Last week I had a 1:1 with one of our very senior leaders and the forty minute conversation left me feeling valued, included, and empowered to step into the next stage of our contract.

Sounds good, yes?  It was.  But far from a “fluff” conversation, it was down to brick and mortar of where we are, what I am doing and where I am going.  There was none of the “do these jeans make my butt look fat?” questions that have no right or definitive answer – the kind of answers like, well, the pockets could be lower to make you look slimmer, or you look fine, but we all know better. 

The conversation reminded me of the importance of  fostering trust and having those candid conversations with the people I lead. And the importance of making the time to do so -  making the conversations matter – priceless. 
  1. Come to the conversation with questions, but also solutions to look at 
  2. Appreciate that in these conversations the leader is taking time to  support our success
  3. Listen to the direction and vision of the leader - the conversation is to share this with you 
  4. Ask for what you want - let the leader know of your aspirations 
  5. Ask what you can do for the leader and your team and follow up on the answer (it may be to get some different jeans and that's ok, too)

I have a new guy who was sent out to a very remote area to do the work of two people in a shortened time frame from the usual schedule.  He was sent out to do this the first day out of training with little communication backup available. Not exactly a recipe for success.

When he returned from his three day nearly 800 mile trip he looked beat, and he asked how he had done with the work.  We talked about what he had accomplished and he told me of the challenges of things like twenty minute drives down roads with no markers, no directions, and lost time backtracking. He told me about just the sheer volume of miles and challenging navigating through the “back country” in order to do his work. And then he looked at me and said “When can I go back?”  Not when do I have to go back, but when can I go back.

Part of our leadership mandate is to build, measure, foster and promote an atmosphere of engagement within our teams.  We know that an engaged workforce is not only a more productive workforce, but a more sustainable one for the long term.

My team was hashing it about last week building an engagement plan with a recognition and reward structure for our contract work that is new enough to still be in the formative stage fraught with changes.  To have substance, our engagement plan needs to be performance driven and rewarded. We need to set stretch objectives for our people and we want to have transparency with metrics and expectations in order to effectively coach and support an engaged workforce.

After spinning ideas around for an hour, we adjourned the meeting to continue next week being no closer to a plan than when we started.  And I don’t know how engaged we in the leadership team were feeling after the frustrating exercise.

Then I remembered the simplicity of engagement.  “When can I go back?”  Engagement. We need to build on and recognize this.

Taking advantage of opportunities to lead the team is an expectation and a privilege of working within a collaborative team.  Stepping up and making a name for ourselves, showing what we are made of is a human instinct.  In fact, Dr. Martin Luther King talked about the Drum Major Instinct in a sermon;

“And there is deep down within all of us an instinct. It's a kind of drum major instinct—a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life.

And so before we condemn them, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.

And you know, we begin early to ask life to put us first. Our first cry as a baby was a bid for attention. And all through childhood the drum major impulse or instinct is a major obsession. Children ask life to grant them first place. They are a little bundle of ego. And they have innately the drum major impulse or the drum major instinct.

Now in adult life, we still have it, and we really never get by it. We like to do something good. And you know, we like to be praised for it. Now if you don't believe that, you just go on living life, and you will discover very soon that you like to be praised. Everybody likes it, as a matter of fact. And somehow this warm glow we feel when we are praised or when our name is in print is something of the vitamin A to our ego. Nobody is unhappy when they are praised, even if they know they don't deserve it and even if they don't believe it. The only unhappy people about praise is when that praise is going too much toward somebody else. (That’s right) But everybody likes to be praised because of this real drum major instinct.”

King's "Drum Major Instinct" sermon, given on 4 February 1968, was an adaptation of the 1952 homily ‘‘Drum-Major Instincts’’ by J. Wallace Hamilton, a well-known, liberal, white Methodist preacher. King encouraged his congregation to seek greatness, but to do so through service and love. King concluded the sermon by imagining his own funeral, downplaying his famous achievements and emphasizing his heart to do right.

So the challenge as leaders is to recognize the Drum Major Instinct in ourselves and turn it into a collaborative leadership journey ensuring that we actually have a band marching behind us.  A drum major sets the pace and the direction while managing the performance of the band.  A hugely important role and one that only be successful if the band does in fact follow the direction given. 

Collaboration is the key. Recognizing that we grow by taking on new roles and opportunities, forging new leadership trails within the team, highlighting our talents and abilities, let’s look at how to do it keeping the team with you all the way. Collaboration is all about sharing strengths and challenges to support the success of ourselves and others.

Here’s how to make it work;

1.    Share the picture, the music, the vision of what you are doing when you step up to lead

2.    Use the collective knowledge and wisdom of the team and avoid knowledge hoarding

3.    Diversity in talents is an important factor in collaboration and should be celebrated rather than turned into isolated bunkers only to be used in case of emergency

4.    Trust needs to be built on a solid foundation of credibility and support of the ability to lead -it can’t be forced in order to be genuine

5.    Listen. Not just to the sound of your own voice. Not just to the music in your head.  It’s simple – hear what the rest of the team is saying in order to step up and lead them.  Hear what they are saying about the march you are about to embark upon

We need drum majors to function as leaders and there is nothing like following a great one.  This I talk about from firsthand experience as a member of a very large university marching show band in my past life. 

Step up and take the lead within your team making sure that as you put on the fanciest uniform and march out front, you have built a strong foundation of collaboration of strengths, ideas, and support. Be aware of the Drum Major Instinct we all have and make sure you realize that it is really the band you must serve, not the song within your own head. That is what makes a great drum major.    

Ever feel like you’ve been set adrift in the leadership boat and you are heading for unchartered waters? The kind of waters where dragons lurked on the Hunt-Lenox Globe from 1510?  It seems the dragons can still be there today at the edge of our world, our comfort zone, our secure leadership niche no matter how confident a leader you are.

 When you are faced with a task or project you know nothing about and feel like you are sent sailing off to the edge with the dragons, when you see the rest of the fleet set to sailing on calm waters, there are a few things you can do to turn those dragons into your friends.

1.       Maintain your objectivity

2.       Accept the dynamics at play and maintain your composure

3.       Keep your mental attitude positive and alert

4.       Have confidence and beat fear down

5.       Make a plan and be accountable for it

6.       Keep the horizon in sight – this will keep your eyes looking up

7.       Be strong enough to change course as you need to

8.       Find delight in new worlds

Each change in leadership direction, each shift in the wind builds our leadership story in how we manage it, how we face those assignments and circumstances.

I am inspired by the story in another quest and some wise words;

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.
 Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.
 Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
 Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.”
The Two Towers  by JRR Tolkien

I was at the food court in a mall during the busy lunch hour when the gentleman behind the counter slid my order to me and with a very heavy foreign accent said “ you have a hairy goat”.  Over the din of multiple conversations, trays banging on tables and general mall cacophony, I said “pardon me?”

He smiled at me and said “you’re a hairy goat”. Not really adding clarity to the conversational exchange. I’m not sure how to respond and being conscious of the line-up behind me, I smile, nod, pick up my tray and walk away with my companion trailing behind me.

My companion said, “didn’t you get that -  he said, you have pretty hair with your coat”. A compliment on the color I was wearing.  A very nice, unsolicited compliment that I had entirely missed.

I wonder how much we miss as we smile, nod and walk away when we don’t understand what the other person is saying.   One of my favourite authors has it right;

“If you don't understand, ask questions. If you're uncomfortable about asking questions, say you are uncomfortable about asking questions and then ask anyway. It's easy to tell when a question is coming from a good place. Then listen some more. Sometimes people just want to feel heard. Here's to possibilities of friendship and connection and understanding.” 
― Chimamanda Ngozi AdichieAmericanah


Remembrance Day, Veterans Day, and we honor those who served to enable us to have the "today" we live in. 

Inspiration - The committment of those who served and continue to serve in order to ensure our vision of a free and fair life for all is a true inspiration.

Hero - Well, he would be the tall sailor standing under the "Good Time Gal" in a visit to Guam - my Dad. 

We show our gratitude and support and remember with a moment of silence and respect on November 11.   

Last week in a kind of state of the union conversation where it was easier to focus on the challenges and pitfalls of the past year than the road ahead, one of my leaders said “I need you to trust me”.  Not a question, not a demand, a statement of necessity, of need for the operation.

I thought about it - what this trust thing means;

1.       Do I believe in the commitment, vision and values of my leader in order to trust the direction we are headed?

2.       Do I trust my leader to “walk the talk” and show competence in the job at hand.  Does he/she demonstrate, teach and understand the knowledge, skills and abilities we need to produce results?

3.       Do I trust my leader to be consistent in actions, promises, decisions? Trust is easily broken when decisions change with the direction of the wind.

4.       Do my values align with those of my leader and allow me to stand proud in the team as we collaboratively grow?

5.       Am I worthy of earning the trust of my leaders and colleagues?  (Because it’s not a one sided transaction.)

Ask yourself the questions from the perspective of your team members.  Are you someone who leads with trust? Can you provide the consistence and competence that trust requires?

Trust is a commitment;   a transaction, and is a belief in the reliability and strength of a leader. It’s an honour to be trusted, and it is liberating to trust. Working as a successful team, it is essential that trust is shared as a foundation to empower everyone to work together creating, building and fixing. I appreciated the sharing of trust in that meeting. 

I have a friend who spends large amounts of time flying all over the world meeting and working with his teams.  It sounds so glamorous.  But he tells me that at times he gets hit with waves of what he calls “airport lonely” – being surrounded by all those people at the airports he frequents so often, and feeling intensely lonely. 

 I have another friend who spends weeks at a time in hotels working with his teams and he talks about what he calls ‘Hotel Thursday Lonely”.  When you know the end is near and you are heading home, but Thursday is the in – between, the down day.

To me, as one of the virtual team members who works “remote” from the center where it all happens, I know about the other lonely I call “Iceberg Lonely”.  A couple times a year my iceberg may float close enough to the mainland that I am part of the home team, but for the most part, I float in isolation.  For the most part I like it that way; the autonomy and responsibility of working remotely can be exhilarating. But once in awhile,  there is that word – isolation. 

Effective leaders recognize that it takes effort to work in a virtual environment and there are a few key practices to change it from isolation to inclusion. 

·         Use the awesome technology we have at our disposal to keep the team connected.  Spending time with the elevator music of the waiting room of conference calls is a small price to pay, and with cameras and meeting software we can be much more connected than just by telephone receiver.

·         Have agendas for your meetings.  Virtual meetings can feel long and dragged out if there doesn’t seem to be a purpose and before long we all wander off with our attention.

·         Allow for a type of water cooler informal interaction between team members rather than plodding through the set agenda for weekly/monthly meetings.  A few minutes of “how are things in your area?" brings everyone in around the campfire and sets the tone for open discussion.

·         Don’t allow virtual meetings to be hijacked by the “home team” sitting in the room together ignoring those attending virtually – we’ve all sat through meetings where we watch and listen to the laughter without knowing the joke and the discussion without hearing the question.

Leadership inclusion;
·         Virtual team leadership needs to be a shared experience in order to foster team cohesiveness.  There should not be the city mice and the country mice aspects of the team.  In other words, opportunities should be shared and equal.  Care should be taken so the field mice team is not marginalized due to location and excluded from opportunities and events. This fosters a perception of degrees of value of the team members with respect to each other.

·         Recently I was at a meeting with a senior leader who said that one of his priorities is the commitment to not miss 1:1s with his team members and subordinates. And I remember thinking, he had it right.  All too often we cancel or have our 1:1s cancelled way too easily, we are too busy, it’s just not convenient.  This further marginalizes the virtual team members and precludes them feeling a part of the team story and having a personal part to play in the connectedness of the goals and vision.

These are just a couple areas working with virtual leadership teams that often fall apart and are so easily avoided. The challenge is to work within a virtual team promoting engagement, fairness and clear vision. 

 Managing the challenges of working with your virtual leadership team and ensuring you don’t inadvertently push the iceberg too far away from the mainland can build a strong diversified team with common purpose.

Ok, first of all, let me say that change, difference, a shake-up – well, it’s all good. It can be invigorating in working with your team.  But too often in an attempt to be a resilient changing leader we end up bouncing around like balls in a bingo machine with our team hoping a ball will finally drop so they know what to expect today.

  1. Some days it’s all about gratitude – big group hug – butterflies and bluebirds
  2. Some days it’s all about performance management – do it now! Comply! Confirm!
  3. Some days it’s all about building – let’s solution this together, input welcome
  4. Some days it’s all about – the unexpected – the difficult conversations that shake everyone up
  5. Some days it’s all of the above and more, and that’s where the team spins around in confusion. 

Remember when as a kid you had the empty cup and stood in front of the pop machine? The decisions! So often in an attempt to be cool, we mixed a bit of everything and we called it a “graveyard”. Yeah, turned out to be a kind of brown- orange icky colored drink that didn’t taste very good but we certainly didn’t admit to that.  We tasted it all!  We were doing it all! Yippee!  

It’s admirable for leaders to embrace learning and practice new and changing  concepts but in order to earn and keep respect; leaders must above all be consistent.  Your team deserves and expects consistency in the responsiveness you provide.

Lack of confidence creeps in when leaders appear to be indecisive or haphazard in their approach. When trying out the flavor of the day, the week or the month on their team without a consistent foundation of practice and response.  In other words, teams look to leaders to lead, and if a leader is mixing a “graveyard” every time you pick up a new  empty cup, the team will go looking for something more palatable to drink.

 Ensure you know what flavor works best for you before you start hitting all the buttons and mix your styles with care to build the best combination of flavors and styles for you and your team.