What are you leading?

We’ve taken one look at managing (What are you managing?) so how about giving this question a turn” What are you leading?

Best case scenario, the two questions do go together

Leading will define the overarching why you bother to even ask the 5 Whys which drill down for root cause in the first place: You lead to be an evangelist, and to champion a cause you feel deeply committed to. You don’t want that cause to be sabotaged by poor work, mediocre work, the work of irrelevancy, or some other disastrous draining of the energies you value — the energies which keep your team on course.

So it might be helpful to ask the question another way:

What’s the charge you’re leading, and why do you bother?

Then talk about your answer in your next team huddle. Present it as the why of your workplace.

Your “overarching why” is why hard work should matter — why all work should matter. Everyone in a workplace can use reminders of the bigger mission you stand for, a mission that gets repeated with passionate intention.

For instance, it might sound like this: Imagine a workplace huddle where a manager talks about why a certain process is taken nice and slow, so it’s not rushed, and gets maximum care and attention to detail, one customer at a time.

“We take these extra efforts because we know our customers don’t get this care from anyone else but us: They remember the extras. They talk about them, and when they do, they remember our names and they remember us, because what they’re really talking about is us, and who we are, and what we’re all about. They tell stories about what happened when we served them, and those stories are where our reputation comes from, a reputation we can feel good about because we earned it. They come back, and they’ve become friends and raving fans who are still customers, voting in support of us with their dollars and not just their compliments and stories. They become the customers we like having around, and enjoy serving, and all because we took our time and care about this one process.”

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone considered that, or a similar statement of your passionate “why you bother” to be their Why they work in your workplace? It also becomes why they work for you. For as we well know, following is not a passive activity.

What you lead is your Passionate Why

Passionate whys will get repeated as the language of intention of your culture, and they will play out in the workplace. They replace those emotionless responses that can be traded among worker bees in hushed tones — the ones who aren’t blessed with evangelist bosses who lead as vocally, wearing their own passions on their sleeves” responses like, “We do it this way because that’s the way work is expected to be done here.” That may be a true statement too, but it doesn’t have that same zing to it, does it. It doesn’t move you, or cause you to lift your head up, and leading needs to move you.

“I thought this was so we could go somewhere, not so you could tie me up!”

Ka lā hiki ola; it’s the dawning of a brand new day.

I think that redefining our leadership whys is one of those silver linings in the dark clouds of these recessionary times. It is easier to make mantras again, and rise up out of our past routines because we know we must — those past routines hadn’t worked as well as they should, and everyone knows it. We aren’t held back as much, and reined in as we used to be.

And we can lead with small, everyday details just as much as we can lead with big, earth-shaking ideas. Call it ‘informal leadership’ if you prefer: Leadership in smaller doses is very appealing.

So what are you leading, still committed to it, and still very passionate about it?

For many, the answer is, “I’m leading my own life in an entirely new way.” And that is a fabulous answer, an ‘Imi ola answer! It certainly appeals to me, and any Alaka‘i Manager would see it as their opportunity to say, “That sounds so exciting and promising! Please tell me more: Give me some details, and tell me what I can do to support you.”

Photo credit: tied up beagle puppy by greenkozi on Flickr

Discover the power of 5 Minutes: A book excerpt from Managing with AlohaD5MBetterMgr

Comments

  1. says

    I like what you are saying here very much, Rosa. I have known many workplaces where people are yearning for the “why” of their leaders. But, of course, leadership comes from anywhere so the “why” question really is present for everyone, including those who could push harder for clarity from the people who guide a workplace. Sometimes it is imperative to ask the leaders to lead — we lead them to their own leadership, so to speak, unfair as that might sound.

    What is it that makes us hesitate to put our most potent value statements forward? Sometimes we don’t seem to feel it is our place, and perhaps we even have been told that. But I think it goes to a deeper issue: our willingness to face the obstacles and to live with them in their genuine complexity (and our own). If we really allowed that tension into our hearts and minds and accepted it for what it is, we would naturally absorb some of our obstacles’ power, and we would see that the world cannot be moved simply on the basis of better logic, comfortable conversations, or according to a polite and universally acceptable plan. We need our values to help us cut through the problems and dilemmas; really to help us cut through our own chains.

    In nature there are powerful forces and some of them shake us up. A passionate leader with a clear “why” can be like that — both a little scary and also very exciting at the same time. Embracing the “why” in its way can also mean embracing our own “shakes.” It can be a form of self-empowerment and self-leadership. We learn to stand in our own space, be real, put it out there… and see what happens. A little thunder and some flashes across the sky. Good work! And then something happens: the rain.

    • Rosa Say says

      Such a rich comment Dan, thank you. I have read it through twice now, and I must sit with it, drinking of what you share here without any further complexity from me! Please know how much I appreciate your mana‘o.

      • Rosa Say says

        Reading this again Dan, and I keep coming back to this part:

        What is it that makes us hesitate to put our most potent value statements forward? Sometimes we don’t seem to feel it is our place, and perhaps we even have been told that. But I think it goes to a deeper issue: our willingness to face the obstacles and to live with them in their genuine complexity (and our own). If we really allowed that tension into our hearts and minds and accepted it for what it is, we would naturally absorb some of our obstacles’ power…

        I keep thinking that helping people feel it IS their place is a way all managers can get started, for then any deeper issues will reveal themselves over time.

        This may be sticking with me because of an earlier conversation I had too, where a manager and I were talking about all he feels he must teach people in his company’s orientation process — he doesn’t want to be condescending in his teaching, but he finds he can no longer assume that adults have learned certain things at home, or in school, or in other jobs. Your comment now helps me see it isn’t always about re-teaching or un-teaching: It can be about removing obstacles and just giving others welcoming permission.

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