Author: Bernie Anderson

Just Move Your Arms

I regularly think of these people I saw in the Atlanta airport once.

It was an older couple riding up the escalator. They were standing still but moving their arms back-and-forth as if marching up the steps. But their feet weren’t moving. It seemed strange until I realized – they’re putting steps on their Fitbit (or whatever was measuring their steps that day.)

That’s winning the game, but cheating the process.

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We’ve made steps (and a thousand other things) a game.
Ring the buzzer.
Close the rings.
Get more steps than Harry in accounting.

Gamification does help us think about winning at work.
Gamification does not eliminate the work.
It’s pointless to move your arms without moving your feet.

That old couple may have gotten their steps on that day. (It was the Atlanta airport. Of course, they were going to get their steps in that day!) But they didn’t actually take some of those steps.

We minimize the benefit of ten thousand steps when we only move our arms. Steps require feet.

We have gamified more than fitness. We’ve gamified productivity. And there is some benefit to this. The closed circles, checkmarks, and emptied inboxes get the dopamine flowing and we feel like we’re now doing something productive. It makes us happy.

And maybe, just maybe, we’re doing something important.

But not necessarily.
We may be just riding the escalator and swinging our arms. You can win the game. But that doesn’t mean you’re winning.

Meaningful work always means doing the work.
So check your work when your arms stop moving and the circle is closed.
That may not have been your actual work.

It may be that you’re now ready to do the thing that will make a difference.
This is your real work.

Leaders (Like Hobbits) Stay on Mission

The mission is clear.
The path is dangerous.
The obstacles are mounting.
The chances of success seem small.
The stakes are higher than anyone knows.
Frodo and Sam are going to Mordor to destroy the ring or die trying.

Leaders stay on mission.
There are three reasons some leaders fail to stay on mission.

The mission isn’t clear.

The region of Okinawa, Japan is known as a “blue zone.” The people who live there tend to live for a long time. Because of its reputation for human longevity, southern Japan is known as “the land of immortals.” One of the mitigating factors of Okinawa is the Japanese concept of “ikigai.” This is the Japanese concept for “purpose in life.”

What is your ikigai? Clarity of purpose is one of the most powerful tools a leader has in their toolbox. A clear purpose pre-makes decisions, Particularly the hard ones.

The mission isn’t compelling.

If an organization exists for the mere purpose of “making money,” it’s not a big enough reason to move people. Humans (and Hobbits) need a larger purpose to motivate us beyond good food and smoke rings.

A mission must be compelling to be powerful. It should resonate with the core of who you are and what you’ve experienced. A leadership mission should be high-stakes. World-changing. A mission should be compelling enough for you to get up in the morning and do your thing. A compelling mission will motivate your team to follow you to the edge of Mount Doom and beyond.

A bland, generic, and forgotten mission statement on the wall in a break-room will never do.

The leaders are distracted.

Sometimes leaders get so caught up in the day-to-day that they forget why they’re here. It’s easy to embrace fun, small, off-mission side projects and forget about the real reason for your work and existence. I know many leaders who operate off-mission and unfulfilled. I’ve walked that road, myself.

Know your purpose.
Set your course.
Walk unwaveringly.

“The goal is not simply for you to cross the finish line, but to see how many people you can inspire to run with you.”

— SIMON SINEK, FIND YOUR WHY

Liability, Leadership, and Life

Some people are more concerned about liability than they are about life.
All in the name of leadership, which isn’t leading.

Sure. Consider liability. We live in a litigious age and none of us are far from the grasp of lawyers.

I sat in a meeting recently in which the discussion asked this question:

“How can we move forward and protect ourselves from lawsuits?”

The question should have been:

“How can we move forward in the best interests of our membership and our community?”

This is the leadership question. Leaders will act with wisdom. But a leader’s first concern will not be self-protection.

Leadership is the intersection of influence, vision, and character.
Character is about sacrifice for the benefit of others.
To use the words made famous by Simon Sinek:

Leaders eat last.

“Leadership is not a license to do less; it is a responsibility to do more.”

— SIMON SINEK, LEADERS EAT LAST

Unexpected Leadership

Some of the best stories are about unexpected leaders. It’s the hero’s myth revisited.

Cinderella, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen, Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, and a thousand other fictional characters have this commonality.

They are leaders who come from unexpected places to lead during extraordinary times.

We need unexpected leaders now. So much of the expected leadership at the highest levels is failing. People and political parties want power and will step on, over, and through people to get and maintain it.

Fred Rogers said, “look for the helpers.”
I think what he meant is “Look for the leaders.”

Because the real leaders, the wisest leaders, the leaders who wield much more influence than they even know are the unexpected leaders coming from the most unexpected places.

They don’t have a position or title.
They are the regular people leading in the most unexpected ways.
Be an unexpected leader in your space.
We need you right now.

“When the great fall, the less must lead.”

— JRR TOLKIEN

When The Vision Isn’t Yours: Leading From The Back

“We are no longer considering you for this position, as we are looking for someone whose primary strength is vision casting.”

I applied for a job once a few years ago, and didn’t get it for this reason.

Apparently, I didn’t give off enough vision vibe in the application process.

The world I’ve lived in for most of my career throws the word “vision” down like so much coffee.

And conceptually, it is important. Those folks were not wrong to look for someone with the ability to energize and influence vision. Top experts in the leadership space say that one of the key marks and habits of a leader is the ability to “inspire a shared vision.” That’s based on some fairly intensive research and not just opinion.

But, for those leading without a leadership position – leading from the back – this can be an interesting, if not tough, proposition.

None of my current “positions” in work, church, community or otherwise are responsible for setting or casting the vision. When in a place to support the vision which has been set, attempts on my part at inspiring a different path to the future, would be confusing, at best – if not downright mutinous.

So the question remains – how do we “inspire a shared vision” without a position which sets the vision?

In thinking about it, there are three things I try to do when it comes to leading from the back in this area.

Whenever possible, embrace the existing direction

Sometimes the vision just needs to be seen from a different angle.

In my “young buck” days (i.e., when I was a 30 year old), I was responsible for the vision of a small church – and I figured that if the vision moving forward wasn’t mine, it probably wasn’t the best.

It’s easy to think that when you’re 30. And, to be fair, I do wonder if vision is something 30 year olds are better at than 50 year olds.

But whatever your age, in the end we are not all responsible for setting the course for an organization. A wise leader will seek input and buy-in, but that doesn’t always happen. For those of us without this responsibility, embrace the vision being set by others, whenever possible. It may very well be a good way to go, and if it’s not – I’m going to talk about “push-back” in a minute. However, before pushing back – there’s something else that’s super important.

Keep a positive attitude (especially when things get negative)

This must be a key operating principle. Criticism comes easily for many of us (speaking for myself). While criticism can be healthy and constructive, it can also easily ferment into negativity – and negativity will seep through a team, or even an entire organization, with near instantaneous speeds. Don’t get sucked into a cycle of negativity, and by all means, don’t be the first to stir the waters. Leadership is using influence to empower. Empower those around you to be positive by being positive. Positivity is also contageous.

Look for ways to gently and creatively push against the status quo

Embracing the current vision and being positive doesn’t mean we follow with unflinching loyalty. However, if the we are embracing what we can of the vision and avoiding negativity, it becomes more palatable when we do push against the status quo. Innovate in whatever position you’ve been given. Look for fresh processes – better and more efficient ways to not only do your job, but to better the entire team. Help fulfill the vision cast by leadership by doing your part with creativity.

We should push against the status quo when appropriate. This is an important part of leading from the back. However, it’s possible to do so with gentleness and creativity – without picking a fight and or dumping a truckload of negativity on those who are in leadership positions.

It is most interesting. When people begin to practice these things, vision almost naturally becomes a joint effort.

It’s leadership judo, really.

Those who are in positions of leadership find their jobs much easier.

And the job of inspiring the vision moves from the shoulders of one person and is embraced by the community.

This is vision, indeed.