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Don't Be a Byron
Byron runs a very old and historically successful business. His twenty-five hundred employees have seen good times as well as bad times. Business has boomed and business has gloomed in his twenty-five years with the company. Unfortunately, lately has been more gloom and doom than boom.

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Surviving the Talent Eodus

Early 2011

The Learning Spotlight

Leader Interrupted

By John Grubbs

The concept of leadership within the protection of this article or the walls of any classroom is much different in execution.  Too often, leaders understand the factors that promote effective leadership yet still fail to execute at critical opportunities.  Why can leaders say (and even believe) the right things and then contradict the very same statement with their teams?  Why does leadership theory get diluted in application on the job?  How can we develop leaders to execute properly?  These simple questions and the answers are in fact a revelation for most organizations.

When interviewed, the well-read applicant can quote a plethora of wonderful books and theories that make them seem ideal for any organization looking to increase the leadership talent pool.  The challenge faced by most companies is finding action to support the theory.  Simple stress causes a smart and often capable individual to stumble and even fall when leadership is required?   The introduction of stress as an inhibitor of leadership success is not revolutionary.  However, the understanding of the leadership restriction created by stress is not a common topic for students of leadership.

In the absence of stress, the most inexperienced leaders can quote the leadership theory that promotes better followership among others.  When stress is introduced to our perception of whatever we deem as normal we revert to some basic behavior that does not always have a positive long-term impact on those around us.  From a personality standpoint, some people change very little while others change dramatically.  It is this change (great or small) that confuses the follower and minimizes the leadership we provide for the organization.

In truth, the concept of leadership means very little to someone when stress becomes a perceptual reality.  We behave in a much more basic and human way based more on our experience than intellectual capacity.  This reality supports the blatant contradiction we see in the good people around us.  This inconsistency is validated over and over in the leadership classes and executive coaching sessions we experience constantly.  The skilled leadership coach can filter the theory while gaining profound insight based on the behavior that has been exhibited in the past.  The challenge for most leadership coaches and trainers is the futile effort to replicate stress in the laboratory of a coaching session or classroom. 

Simply put, it is virtually impossible to replicate the actual stress faced on the job due to a lack of consequence if failure occurs.  Sports are a great example of this phenomenon in that a player can execute flawlessly during practice and then fail miserably during a game.  Most golfers would love to replace their actual swing with the practice swing utilized moments earlier.  Batting practice is much easier than in the game facing a pitcher.  And believe it or not, shooting free throws in practice is much easier than when they are attempted in the last seconds of a game that is on the line.

The idea of consequences and stress are the most overlooked and yet significant barriers to effective leadership on the job.  The only way to improve as a leader is to create the same muscle memory that we learn in competition.  The challenge we face as potentially successful leaders is the creation of situations to apply what we have learned on the job.  Unfortunately, most people are afraid to apply what they know to be the proper behavior if it requires changing the normal behavior of the past.  We will actually do the wrong thing intentionally because we fear the unknown result of what is correct more than the repetition of past failure.  This may sound preposterous yet we have all seen it over and over with the struggling leaders in our lives. 

The secret to enduring leadership greatness comes with the same success factors that promote excellence in anything else we attempt in life.  We must practice with intense frequency until the muscle memory (mentally or physically) predicts our behavior under stress.  One leadership class or a generic workshop will not change our behavior.  Just like anything that may be perceived as extraordinary, the preceding effort is necessary for application during a moment of stress.  Great leaders will execute with what looks like little effort when hidden from view are the many hours of practice and failure that others cannot see.

The greatest incubators for leadership are extremely realistic and redundant beyond common comprehension.  This reality is manifested and evident by the explosion of the leadership coaching market.  My executive coaching business has tripled in the last twenty-four months as it is becoming much more accepted to admit you have a coach to help you improve the leadership you currently provide for your team.  A skilled leadership coach can create the real-life activities that promote changes in behavior under stress.  This intensity combined with significant repetition is what accelerates the typical leadership growth in most individuals.  Using situational leadership along with historical behavior can amplify the likelihood that someone will practice the principles that support great leadership.

The interruption of leadership is more common than most like to admit.  As individuals we all fail to behave in the manner that is most conducive to leading others.  The truth is that our perception of leadership and that of those around us does not always coincide.  In other words, we may believe we are leading when we are not and we may be succeeding when we think we are failing.  The truth is a constant state of change based on the perception(s) both individually and collectively of the people we are in contact with daily.  The best analogy is a batting average.  Whether or not you strikeout (fail) is not the issue, it is the collection of batting attempts preceded by the countless hours of practice that promote a likelihood for success.  Being willing to work hard to improve allows each of us to reach our potential.  The skills and knowledge we develop determines our capability for leadership success, while being willing to fail allows us to improve. 


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Warning:  Employees who experience our training may no longer tolerate typical, boring training that yields little more than an expense for your company and time away from the job for the employee.  Attendees in our courses will expect training to be fun, dynamic and above all useful on the job.  Using GCI "When Training Matters" for your training could cause your team to demand more than your average learning experience.