Leaders do not have all the answers, harness the abilities and strengths of each team member to ensure the success of the team. Remember, there is enough winning and success to go around for everyone, and it is your responsibility as a leader to ensure that team success always takes precedence over your own glory and indeed over individual golden goose success.

It is only by lifting others that we rise! – (See this Article on Finding Comfort in Not having the answers as a Leader)