Defining Leadership

The 24-Day Leadership Lesson

Paul Johnson asked:

Leadership is not logical. It’s deceiving to regard leadership as a straightforward skill with a set of sure-fire steps. Sure, you can find books extolling traits of a good leader and attend seminars that teach leadership principles and best practices. Merely learning and applying these practices will leave you flatfooted when it comes time to lead… unless you have something else, too.

We need leaders whom groups of people will follow from idea all the way to goal attainment, even if that takes months or years. Sadly, that rarely happens. Organizations want every employee engaged with their work, but surveys show that number to be as low as 59%.

Even that low number may be deteriorating as we all become busier and busier. We’re expected to multitask, diluting enthusiasm for a single goal. If goals are reached at all, they’re often late and over budget. Instead of focus, perseverance, and enthusiasm, teams experience feelings of confusion and hopelessness.

Leaders facing potential failure often revert to “command and control” mode and create a forced march toward their objective. Unless, that is, they’ve learned the 24 day leadership lesson that’s repeated every year.

Imagine That

Let’s hallucinate for a moment and imagine you celebrate Christmas. The goal is to have everything ready by December 25th to create the Christmas Day experience. We can learn much about leadership in the 24 days that come before. Actually, it starts with retailers back in September and October.

Through their store displays, they are already reminding us about how much we’re going to enjoy the experience of Christmas Day. They create environments that help us remember past family gatherings, fond memories from childhood, and those special toys that brought us hours and hours of happiness. Retailers are eager to help us plan and prepare to have everything just right by December 25th so that Christmas Day can be all the wonderful things we imagine.

Goals for the Gut

As a leader, do you make the goals you define and communicate as exciting and compelling as Christmas Day? Help each member of your group sensually internalize the goal and all that it means. Help them make it as real, vivid and attractive for them as Christmas Day, right down to the sights, sounds, and smells.

When I conduct strategic planning workshops for clients, I ask each participant to write an essay about what they’ll experience when a goal is achieved. By converting the goal from a list of logical benefits into a vivid visceral experience, participants are excited and eager to engage.

It’s time to stop ignoring the emotions associated with our logical goals. Help your team imagine the goal from the gut.

This System is Backwards

As you look forward to a particular goal, you may find you have only 24 days to get everything done, or you may have a much longer period of time. The challenge will be to remain focused over the long haul.

Retrospective Planning begins by taking your far-off goal and making it real as if it were the present reality, using various techniques like essay writing. Then it works backward to the present day to define the appropriate resources and actions.

To create the vivid Christmas Day experience we want, we know that cookies need to be baked, shopping needs to be done, cards need to be mailed, and so on. We can setup a checklist with milestones to make best use of the 24 days that December gives us before Christmas Day. We feel a rush when we accomplish our short-term milestones and know that we are systematically and steadily closing in on the Big Day.

The Journey Worth Celebrating

Preparation for any big goal can often seem overwhelming. Are we busy? Yes! Are we stressed? Yes! Does that mean we’re too busy to party? No way!

You’ll find more parties in December than any other month of the year. Celebrations are part of the preparation leading to December 25th. These mini-celebrations remind us that every day we’re getting closer to the ecstasy of the Big Day.

As leaders, do we celebrate the journey, or just the goal? Sometimes leaders think they need have a logical reason for a celebration. Not true! People rarely need a reason to justify having a good time. Especially when your people are pooped, invite them as GUESTS to a party.

Play the Leadership Game

The 24 days before Christmas show us that the logical value of an accomplishment is not so motivating as the feeling of accomplishment. Go beyond the logic of leadership, and give yourself and your team permission to talk about your goal with child-like anticipation.

*** Make sure everyone can feel the goal in their gut.

*** Keep a countdown calendar that gives reasons to be excited every day.

*** Make it a game instead of a grind.

You don’t have to wait until December to apply the 24-day leadership lesson and start enjoying the focus, perseverance, and enthusiasm that virtually guarantees you’ll get to your goal.

Copyright 2007 Paul Johnson

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