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Read an Excerpt
Leading: The Way
Behaviors That Drive Success
By Paulette Ashlin
iUniverseCopyright © 2016 Paulette Ashlin
All rights reserved.
Follow the Leader
People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.
— John Maxwell
Behave well, and people will follow you to the ends of the earth. Behave poorly, and ... well, the headlines are littered with examples of leaders who lost everything in the wake of bad behavior. The Enron disaster is one of many examples of how things can go wrong in a hurry if the people at the top of a company misbehave. The scale of the misbehavior doesn't have to be as grand as was the case with Enron either. Companies can die the death of a thousand cuts, those little transgressions in leadership that ultimately undermine the entire organization. I coach my clients to understand that behavior is something they can control. You can't control genetics, you can't control IQ, you can't control situations or the economy or world events or stock prices, but you can control your behavior. You can choose to be a good leader, and you can choose to be an even better leader. It's that simple.
If you are already a successful leader, you'll surely recognize many of the situations I describe in these pages, and you should find affirmation of behaviors that have led to your success. If you're an aspiring leader, you'll find specific lessons and tips for altering your behavior to help you get to the next level — whatever that may be.
Whether you are leading a team of three or a company of thousands, leadership is a huge privilege. Although only a rarefied few realize it, you, as a leader, have incredible power to make or break a person's day, to elevate or destroy someone with a few words or behaviors. And in my eyes, that power comes with responsibility: a leader is obligated to lead by constructive and noble behavior.
For some people, leadership comes naturally. These rare individuals already know how to attract followers (an essential component of leadership) and inspire those followers to ever-increasing levels of productivity and innovation.
Most of the time, though, leadership doesn't come naturally. Good intentions and cognitive thoughts don't automatically translate into the actions of successful leadership. And the actions that got you to where you are will not always work as you scale the executive ladder. For example, as an individual contributor, you might execute assignments yourself. When you become a leader of many people and departments, you simply do not have the capacity to personally take on all those individual assignments. You execute and implement through others. And your behavior either motivates them or turns them off.
The crux of the matter is that great leaders are wonderful at inspiring others to follow. It's not like you're the Pied Piper luring innocent children on a perilous journey that doesn't end well. You are a person people look up to. They choose to follow you because you instill confidence. You show others through your behavior that you are self-aware, that you possess self-control, that you're humble when necessary, and that you are empathetic even when the chips are down and your stress levels are blowing through the roof. You inspire because you communicate effectively, imparting your big-picture vision of the company's way forward in a clear and concise manner.
You'll sometimes hear the concept referred to as followership. The concept can make some people uncomfortable, but I am by no means comparing human beings to sheep! The concept is larger than that, in that the very definition of leading requires that someone be following. In this sense, increasing your followership is a very positive and natural thing. A successful leader understands that followership isn't a given. It doesn't automatically accompany a title or position. Followership comes when it has been earned. Great leaders behave with integrity and empathy and humility. They have self-awareness and self-control. They embrace the notions of self-stewardship and global intelligence and acting like a successful leader. They are great communicators. They understand the power, influence, and effects of their own behavior. Likewise, they understand that, without these behaviors, effective leadership is impossible.
Let's take a closer look at the ramifications of certain behavioral shortfalls when you are a leader working hard to create a more profitable company.
A lack of self-awareness leads to embarrassment, inappropriate behavior, and misalignment between self and business.
A lack of self-control leads to childish behavior and impulsive conduct and thus regret and energy wasted on damage control.
A lack of empathy leads to narcissism and detrimental all-about-me behavior.
A lack of humility leads to tunnel vision in an attempt to win and a loss of others' wisdom.
A lack of integrity leads to wariness, skepticism, and lawsuits.
A lack of personal stewardship leads to personal and professional implosion and meltdown.
A lack of communication leads to confusion and chaos. A lack of global intelligence leads to stagnation.
A lack of performing leads to the inability to move forward.
Aristotle said, "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." I say, "The more you behave in a certain way, the more you become it."
Behaviorism, also known as behavioral psychology, is based on the idea that all behaviors are acquired through conditioning. Conditioning occurs through interaction with the environment and is affected by positive and negative reinforcement. Behaviorists believe that our responses to environmental stimuli shape our behaviors. In other words, we behave in a certain way because we are rewarded for that behavior.
For example, if I change my behavior and stop eating my favorite dessert — chocolate mousse with whipped cream — I will be rewarded with weight loss. The reward of losing weight perpetuates the behavior of avoiding sweets.
We will also behave in certain ways to avoid punishment. For example, leaders who will not relinquish control through delegation or empowerment perpetuate a culture of low risk. I have worked with leaders who complain that their teams do not take initiative, only to discover that it is because these same leaders tear their people apart if something is not done in exactly the way the way they wanted.
Renowned American psychologist and behaviorist B. F. Skinner believed that all human action was the direct result of conditioning. You likely are familiar with his famous research where he influenced and predicted the behavior of rats based on whether the animals received positive or negative reinforcement. Over a series of many studies, Skinner found that the rats would alter their behavior, intentionally moving a small lever, either to get a reward (food) or to avoid discomfort (a slight electrical current). Now, I don't mean to compare any of you to rats, but the point is this: when we behave in a certain way, we can, predictably, earn positive results. In a corporate setting, these results might be a financial gain, a return on investment, increased productivity, or a more efficient and happy workplace.
And remember that the beauty of this approach to executive coaching is that, unlike your genetics, background, education, or other predispositions, behavior is something you can change, provided
you are motivated enough to change;
you realize positive rewards for the changes; and
you know how to change.
This book can help you change.
In the movie Batman Begins, Rachel says to Bruce Wayne (Batman), "It's not what you are underneath, it's what you do that defines you." My point exactly! Successful leaders walk the talk. Their actions and attitudes inspire and motivate others. And in an unexpected twist, it doesn't really matter what they are thinking, how they are feeling, or what their intentions are. It is their actions — their behaviors — that influence others.
If you are in a hurry and move quickly to your destination without making eye contact with those around you, people might think you are snobbish and arrogant. You might be neither — just late, distracted, and anxious about your meeting. Or you might be in pain or upset about a personal matter. But if you smile and genuinely engage others, they will react to your good demeanor and find you appealing.
A relatively new president of a $4-billion organization confided in me that his right-hand person, someone on whom he relied for executing the company's challenging mission, was starting to derail. Disheartened, the president told me, "I've received feedback that Bob is leading through intimidation, trying to scare people, using his high position, and acting like a big bully. Bob's been a valuable teammate — a mover and a shaker — but I can't tolerate a bully on my staff. Can you help Bob? Can you get him to change?"
Yes. I firmly believe that most leaders are perfectly capable of changing their behaviors and sustaining the new behaviors. The choice is theirs. If a leader is not willing to change his or her behavior, if that leader is not intrinsically or extrinsically motivated to do so, he or she will not. It is as simple as that.
However, a leader must be open to change and, I hope it goes without saying, able to change his or her behavior. The behaviorist approach for business coaching is not suitable for individuals with behavioral or personality disorders. An unwillingness to change behaviors is just as big a hurdle. As acclaimed football coach Vince Lombardi famously noted, "Leaders aren't born, they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work."
Marshall Goldsmith, in his book Triggers, says, "No one can make us change unless we want to change." He further concludes, "When we dive all the way into adult behavioral change — with 100% focus and energy — we become an irresistible force rather than the proverbial immovable project."
Of course, the way you think and the way you feel may have some influence over your success in leadership, but it is what you do — your behavior — that is experienced by those around you. Although it does help me to understand a client's motivation and what is going on in his or her head, I find that by the time I come into the picture, clients are at a point in their lives and careers where it is more productive to reshape any unwanted behavior and to enhance the successful behaviors.
It is your behavior that impacts the people around you in the workplace and in your personal lives. You may be well intentioned, highly educated, and extremely intelligent. But it is only your behavior that is observed by others, so it is your behavior that must be changed, adapted, modified, or refined to propel you to success.
In his wildly successful book What Got You Here Won't Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith says that one of the troubles with success is that our previous success often prevents us from achieving more success. Think about that: our previous success prevents us from achieving more success. That's because people continue to behave in a manner that yields the reinforcement they've typically received over the years. Sometimes, they don't realize that behavior requirements have changed for their current environment and certainly for their next steps. In Bob's case, it was apparent to me that, somehow, Bob had been rewarded for his behavior over the years. After all, he was the second-in-command of a large organization, and he must have done something right to ascend to this level.
The 360-degree feedback process
To better understand any coaching situation, I first gather information (actual and perceived) about the leader. I call this the 360-degree feedback process, where I look full circle around a leader and interview the individuals around him or her — whether they be managers or colleagues or subordinates. This background allows me to be in the game — pardon the cliché — helping me see how others perceive the individual, how he or she leads, and what workplace dynamics are in play. I typically interview ten to twenty people around my coaching clients. During the structured interviews, I ask questions and probe about all aspects of leadership. I compile the information into a composite report that I then offer to my coaching client.
If conducted tactfully, honestly, and with high emotional intelligence, the 360-degree feedback process is like holding up a mirror to someone. After collecting data, I meet with my coaching client and reveal the raw data — the good and the bad. It is truly like when you hold up a mirror to glance at the back of your head; you see what you thought you knew so well — all the blind spots.
As I conducted 360-degree interviews with Bob, the president, and other key people, I recognized a pattern: the behavior that was holding Bob back was the same behavior that had contributed to his success. By being aggressive, dominant, outspoken, and narrow-minded, he'd been regarded as a go-getter, hustling up the corporate ladder, earning one promotion after the other. The company had rewarded him for his exemplary financial results and execution by promoting him every few years, so he'd received the message that it was perfectly okay to behave as he had, managing and leading people through fear, threats, and intimidation.
He even demeaned subordinates in meetings, snickering and making snide comments. Since no one ever addressed the inappropriateness of such behavior, Bob subconsciously believed that this was the way leaders behaved in order to succeed. From his perspective, he was doing everything just right. From a behaviorist's vantage point, Bob's situation was pretty much Psych 101. Bob's negative behavior was positively rewarded, albeit unwittingly, every time he was promoted. His behavior was not, however, the type of behavior that could successfully sustain a leader. To continue on his leadership path — and indeed, to stay with the company — Bob had to begin changing his behavior. Immediately.
Not everyone has the opportunity or luxury of having a coach come in to interview his or her inner and outer circles. You can still, however, change your behavior on your own by following the recommendations in this book, by looking long and hard at the way you currently behave and seeking the impressions and opinions of those around you. You can follow the same steps I do as I coach corporate executives. You can assess your current behavior. You can ask others about the job you're doing. You can establish your own advisory board — of colleagues, family, clients, employers — to give you honest, fair feedback. We'll talk more about the feedback loop a bit later.
Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position.
— Brian Tracy
I often explain to my coaching clients that when they are in leadership roles, they are basically in a fishbowl. People are watching them, so their actions, behaviors, and communications need to be exceptionally transparent and clear. Frequent communication of the same message can help validate and back up others' perception of a leader's integrity. Again, for most leaders, the problem isn't an actual lack of integrity. It's a matter of perception, which means that behaving with integrity requires a certain degree of self-awareness, self-control, humility, and empathy.
Let me give you a simple and real example that a client brought to my attention. Two colleagues — male and female — travel to a client meeting in Manhattan. Naturally, they travel together, attend the meeting together, and take their meals together. But they're in the Big Apple — should they go to a dance club together after work? This is where it gets a bit sticky — not because there is anything wrong per se in going to a dance club together but because doing so could be perceived as inappropriate behavior, especially if both individuals are not at the same level within the company. The two colleagues have to have the self-awareness to realize how their actions can appear and to act to avoid the perception of lack of integrity.
At other times, leaders — highly ethical leaders — are not highly regarded (and remember, being highly regarded translates into being highly followed) because they are, to put it simply, too quiet. Because these leaders are rather low-key, their followers don't know them well. When leaders aren't understood, their integrity comes into question. Which is to say that it isn't enough to have integrity; I urge my clients to show their integrity, to put it on display. To behave overtly with integrity.
Excerpted from Leading: The Way by Paulette Ashlin. Copyright © 2016 Paulette Ashlin. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Follow the Leader, 1,
Chapter 2 Self-Awareness, 12,
Chapter 3 Self-Control, 30,
Chapter 4 Empathy, 52,
Chapter 5 Humility, 73,
Chapter 6 Integrity, 87,
Chapter 7 Personal Stewardship, 103,
Chapter 8 Communication, 119,
Chapter 9 Global Intelligence, 141,
Chapter 10 Acting the Part, 151,