Category Archives: Agility

In The Turn

Leadership Under Pressure: How to Show Courage, Cunning and Character When It Really Matters

This is Part Two in a series based on my recent trip to India. Part One shared stories of our adventures looking for tigers and the powerful leadership lessons I learned while on safari. Now, I’d like to take you deep into the ancient palaces of the maharajas and maharanis, where we discovered secrets of royalty who walked these rooms centuries ago.

As always, I found inspiration for modern leadership – this time from the lives of these great men and women who demonstrated great courage, cunning and character in life-and-death situations. I hope you learn as much from them as I did.

The morning breeze felt good as it blew in gently from the windows where I stood. I could see through the wood-carved screens to the lake just outside the palace walls. The water sparkled in the sunshine. Shade trees dotted the water’s edge and covered the hillside beyond.

I leaned against the cool marble walls, looked around the upper room of this tower, and marveled. While the setting of the City Palace in Udaipur is breath-taking, the interiors of this majestic building are simply spectacular.

India, the world’s sixth-largest economy and the fastest-growing outside of China, has a history rich with colorful figures, dynasties and periods of turmoil as well as prosperity. As we walked the halls, I couldn’t help being swept up by the stories our guide told us of the men and women who lived in palaces like this one.

What would life have been like to lead a kingdom during that time? What secrets did these walls hold? What leadership lessons can we learn?

A Maharaja to remember

One of the most celebrated leaders was Chhatrapati Shivaji, a legendary maharaja who founded the Maratha kingdom in the 17th century and who displayed at least three important characteristics leaders need today: Courage, cunning, and character.

Shivaji’s reign is noted for many things. He was a champion of religious tolerance, the “Father of the Indian Navy,” and a supporter of women’s rights.

He was also a skilled leader in battle, demonstrating courage time and again by fighting fiercely against attackers and protecting the people who lived in his kingdom. He earned the nickname “mountain rat” because of his knowledge of the mountainous countryside and his ingenuity in triumphing over enemies in difficult terrain.

We heard several stories about Shivaji, but perhaps my favorite occurred during his struggle against a Mughal emperor named Aurangzeb. This is a conflict that waged for many years. At one point, Shivaji and his men captured several forts, and things finally came to a head. The emperor couldn’t tolerate losing more ground. So he sent a huge army to attack Shivaji and his band of men, forcing a peace treaty.

Shivaji agreed to meet with Aurangzeb in Agra, which is the home of the Taj Mahal and a major city in the state of what is known today as Rajasthan. Aurangzeb assured him he would be treated like royalty when he arrived.

A daring escape

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Shivaji and his son, who accompanied him to Agra, were at first ignored by the Mughal; then quickly placed under house arrest and threatened with execution.

Shivaji was furious when he realized he had been tricked. Their lives were in danger now – as was his entire kingdom.

While stuck in captivity, Shivaji began to think – how could he overcome this turn of events and escape? Calling upon his ingenuity, the clever leader thought of a plan and put it into motion.

Shivaji sent word to his captors that he had become ill and asked for doctors to treat him. After three days, he insisted he had been cured and ask for sweets to be distributed to doctors and needy people in the land as a way of showing his gratitude. Huge quantities of special treats were prepared and carried out from the palace grounds in large bamboo baskets.

At first, guards carefully inspected each basket before allowing it to leave. As the days wore on, however, they became lax. Shivaji knew this was his chance.

In a thrilling escape, he and his son hid in the baskets and were carried to freedom under the very noses of the guards who were supposed to be watching them!

Once outside, they disguised themselves as beggars, shaving their very recognizable beards and mustaches, exchanging their clothing, and putting ashes on their faces. They escaped through the countryside and returned to their kingdom.

Shivaji was welcomed back as a hero. Once back in power, he focused all his efforts on restoring his kingdom, instituting reforms and establishing stability in the region. He eventually was coronated as a king, and he ruled for many years until his death.

Leadership lessons

The legendary Maharaja never lived in the City Palace of Udaipur. But his story is larger than life, and I thought about it throughout our trip. I’m struck by three leadership lessons we can take from his example.

Lesson 1: Courage is a constant

While one could argue that Shivaji was a little blood-thirsty, he is not unlike many other warrior kings in history who succeeded largely through constant courage and a willingness to fight. He stood up to his enemies and refused to let them defeat him.

He also earned the respect of his soldiers by demonstrating his battle skills and fighting side-by-side with them in the trenches. As a result, they remained loyal and willingly followed him into battle.

Have you ever felt you were “under siege” as a leader, fighting for your team, your values, your point of view or a cause you passionately believed in? Whether we like it or not, such battles are simply a part of leadership.

It requires courage to rise to these occasions, especially when everything inside you wants to head for the hills. Here are a few things to remember that will help increase your courage in the heat of battle.

  •  Stand your ground – Instead of shrinking back, stand up, plant your feet and take up some space. This increases your confidence by altering your neurochemicals – increasing testosterone and decreasing cortisol. Neuroscience research has shown that when we have higher levels of testosterone, we are more persistent in the face of failure, better negotiators and more willing to take risks.

One of the most popular TED talks (more than 42 million views) features psychologist Amy Cuddy explaining why “power posing” might be useful to build courage. Her research suggests there is an increase in testosterone when we strike a confident pose. She’s not suggesting we stand defiantly when we’re leading others, although there might be times when we need a strong posture. More often, power posing is part of our preparation. “Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behavior, and our behavior can change our outcomes,” says Cuddy.

  • Show grace under fireBrené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston, has noted that the root of the word courage is cor—the Latin word for heart. “In one of its earliest forms,” Brown writes, “the word courage meant, ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences—good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’”

This type of courage allows us to own our actions rather than casting blame, to be outspoken about our beliefs, and to demonstrate confidence and poise even when we’re under extreme stress or pressure. It’s a self-confidence that comes from knowing and demonstrating our hearts.

  • Remember who you are – Too often we are consumed with the business and the busyness of our daily work. But it’s important to step back periodically and remind yourself why you’ve chosen to lead. What drives you? What are your values? What do you want your legacy to be? When you are clear about these things, it helps crystallize in your mind who you are as a leader and why you are willing to fight for things that matter to you.

Lesson 2: Cunning comes from clear thinking

Many times, it isn’t sheer force of will that carries the day. It’s how we use our wits. Like Shivaji, we may need to devise a clever way out of a pickle. So, we need to optimize our thinking skills and be prepared to use them when the pressure is on.

Here are two tips to help you think clearly when you need it most.

  • Manage your emotions – An important fact to know about your brain: Your limbic system, which regulates your emotions, and your prefrontal cortex, which controls complex thinking, both require plenty of glucose and oxygen. As a result, they cannot operate optimally at the same time. This explains why you’re thinking is often significantly impaired when you’re in a heightened emotional state, and you find yourself at a loss for words.

Effective leaders know how to dial back their emotional responses so they can clear their heads to think. You can improve your ability to do this by practicing mindfulness, which is remaining present and aware of your thoughts and feelings instead of escaping into your mind when the going gets tough. As you learn to inhibit negative narratives in your head, you can be more objective and perceive situations realistically. Practicing meditation regularly also improves your ability to focus.

  • See things another way — You can use basic cognitive strategies such as repositioning, which is stepping back to see things from another’s perspective. If you could consult a friend or a mentor on the situation, how might they advise you? Many times, others can help us consider options we might not see for ourselves.

Lesson 3: Character defines your legacy

More than courage and cunning, your character tells the world what kind of leader you are. We read daily of leaders who stumble due to lack of judgment, ethical breaches or outright criminal activity. Even though no one is perfect and we all fall short, it’s disheartening.

We hold leaders to a higher standard and look up to them – as we should. Being in a position of power means you set vision, show the way and make important decisions, many of which impact others as well as yourself.

I was impressed to learn of Shivaji’s commitments to better the quality of life for his people. He was known for his respect and tolerance for different faiths. During a time when women were not treated particularly well, the Maharaja did not tolerate violence or harassment against women. He got in the trenches with his soldiers and fought with them.

He didn’t have to lead this way, but he chose to anyway, and he enjoyed support and stability because of the respect he earned.

  • Leaders of character consider the needs of others — Courage and cunning are part of your character, but the part that most defines your legacy as a leader is your selflessness. Leaders cannot be all about themselves; instead, they keep the interests of others as a top priority. Otherwise, no one will willingly follow them – at least not for long.

Great leaders do not abuse power or take advantage of it for their own gain. They consider the needs of others and show respect for individuals regardless of their standing in society. Their decisions and actions show what they’re made of and what’s in their heart.

Being a leader of character means knowing and living your values. Most of us are pretty good at the first part; it’s the second part that’s so hard! But living them is what really matters. It allows us to earn not just the respect of others, but, most importantly, our own.

During times of great challenge, we are drawn to people who muster a rare combination of courage, cunning and character. Shivaji seems to have brought them all. I hope his legacy inspires you to demonstrate these same qualities in your own leadership journey.

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In The Turn

3 Ways You Can Find Opportunity in the Midst of Change

Every leader I talk with these days is leading through some kind of change. I suspect you are, too.

Maybe you’re in an industry that’s being disrupted by technology. Maybe you’re leading a team that’s been part of a merger or acquisition. Maybe you’ve been assigned an under-performing team that needs coaching or a complete shake-up. Or maybe you’re an entrepreneur leading a team through the uncertainty of the start-up phase.

If you’re dealing with change, this post is for you. And I’ve got three very practical lessons to help you find new opportunities in times of uncertainty.

I’ve drawn these lessons from a conversation I had recently with a good friend of mine who has been knee-deep in change for years. She leads nearly 4,000 employees in 83 offices worldwide, and they are smack in the middle of the digital industry.

My friend is Ruth Stubbs — a fearless leader and an inspiring change agent. I’ve learned so much from her over the past few years about leading through change. She’s a pioneer in digital marketing with more than 25 years of experience in the media industry and today serves as global president of iProspect, a digital performance marketing agency and one of our sister agencies in Dentsu Aegis Network.

Ruth is a wife, mom and endurance athlete. She lives in Singapore and is a tireless champion of female entrepreneurs.

But what really strikes me about Ruth is how she brings a journey mindset to dealing with change. She’s learned to view change as a part of the leader’s journey, and she looks for ways to help her business and her community find new opportunities in the midst of change.

Here are three valuable lessons I took from my conversation with Ruth along with some useful tips that can help you lead more effectively through change.

Lesson #1: Instill Confidence in Your Team Courageous leaders use their passion for the journey and their optimism about reaching the destination to create confidence in others. But change creates uncertainty that often paralyzes people. And once paralysis takes hold, it can become virtually impossible to move a team forward because they cling to what they know instead of having the confidence to reach out for what lies ahead.

You can prevent that by instilling confidence in your team, grounded in a clear vision for a path forward. Here are a few tips for how to build confidence in others:

  • Encourage and praise team members whenever they bring their A game.
  • Celebrate the small wins.
  • Support them when they take a chance.
  • Help the team see progress toward the goal and believe they can get there.

“One of the most important things in my role is to instill confidence in others,” Ruth told me. “When people are confident about the future, there’s less doubt and less paranoia. Change shouldn’t scare you; it should excite you. Sure there are plenty of twists and turns along the way, so you must help everyone see the opportunities that await. And when things fall in place, people draw confidence from that.”

Ruth helps create confidence in others outside of her business, too. While working in Southeast Asia, she learned that many women run businesses from home but lack the confidence to consider themselves merchants. They also can’t get funding or even open a bank account on their own. So they have little hope of growing their businesses.

That’s why she started Female Foundry, an organization that helps fledgling entrepreneurs grow their businesses. I greatly admire this initiative and all Ruth has done to help women entrepreneurs. Female Foundry provides resources and mentoring to promising companies. But, just as importantly, it gives their founders confidence that they can achieve their dreams.

Lesson #2: Collaborate For The Win When leading a team through change, you must have people who are willing to work together to grab hold of emerging opportunities. In Ruth’s case, the iProspect global leadership team aligns on a common vision and business practices so they can be opportunistic and take action at the right time.

That’s hard to do if employees drift into silos and stop communicating or working as one. If your team struggles with collaboration, you’re probably also missing out on new opportunities right in front of you.

You can change that by helping your team collaborate for the win:

  • Show them the benefits of working together and the value of collective thinking.
  • Teach them how to lean into each other’s strengths.
  • Encourage them to offer support when someone else can really use it. These things build trust and reliability in your team.

Like all successful leaders, Ruth values the team and nurtures collaboration whenever possible. When she launched Female Foundry, she didn’t do it alone or even just with the support of iProspect. She sought the involvement of her parent company, venture capitalists, and iProspect’s clients to form a team that’s far more influential together than any of them could be alone.

She brings the same focus on collaboration to her day-to-day work, and believes you must be a learning leader, especially in times of change. “Don’t be too structured in your thinking when you’re looking for new solutions,” said Ruth. “Be open to what the universe can bring and what you can learn from others. I learn something new from my people every day.”

Lesson #3: Champion Others Leadership is not about you and your success. It’s about taking others on a journey to somewhere important. When you champion others, you end up creating champions.

But you can’t do that with a self-focused approach to leadership. You have to develop a giving spirit and a passion for helping others that’s rooted in your own personal belief system.

If you lack this, you need to do some self-reflection and self-discovery. If you’ve already got some passion around giving to others, act on it over and over and over.

“If the world has been good to you,” Ruth pointed out, “you have to pay it back. You have to have a giving spirit. Doing kind things must be at the top of your to-do list.” Giving to others and championing them makes the leadership journey far sweeter.

Ruth, as you might have noticed, is a high-energy, get-it-done leader. She sees challenges and attacks them with confidence, compassion, and action-oriented solutions. Now you know why I am proud to be her colleague and friend. When we lead like Ruth, uncertainty doesn’t stand a chance.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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In The Turn

How to Be a More Agile Leader and Have Greater Success in Uncertain Times

We live in an increasingly disrupted world. Thanks to powerful forces such as technology, analytics, globalization and social media, nothing stays the same for very long.

Business leaders must constantly evolve their thinking to stay relevant and competitive, and we must become more comfortable leading through constant change. That’s why agile leadership is not only a valuable skill, but also a critical one. Leading with agility will allow your organization to not only survive during uncertainty, but also to thrive.

Learning leaders Agility requires a willingness to learn on the fly. And with the speed of change accelerating, the lessons you learned in business school may no longer apply. You must be a lifelong learner if you’re going to figure out what works now.

What’s expected of you will change dramatically during your career, too, especially as you take on new responsibilities. When I founded my company, we were a small, scrappy startup. Now we’re part of a global enterprise, and my job description has changed pretty significantly.

Deciding to join the bigger firm and taking on a broader role forced me to develop an entirely new skill set. I had to work across cultural and language barriers, build relationships throughout a much larger organization, and reconfigure the way I viewed the big picture. I wasn’t dealing with one small company or region anymore — I had to think across international markets.

That experience taught me the power of agile leadership. Executives who can adapt to new situations will have greater success driving change in real time, diagnosing problems as they emerge, and mobilizing their teams to design effective solutions.

The operative concept here is “in real time.” In the past, we followed a linear path to organizational change. Leaders would identify opportunities, conduct research, build consensus, and then devise plans to implement change. That methodical, time-consuming approach is virtually nonexistent today.

You need an agile mindset supported by a strong working knowledge across the enterprise to stay relevant in a rapidly changing environment, which means cultivating expertise in finance, strategic planning, people development and systems. You also have to balance smart risk-taking with a demand for quick results. Perhaps most important, you must act as a visionary, building and leading a team that can fulfill your company’s long-term goals.

Agility in action Being a strong, responsive leader is always important, but periods of upheaval or uncertainty really require you to step up. I’ve learned the most about agility when I’ve had to lead through difficult times. Here are five tactics I recommend to improve your agile leadership capabilities.

1. Fix what’s not working.

Take an honest look at your organization to identify what needs to change. Keep an open mind, and be willing to switch up inefficient processes or outdated systems that aren’t working anymore. Tweak your new business efforts, or revise your marketing plan. Once you know what needs to be fixed, be decisive and act swiftly.

2. Recognize your triggers.

Executive coach Nikki Nemerouf cautions leaders against letting their personal triggers derail their decision-making abilities. This is especially important in agile leadership as uncertainty often diminishes our ability to think clearly.

Take time now to reflect on your hot-button issues and the types of situations that typically rattle you, and then determine a smarter way to respond. The next time something upsetting happens, you’ll handle it better.

Apply the same mentality to your company as well. Evaluate problematic patterns and potential threats that could impact your business, and work out a plan for addressing them before they become serious concerns.

3. Bring in a fresh perspective.

Revisit problems you have been stuck on or have dismissed. Consult colleagues or mentors who can offer fresh takes on the roadblock, and brainstorm creative solutions to recurring issues. And don’t be afraid to challenge convention — that’s how the most innovative ideas are born.

4. Enable collaboration.

Workplaces are becoming less hierarchical, and an agile leader knows how to get the best from her people by enabling greater collaboration. Encourage team members to bring forward new ways of working together. Create different teams to find new solutions, or put more powerful networking tools such as Slack, Trello or Yammer in their hands that create organizations with no boundaries.

Invite people with different perspectives and backgrounds to the conversation. As F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” Agile leaders seek out diverse opinions and are willing to live in the tension between them while they find the best way forward.

5. Embrace uncertainty.

Your team will follow your lead, so you can’t melt down when times get tough. Approach chaotic situations with confidence and determination, and know you can adapt as you learn more about the problem.

Lead your people through complexity by being forthright, decisive and focused, even when that means making the hard calls. Agility is critical as your team looks to you for vision and guidance, especially while changes unfold.

Many of the challenges leaders face today are those for which no clear answers exist. Agile executives are willing to lead through uncertainty, learning as they go and mobilizing their teams to find new solutions that propel the organization toward success.

 

 

Copyright (c) 2017 Velocity Collective, LLC. All rights reserved.

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