Reluctant Leader

My leadership experience began early in life; as the oldest of five and the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family, I was often “voluntold” to lead my siblings and/or cousins in some activity, an exercise usually like herding cats but nowhere near as smooth as that EDS commercial from a few years ago…the one where cowboys are herding cats…but I digress!

That early leadership experience showed me that, with no authority, I needed some other ways to influence my “team” to carry out our responsibilities. I needed to communicate with clarity. I needed to keep my emotions in check. I needed to be more compassionate sister.

I needed to be a better leader.

Inhale Leadership, Exhale Reluctance…
Inhale Responsibility, Exhale Irresponsibility…
Inhale Influence, Exhale Reticence…
Just Breathe

#Leadership
#JustBreathe

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Influence is Relational

Leadership is influence. But influence outside of relationship is almost impossible. So this mission-oriented, borderline introvert had to step out of my comfort zone to find the relationship approach that authentically worked for my personality and allowed me to connect with the folks I was privileged to lead.

That meant one-on-one, or small group interactions, which allowed me to be really engaged with each individual.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” ~ John Maxwell

Inhale Relationship, Exhale Isolation…
Inhale Influence, Exhale Intimidation…
Inhale Leadership, Exhale Incompetence…
Just Breathe

#Leadership
#JustBreathe

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Rules of Leadership

I didn’t always make the best personal or professional choices during my military career…I wasn’t the savviest about cultivating mentors …I avoided the Pentagon like the plague. But my intent was to work hard in every assignment, be my best self, in and out of uniform, and always put myself in a position so I would decide when my career would end.

Because I knew I would not be given multiple chances to make mistakes.

“If you’re going to play the game properly you’d better know every rule.” ~ Barbara Jordan

Inhale Leadership, Exhale Undisciplined…
Inhale Good Judgment, Exhale Irrational…
Inhale Experienced, Exhale Unqualified…
Just Breathe

#JustBreathe
#Leadership

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Loyalty

To the extent that you can learn from leaders unfit for leadership, the current administration is a potential goldmine of lessons in how NOT to lead.

I’ve been struck lately by the theme of loyalty; loyalty demanded by #45 to him from those responsible for leading our country’s institution. Their loyalty, of course, should be to the institutions they lead and to the American people.

That not withstanding, loyalty is a lot like respect and trust; it has to be given by the leader to be received by the leader.

Inhale Lessons, Exhale Indifference…
Inhale Loyalty, Exhale Corruption…
Inhale Leadership, Exhale Incompetence…
Just Breathe

#JustBreathe

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Dissonant Leader

As much as black folks recognized the rage, understood the pain and identified with the truth of Killmonger, would we want him in charge?

“I’ve waited my whole life for this. The world’s going to start over. I’m going to burn it all!” ~ Eric “Killmonger” Stevens, Black Panther

Inhale Resonance, Exhale Rage…
Inhale Leadership, Exhale Destruction…
Inhale Democracy, Exhale Domination…
Just Breathe

#JustBreathe

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Looking for Leadership In All the Wrong Places…

In response to #45’s support of white supremacists rioting in Charlottesville this past August, author J.K. Rowling posted: “One good thing about that abomination of a speech: it’s now impossible for any Trump supporter to pretend they don’t know what he is.”

I would say that many if not most of the people who voted #45 into office knew exactly who he was and like him just the way he is. And J.K. knows a thing or two about the type of people who support a would be autocrat…

“They were a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking glory, and the thuggish seeking a leader who could show them more refined cruelty…” ~ Albus Dumbledore, headmaster of Hogwarts, character from JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books

Inhale Leadership, Exhale Weakness…
Inhale Leadership, Exhale Oppression…
Inhale Leadership, Exhale Evil…
Just Breathe

#JustBreathe
Reflections With Renita

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Three Ways to Create a Culture of Engagement

Savvy business owners know that employee engagement has to start at the beginning of an entrepreneurial effort. It has to be a part of the culture created, communicated through the hiring process and cultivated in how employees are developed and how their engagement is encouraged.

Reesheda and Darrel Washington know this, which is why last week, after their brand new business closed its doors for the evening, L!VE Café and Creative Space was open for team development. I was privileged to facilitate the training and witness firsthand their intentionality about creating, not just a coffee café, but a transformational and inspirational space for “courageous, authentic and abundant L!VING” for their customers, the larger community and most importantly, their crew.

The L!VE crew was as engaged and open as I expected, so much so that the training spilled over the allotted time. Toward the end, one team member asked an unexpected question of the owners …”Why are you doing this [training]?

I found the question poignant because it implied so many more questions…
Why do you care so much about your employees?
Why is it important to know the individual and collective strengths of your team?
Why is the development of your staff so important?
Why were you working so hard to create a team?
Why are you submitting yourselves to training you could conduct?

Why…?

The question also implied the behavior was abnormal, which unfortunately, it is. Many companies claim customer service is a top priority. Many claim to care about their employees. Many claim to want more engaged employees but they don’t prove their claims with actual action.

The way Reesheda and Darrel answered these questions reflect so much about their desire to live their purpose using their God-given talents. It also indicated their understanding of how their employees’ engagement impacts their bottom line. Here’s what I heard:

Get to know and care about your people.
People know when you care about them. We have a sense from the oldest part of our brains about who is safe and who is not, who has our best interests at heart and who is looking out for himself/herself only. And we are less likely to be enthusiastic about the latter! So find something that you can celebrate and appreciate about each member of your team.

People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” ~ Either Teddy Roosevelt or John Maxwell!

Take care of the people and the people will take care of the mission.
This is one of those lessons I was first exposed to at my very first Air Force assignment. It made sense to me then because I wasn’t the one doing most of the work!

I saw the Washingtons demonstrate their understanding that, as the leaders, taking care of their people entails much more than providing the resources needed to get the job done in a relatively safe physical environment. They are actively providing their team opportunities to grow, providing recognition for a job well done, providing honest feedback when needed, and providing an opportunity to do something else when necessary! In other words, they are actively and deliberately developing their team.

Demonstrate your culture.
Teams tend to model behavior based on behavioral cues from the leader. And there is nothing like taking the time to participate in a training session to demonstrate the importance of individual and collective development to your team. In this instance, the fact that the Washingtons submitted themselves to training they could have conducted themselves, also powerfully demonstrated their dedication to their own continuous growth and improvement.

If you’re a leader who is not intentionally creating an environment that encourages your employees to care about the company, I have a question for you …why?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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The Choice is Yours…

Last spring, in the face of virulent racism in this country, I started rereading Daniel Goldhagen’s provocative bestseller, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust. Published almost 20 years ago, it explores how ordinary Germans “came to be such potential willing mass killers and how the Nazi regime tapped this disastrous potentiality.”

Goldhagen argues convincingly that the German’s thoroughly anti-Semitic attitude, which led to anti-Jewish measures, legislation, persecution and finally, incarceration and death in concentration camps, had grown unabated for hundreds of years. Anti-Semitism did “not appear, disappear, then reappear in [German] society”; it was always present.” The Nazi’s simply tapped into the hate.

The parallels to the United States’ unique brand of racism are pretty obvious. There is no evidence the beliefs, which allowed, accepted, and condoned the theft of this country from its original inhabitants and the theft and enslavement of peoples from another continent have ever fundamentally changed.

It’s why the politics of fear and division offered by our 45th president have been so successful.

Last weekend, once again we saw the results of extreme and persistent prejudice when ordinary Americans brutally implemented an illogical, illegal and immoral immigration order. The order, which, apparently, was not reviewed by other government agencies, did not come with instructions for the people responsible for its enforcement.

FirstTheyComeAnd so a Somali women traveling with two small children with U.S. passports was threatened, harassed, handcuffed while officials tried to coerce her into signing papers that would send her out of the country. During the 18 hours she and her children were detained, they were not fed or allowed to get food.

I’m sure those officials will defend their actions saying they had no choice. But they did…and they chose to act with no compassion.

This is how ordinary people become accomplices to atrocities.

In the days to come, Americans will have ample opportunities to choose compassion over unquestioning compliance…what will you choose?

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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American Experiment: Can You Hear Me Now…?

I get it.

You tried to warn us.

You heard the outright lies…suspected Russian ties…watched the “Alt-right” rise…

You were unsettled. And you tried to warn us.

I saw it too. The “blacklash” that always comes after perceived progress by people of color in this country…

The videoed violence inflicted on bodies of the marginalized…black, brown, female, disabled…

The attack on clean water sources by energy companies intent on “digging up death” instead of investing in clean energy.

The virulent, relentless American brand of racism so reminiscent of the deep anti-Semitism that existed in pre-Nazi Germany.

I found a 40-year old copy of the George Orwell book “1984” on a visit home, started re-reading it and wondered, “Are we already there?”

The novel “1984”, portrays a dictatorship that imposes its own facts.

Now, of course, many Americans are feeling a sense of alarm.

Sales of “1984” have increased “almost 10,000 percent since the inauguration,” most notably when Kellyanne Conway appeared on Meet the Press and introduced the phrase “alternative facts”.

Actually, “alternative facts” is a very “1984” phrase, where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

I suspect if the Women’s Marches that took place all over the world right after our inauguration were to happen this weekend, there would be double the participation, upwards of 5 to 6 million.

And now you’re wondering “Why couldn’t you hear and heed the warning?” and “Where were all these marchers when…” and you want to know, “Are you going to be here for the long haul?”

I get your frustration. I understand your anger. I feel your sense of betrayal.

But the majority of Americans did not vote for the person occupying the office of POTUS. Whoever can hear now, is here NOW…can space be made for the newly conscious?

And if you’ve just been awakened, educate yourself, don’t make this about yourself and try to stay engaged.

It’s not a time for cynicism, or finger pointing or embarrassment. It’s a time for Americans to come together and protect our fragile democracy. I pray it’s not too late…

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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Decision Making Secrets … from Sequence!

I played the board game Sequence for the first time over the holidays. I know it’s been around for a while but our family usually plays Bid Whist so it was new to me. If you’ve played the game, you know it can be kind of slow…unless you have trash talking Bid Whist players at the table! If you haven’t played, the object of the game is to place 5 poker chips on a board in sequence based on the cards in your hand.

It was a great demonstration of how people make decisions. Some spent (what seemed to me) an interminable amount of time pouring over the board, looking at their hand, back at the board…I kept suggesting we incorporate a timer!

Others seemed to go with their gut… or maybe they had a predetermined plan. But most players took their time to make the best decision.

Why people make the decisions they make was also on full display. Those motivated by a sense of competition were of course significantly more vocal than those who just like to perform well.

I’m a pretty quick decision maker so once I picked up the basics, I was off to the races … when I finally got a turn. But I missed at least one opportunity to win the game for my team because I was so focused on MY plan to Sequence, I didn’t see it

Isn’t that how it is with leadership? You see an opportunity, formulate a great plan but fail to get a win for your organization because things have changed by the time you’re ready to execute. I was reminded of three keys to executing a plan of action that I learned in the Air Force.

Make sure your execution plan is flexible enough to react to new realities.

At one point in the game, I was so busy fending off efforts to block the sequence I was trying to create in one corner that I missed a chance to complete a sequence on another part of the board!

A plan is a great way to help you focus your vision but don’t let your plan turn into blinders that prevent you from seeing what else is going on. Circumstances change; make sure your plan is a springboard not a concrete block!

Communication is key to executing your plan.

In Sequence, team members CAN’T talk to each other; in business, they often choose not to. But the beauty of a team is the diversity of perspectives. So first, make sure your team is as diverse as you can make it to include gender, race, age, strengths, experience, etc.; second, make sure you are creating space for all member to point out the pitfalls of your plan as well as protect it to mission accomplishment.

Sometimes to see the perspective of the other person, you have to sit where they are sitting, be where they are or trust them to make the decision.

I realized that I was missing possible sequences primarily in one corner of the board. That’s because from where I was sitting, they didn’t look like sequences. I had to rotate the board and look at it from all angles to see ALL the possibilities.

Your reality is really your perspective; your team members may have different perspectives. Simply communicating conflicting realities may not result in understanding; sometimes intense interrogation and even immersion in information that is unfamiliar is required. But getting all the information available to determine the best possible action is worth the discomfort.

Good leaders are able to articulate a vision and plan of execution that attracts those who see themselves contributing to the vision. Great leaders invite their team members to expand the vision and create the best action plan.

Renita Alexander, Leadership Unlocked

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