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Quality Leadership

Quality Leadership

Suppose someone asked you to list the most important qualities you would find in an outstanding leader. What would you say? Toughness? Authority? Decisiveness, perhaps? Tenacity? You could make a case for all of these. Today’s conventional thinking about leadership tends to stress the more active, resolute qualities in a leader. Leaders are expected to get results and remain effective under the constant pressure of globalized markets.

What I want to suggest to you is a little different. The qualities of the strong, Hollywood-style leader may make for good newspaper copy, but they aren’t the ones that will create the kind of leader we really need today. They are too superficial, too much the product of stereotypes. They over-emphasize action and underplay the need for leaders who can go beyond setting a direction to coax the best from everyone around them. For that you need three far less glamorous qualities: restraint, generosity, and mercy.

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Restraint
Lack of restraint is a common failing of nearly all tough, macho leaders. They cannot stop themselves from taking charge. They cannot hold themselves back from making decisions where none are needed, or where any choice will be premature. They interfere constantly with other people’s jobs, micromanaging and over-supervising in their constant need to be doing something—anything—to stay active and involved. When people say a leader like this is “on top of things,” they are more truthful than they realize. She is constantly imposing herself from above where she is not needed.

Leaders need restraint for two reasons: to hold back from rushing into decisions or action when time is needed to wait for the situation to clarify; and to keep from doing things, or making choices, that are the responsibility of their subordinates. Much of the reason why executives today are so over-burdened with work is an inability to delegate. They are so convinced that they must stay on top of everything that they demand to be involved in every decision of any magnitude. The results are simple: Decisions are delayed because the people in charge are overwhelmed; choices are made by those least able to see what is needed, because they are usually furthest from the action; and subordinates’ jobs are reduced to carrying out instructions sent down from on high. Add to all this that many decisions are made that were never needed, and which perhaps made matters worse, and you have the causes of much of today’s high-pressure work environment: Self-inflicted wounds.

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Generosity
Generosity used to be the defining quality of kings and great lords. The word even began by meaning “noble” or “of high birth.” Kings and princes were expected to be generous with gifts, favors, and attention. It was how they held sway over quarrelsome petty nobles without constant fighting. A mean-minded king quickly faced rebellion, or found his nobles transferring their allegiance to a more generous neighbor.

Today’s organizations are much like medieval kingdoms. There are the same petty lordlings, each with his or her own group of followers; the same turf wars and quarrels about influence and status; the same need for each person in charge to be able to rely on the loyalty of followers who have their own concerns about making a living; and the same need for those at the top to practice generosity as a means of holding everything together.

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I don’t simply mean generosity in giving material rewards—though many top executives could benefit from remembering that nobles of the past who enriched themselves at the expense of their followers usually ended up as victims of some palace rebellion. Today’s leaders need especially to be generous with their time, their attention, their recognition of good work, their listening, and their help for everyone around them. The leader’s role is to serve her followers by making sure they have the resources and know-how they need to achieve the objectives laid before them. You cannot do that by sitting in your remote castle on the executive floor, counting your stock options.

Mercy
We all need mercy so often. We need to be forgiven for our mistakes and blemishes; to be given a second chance to get things right; to be saved from the consequences of our own, foolish actions. Mercy has always been seen as a quality of greatness. Ordinary leaders huff and puff and delight in exercising power. Poor leaders go further, seeking to bolster their insecurity by appearing ruthless and punishing every fault. Only great leaders realize that to be merciful is the only true proof of holding authority. And that forgiving people’s honest mistakes and helping them do better next time not only builds a stronger group, but cements their loyalty. Tough, unbending leaders inspire fear. Merciful leaders inspire love. Which is better for motivating people to give their all, even when you are not there to watch them?

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Restraint, generosity, and mercy: Managers who possess all three have the raw material to become truly great leaders. Of course, leaders still need know-how, experience, and some technical skills, but these are rarely in short supply. It is the inner aspect of great leadership that is misunderstood—and rare enough to be worth more than any pile of stock options. The sooner shareholders come to realize that, the sooner we will have organizations everyone can be proud of.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his posts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership. He also posts at The Coyote Within.

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Last Updated on January 21, 2020

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnancy in life, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help.

Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

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1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths.

Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation.

What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem.

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If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave.

Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future.

These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

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4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’re 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward.

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Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years.

On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

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Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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