Month: March 2014

Leadership: It’s not a marathon or a sprint

runningWhat was your time?” One time over beers, my brother-in-law suggested that asking people about their race time is a more clever way of saying, “I don’t run very much.” Running, like most passions, is an ongoing, ever evolving journey. It’s not about a single race or distance completed. Knowing you ran a 40-minute 10K or sub-two-hour half marathon five years ago doesn’t mean much today. Are you still running? How has your routine or thoughts about running changed?

Until running becomes a meaningful part of your day, you are not a runner. You are simply going for a run. The same is true for leadership.

This may seem like an odd intro to a post on leadership, but as I scrolled through my twitter feed last night, I got very nervous. We’re starting to slide down a very slippery slope.

Without question organizations need a vision to define actions and model behaviours. I know that people – myself included – search for inspiration from other people, but I feel we’ve gone too far. We’ve got too many visionaries and not enough examples of actual, practical leadership. Leadership is based on historical and future facing methodologies. It should evolve over time, and truly shines when things go wrong. Leadership is not a Buzzfeed like list of PowerPoints, clever acronyms and analogies.

In twenty minutes last night, I saw thousands of posts from hundreds of very smart people. I know Twitter’s 140 characters are meant to inspire, and without question, if you keep scrolling something will resonate with you. I saw leadership compared to sports teams, war heroes, emotions, inanimate objects, childhood actions and breathtaking art.

This is great for some people, but personally, I’d rather read about the impact and learn how these comparisons inspired action and people. To me, talking about models, acronyms and finding inspirational quotes is no different than asking someone what their last race time was. Leadership is an action; a passion that you should develop and display with purpose and routine. Finding a quote that resonates with your view of leadership is good, but using that inspiration to form your leadership style is the real challenge. You are more than your time, and you must be more than someone else’s words.

People look at TELUS as a textbook example of great culture and strong leadership. I honestly believe that to be true, but not because we tried to implement ideas that were so radical to those proposed by our competitors. There was no silver bullet, and no singular model that helped us drive engagement from 53% to 83%. I think we just focused on the value of culture more than some organizations and dedicated our efforts towards creating a culture that allowed individuals to feel supported and fulfilled.

We worked hard to create a leadership model that is accessible to all, but the real benefit is the playbook we created to help people understand the behaviours and actions that help all team members display leadership regardless of role or tenure. While that may sound like HR speak, the reality is we enabled team members to lead by example and inspire others. It’s not the model; it’s how the model is put into action.

People are naturally inspired by charismatic people speaking to an audience, but I’m inspired when people do amazing things without the luxury of an eager audience. I see true leadership in small wins, like when I hear about an engineer developing informal curriculum on his own time (without being asked), simply to help are field techs learn about IPV6. Leadership cannot only come from those with titles and reports.

I take my view on leadership (ironically, considering the theme of this post) from a quote that’s been on my wall for years. Yvon Chiounard, the owner of Patagonia and protector of the environment once said, “To do good, you actually have to do something.” It’s such a simple idea, but one that’s shaped how I interact with people and try to lead. I have no reports, but I work with new people every day. I don’t have a leadership toolbox, just a work ethic and desire to help.

Organizations need to maximize the power of the individual and celebrate the results. Employees should feel comfortable voicing opinions, surfacing ideas, but they must be empowered to put ideas into action. Our role, should be to nurture and share the successes with the rest of the organization. Showcasing the tangible results of all the hard work will help transform leadership from a concept into a continuous action. Real life examples of leadership and success will motivate people. They are the stories that build trust in a concept and in each other.

It’s easy to talk about leadership concepts, just like it’s easy to talk about running shoes, past races and training tips. The real challenge is getting people to actually go for a run or to be a leader. When we actually start doing either, we fail, we learn, we sweat and we hurt. We also grow, we improve and we find our stride.

We need to help people become runners, not just tell them to go for a run.

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Mentoring

For some reason this post was trapped in my draft folder. I thought I had posted it long ago, before my Dad passed away. I wouldn’t post it now, but after reading a nice post on the mentoring, it feels right to share the lessons I learned from my greatest role model.

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boysAnyone that knows me I’m currently forced to the role of spectator in life’s cruel design. I’m – remotely – watching my father lose his fight with brain cancer. Slowly but surely he is losing everything that defined him – his mind, his control, his spirit.

The one thing I can’t shake as each part of him fades away is that not only I am proud to call him my father, but how lucky I was to be adopted into a family that provided me not one, but two fantastic role models.

This is the letter I wrote him, hoping to finally offer him the words I couldn’t choke out as each visit became more final and the need to say everything at once became so great. I am sharing it here, not just to remind everyone how short life can be, but to prove the value in mentoring.

We are so focused on technology and progression, we forget that so many lessons are learned from failures and good teachers. My father taught me manners, work ethic, respect, dignity and confidence; none of these things define my current role (or any role I’ve ever had), but those qualities are why I succeed in my career.

He never sat me down and said, “Son, go to work every day. Don’t max out on your sick days because you are too tired and need a day off.” He told me once – after a meaningless house league hockey game that I scored some goals – to never boast but he never once said, “never take credit for things you didn’t do and always share your successes with those involved.’ He didn’t say, “never blame mistakes on other people.”  He never demanded that I be perfect, he only hoped I would always try to be. He never told me how to be a good husband, great father or (hopefully in time) caring grandparent. No, I learned these things simply be modeling myself after his behavior.

I read leadership books, hear motivators speak, and take learning seriously. These things, of course they inspire me but they aren’t the foundation that keeps me striving as an employee and as a human being. The lessons I learned at five, ten, fifteen and overlooked from about eighteen until I was twenty-three; those are all attributed to a role model I was lucky enough to have.

We have that chance to find people that can help us find our true calling. We can ask for help and offer our guidance to people that ask the same. We can challenge ourselves and inspire others to stop accepting good enough as, well, good enough.

I miss you, Poppy.

Dad,

I remember it was about grade 10 when it first started happening. I’d meet one of your patients in the halls of Halifax West and they’d say something like, “your dad is amazing.” Because I was a dumb kid that somehow thought grades equated to intelligence and wisdom, I usually required with something dismissive like, “you think so?” Or, “you must mean someone else.” Then I’d laugh. I’d laugh because I thought I was clever. I thought I knew everything.

What I didn’t know, what I was too young to know was, everything. I was too young to realize family wasn’t an inconvenience. It was a blessing, something taken from us far too often and far too early. I was too young to know that family was there when things got bad. I didn’t know that often, they show up in hospital rooms and at funerals when friends can’t run away fast enough.

I didn’t know what it took to be a good partner. I didn’t know that putting someone else first is a constant challenge, because I was too young to know what loving someone more than myself was possible. I certainly was too young to realize how much work kids are, and how quickly they become the most important thing in your life.  I didn’t realize how exhausting 60 hours weeks were, so I assumed it was easy for you to work 12 hours a day and still make every baseball, soccer, basketball, hockey and tennis practice. I was too young to realize that sometimes coming home and collapsing on the couch is the best feeling in the god damned world and not giving into that is almost impossible. I foolishly thought every parent just did these things for their kids.

I was too young to realize that work was just that. It was more than hours spent and pay received. I didn’t understand about challenging yourself and finding your passion. I didn’t know that sometimes you just put in the hours because your work is a large part of who you are and where you get your energy. I didn’t know that the pride you get from knowing your peers trust you and know you will help them unconditionally is worth the sweat and exhaustion.

I was too young to realize that you weren’t like everyone else I’d come across in my career. I thought everyone worked long hours and refused to sacrifice the respect of their peers and customers for their own personal gains. I thought everyone took the high road, shared the successes and shouldered the blame.

I was too young to know that all the things I thought were easy are actually some of the hardest things in the world.

Over the years, I’ve made mistakes but you and Mom gave me the foundation I needed to remain standing. I’ve met too many people from broken homes that were lost, and would give anything for the guidance you offered and I tried to reject. If you need to know anything, know that I’m where I am because of you, and if my boys and my peers can take any of what I’ve learned and be anything like you, they will be better for it.

Obviously, the bonds we form at work are not the same as those between a caring father and his son, but we can’t ignore the importance of either. Too often we let people flounder, dismiss their efforts or lack of understanding as a lack of value. We give up on people, instead of helping them. We refuse to admit we can help, or that maybe we can learn from them as well.

It’s been 8-months since my Dad passed away and I’m surprised by how energized I am to be better, to learn from the people in my life and hopefully share my experiences to those that could also find value. My Dad took classes until the final few months, and never lost his passion to learn, lead and grow. I can only hope his last gift to me is sharing those same desires.