It’s certainly been longer than I’d hoped since last posting. Almost 10 months in fact.
It’s just been, well, different this year.
Not because of COVID I might add, although it does appear to be the go-to excuse for almost every instance of sub-optimal performance in 2020.
The reason was I’d stalled in my leadership journey. I can’t put my finger on why, or even when I fell off the path, or what’s now driven me to try and get back on it, but here we are nevertheless and I’m glad to be back.
An early draft of this post started as a book review. A review of an exceptional book, John C. Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. The draft quickly took a different turn however, and morphed into a post about feedback and effectiveness, and upon reflection is likely the spark which reignited the flame. There may well be a book review in the future, but for now it’s about being spun right around. Like a record I guess…
And it’s all because of the Law of the Lid.
Maxwell’s introduction to Law #1 reads “Brothers Dick and Maurice came as close as they could to living the American Dream – without making it. Instead a guy named Ray did it with the company they had founded. It happened because they didn’t know the Law of the Lid.”
The story of two brothers Dick and Maurice is the story of founding McDonald’s. Immortalised in a movie, countless leadership essays, thesis papers and articles, it’s the story of two brothers who suffered from the impact of their leadership ‘lid’, or ceiling.
The Big Mac brothers certainly had the dedication to succeed and they managed well enough on their own. Their two restaurants in suburban Pasadena were incredibly successful and ground breaking for their time. It wasn’t until they teamed up with Ray Kroc (who eventually bought them out), that McDonald’s exploded into the national, and then international phenomenon it is today.
So what ‘magical’ element did Ray bring? Was it dedication? Well certainly, but the Junior Burger brothers had it already. Was it better processes and procedures? Perhaps, but it was the speed and efficiency of the brother’s food service model which catapulted them to early success.
Maxwell’s view is what Ray brought to the operation was Leadership Ability. A tangible skill the Quarter Pounder brothers lacked.
Maxwell’s critical point here is effectiveness – and working to maximise yours wherever you can. To explain the self-explanatory, he suggests leaders (and leaders-in-training) probably already have a high success dedication. To become more effective, or ‘lifting your lid’, you’re better served developing your leadership ability than simply being ‘more dedicated’.
Now when you want to get somewhere in particular, it’s always helpful to know where you’re starting from. Maxwell’s first activity for readers (there are 2-3 in every chapter) is to seek direct feedback from your managers, peers, and direct reports on your leadership ability.
Enter 360 Degree Feedback, and the point at which the needle dropped and this post took a very different turn.
Having contemplated 360 Degree Feedback in the past, and being turned off by the high price and lack of flexibility of the services available, I was pleasantly surprised to recently stumble across Survey Sparrow. I want to clarify this is not a sponsored post, and my only affiliation with Survey Sparrow is I’m a satisfied customer.
The platform provides users with pre-populated (and editable) templates, a range of different support services depending on the package you purchase, and delivers a super professional and user-friendly interface.
After working with a few trusted mentors, as well as the platform’s excellent templates and support team, a series of personalised questions were prepared, and the survey launched. If you’re interested in getting a free copy of the set of questions, leave a comment below or reach out via the Contact page and we’ll get them across to you ASAP.
A hot tip when setting up the survey questions – resist with all your might the temptation to simply ask questions you know (or hope!) will receive a positive response. These are the fairy floss of feedback; delicious, but made up mostly of cheap sugar and air, with exactly zero nutritional value.
The advice I was given was to think, reflect, and ask trusted mentors what your weak spots are, and ensure there are questions in the survey that contemplate them.
This alone is a exercise worth doing as I’m certain there are elements of your own leadership style you know could be improved, but you tuck those thoughts away in the part of your brain where your ego acts as an over-zealous security guard. Who then refuses to grant you entry because you’re wearing the wrong kind of shoes….
Deep down you know these are the elements truly worth exploring.
I like talking. Those who know me be aware of this already and it won’t come as much of a revelation. I also know I can talk too much in meetings. What I wanted to know though, was how this impacted those around me, so several feedback questions were tailored to find out.
I have a mountain of other weak spots, some more prevalent than others, and similar to the above, questions were crafted to better understand the impact these are having on those around me.
So what kind of response did I get? Firstly I was really pleased of the surveys sent out, over 80% of people provided a response. What I took from this was my colleagues were supportive of me looking to make improvements. A positive first step you might say.
The next step was also positive, but much harder to digest. When it came to the actual answers, some were particularly confronting to read, and after some initial shock (and I’ll admit, an element of denial), I realised these were the answers which offered the best chance of increasing effectiveness. These were the answers where my behaviours were having enough impact to drive people to write some fairly strong words. These were the answers which would help ‘lift my lid’.
Now I don’t propose to share the results, and not because I see them as particularly private, but I think there’s limited benefit in dissecting answers which apply to a leadership style that’s uniquely mine. I do think there’s benefit though in looking at the difference in some of those answers and what it means for leaders.
Interestingly, but frustrating at the same time, was some of the ‘areas to improve’ suggestions were the exact mirror of the ‘keep doing this’ suggestions. If I am to fully embrace the feedback as written, I must “be more direct, issue specific instructions, define the exact next steps”, at the same time as continuing to “provide goals and motivation and letting the team get on with it”.
There’s a reason why the phrase “dichotomy of leadership” exists, and unless properly understood and managed, can easily put leaders of all levels of experience into a tail spin.
Leadership requires balance. Leaders must find the equilibrium between opposing forces that pull in opposite directions. Being aggressive but cautious, disciplined but not rigid, a leader but also a follower……if a leader imposes too much authority, the team becomes reluctant to execute; not enough, and the team has no direction. If leaders are too aggressive, they put the team and mission at risk; yet if they wait too long to take action, results can be equally as catastrophic…..The Dichotomy of Leadership, Willink, Babin (2018)
The challenge is, and has always been, finding this balance. But where exactly is it?
Unfortunately for leaders, it changes often. It will change from person to person, it will change depending on the complexity and urgency of the activity at hand, it will change on the day of the week, it will change depending on whether you ate enough for breakfast.
You get the idea.
It’s the eternal challenge of a leader to find the perfect balance, and I’m certain this perfection does not exist. Does this mean leaders should throw in the towel, accept mediocrity and simply plod their way to the finish line? Of course not – it’s this very impetus which should drive us! To strive to increase our effectiveness, and at a minimum be just that little bit better than we were the day before – to lift your lid.
This journey is unique for everyone – if you’re new to leadership, or an experienced practitioner, reach out to your colleagues and trusted mentors, shine a torch on those areas of weakness, try to find the balance, and strive every day to take a forward step on the path to increased effectiveness.
And try not to let the opposing forces of leadership spin you off track.
Have you ever done a 360 degree feedback exercise? How was it? Did you shine a torch on those weak spots or did you gorge on the guilty pleasure of the fairy floss of feedback?
It’s great to be back on the path and writing again. Drop a note in the Comments Box below, or as always you can reach out via the Contact Us page.