Kaleidoscopes are really cool toys. Turn them or shake them and they surprise you with their ever changing cavalcade of sparkles! But, the stones inside (granddaughters call them jewels) never change. You don’t open up a kaleidoscope and change the cut glass that creates the visual magic. Great leaders are like that—their influence is ever changing as they help others grow and achieve. But that influence reflects core values inside that never change.
One of Bill core jewels is his generosity—all the proceeds from the sale of his book, Leaders Open Doors, by-passed his bank account en route to a worthy cause – the book raised over $20,000 for kids with special needs. Another, jewel is his infectious energy that goes viral the minute you are in his presence. He has a precious love jewel and uses it to brighten the lives of his family and friends. He also takes that jewel with him to work. And, he is famous for his courage jewel—the subject of much of his professional work. One of his books (Right Risk) has a cover photo of him diving off a super high diving board with his back on fire. You’ll have to read the book to learn more.
Bill’s newest book (my favorite) brings a unique jewel to the world of leadership development. A Leadership Kick in the Ass tackles a topic rarely covered—growth through screw-ups. We all have them. Those “aw shucks” moments we make a big boo boo with an adverse cost to ourselves and/or others. Great leaders use those moments as a kick in the ass from which to improve. But, until now, no book has provided instruction in how to profit from these teachable moments. Here is Bill in his own words.
Bill, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. The rationale for this book is clear. But, what led you to take it on as a book project?
My client’s bruises! Much of my work involves coaching leaders, and they’ve taught me that the most profound, transformative, and enduring lessons they’ve learned haven’t been through the triumphs, they’ve been through the mess-ups. A lot of leadership books cover the steps and formulas to be a good leader, but hardly any books provide guidance for getting the most out of your leadership blunders. Let’s face it, any leader worth his or her salt is going to make a few whopper mistakes. This book shows how those mistakes can be converted into wisdom.
Your opening story about your own “LKITA” (we know we need more acronyms in this world!) was powerful. But, it came because someone like your older subordinate had the courage to confront you. What can leaders do to encourage their followers to be as bold as your diving team member?
You mean the story about the employee who told me I sucked at leading?!
Leaders need to set an explicit expectation that people need to have the courage to keep the leader from getting in his or her own way. But leaders have to give more than lip service. Along with setting the expectation, they need to give specific guidance on how to confront the leader in a way that the leader will be receptive to the feedback, instead of viewing the feedback as disrespecting his or her authority. For example, one leader I worked with told her team, “If you see me coming out of the board meeting with a frown on my face, that’s probably not the best time to give me upward feedback!”
Every great leadership practices has a few do’s and don’ts. What a few don’ts at the top of your list when it comes to a LKITA?
Do start with self-respect. Aretha Franklin had it right, all people want is a little respect. It’ll be much easier for you to respect the people you’re leading, if you start by respecting yourself. Make time for fitness. Get untethered from your cellphone. Get outdoors more often. Go to church. The better you are to yourself, the better you’ll be for others.
Do define the leader you’d like to be, and the leader the people you’re leading deserve. Much about leadership involves having a clear vision of the future. Included in that vision should be a clear picture of your better future self. Knowing who you want to be will help you identify the changes you need to make to improve your leadership.
Don’t confuse dominance with leadership. Any two-bit dictator can out-dominate others, often by using fear. But that doesn’t mean he’s a leader. Fear may get people to do things while you’re watching them, but it will destroy their loyalty in the process. You’ll get better results, and build greater loyalty, by encouraging people instead of enfearing them.
As authors we get to pick our book launch date. What led you to select Martin Luther King Day and how does that choice relate to the content of the book?
Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of my courage heroes, and I write about him in my first book, Right Risk, Dr. King exemplified servant leadership, and the importance of doing what’s right instead of what’s convenient. He exemplifies the wonderful blend of confidence and humility described in the new book.
Dr. King summed up what’s most essential about leadership when he said, “Life’s most urgent and persistent question is, what are you doing for others?” As King suggests, bettering the lives of those you’re privileged to lead is the whole point of leadership.
There are obviously times when a LKITA can backfire? And, how can leaders avoid potential backfires?
Sure! Blunders and mess-ups are useful and you can learn powerful lessons from them. But please don’t make one if you’re my air traffic controller, my brain surgeon, or my accountant, okay?
Avoiding backfires requires refusing to not convert your hardships and challenges into wisdom and better judgment. In other words, commit to learn from your mistakes. When the bad stuff happens–and it will happen–document the lessons. Make the changes you have to make so you don’t have to relive the mistake until you learn the lesson. And remember, if life gives you lemons, keep them, because, hey, free lemons!
Finally, what was your biggest personal learning gained from writing this great book?
Good question, Chip. This book taught me that I love my clients, and without them, I wouldn’t have a career.
It was only after I’d written the whole book that I realized the clients who influenced me the most over the last dozen years are three unionized construction companies I work with in Chicago. I’m a better leadership consultant because of my work with them. These are gritty people who do real work. They build highways, and water treatment plants, and runways, and stuff that matter. They have a very low tolerance for leadership “fru fru” – they want stuff that works. Even the title of the book was influenced by them. Believe me, “ass” is the tamest word I hear in most of their meetings!
Bill’s newest book has just become available wherever great books are sold. Even if you don’t think you snore (aka, I am a perfect leader), buy it for someone you know can learn from mistakes on their path to leadership greatness. Thanks, Bill, best of luck for a runaway best seller. The world of leadership will be enhanced by the kaleidoscope of your great jewels.
Thank, you, Chip. I’m looking forward to the launch of Kaleidoscope! – Bill Treasurer