Finding and Fostering Passion: Models for Success

When someone asks me, “How do I find my passion?” My first response is, “What do you like to do? What energizes you? What excites you?” Answer those questions and then you’re on the right path. I know so many people who feel stuck in jobs they don’t like or for whatever reason their passion left a long time ago. In cases like that it needs to be asked, “What changed?”

Take a good look at those people, living or not, who stand out and found their passion. Mother Theresa had a passion for the lost and disenfranchised. Warren Buffet has a passion to do the best for his investors. Look at any of those people who excelled in sports and they exhibited passion that sustained them through their careers.

Here is the challenge. Finding one’s passion is only half the battle. Once it’s decided then people need to move forward with being intentional about putting themselves in a position to develop their passion. The best method to do this is to detail things you like to do and things you don’t. Even in everyday job tasks we make choices what to do with our time. Maximize the opportunities for activities relating to passion. Minimize those that don’t. Certainly we all have tasks that just need to get done but all to often people get bogged down with those things that don’t energize them and don’t excite them.

I know a woman who enjoys writing but she needed to work night shift in a local convenience store gas mart. In the wee hours of the morning at 2am or 3am when there were few or no customers she would hand write the romance novel she always wanted to pen. It was published and she is now writing sequels. By the way, she no longer works night shift at the gas mart.

I know many people who have followed their passion but the common denominator for these people is intentionality and a focus to move forward. Forward motion. That’s the key. No matter what your dream and no matter what your passion every day needs to be viewed as an opportunity. The choice is yours but the formula seems pretty simple and the options are apparent. People can stagnate and feel they are at a dead-end or stuck or they can choose forward motion. I think forward motion is better.

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Toxic Leadership: Ruling by Fear and Intimidation

A key indicator of toxic leadership is ruling by fear and intimidation. It is another tool in the toxic leadership toolbox. Fear and intimidation ultimately gives the one thing toxic leadership wants and that is control. Control for what is said. Control for what is done.

Other means of getting stakeholder or employee buy in aren’t working so the last resort is fear and intimidation. Threatening someone with sanctions or a job loss or even the innuendo of a job loss qualifies. If an organization isn’t doing so well and needs to separate some staff then what better way to get everyone else in line than with the fear of losing employment. Rest assured toxic leadership is rarely found in Fortune 500 companies so one needs to put things in perspective.

The reason toxic leadership uses fear and intimidation is there is something inherently wrong with the core leadership structure. Staff needs to trust their feelings in these situations. If it looks like it, walks like it, and talks like it, then it must be no matter how much spin an organization puts on its actions.

There are only two choices for those in an organization with toxic leadership. Acquiesce and stay and endure the threats, fear, and intimidation or leave. There are no other options. For those who stay there is a price to be paid for the stress, dysfunction, and questionable ethics that seem to abound. Internally it wears on the individual because human beings are not wired to constantly be victims of fear and intimidation.

You can’t flourish where you can’t grow. One needs to be transplanted to an environment that encourages growth. The best method for separation from a toxic leadership environment is a quick and decisive separation on the terms of the individual. Part time is not an option as toxic leadership can still exploit that relationship. In all the years I have seen toxic leadership and organizations that fostered or supported a toxic leadership environment I have never encountered anyone who regretted leaving and getting out of Dodge on their own terms quickly. More often than not the comment I hear is “I should have left that crazy place sooner.” The beautiful part about this is the one thing the toxic leadership wants from the individual is now out of the equation, i.e control.

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Following the Right Leaders and Choosing the Right Mentors

There are many people who come into our lives and make us better people. Through the miracle of the electronic media our world opens up for those who are like-minded and we can see who actually walks the talk. Over the years I have chosen my mentors carefully. I consider Tim Addington a mentor and friend. Here is a segment from his blog I think many will appreciate. His newest book Deep Influence: Unseen Practices That Will Revolutionize Your Leadership is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

The quote strikes home with me. The dysfunctional Christian leaders I have met fall into two categories: 1) It’s all about them, or 2) They pick and choose to only be with people in their camp and don’t have the “margin” for those whom they feel could be a problem exposing their hypocrisy.

“Those in Christian service who see success often start to buy the press they (we) receive. It is a dangerous path to walk down. The leaders I admire the most are the most ordinary of people, real people, who have not allowed anyone to place them on a pedestal, who discount the adulation they receive because they both know themselves well and know who gave them any gifts they possess. It is their humility and humanity (and these two go together) that endear them to others.”

Thank you T.J. Addington for your insight.

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Dealing With Difficult People

Rule #1 in dealing with difficult people. It takes two to have a discussion. A good strategy? Walk away, ignore what they’re saying, and/or don’t even respond. Difficult people want an audience. Don’t give them one.

I stopped a long time ago trying to figure out why some people (and many in leadership positions) do and say things that antagonize staff, irritate customers or stakeholders, and basically foster self-serving edification. Some can write it off as being egotistical and maybe even narcissistic but the point is the emotional stakes get raised the more one deals with these people. It’s not worth it.

People reap what they sow. This is a truism learned through decades of experience. Life is too short to get jammed up trying to reach out to those who refuse to listen and do some serious introspective thinking. Sometimes these difficult people can be in our own families. The best we can do is not give them a platform or audience. Soon they discover their rant or tirade becomes a monologue and then abruptly stops. Amazing.

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Telltale Signs of Internal Organizational Struggle

“Deny everything. Admit nothing. Demand proof.” If you were to investigate the most notable catastrophic organizational failures of the last couple of decades this could very well be the leadership response just prior to implosion. There are signs that indicate a storm on the horizon.

1) Key Staff People Are Leaving
Over a period of time those whom you never think would ever leave the organization are going on to other opportunities even the opportunity for retirement.

2) Major Restructuring From Within
Reorganization of top management can indicate a problem with making metrics or those top-level people who distrust those at the very top of the pyramid.

3) Downsizing Staff
Typically stated as a way to cut costs and remain competitive. The problem with downsizing is that key people are often let go and somewhere down the road it is realized how necessary they are so new people are hired in their place. This can be problematic from the standpoint of a learning curve for the new hires or those replacing the people who were let go.

4) Follow the Money
Rule #1 in law enforcement investigations holds true in detecting issues that are causing internal problems from within. Whatever the reason from over extending itself to mismanagement of resources to declining sales any number of reasons can result in a last-ditch effort to save profits and avoid telling anyone where the money is going and to whom.

5) Reducing the Number of Facilities
This can be selling off pieces of the business to outsourcing various aspects of operations. The organization is eating too much so the rent needs to be reduced or liquid cash is needed to pay the bills.

6) Rumors of Takeovers
The funny thing about rumors is they usually stem from those in the know who have a hard time keeping quiet about prospective takeovers or divestitures. Rumors are easily quelled with the truth. We’ll get to that.

7) Inability to Deal With the Problem Children
I’ve heard more than one supervisor tell me that 90% of their time is spent with 5% of the people and even the at will middle managers seem to be protected from accountability for their actions and misdeeds. This can happen for a number of reasons. The most common is laziness on the part of the organization to search for new and better talent or the reason can be political from the inside. The bottom line is that this is a serious issue and leads to morale problems with staff and customers. This goes back to a theory I call “The Emperor’s New Clothes Syndrome.” The issue is obvious. Only a few who see it and say something about it but can do nothing.

8) Lack of Transparency
Transparency relates to the actual organizational condition, to finances, and to being open and forthright about what is happening. Remember Mark Twain’s saying, “If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.” Being open also means admitting mistakes, learning from them, and moving forward. No lies. No deceit. No commentary about having a lack of margin to meet people even for a cup of coffee. Lack of transparency is a huge red flag indicating embarrassment to discuss even the simplest of topics.

These eight issues can be an indication there is trouble in River City. Unfortunately, some organizations choose to rationalize, justify, or hide what is actually going on. The truth will eventually come out. It’s just a question what that’s going to look like. Organizations can be open or they can hold their cards close but doing so runs the risk to their own peril with that fatal bullet called mistrust.

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Lessons in Leadership: The Infamous Budget

Resources are the life blood of an organization. Resources make things happen. They provide forward motion in achieving goals and the ultimate mission of the organization. It is surprising to me when I hear about organizations that are mum on their budget and what is available.

The best organizations are budget transparent. Where transparency exists that engenders trust and an openness for all to see what is available to be empowered to succeed. To hide the organizational budget or disclose it only a select few on top creates suspicion. Like the saying goes, “If you are aren’t doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to worry about.” I have seen private companies, public entities, and churches express openness with their budgets. The ones who hide their budgets seem to have internal issues that begin and end with a lack of trust.

When transparency exists people within the organization can see what programs can be supported and what new programs might be able to be implemented. It is archaic to think that management has all the answers and the rank and file has little or nothing to offer with creativity, ideas, or ways to be resourceful. Budgets typically cover training and professional development for human capital. When making plans to train staff and professionally develop them it is important to know what can be done and when. It is disheartening if a staff member comes up with a great idea that is shot down and told, “We don’t have the resources to make that happen.” If prior knowledge about the budget was given that unfortunate issue could be avoided. Now there is a staff member who feels his or her contribution isn’t worthy of consideration.

There are certain concepts in leadership and management that tend to mark organizations. Budget transparency or a lack of budget transparency is one of them. Those organizations that hold their cards close regarding their budgets and refuse to tell their people what is available tend to be lackluster and have significantly higher internal problems relating to a lack of trust with leadership.

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Rules of Leadership: The Importance of Front Line Supervision

In any of the three areas of leadership, i.e. the private sector, the public sector, and church world there is no greater need for good leadership than in the front line. In the private sector it is those people who deal directly with subordinates who make the organization work. In the public sector is those who direct and make sure the work is accomplished. This can be a public works foreman, a fire lieutenant, or a police sergeant. In higher education this can be a financial aid section director, admissions director, or a dean. In church world we’re talking about ministry leaders.

If an organization is going to stumble it will do so at the peril of the front line where the work and the leadership vision implementation is put into practice. Show me a great running organization and I’ll show you an exemplary first line cadre of supervisors. Show me a failing organization and I’ll look to the front line supervisors for the answers.

This begs the question how honest front line supervisors can be with leadership. I have seen organizations where supervisors play it safe and adhere to the status quo for innovation and productivity because doing anything else jeopardizes them with upper management criticism. The best supervisors are the ones who are empowered by leadership and encouraged to bring their people along, not only for the organization, but as individuals as well. Training and professional development for supervisors and the rank and file is critical. Ask any front line supervisor, or rank and file subordinate for that matter, how beneficial staff meetings are and see what kind of response you get. Ask a teacher or college professor if they are better instructors because of a quarter, semester, or a year’s worth of faculty meetings and see the response you get. Therein lies a very telling issue with the quality of leadership and, more often than not, front line supervision. To check the pulse of the organization look first and front line supervision. A healthy front line typically indicates a robust and healthy organizational structure and operation. Please remember this, people typically do not work for the entity called the organization. They work for their immmediate supervisor whom they call, their boss.

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