Monday, December 9, 2019

5 Ways to Continue Learning in Leadership

5 Ways to Continue Learning in Leadership

Why Learning is Important as a Leader

    In leadership often the key to our success is our ability to learn, adapt, and apply.  We must be able to learn new information and drive change by disseminating that information.  Being able to do the latter is a bit useless without the former.  A foundational skill that leaders must master is learning, and believe it or not, it is often trickier than it sounds.

    It is kind of silly that in our public-school system we devote a lot of time and resources on learning very specific topics, however, very little time and resources teaching students how to learn.  We encounter several situations where individuals struggle with learning and as a society, we are quick to label them as having a learning disability, when in all reality the case too often is that the individual has never been taught how to learn.

    I believe that with enough time, effort, and self-understanding that anyone can learn anything.  I don’t believe there are learning constraints that prevent certain individuals from learning certain topics.  I would encourage every individual to discover how they learn best and how to apply various techniques to improve their ability to learn.  I would strongly suggest that individuals interested in leadership take a much more aggressive stance at understanding how they learn best to maximize their chances of success as a leader.  A leader who is able to learn any topic before adapting and applying it to their specific situation or organization is unparalleled by an individual who is trapped within a set of learning constraints.


What I mean when I say “Learn how to Learn”

    When an individual who understands how they learn best is introduced to new material that may be foreign to them, they begin a set of practices that includes determining whether they should learn this new material or whether they should discard it as unnecessary for them to learn.  If they determine that they want to learn it, they actively use techniques that they know will allow them to absorb and retain information.  When an individual engages learning in this manner, it could be said that they know how to learn.

    Understanding how our body and brain learns best is a skill that can be acquired.  This may seem like an oxymoron, because if we innately knew how to learn, then we would just learn how to learn, right?  If we didn’t than we never would.  It may be confusing if you look too deeply into it, but I suggest that we think about it more broadly.  Like many things, some people naturally take to them.  It seems common-sensical to some people that if they wanted to pick something up that they knew nothing about that they would focus on that topic, use their inner dialogue to talk to themselves about it, take notes on it, and immerse their lives in and around it.

    When I say, “Learn how to Learn”, I am talking about acquiring an inner self confidence that one can learn and apply any topic to ones life or organization regardless of the complexity of the topic or the public opinion regarding how “difficult” the topic is.  While attending college I remember of the horror stories of learning calculus, and how it was a deal breaker for many college students trying to obtain a degree.  Often times, many students would change their majors to an “easier” one that did not require this course, when in reality, the approach required to learn this topic is much like the approach required to learn any topic.

    Let’s explore some techniques in learning how to learn, as well as techniques for the actual learning itself.

1. Recognize that learning is a skill

    The key word here is self-confidence.  We need to studying learning as a topic and identify it as an actual skill that we can possess much like tying a shoe.  Once you learn how to tie a shoe, you don’t worry about whether you will be able to tie a different shoe.  When you stumble upon a different pair of shoes to tie, you approach it in the same way to tie the very first shoestring that you encountered.  We need to look at learning exactly like this.

   This involves identifying some techniques that mesh well with our mind, and then when challenged with retaining new information, begin applying them until an adequate amount of information on the topic has been retained.  Once we have adopted this way of thinking about learning, we are empowered to desire to learn things that we would have previously dismissed as un-learnable.  Also key here is simply the realization that retention of information is just that, and successfully mastering this step has to do with perception more than practice.  If we allow a small paradigm shift here in order to view learning a bit differently then we will have already begun the transformation.

    This applies directly to leadership because often we are challenged to learn things that may not particularly interest us, or that would otherwise seem too tall of a task.  As leaders we will encounter many situations where we are tasked to learn something new and then regurgitate this information to others.  We do not want to be the leaders that are the last to learn a new topic, after all, that would aggravate the very definition of leadership.

2. Taking Notes

    It is no coincidence that some of the best learners are also the best note takers.  It is widely accepted that taking hand-written notes is a highly effective way to retain information.  I feel that it is almost a negative stigma to be “that person with a notebook” in a non-classroom environment.  The truth is, if you want to be prepared to learn anything on short notice, you would be wise to carry around a notebook and a pen.

    The benefits of taking hand-written notes are multiple.  Just by having recorded something down for later review is a benefit.  I would also count the slow inner dialogue that happens when we write something down as a direct benefit due to the familiarity we gain by consciously talking to ourselves regarding the information that we are recording.  I also believe that something magical happens when we craft the wording for our notes that doesn’t necessarily happen when we just unconsciously copy something down.  I was given the opportunity to attend a broadcast by Jim Kwik, who is a trainer of learning and speed reading.  Mr. Kwik advises that we should take notes directly by copying them down, and then take our own notes of our notes where we further explore what we recorded to ourselves.  You can find more information from Mr. Jim Kwik below as well as some books related to the topic.

    Just about everywhere I go I will have some sort of media to record information.  Not only is this beneficial to learning new things, but we often overlook retaining information about meetings, people, and events.  We can use the power of retention and note-taking to maximize our effectiveness as leaders by using this technique in various situations for reinforcing retention of various things.

3. Consistent Exposure

    I believe in consistent exposure to media that we wish to learn.  I believe that if we want a more thorough understanding of a topic, then we should seek to immerse ourselves in that topic in as many ways as possible.  I spend a lot of my time on the road commuting to and from work, and I do not like to think that I just waste this time in travel.  Aside from time reflecting and listening to current news, I listen to a lot of books on Audible.  Audible has a wonderful credits program where you are able to purchase books for bargain prices as well as a wonderful software implemented to read these books to you.

Jim Kwik also said that the benefits to having a book is that an author is able to condense ten years of experience into a few hours of reading.  If our goal is to compound the information that we have as individuals, we should be spending a lot of our time learning the amassed information of others.  For this reason, I recommend books as a source of information on just about any topic that exists.

    Audible isn’t just something that I blindly market.  While I am an affiliate marketer of audible and its products, I regularly use this as a core tool to reinforcing my learning.  The amount of information that I have extracted from audible during my commutes is immeasurable.  While it may not be for everyone, I highly recommend it for anyone seeking to collect information from reading books, but due to circumstances listening to the books is the most feasible way to digest them.

4. Continuing Formal Education

    Now more than ever it is possible to continue your formal education with smaller investments of time.  With the proliferation of online courses, it is possible to integrate obtaining a formal education in just about any instance of life or living arrangement.  I do not recommend over-booking yourself and stretching yourself so thin that you live in a world of stress, however, I encourage everyone to constantly be actively learning.  Taking one course or so at a time is relatively inexpensive and provides direction to your life as well as keeping the blade of your mind sharp.

    There are so many topics that you can pick up on that aren’t taught formally in grade school.  I look at all of the instances of finance and money as they relate to life, and how ill prepared high school graduates are to actually enter and succeed in the real world of money, bills, and finances.  While I don’t discredit being goal focused toward a degree while obtaining a formal education, spot educating and taking only courses that you are interested in for the knowledge that they can provide is also very beneficial.  Regardless of your path, something here is better than stagnation and nothing.  I think it is also important to mention that if you are degree motivated to not be dissuaded by the amount of time it will take to accomplish this goal if you only have the time available for taking one course at a time.

5. Becoming Emotionally Invested

    I recommend that anything it is that you seek to learn that you become emotionally invested in that topic.  This can be tricky to do depending on our personal interest in the subject matter, but with practice we can learn to manipulate our emotions for our benefit.  When we begin the journey of learning something new, we need to tie this to our emotions.  The best way to do this for me is to allow the knowledge of the subject matter to excite me.  As I was learning topics such as organic chemistry, I envisioned myself being able to start entrepreneurial journeys related to chemistry and felt the emotions related to success in the area.  I believe that using our imagination here is the key to unlocking our ability to manipulate our emotions.

    I recall back to the near distant past where I was challenged to thoroughly learn the topic of calculus.  I wasn’t really interested in this topic and did not particularly care for its complexity, however, I began to manipulate my emotions in order to become emotionally invested in understanding calculus by looking back into what some famous physicists were able to prove by knowing calculus.  I imagined what it must have been like to use calculus to postulate theories and understand some hidden meanings of our universe and then I used these emotions to drive the learning process.  I allowed the emotions to flow through me as I would engage new sections and topics of calculus, and allowed those emotions to drive me forward as I was taking notes and reading content.

The Take Away

    As leaders, we need to be well versed in learning.  We need to understand how our brain works and use it in order to retain new information as well as sort through and analyze various bits of information from many sources.  I believe this is a facet of our mental health that goes largely ignored.  I believe this is a cultural problem.  As a society we are so focused on so many specifics that we forget some very key general points to life.  We need to keep the blade of our mind sharp, and to do that requires constant work.

    I believe that it is very easy to recognize a leader who isn’t opposed to learning.  I believe that these leaders give the greatest contribution to their organizations and have many opportunities that others do not.  I would encourage every leader to become a beacon of learning and drive the passion of learning and brain health into others with passion.  I believe that by applying these techniques will give us a good framework for learning and retaining information that will help us along the way.  Feel free to comment, email, or reach out to me on any one of my various social media platforms if you would like to discuss this further.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Organizational Change: Lewin's Model of Change

Photo by timJ on Unsplash

Lewin’s Model of Change - Organizational Change in Leadership

    Change is a necessary occurrence for organizations to continually grow.  Change is very important in leadership because it is the leadership that drives the change.  A social psychologist named Kurt Lewin developed a model for change that I am particularly fond of.  I give credit to Lewin’s Model of Change in helping me grow in my own organization as well as helping me tackle problems and achieve goals as I have grown.  I still today think of how to apply Lewin’s Model of Change to situations in my organization and life that require change to happen.

    I intend to further elaborate on the stages of Lewin’s Model of Change at a future date, because so much can be said about the technique used to apply them.  I really enjoy breaking down his ideology of change because it is extremely applicable to situations where the change is required because of stagnation due to culture.

Overview of Lewin’s Model

     To summarize, Kurt Lewin proposed that change should encompass three steps.  A step of unfreezing, a step of actual changing, and then a step of re-freezing.  We can generally understand this by thinking about what it is that we need to change and what change is.  To need change that means we must have some established practices that seem to be the norm that are undesirable.  The norm may not even be undesirable, rather, we may want to do things differently to achieve a different result.  Often, we are met with much resistance.  The core of Lewin’s Model focuses on breaking this resistance.

    To successfully apply Lewin’s Model of Change, we must understand the series of events that need to happen for us to effectively change some normal practices within our organization.  First, we must identify what it is that we want to change, and then unlearn those norms.  After we have “un-frozen” the normal practices, we can then begin to introduce the new norms that we want.  Once we have introduced the new normal, it becomes our job to further normalize this, and freeze this into permanency.

My First Application - an Anecdote

    During what I would call one of the most important interviews of my life, I had the opportunity to sit in front of two of my mentors and try to convince them that I was the best candidate for a job.  During this time a very key questions in the interview came up, as my department and organization required someone to help drive change, as many changes were required to succeed in the coming years.  I did not yet know the terms or the direct strategy that Kurt Lewin proposed, however, I used the word “normalize” and it stuck with my interviewers.

    I believe that we intrinsically understand what Kurt Lewin lays out for us, and that we know that to drive change to a situation where there has been a reinforced culture of doing things, we must first un-learn the autonomous repetition, introduce the new material, and then set in place a program to establish the new material to become autonomous as the old pre-change material was. 

    My mentor held me to Lewin’s final step in his model for change and quoted me following my promotion.  He has said to me many times since then, “Normalize Josh, normalize.”  As I further study topics of organizational management and come across strategies such as these that I sought to apply in the past because of what seemed like common-sensical knowledge, I am really pleased that I have been given the chance to grow and apply what I have learned in life.

Step 1: Un-freezing

    This stage is the precursor to carrying out real change.  It is best to think of this like making frozen food malleable again via the thawing process.  There is no sense in trying to shape frozen hamburger, rather, first we thaw it out so that we can shape it how we like.  The same is true for teams in an organization.  If our team’s thoughts are fixed and they are autonomously carrying out procedures based on an old norm that we want to change, first we must prepare them for change.

    Lewin advises that we do this by visiting and re-visiting the need for change until the individuals itself recognize the usefulness of the change.  Allow the team to see why change is needed and allow them time to explore the why themselves.  To release a locked set of ideals and prepare that set of ideals for molding, we need to properly prepare our team as individuals for a coming change and allow them to perceive the need for it.

    Unlearning normalized behaviors take time and attention.  We as leaders need to stay attentive to the level of fluidity that our teams are exhibiting by staying present and available for communication.  Special attention is placed on the act of unlearning because we do not develop an autonomous sense of functionality overnight, and as such we cannot unlearn the autonomous behaviors that we may have been performing for years overnight either.  Sometimes the best tool to unlearn behaviors is to release fragments of the change early and allow a preview of what is to come.

    During this period of executing a change, we need to pay attention to those that will be resistant and focus some of our efforts.  Dig deep when trying to convince the most resistant team members and use all the tools available to you.  The most beneficial tools to have during this phase is undoubtedly positive relationships with rapport as well as the foundational influence that comes along with leadership.

    A lot of the reason why resistant team members will follow you into change that they do not particularly like or agree with is rooted in their trust in you as a leader.  Bring them on board early, explain the why, give examples, and listen to feedback.  The most damaging thing that a leader can do at this point is declare the change just because followed by shutting down any types of feedback or criticisms to the change.  Just because we listen to feedback and criticism doesn’t mean that we are going to change the organization’s game plan, however, it does result in a more widely accepted attempt at executing the change desired.

    A lot of time can be wrapped up in this phase of change.  It is impossible to tell exactly how long it will take to properly prepare an organization or team for any change, however, it is recommended that we set goals and push to stick to timelines.  There is nothing wrong with adjusting along the way so long as the adjustments aren’t ultimately detrimental to the end game.  This is supported by a large feedback loop that should extend from the floor to the upper management level where we use a channel to communicate positive and negative feedback regarding the preparedness for the coming change.

Step 2: The Change

    Once we have spent a good deal of time unlearning behaviors and preparing individuals for change the task is set to officiate the change.  This is the phase where we deliver the information and the procedures, as well as the new expectations and guidelines.  It will be evident here if we have rushed the change as there is no proverbial dog to eat your homework when things turn upside down, and believe me, during change things often turn upside down.

    The further things go astray, the more you will see resistance begin to pop up.  These patches of resistance will be strongest in those who were resistant from the beginning, but the goal here is to communicate expectations, accept all feedback and encourage others to work with you on discovering the various properties of change that was foreseen and unforeseen, and finally to give feedback yourself to superiors so that they are able to do their job in executing the change.

    Even in the most unfrozen of situations, it will seem evident that “we were just not ready for the change.”  This is kind of a fallacy to fluidity in organizations, and the larger the organization, the more apparent this fallacy.  This is typically a perception related to a type of cognitive dissonance, and this is exactly where my organization was when I suggested that we push forward to achieve a state of normalcy.  It is at this point where we see the true drivers of change as well as the ones who want to hop back on the bus to do things the old way.

    My organization has pushed through so much change in the past two years that it seems we have an “old way” to do everything, as a matter of fact, just about everything that we do has an “old way” that seniority will refer to from time to time, even though we are well into the re-freezing stage.

Step 3: Re-freezing

    The final step in Lewin’s Model of Change has to do with the very idea that I proposed during my interview.  So far, we have taken an autonomous function of an organization, prepared to change it, changed it, and now we are tasked with making the change the new autonomous function.  It is important that we recognize this step in executing the change and begin to move in order to successfully complete it.  It is important that we don’t stagnate during phase two, which is synonymous with just avoiding phase three, as then it will become normal to have a duality in autonomously carrying out organizational procedures, which can be more detrimental than avoiding the change in the first place.

    To re-freeze is to create a culture of normality in executing functions brought about by the change, and to then make these autonomous actions by all members of the team or organization.  This is done by time, reinforcement, feedback, and refining.  To re-establish culture is a tall task, and often we procrastinate by returning to the “old way” of functionality.  The drivers of change will be the ones constantly attentive to course correction and identifying problems and working towards finding solutions rather than avoidance.

    To jump start this part of the process, I suggest identifying some of the strongest influencers and allow them to be drivers of change with you.  Play to the strengths of some of your quick learners and invest some time in explaining some of the roots of the change in more detail.  Task these individuals with a clear goal of disseminating this information to others.  When looking for these associates, look for adaptable and influential team members that you have a strong relationship with.

    This is the step in Lewin’s Model of Change that we should get lost in and lose track of time.  Often you only realize that you have begun to make progress on this step once the progress is already made and you are reflecting on the past.  If you have succeeded in re-freezing after a change, you should be able to clearly identify some fruits of your change and can reinforce the re-freezing by interacting with team members of the organization.

The Take Away

    Every organization runs into stagnation and requires an execution of change.  How we approach this need to change will determine whether we are successful in achieving our goals that relate to the root cause of the change.  So many failures occur because of misguided approach.  We can avoid failure and bolster our odds for success by proper planning and using our leadership resources in the best possible ways.  Following Lewin’s Model of Change doesn’t guarantee that our change will occur without resistance, or that our change will be beneficial in the end, however, it does give us a road map to follow in order to roll out new organizational functions that we believe will benefit the organization in the end. 

    This model of change is the means for leadership to use in order to come to a concluding point in time where we can further assess its effectiveness.  As leaders, it is our obligation to best serve our organization and our team by bridging the two together and being a facilitator of change deemed necessary.  I believe by following structured systems that we can introduce and reinforce change for the betterment of our organization and our teams.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Four Ways to Show Thanksgiving in Leadership

Four Ways to Show Thanksgiving in Leadership

    Showing thanksgiving as a leader is a very important task to do.  It is important that our teams realize that we share the successes as well as the failures.  I am talking about more than just performance appraisals and feedback.  I am talking about the showing of gratitude by leaders to their subordinates. 

    It is far too easy for subordinates to feel like cogs in a machine due to the everyday swing of operations.  It is important as leaders that we instill a sense of appreciation in our team, after all, they are the ones doing the work.  As leaders, we need to explore the various reasons why to show thanksgiving and then the ways to convey gratitude to our team.

Why Show Gratitude?

    To some people this may seem silly, and hopefully you are one of them.  Showing gratitude is a very important part of maintaining healthy relationships within a team.  Your team needs to know that you appreciate them, and the benefits of them understanding this are many.  A team that feels thanksgiving from their leader or management are more likely to perform, respond to pressure to perform, trust their management more, and have overall healthier relationships with their management team.  Teams who feel that their leadership is thankful for their work are also happier to be a part of a team, which directly boosts day to day morale.  There is something to be said about how individual confidence is maximized when team members believe that their superiors are thankful for their service, and confident team members boost the overall performance of the team.

Four Ways to Show Thanksgiving in Leadership

1. Immediate Follow-Ups

    The most applicable and used technique of showing thankfulness as a leader is certainly the follow-up.  When I refer to follow-up, I am talking about delegating a task, and then following up to assess whether that task was completed adequately.  When you delegate as a leader and follow up to find that the task was successfully completed, an important relationship building tool is to then follow up with the individual that the task was delegated to and let them know that you followed up.  Expressing thankfulness for the successful completion of the task yields multiple benefits.

    The first benefit is one that impacts your span of influence as a manager.  If you delegate a task to an individual and follow up, that communicates that you care about the task and you are willing to see if it will be completed.  It also communicates that the task that you delegated was a chunk of important authority that deserved a part of your attention, and it was not just some mindless drivel that you blindly sent someone off to do in order to keep them busy.  The end game to this is that when you delegate in the future, this individual as well as other individuals uninvolved will be more than willing to carry the authority that you give to them with the delegation, and strive to successfully carry out the task.  The showing of gratitude at the finality of this is the final stamp that seals this exchange.  The delivery of the gratitude can be as simple as a “Thank you”, or “Good job.”

2. Huddle Meeting Topics

    Every day my team and I typically have a start-up and final huddle meeting.  By design during both huddle meetings, on my agenda is a short time set aside to recognize excellence, positive performance, or goals achieved.  It is important that we show thankfulness in this type of forum in front of our team as-a-whole.  By doing this, we completely remove the potential label of us being closed-souled slave-drivers and boost our chances of being perceived by our team as thankful leaders of a successful team.

    Taking time to recognize others and show our thankfulness for their work will create an atmosphere for the positive relationships that are required of a fully functional team and will create great relationships between everyone.  It is important when doing group recognition to identify the correct behaviors to recognize, and publicly thank those who are excelling.  This will create an atmosphere of competition among the team to strive to achieve this type of recognition while supplying those who do excel with the delight of public acknowledgement.

    Despite many people showing bashfulness or unwillingness to accept public displays of thanks and gratitude, I believe the benefits are clear regardless.  No matter the degree of the individual rejecting the public acknowledgement, the benefits of acknowledgement still exist.

3. Performance Appraisal

    A performance appraisal is a regular discussion between a leader and subordinate where the leader outlines how the individual has been performing.  Even in the event of a performance appraisal that contains criticisms and coaching for improved performance, it is still important to show thankfulness.  As leaders we should adopt a thankful attitude to those who are willing to follow us, and even if for no other reason, we should take this opportunity for thanking the individual for being a part of our team.  Depending on the flavor of the performance appraisal, we may include this in the open, close, or both.  We may also center the performance appraisal around our gratitude for having the team member a continuing part of our team in the case of high performing team members.  In any case, we should take a bit of time during our performance appraisals to let our team members know how much we appreciate them.

    Often a performance appraisal is an intimate time between a manager and an employee.  These experiences are memorable and usually either painful or extremely delightful.  A good manager is able to take a performance appraisal that would otherwise be painful and turn it into a situation that both parties can walk away from feeling enlightened and not confused.  Expressing thankfulness and gratitude during these events is one way that we can have a positive impact on the situation in multiple ways.  We can deepen the relationship with our employees as well as create a positive atmosphere for the performance appraisal.

4. Human Conversation

    All too often as leaders we are seen by our team as just another cog in the machine of an organization.  We are thought of just as managers and not as humans, and managers can’t be thankful, right?  Sometimes we need to appeal to our team as fellow humans and reveal that we have human emotions and feelings.  I believe we can do this by engaging in a normal human exchange of words, and then once we are here, we are able to display gratitude.  This will be in a different forum than the other suggestions, and it will probably be more well received, because we are communicating as people, and not as businessmen or businesswomen.  Successfully interjecting thanks into a normal human conversation with members of our team will allow us to deliver a personally received message of thanks that is able to impact our team members on a deeper level than a professional thanks.

The Take Away

    As leaders, it is important that we value our team members as individual humans that follow us in order to complete goals that we subscribe to.  The very act of having those willing to genuinely follow you is a compliment.  We should be thankful for this opportunity, and while we are unable to hide this if it is the case, it is also impossible to hide it if it is not the case.  I challenge every leader in the world to communicate a message of thankfulness and gratitude to their team during this holiday season.  I also challenge anyone who believes that this isn’t tied to your goals to try it and assess your situation after you create a culture of gratitude among your team.  I believe you, like myself, will have concrete proof in the development of your relationships as well as the performance of your team clearly apparent as a result of your show of gratitude.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

2 Key Questions a Leader Should Ask Themselves Before Leading

2 Key Questions a Leader Should Ask Themselves Before Leading

    Sometimes we reach a point in our group, team, or organization where we want to identify an opportunity to step up and lead.  Sometimes it may not be formal or permanent.  It may be a passing thought, or a notion to help the current situation progress along for a short time.  In any case, potential leadership is very thought provoking.  Earlier in my career I would say that it reminds me of going out on a date for the first time, awkward and forced.  As time has passed, I would say that it becomes natural and easy, sometimes making what would be an awkward situation one more bearable for all involved.

    I joined a collegiate organization some time ago where I was required to complete multiple steps before induction.  There were maybe a dozen steps to complete.  Towards the end of this period of induction, I was randomly paired with a group of people.  Among ourselves we had to develop a team complete with assigned jobs and self-prepared meetings.  I feel that this was in a lot of ways a test, because in our first scheduled meeting, we all showed up having no idea what to do.  While my group members and I sat around a table staring at each other and talking it became clear that there was a lack of leadership.  A few members had left early, some other broke off and began talking about life in general, and some were scoffing about how poorly ran the organization was.

     We were all in the dark.  We had no clue what to do or what we were even meeting for aside from us understanding that it was a requirement for induction.  Through this first painful meeting, I had gotten only one thing, someone had to make the next one less painful, assuming anyone even returned.  I decided to take the position of facilitator and prepare for the next meeting, hoping that if nothing else we would have something to do besides gossip about politics.

     Sometimes it takes being placed in an awkward situation with others before it is clear who the leader may be, and sometimes it will be surprising to see who that person is.  Whether it is a blindly assembled group, or a department in an organization, there should be only a few unorganized gatherings before it becomes clear who the leader is.  Here we look at some key questions to ask ourselves to determine if we have identified an opportunity to lead.


1.  Do we have the functional or technical knowledge required to lead?

    Having the functional knowledge to lead a group is a key question to ask yourself.  It is not a black and white barrier that should direct whether you pursue a leadership role.  It should, however, give you the direction that you should take if you do decide to pursue that leadership role.  If you conclude that you do not have a lot of functional knowledge of the group that you want to lead, then we must understand this if we decide to push forward.
    Function or technical knowledge is the boots-on-the-floor know how of getting a job done and demonstrating successful action against the task.  A leader that has a load of technical knowledge and the skills related to successfully obtaining the goals will approach leading a team a bit differently than one who has little technical knowledge.  To this leader I would suggest a teaching and mentoring strategy.  A lot can be gained, and relationships can be developed by a leader who has knowledge to distribute among a group of peers.

    A lack of functional or technical knowledge does not mean that we should avoid pursuing leadership.  It should be a factor in your decision though, as opting to lead without having a broad span of knowledge of the tasks at hand does make the job more difficult.  To the leader without technical knowledge, I would advise taking a learn together approach, and never shy away from the opportunity to learn from a team member.  There is great value in allowing a team member the opportunity to teach you something.

    In my case, I chose the latter approach.  I knew that I had the ability to publicly speak, as well as research and present information that I had acquired, so I contacted my group and let them know as long as no one opposed it that I would have something prepared for us to review at our next meeting.  After scheduling the day with everyone, I was nervous about what may happen.

2.  Do we have proper relationships established with our team?

    One of the most difficult situations that a leader can face is being thrust into a new team with the expectation of leading them.  Success isn’t guaranteed, goals are not understood, and the people can sometimes be strangers.  It is much more favorable to lead a team that you have already had the opportunity to develop relationships with.  Developing relationships is one of the key tools of a leader.  It is arguably one of the most important things that a leader can do, and the flavor of these relationships will often determine the level of success that a leader will experience.

    To a leader that has had the opportunity to develop proper relationships with his team, I would suggest that he search those relationships and make certain that they are facilitating good communication as well as mutual respect.  If these two qualities of a relationship aren’t present, then the leader should be doing things to foster the growth of them.  Without these qualities in the relationships, success will be very difficult.  If good communication and mutual respect are present, the ability to lead will be readily available and from here it is simply undertaking the task.

    After being thrust into an environment with strangers, and attending a dry pointless meeting, I knew that we had to turn it around.  It seemed clear that we were all good communicators that had adequate mutual respect; however, our little organization just required some leadership.  In this informal situation, it was as simple as standing up and doing it.  I didn’t believe it should be a forceful or delegatory thing, rather, I first communicated that I had done some research on how our group should be put together and suggested that if no one else had any material, that I be allowed to present what I had learned.

     After playing a presentation that I had found on my chapter’s website, I outlined what I thought the meeting should include and led the discussion.  I asked questions and listened to answers.  As we continued and time passed, we all became more familiar with each other and felt exactly what it was that this challenge was about.  This wasn’t some formal take-charge-and-conquer test, rather, it was a test of our ability to come together as a team and hold each other accountable to being team members.

The Take Away

    I believe these are two key questions we should ask ourselves before we decide to venture into the idea of leadership in any situation.  Regardless of our direction of thought, or where we end up after pondering all the information, I believe that the task of asking ourselves the questions better prepares us to lead.  We can further analyze and break this down, however the idea itself is intended to spark the thinking that a potential leader should be doing before undertaking the task.

    In some instances, we may decide that leadership in the current situation isn’t for us, or that there is someone better suited.  To that I would say, even a leader knows when to follow.  A good leader knows when to be led.  It should not be taken as a failure when it becomes apparent that there is someone more qualified to lead a team than ourselves, rather, we should still fulfill our obligation to be team members and continue to strive to achieve the organizations goals, however big or small.

    It is important as leaders that we continue to think about these things as we travel through life and come across different situations that require different things of us.  It is important that leaders identify situations where we believe that our service as a leader will affect the outcome of the group for the better, and to allow ourselves to be a special part of the group, for the better of the group.  There is no more fulfilling thing to be than a servant leader, and that will be a topic of future discussion.