Leaders Eat Last

 

Does a leader exist to be served by followers, or does a leader exist to serve? We grow up believing that it would be glorious to be the boss, because then we’ll be in charge. While there are certainly plenty of leaders who take the helm of an organization and revel in bossing people around, truly effective leadership is about taking responsibility, not wielding authority.

For the last couple of months there’s been significant buzz in business circles about the new Simon Sinek book Leaders Eat Last. The premise is that the very best leaders subjugate their needs for the good of the group. Sinek combines psychology, biology and management theory to create a unique view of what makes a great leader.

In particular he focuses on the chemicals in the brain and researches findings on their functions. Endorphins and dopamine can be considered the “individual achievement” chemicals. Serotonin and oxytocin are “social” chemicals. Leaders need to help their followers unleash these chemicals, but the best leaders focus on enabling teams to release serotonin and oxytocin. These are the chemicals that bind us together in groups and strengthen the social fabric of groups. As leaders, recognizing this and creating an environment that keeps these chemicals flowing is the way to create sustained success.

Diving deeper, Sinek writes that we are biologically disposed to seek out a “Circle of Safety.” Our instincts — dating back to the prehistoric era — dictate that we commit to a group when we feel it has our best interests as top priority. We trust leaders who we believe will look out for us. As Sinek points out, this feeling of trust has disappeared from many of our institutions, whether it is the government or the corporate workplace. However, the best leaders understand the need to build loyalty and trust. They understand that safeguarding team members’ best interests will fuel their natural inclination to look out for each other, and for the larger organization. This in turn leads to greater organizational success.

And it all starts with the leader. It’s his or her job to create an environment of trust.

Remember – leadership is not a rank. It’s a responsibility.

 

 

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The Importance of Optimism

 

Optimism may seem like a soft word. It is often perceived as a negative personality trait – people seem to think of an optimist as someone who is not sufficiently realistic.

However, optimism is a critical factor in effective leadership. A team will not follow a leader who doesn’t have a sense of optimism, or who easily loses faith when things go wrong.

Optimistic leadership is not about being a Pollyanna. It isn’t about denying reality. Rather, it’s about the ability to remain committed to a vision in the face of adversity; of believing that the team can overcome adversity and still succeed. Leaders must be optimistic because the execution of a plan never happens without setbacks. When those setbacks occur, the optimist powers through.

Optimism can be seen as an emotional competence because it helps boost productivity, enhance employee morale and overcome challenges.

University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Martin Seligman has spent his career studying optimism and what he calls “positive psychology.” In the video embedded below, Seligman defines optimism as how a person interprets positive and negative events. Optimists assign “permanence” to positive events – in their minds, they take credit for them. They do not assign permanence to negative events – they believe that when something goes wrong it’s an aberration and will only be a temporary setback. You can see that optimism defined in this way is important for a leader.

 

This explanatory style helps in multiple ways, including:

  • It pushes leaders to improve the situation. Optimistic leaders do not settle for the current status and accept the plight. Instead, they believe that they have the ability to change the circumstance, and they set out to do so.
  • It fortifies leaders with resilience in the face of setbacks. Rather than shrinking from challenges, optimistic leaders seek solutions. Just because something has gone wrong, they don’t throw up their hands and call it quits. They see setbacks as temporary obstacles that they can overcome, so they quickly pick themselves up with renewed effort.
  • It infects teams with resilience. Team members mimic the behavior of the leader, and it’s far better to model optimistic behavior. When leaders don’t back down and continue to work toward success, the team can see positive results, thus spreading the positive approach.

Here’s the best news of all – Seligman has written extensively on how leaders and others can develop optimism. You can change your outlook by training yourself to interpret events in a more optimistic way. The success of your team may depend on it.

 

 

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The 1LT Theinert 5K Race: It’s About Giving Back

As we’ve discussed in this space frequently, leadership is about helping others. Great leaders focus on assisting their teams to accomplish goals; they understand that success is determined by what the larger group is able to complete. Therefore, leaders must be “other-focused.”

To this end, one of our focuses at Valley Forge Military Academy & College is to teach the cadets the importance of helping others. We demonstrate this in numerous ways, but a key component is helping students put philanthropy into practice. We want to demonstrate for the cadets that giving their time, talent and treasure is an important aspect of leadership.

And that’s why we’re proud of the Cadets of the 86th Corps for hosting the 3rd annual 1LT Theinert 5K Race, designed to raise scholarship money for future college cadets. The cadets drive this event – from working with the township on logistics to coordinating with department heads at VFMAC to promoting the event.

The race is in honor of First Lieutenant Joseph Theinert, who was killed in action in 2010 in Afghanistan; he was a proud member the 10th Mountain Division 1-71 CAV B Troop and a 2006 graduate of our College. 1LT Theinert personified VFMAC’s Five Cornerstones – Academic Excellence, Character Development, Personal Motivation, Physical Development and Leadership. The scholarship funds raised will be used to help fund the education of future College cadets who also fulfill the ideals of the Five Cornerstones.

The run/walk is Saturday, 5 April. Registration begins at 6:30 AM, the race begins at 8:00 AM. To sign up for the 5K or make a donation, please click here. Thank you!

 

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What Can We Learn About Leadership From Elephants?

 

Humans have strikingly similar traits to elephants. These traits — like resilience and problem-solving skills — are also evident in strong leaders.

It turns out that elephants have a few things to teach humans when it comes to leadership. Elephants are a matriarchal society. The women run the show, and researchers have long known that pachyderms are matrilineal, meaning that their society is organized around the female.  Elephants follow the lead of the most senior female. But what’s coming out in recent research is the difference that females bring to the leadership role.

Elephants, like humans, value experience and a strong social connection. Wisdom is key. While we humans are always seeking out the next big development (have you heard about the iPhone 6 coming out this fall?), there is a lot to be gained from a universal understanding that results from years of practice.

Elephants, like humans, value family ties. A female head of “household” may start the day with her immediate kin. Generally it’s the mother, her young, and often siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. There are perhaps 12 to 15 animals in this group. But as the day progresses, the numbers grow. By mid-morning, the group has doubled to 25, and by noon it can be as large as 100. By sunset, however, the unit is back to its central core members.

Humans have strikingly similar patterns. We start the day with those who share the tightest bonds. We go to work, attend school or join another group effort during the middle part of the day. Finally we return home to our core family.

In recent behavioral studies of elephant colonies, it’s clear that the older a female head of clan is, the larger her assembled group becomes and the more her influence grows. The older matriarchs have a far better understanding of risk and are able to remain calm and collected in pressure-filled situations.

Cynthia Moss and Phyllis Lee from Scotland’s University of Stirling explored whether specific personality traits might be linked with successful leadership. They classified 26 elephant traits — including confidence, fearfulness, opportunism and aggression — that fall into four primary personality qualities: playfulness, gentleness, constancy and leadership.

The study shows that resilience and problem-solving skills were keys to good governance in that population, and indeed, can be applied to great human leaders as well. While humans don’t have to run from lions and keep out of the way of hunters, we’re probably all in agreement that the best leaders have wisdom and a calm, collected head.

For leaders working on improving their leadership skills – which should be all of them – there are some lessons here. While our always on, always connected society allows anyone to seem like an instant expert, there is no shortcut or substitute for wisdom. And over time, teams will follow leaders who understand this.

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The Importance of the Human Touch

 

Here’s a truism about leadership: If you’re the leader, team members will do what you say simply because you’re in charge.

However, we all know that call and response doesn’t last forever. Sure, it can be effective in getting a particular task done, and it’s often a new leader’s first instinct on how best to lead. When someone first takes charge of an organization, there is often a bit of a thrill in the realization that people will do what you tell them to do. It can be intoxicating. However, if that’s the long-term path you travel as a leader, most likely, you won’t be in charge for very long. Over time, people tune out the leader who doesn’t engage his or her team, yet tries to lead through intimidation. You will reach a point where that style no longer works because team members become immune, leaving your authority diminished.

Sustainable leadership is rooted in building human connections. As well-known author and speaker Jon Maxwell writes, “leaders must touch hearts before they can ask for a hand.”

So, how do you build human connections?

Simply put, leaders achieve this just by being human. People tend to support a leader they believe supports them, and so leaders must take the first step towards building that relationship.

The leader clearly cares about individual team members’ lives and work, and that’s accomplished by investing time and energy into learning what’s important to them. Often, it is simply a matter of acknowledging the “little things” – being courteous and respectful, saying please and thank you, and keeping promises.

Here’s something to consider: The bigger the goal, the greater the need for a strong human connection. For instance, soldiers won’t necessarily charge into battle simply because they’re told to; however, they will charge ahead if they feel that they are part of a group that is united. In other words, if they believe in their commanding officer, if they believe in the cause, if they believe in and have a sense of camaraderie with their fellow soldiers.

Importantly, it’s about leaders being friendly to their team not about them becoming best friends with their team. It’s about gaining respect. While leaders must have the ability to demand accountability, the best leaders have positioned themselves to have this expectation by creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, and they’ve done so simply by showing that they care.

This ability to build high-trust, high-touch relationships is often what separates good leaders from great leaders. In other words, developing leaders need to pay close attention to nurturing relationships with their followers. It’s the surest path to sustained success.

 

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Five Ways To Empower Your Team

Leading a team can often be an exercise in maximizing two competing concepts – getting the most out of each individual, yet getting them to cohesively work together. A leader’s job is to create an environment in which individual achievement drives teamwork, and teamwork drives individual achievement.

It boils down to motivating personal accountability. Doing so requires empowering followers to achieve. As bosses, presidents, commanders and teachers, it’s incumbent upon us to help our charges understand the value of setting goals for themselves and, even more so, meeting those goals. That’s each individual’s piece in the greater puzzle of the team. Without each person doing their part, the entire team mechanism is unable to function efficiently and effectively.

This way of thinking may seem to fly in the face of conventional or traditional rules of authority. Modern leadership is less about being singularly authoritarian. It is more about combining authority with approachability, nurture and collaboration. Our interconnected world requires this new approach in order to achieve team results, one that focuses simultaneously on the individual’s and the team’s achievements.

Here are five ways that leaders can empower their team members to achieve greater results:

  1. Provide freedom. Leaders that create an environment in which team members have a measure of freedom to foster an entrepreneurial mindset. When you give followers the freedom to innovate, they don’t wait for instructions. They forge ahead.
  2. Encourage creative problem solving. The most novel solutions come from creative minds that are allowed to imagine new approaches. In many organizations, followers are trained not to take initiative, to “color inside the lines.” Providing them with opportunities to embrace ingenuity can lead to them arriving at a great solution.
  3. Let them fail. There is no more powerful education than the consequences of a bad decision. While leaders would prefer that no one make mistakes, letting the team know that mistakes will be tolerated (within reason) helps them to break away from fear and to embrace the upside of possibility.
  4. Reward great outcomes. Positive reinforcement is key to boosting self-sufficiency and success among team members. Associate these outcomes with overall organizational values. Don’t do it once a month, though. Aim to recognize individual successes daily if possible; it can be a simple “thank you” or the proverbial pat-on-the-back.
  5. Get people talking. Leaders that create an idea-sharing environment automatically spur greater collaboration. This can often mean disregarding hierarchical structures; when junior members of the team are empowered to participate and offer thoughts, their vantage point can make for some very interesting and useful observations. Leaders are wise to facilitate this open exchange of ideas.
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Leaders Must Strive to Regain Public Trust After Era of Discontent

 

Interestingly, there seems to be more discussion, more written and more seminars than ever before on the topic of leadership. And yet, on a national level there is a dearth of leadership. Regardless of your political persuasion, it seems that there is a general dissatisfaction with our political and societal leaders.

Put simply, we don’t trust them to have our best interests at heart. This isn’t me talking; these are the facts as demonstrated in the recently released 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer. The survey shows there’s been a major decline in trust in the United States over the past year – a drop of ten points since 2013. Distrust is growing across multiple sectors – media, business and government are all vulnerable. Consider these numbers: 14 percent of respondents trust government, and 16 percent trust the business and media establishments.

The Edelman report — results overview shown below — points to four factors that influence trust, and leadership is an essential aspect. What makes people trust a leader? According to the study: engagement and integrity. The researchers define engagement as listening to customer needs, treating people well, putting organization goals ahead of individual goals and communicating frequently. Integrity is defined as being ethical, transparent, and responding responsibly in the face of a crisis.

If you look at our elected officials, it seems fair to say that they are falling short here. Frankly, it’s understandable; they’re operating in a whirlwind, being pulled in many directions, receiving advice from many different corners. It can become easy to get washed away by the current and lose track of what’s most important for a leader – his or her followers.

As leaders, this is our charge: To be able to navigate this era of change. To lead in this new era of near constant communication of incredible depths of information, authority is no longer a given or the result of years of hard work. These days, a leader’s statement can be disproven in an instant by a member of the audience wielding a smartphone. So you can’t rest on your resume; you need to be actively leading every day.

The new leadership must be rooted in trust, in genuine relationship building, and in honest communication.

Tomorrow’s leaders will, by default, have more and more in common with the groups they lead. This means they must focus on building community and trust, and less on the zero sum game of trying to win every argument.

 

 

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A View of Leadership: Q&A With William R. Floyd Jr.

 
“BE WILLING TO ASK FOR HELP,” — Bill Floyd

(This is the first in a series of interviews with leaders.)

 

William R. Floyd, Jr.

William R. Floyd, Jr. is the Chairman of the Board of Valley Forge Military Academy & College, and also is a 1963 graduate of the Academy. He served in the Fifth Infantry Division (U.S. Army), before beginning his career. He quickly rose to senior management positions, ultimately becoming the Chief Operating Officer of both Taco Bell and KFC. Mr. Floyd has served as President/CEO of Choice Hotels International, Chairman and CEO of Beverly Enterprises, Inc., and Chairman/CEO of Physiotherapy Associates. In addition to his service on the VFMA&C Board of Trustees, he serves on numerous corporate and non-profit boards.

 

How do you define leadership?

Floyd: Leadership is all about setting a direction for a company, or whatever entity it may be (department, division, etc.), and then having the ability to rally the organization – the employees, the people, if you will – to support and execute on that direction.

Rallying the organization sometimes gets taken for granted by leaders. It’s critical to embrace people on an emotional level as well as intellectual level. When I worked at PepsiCo, the then-CEO Roger Enrico had a phrase: “Take it on the road before you take it to Broadway.” In other words, a leader needs to tell people, “This is what I’m thinking; what do you think?” Getting feedback allows you to tweak and adjust ideas. Then, when you stand in front of a thousand people, you’re already halfway to having them on board with the vision. People always think, “What’s in it for me?” Unless you explain what it means to them, they’re not going to give you 110 percent executional effort.

Another critical aspect of leadership is one’s ability to earn the trust of the organization. People will respond very positively if they trust you. Equally important is the concept of transparency. Tell people the truth. Tell them where they stand in terms of their performance and expectations.

 

What qualities are most important in a leader?

Floyd: I like what Jack Welch had to say about leadership. His definition is simply: a leader has three attributes. Number one is very high energy. Number two is the ability to energize other people, and the third is they have to have “edge.” What he meant by edge is that they’ll hold people accountable. It doesn’t mean beating people down, being nasty, but it means letting people know that when they make a commitment they have to deliver. I’d also add a fourth attribute: Decisiveness. A leader should certainly be collaborative and seek input, but sooner or later he or she will have to make a decision. And sometimes decisions despite all the input in the world are not easy.

And as I already mentioned, the ability to set the direction for an organization or a company is also very important. But it is not as easy as it sounds. It is essential to spend time with your organization in the act of “active listening.” And then one must distill the good, bad, self-serving, etc. and define what the direction will be.

 

In your experience, what makes people follow an individual?

Floyd: Setting direction is a waste of time if you can’t get the organization to coalesce around the direction. People will follow a person they trust. And gaining that trust requires emotional as well as intellectual intelligence. Emotional intelligence enables the connection between the leader and his or her team, and that will play a critical role in ther willingness to follow an individual.

 

Looking back, what do you consider your first leadership experience?

Floyd: I started at Valley Forge in 8th grade. I was very fortunate that I was given leadership roles as a cadet, which was my first opportunity to have responsibility for things and people and making sure that tasks got accomplished.

 

What did you learn from mentors through your career and life?

Floyd: I have been fortunate to have had mentors at different points in my career. These mentors never said to me “this is what you need to do.” Rather, they would ask me questions that caused me to self-reflect. At Gillette, where I started my career, we were always expected to have a point of view. Many times mentors would force me to think in a different way. Roger Enrico at PepsiCo, used to say, “Having a point of view is worth 50 IQ points.”

 

What advice do you have for leaders in training?

Floyd: Whether you’re in charge of five people or 5,000 people, you need to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and surround yourself with people who can make the organization successful.

In the Army, a junior officer is faced with many situations where his or her staff may know a lot more by virtue of their maturity and experience. You may be the leader, the one who is ultimately accountable. But a successful junior officer also knows to rely on his or her team for advice and not be afraid to take it. This same concept applies in the business world. One must develop the self-confidence to ask for help.

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Courage, Defined

 

What is courage? And must leaders have it? I would argue that not only should leaders have courage, but they, inevitably, already do. Just by accepting the leadership responsibility and the glare of the spotlight, itself, require courage.

For leaders, courage means embracing uncertainty and having the willingness to seize an opportunity despite the risks — whether it’s risking one’s life by agreeing to enter military combat or risking embarrassment by raising your hand in the classroom. If there were no risk or uncertainty, being the first one out on the limb wouldn’t require any courage. In fact, it’d be easy.

Courage is not the absence of fear or nervousness. It is, actually, the act of confronting your fears and forging ahead despite them because you realize the end result could be your victory.

For teens and pre-teens, courage doesn’t come easily or naturally as they are struggling to find acceptance among their friends, their classmates and in society. Peer pressure can be intense. Often, it takes real courage to say “no” to the crowd when they are headed down the wrong path. Courage can be as simple as staying true to your values when you’re being pressured to abandon them.

How can we as mentors help young people to build courage?

One word: Support. We, as adults, must help our youth understand that it’s ok to not follow the crowd. And not even just ok, but great. We must reinforce the positives of being the one willing to step out front. We also must show them they don’t have to go it alone. We will be there no matter what. Guiding them, supporting them, pushing them and protecting them.

Super Bowl-winning quarterback Russell Wilson is hailed as a great leader despite his relative youth. He gives much of the credit to his late father, who told his young son, “there’s a king in every crowd.” What Wilson’s father meant is that anyone can rise to greatness if they have faith and receive help along the way.

It is imperative we assist young people in discovering the strength that lies within. When we mentor them, we help reduce the fear of stepping out of the mainstream to take the lead, we help them to achieve success and we show them that, when they take the initiative to lead, others – including their peers — will support them.

So how do we do this? To start, we help build their confidence by a celebrating their successes to reinforce the positive. But it shouldn’t end there. Reinforcing the positive also includes teaching them how to analyze how they can do better in every situation in order to help them gain a perspective for even better results the next time.

Additionally, we teach our youth by example, talking through our thought processes and decision-making.  Again, it’s important to show them how we evaluate our actions – good and bad.

And finally, we teach them that we are all “works in process.” We strive to make each day better than the last. We teach them that with each experience we continue to build our courage. And we always remember that it’s ok to be scared. Having courage is about facing those fears, taking risks and staying true to one’s values.

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What Leaders Do Before Breakfast

Valley Forge Military Academy & College cadets are up near the crack of dawn for their morning physical training. Waking up early is a trait of good leaders and VFMA&C strives to teach our cadets strong leadership qualities.

Valley Forge Military Academy & College cadets are up near the crack of dawn for their morning physical training. Waking up early is a trait of good leaders and VFMA&C strives to teach our cadets strong leadership qualities.

Valley Forge Military Academy & College cadets start their day pretty early. Research has shown that the United States military is on to something with its early-morning routines. Many successful people and leaders are early birds, and it’s our mission here to help set our cadets on the path of success. In a world in which everything seems to move so fast, getting a head start each day makes a lot of sense.

In her 2013 book What The Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast, author Laura Vanderkam writes about the early morning habits of people who have high aspirations. In the book, she cites a poll of 20 executives in which 18 of them (that’s 90 percent!) wake up before 6 a.m.

The early start helps them be more productive by allowing them to get a jumpstart on their day. Here are some of the tasks they do to get ahead and be a better leader.

 

  • Exercise. Working out is something that often falls off the to-do list as the day goes along, and a lot of leaders view this as something too important to let slide. Physical training is a way to rev up the body and brain to face the day, and obviously helps maintain long-term health for the marathon that is leadership. Many executives also do yoga or meditate to start the day.
  • Work on big projects. With distraction-filled days, early mornings are a time for uninterrupted work on bigger picture items. By focusing on the big things before others arrive to interrupt, leaders ensure that they keep their eyes on the horizon.
  • Spend quality time with family. Even if it’s just helping get the kids ready for school, family time is important. For leaders, families often get pushed into the background. Starting the day slowly with loved ones helps to solve this challenge.
  • Network. An early meeting over coffee is typically less disruptive than a midday lunch meeting.
  • Get informed. Leaders spend some of their early morning hours catching up on news and email. By the time they arrive at the office, they know what’s happening in the world.
  • Plan and strategize. Whether it’s simply mentally preparing for the day ahead, or taking the time to consider long-term strategy, the quiet morning hours are often the best time for some deep thinking.
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