Saturday, October 28, 2006

My Leadership Exercise

As part of a class in our MBA program, I was required to ask for feedback from coworkers, fellow students, bosses, and family about my strengths. The following is that exercise. Made me feel good, anyway.

Balancing Act

We have had the opportunity during the block to address various theories and empirical evidence regarding principles of leadership. For this assignment, I was able to collect 15 samples from classmates, family, and work colleagues from academia and military settings. I was pleased to see some commonalities that I felt indicated I had presented a fairly consistent style or showed consistent strengths. I was pleased as well to see such a wide range of characteristics perceived as strengths by different individuals. I took this as a sign that I was exhibiting versatility and drew on the strengths required to adequately address different circumstances.
My initial game plan was to map each of the characteristics identified by contributors against the Zenger-Folkman model and discuss the process from that direction. The difficulty I soon found myself in was that some characteristics easily fit into the tent frame under more than one of the categories of character, personal capability, interpersonal skills, focus on results, or leading organizational change. And then I found that I had a hard time classifying some of the characteristics as any of the five poles or stakes for the ten.
So I thought of an alternative approach, which was reinforced by this morning’s video excerpt and the last reading for the class, about the importance of having stories, born not from research, but from experience- which can help me and others define who I am and what your convictions are. Thus I attempt to develop stories related to these characteristics that I see in myself and see confirmed by the comments of those around me. Stories one and two related to the first strength that I have chosen to focus on.
Characteristic One- Dealing Well With Pressure
The first characteristic I feel may be central to my future success as a leader is loosely labeled grace under fire or under pressure. Supporting evidence from the e-mails: Person 3 lines 7-9; Person 4 lines 5-6, lines 14-20; Person 6, lines 5-7; Person 7 lines 1-3 and 7-10; Person 10 lines 7-9; Person 11 lines 1-4; Person 12 lines 10-11; Person 13 lines 1-4, lines 6-9. Each of these indicated I have a characteristic pattern of either not feeling or (more frequently) not showing stress, and manage to accomplish some task or fulfill some role, in work, school, or home settings. I truly do feel that I am often blessed with a clarity of thought and a vision of what to do when bad things start happening- either in literal life or death situations or in the more frequent pressures of daily life demands- projects, deadlines, “crucial conversations”, etc. I think this has links to all five of the Zenger-Folkman tent poles- with specific situations requiring more or less of one or another.

Story 1- Grace under fire

When I was younger, in this case about 11 years old, we lived in a rural setting and burned our trash as there was no waste management system to speak of in any proximity to us. One time in the fall one of my older sisters had taken on the duty of burning the trash, but between the wind and the dryness of the season, she lost control of some cinders which started a small brush fire around the burn barrel. I was playing outside not far from that area and upon observing what was happening (my sister was screaming and soon started crying), ran over and immediately started smothering the fire with whatever materials were readily available. I don’t even remember what materials I used or how long it took me to get it under control. I remember my mother rushing out of our home with my distraught sister, and saw their relief that the fire had been extinguished. I felt a bit of a sense of accomplishment at my mother’s praise, but mostly shrugged it off- it was to be expected- there was a fire, and I needed to put it out- I couldn’t understand my sister’s reaction which was much less “adaptive” to the situation.

Story 2- Grace under water

At 8 years old, I was inside watching the ACC Basketball tournament on television- a revered event in my childhood and in the minds of ACC basketball fans across the South. I heard in the background my one younger brother speaking in extreme alarm to my parents- I heard only fragments of what was said, but somehow recognized that my other younger brother was in trouble at our fish pond. In just a few seconds I was out the door, down the hill, and approaching the pond. My brother was not visible, but his winter coat was floating in the water about 5 feet from the shore. I thought I saw one of the arms moving ever so slightly, but otherwise the scene was serene- the air was quiet excepting my heavy breathing. I immediately waded in- the water was not deep, but cold, having just melted from the winter freeze. I choked back fear and desperation as I pulled my 3 year old brother’s limp body to my chest and started carrying him back up the hill to our home. About half way back, my parents met me as they rushed down to us. About this time my brother started to regain consciousness, beginning to cough and vomit. They took him in and started to work on warming him to prevent or reverse hypothermia. I believe by this point I fell into tears as the worry for my brother caught up to all that had happened so quickly. I had saved my brother.

Strength Two- Challenge Authority, Defend Thoughts & Beliefs

The second strength which I feel will help me in my future success as a leader is my ability to challenge authority, stand up and defend my own thoughts and beliefs. This one concerns me as I note that it can very easily be a double-edged sword, and in some respects I would do well to be more restrained. People may take offense where none is intended (such as may be possible with the case described by Person 9, lines 6-9. Other examples from the e-mails to support my assertion of this as a strength include: Person 1, lines 4-7; Person 2 lines 3-6; Person 3 lines 1-3; Person 5 lines 6-9; Person 6 lines 1-4; Person 7 lines 2- 3; Person 8 lines 7-9; Person 9 lines 6-9; Person 10 lines 4-6; Person 14 lines 1-3 and 8-11. As my mother (Person 12) notes, I used to be far too indiscriminant in my pointed comments, and also too ignorant to know if I was right, and if it was worth fighting for to make my point heard and accepted. So this is a quality that I have refined over time. I’ve learned that I don’t always win even if I can prove I’m right. In terms of the Zenger-Folkman model, again this skill or behavior does not cleanly lie in one of the five poles, but I believe it has its greatest effects in the character realm and the interpersonal skills realm. It is buttressed by a tool chest in the personal capability realm that lends credibility to my assertions whether they are deserved or not. My last story attempts to illustrate an early time when I think I did this right, even though the immediate outcome may not have been so pretty.

Story 3- Speak truth boldly

My senior year in high school I was the senior class president at a private college preparatory school in rural Virginia. The dirty truth of it was that I was only there because I lacked the discipline to perform in anything but high school sports during my time at the local public high school. The other dirty truth was that the college prep school’s unspoken heritage was that it became chartered primarily as a response to the wave of desegregation just taking hold in the South. The school’s parent-teacher organization held a meeting to discuss the flagging enrollment of the high school, and brainstorm ideas to increase enrollment. They made the mistake of inviting me as the senior class president to address the issue from a student’s perspective. I took my five minutes to share with them how my African-American friends, one of whom would become the valedictorian at my former high school, derided me for coming to the racist school. I used a few other specific examples to support my argument that to increase enrollment in a meaningful way, the school had to overcome its reputation, deserved or not, as being a “whites only” high school. I made some enemies among some of my fellow students’ parents with those statements, but I also had a few parents approach me afterwards with comments to the effect of “it needed to be said- thank you for bringing the elephant out of the closet.”

So I’ve tried to use this exercise not only to help me define what my leadership strengths were, but with the stories, start to put together a way to think about these strengths so that I can help others see who I am, how I like to operate, and to share my convictions with others.

Summary of characteristics identified by contributors:
Ability to solidify a group
Independence of opinion
Ability to support a larger program (team player)
Sense of humor
Opinion/thought leader
Arguing persuasively without being confrontational
Knowing what is important and focusing on it to accomplish goals
Good attitude about school, life, jobs
Working for benefit of whole group
Sense of humor
Ability to influence others
Ability to change
Challenge authority
Confident calm
Sound counselor under pressure
Assisting others in their transitions
Organizational skills
Interpersonal skills
Content expertise
Change management
Consideration for others
Not afraid to confront a situation if necessary
Ability to feel comfortable in leadership roles
Give strength to others in a crisis situation
Ability to respond to recognize authority structures
Recognition that primary place for leadership is in home
Ability to turn weaknesses into strengths
Sense of humor
Strong, faithful reliable rock
Cool and calm
You get it done
Look at all angles, then address “root cause” issues
Openness to feedback
Openness to change and visionary “out of the box” thinking
1) KL- Fellow StudentAbility to Solidify a Group
During our groups you seemed to be the person that pulls the different parts together. I remember when we were first a group, you would organize things and always offered your house to meet at. More than that, you were an excellent interface between the disparate group personalities.
Independence of Opinion
This may be a function of having a PhD, but I don’t think so. I believe you to be an independent thinker. You come to conclusions on your own accord and your not squeamish about supporting and defending your position. I remember in marketing class how you would come to your own conclusions and didn’t hesitate to discuss this in a respectful way with Dr. Allred.
Ability to Support a Larger Program
This one can seem contrary to the above “independent” streak. I have been perplexed at times at your ability to support – staunchly - the larger program. Perhaps this is from your military training, but it seems you make a good leader in a following sort-of-way as well. It’s hard to put in words what I see, but it’s a very interesting, complex and fine line you seem to follow.
2) PB- Fellow Student
Sense of humor -
during the summer you organized a red-neck night where we laughed and had a great time.

opinion/thought leader-
in our socialism class you raised your hand yesterday and pushed back on the prof. that brought up new ideas different than what the prof was saying

confident -
at lowe's when you went to senior leaders for things when others said you can't just go to them, you're a peon. You had the confidence to see them without hesitation.
3) DC- Fellow Student
Arguing persuasively without being confrontational.
In class with professors, and with me in study groups, you demonstrated a great ability to argue well with people without being confrontational or making enemies, unless I just got mad that I couldn’t get the best of you.
Knowing what is important and focusing on it to accomplish.
You knew that grades were not important and that you have your terminal degree, and knew what things did (like job search, family, specific topics in school, etc) and you focused on those and accomplished.
Good attitude about school, life, jobs
You maintain calm, positive attitude despite pressure, stress, and problems. This will serve you very well in life. People like to work around people that don’t get worked up about problems and can focus despite pressure. It also serves you well in a career because work is going to be stressful and those that manage stress well will excel.
4) LT- Family

Evident in your life—in your teaching of your family, temple attendance, commitment to callings.
Extended family
During Dad’s illness, going down and spending all that time, talking with doctors, communicating with rest of us. Gave Dad and Mom strength, gave the rest of us strength.
Keeping in touch with Utah family and California family. I think you know them better than any of us other siblings do.
Army service
“I signed up, I’ve received the benefits, it’s my turn to go.”

Working for benefit of whole group
Not so much “What do I want?”, but more, “What would be best for my family?”
You haven’t lost yourself—you still work on personal professional goals—but you consider your family’s needs to be paramount.
(For example, I don’t think you ever planned to spend so much of your life in Utah…but you’re making it work.)

Sense of humor
May not seem like a leadership quality, but important, nonetheless. Has the ability to change atmosphere and turn a tense situation around. Here’s a specific example:
This summer at the beach, Gina and Ron were extremely cranky with each other. The first hours they were almost unbearable to be around. Mom was catastrophizing as well. John and I were concerned about how the rest of the week would go. I was trying to be Pollyanna, and we had decided to just have fun as our individual family. Things got a bit better. But when you and your family came on Saturday, the whole atmosphere of the vacation improved. It was now REALLY fun. We spent more time as a group, and had a great time together. We laughed a lot, we felt good, we enjoyed our time together as the extended Tucker family. We have some good family memories, and we really look forward to spending time with you and your family again. Hey, have I told you that I REALLY love your kids, and your wife, and you, too? Uh, oh, I’m getting mushy here.

5) DB- Fellow Student
The ability to influence others (their way of thinking, the group’s decisions, etc)
An example of this is in our group dynamics class when we had our first “fishbowl” assignment and you stood up to facilitate the group’s conversation and were able to influence the process we used, our communication mechanisms, and the outcome of our group interactions. I know, this is not the best example but it’s all I could come up with at the moment. In general, you are very good at establishing your credibility, asking pointed questions to show your interest/understanding, and providing well-thought-through recommendations.
A weak example is in class when you are very willing to voice your opinion and stand up for your values, thoughts, etc. Everyone knows where you stand because you are willing to “stand up” and let us know. You are transparent and very confident with who you are and have the respect of those around you because if your integrity and moral character.
Ability to change
In our group dynamics class you’ve identified an area of focus for yourself and have impressed me with your ability and willingness to make changes in your way of interacting with others in order to learn and grow from the experience. This is also consistent with your ability to move from the military profession, to teaching, to MBA School, to working in the OB field. Each of these demand different styles and attributes, you’ve been able to manage these changes over your career and successfully adjust appropriately.
I am just beginning to have the chance to work with you and so my examples are pretty lame, but I’ve been impressed by your technique, personal strengths, and intellectual contributions to our classes and group.
6) MS- Fellow Student
. I admire your ability to challenge authority. You obviously know that this is something I’m working on. You are working on the opposite, which shows that this ability is a part of you, not something that you have to force out of yourself. I can think of many examples in class. In ethics you expanded on what Prof. Thompson would say because you had already studied the same topic. Other times you would argue that the professor’s point of view wasn’t necessarily “scripture.” I was thankful that you shared your knowledge and insight with everyone.
. I admire your confident calm. You have always been very calm and collected when you talk with anyone. I can think of a particular time with Becky Lindsay. You remember, don’t you?  You were able to calm her down and let her know that you cared about her and wanted to help her help us as a group. I know I could come to you for advice if I needed it because you have the confidence to
. I admire your ability to know EVERYBODY!! Who doesn’t know Dr. Major Dana L. Tucker??? NO ONE!! I’m still trying to figure out exactly how you did this so well. You have a great ability to network with everyone. I think of the party that you hosted at the end of the school year. Everyone was thankful to come and you did a wonderful job making everyone feel welcome and appreciated. I know that everyone will want to keep in touch with you in the future because you will probably be the one keeping in touch with them!
7) CM- Military coworker-
During soldier readiness processing in February there was stress and anxiety among all Soldiers who were called up to go the active duty mission. During that time you provided sound advice and judgment when dealing with the issues that we were facing as leaders of our respective companies. You also tactfully assisted the senior leadership in developing resolutions to the systemic problems that affected everyone.While going through transitions (S- and Company Command) you provided me with the tools that I needed to be successful. In both situations you briefed me on what things I should make priorities and what things I could delegate to subordinates. You also provided me with a feel of what I could expect from the personnel around me and how to effectively deal with them. Your guidance greatly eased the transitions that I experienced while serving with you and eventually lead to my success.While preparing for your annual training mission at FT Jackson you displayed very proficient organizational skills. During your preparation you ensured everyone involved was prepared for the task at hand. You conducted spot checks and rehersals for people in key positions. Your attention to detail and professionalism lead to your success in carrying outyour mission.

8) CR- Classmate

#. Interpersonal skillsI was actually pretty surprised when we got into our classes the first semester at how down to earth and easy going you are. I didn't get that impression from the rafting trip so it was pleasant to get to know you better. You are fun to be around and we know that no one wants to follow boring people.#. Content expertiseI know that your vastly superior intellect wasn't originally schooled in HR, but you are able to use the skills and many of the concepts from your PhD into our situation now. You are very articulate and walk the walk with credibility to get others to follow.#. Change managementI can always count on you to challenge an idea if necessary. You are great at analyzing a situation and making good decisions about how things ought to be. And when you do this you're able to fool everybody into thinking that you know what you're talking about!

9. KL- Classmate

. Humor: You’ve probably gotten this one a lot, but your ability to humorously diffuse a situation (AND a bomb, if required) helps to relieve stress and re-focus the group. Perhaps even more important, this ability facilitates the all-important aspect of ‘group-ness’ that is so vital for a team/group to have. This is a valuable leadership trait for you because it enables people to trust and like you. I like to follow/support someone who is fun and funny. Another thing about your sense of humor that bodes well for leadership and your influence in a group is that besides being able to make others laugh, you’re quick to laugh—which builds rapport and consensus. Though you make think this in jest, it really is one of the traits I admire about your leadership style.. Bold [Leadership]: Again, probably a common evaluation of you, but I’ll still stay that I like that you’re willing to stand up and say what we’re all thinking. I think of LeBaron. I think of Sawaya, Allred, and McQueen. I think of almost every first-semester class. I think of our group meetings when you’d speak up and tell either Kyle or Dave that their train of thought was ‘just stupid.’ Directness is valuable and (I think) used most appropriately when backed up with credibility, mutual understanding, and humility. Because you have these qualities, your ability to be bold is effective and admirable.. Consideration for Others: I say this trait because I think of the many times when you’ve felt obligated to ‘make up’ your portion of a group project—even it means spending extra time, money, or effort to do so. I’ve seen you volunteer to do the ‘crap’ that nobody else wanted to do because of your consideration for others’ time and desires. You’ve opened your home so many times—formally and informally—to group members, track members, and MBAs in general that I definitely believe you want others to enjoy themselves and not have to shoulder the worry. I also notice, despite your joking, that you’re very conscious of the struggles of others (even first-time MBA professors of Marketing) and their feelings. I admire this and generally, I think it adds to your center tent-pole of character—contributing to your overall leadership ability.

10. AS- Classmate

# Self Aware:OK so it's not a story. It's more of a continuous observation. You're comfortable in your own skin where most MBA's are doing their best to try and fit in someone elses. When you interview, you know what you're looking for and I understand your frustration with recruiters lack of foresight. # Not afraid to confront a situation if necessary: Sending your email to a teacher (regarding his behavior in class) I believe is not just a product of your position in the MBAA, and that you would have done it anyway. Not just stepping up to the "crucial conversation" but having a well thought out point.
# Ability to feel comfortable in leadership roles:This must be from your history in both the military and in managing a classroom. I've never seen you behave as if you are uncomfortable. You are in control of yourself even when others may be a little less so. You're external stress level does not indicate you are currently taking credits and that you're about to leave your family for months. You've got the whole package bro.

11. Dad
- An ability to give strength to others in a crisis situation, even when the crisis effects him.
For example, I think of the time when I was in ICU or CCU with very severe pancreatitis. His presence calmed me tremendously, and was a strength to his mother, and to his siblings. He was reassuring to other family members, was the primary communicator with physicians, and did all this while keeping up with his own family responsibilities, and his military duty
- An ability to respond to recognized authority structures.
One example: Dana can handle military authority significantly better than I could. He has stayed in the service and dealt with challenges that military authority can provide, and has risen in rank accordingly. Consistent with this respect for authority, he has accepted, without hesitation, his call up to serve in Iraq.
A second example: Dana’s recognition of patriarchal authority. When he was interviewed to be ordained a High Priest, he requested that such ordination wait until his father could attend to that duty. He has continually sought counsel from his father, even though Dana is clearly more intelligent/knowledgeable in many areas than his father.
- A recognition that the primary place where he is a leader is in his home.
Dana has repeatedly made family considerations primary in all decisions he has made; where he would attend graduate school; the professional positions he has taken, and those he contemplates taking. Whatever strength he would be to any organization will never be as great a strength as he can be and is to his family. In my profession as a clinical psychologist, I’ve seen too many who have allowed out side of home leadership positions to have more importance than their leadership in the home, destroying their families in the process.
12. Mom
- Your ability to turn your weaknesses into strengths.
For example, when you were younger (high school and younger, and a little bit after your mission) you could get really outraged about stuff Seth would do or injustices that happened with the principal slamming you up against the wall over a triviality. But now you have a sense of proportion of which battles are worth fighting and which to just let go. You are still usually right, like your dad, but you don’t have to make sure everyone else knows all the time
- Your sense of humor
The entire family encircles you like a magnet. I learned to love and repeat the words to the Holy Grail with you. If I’m having trouble with depression or despair, you get me back on the right track as much as possible. I love the very sound of your laugh and your crooked smile. You are not afraid to laugh at yourself or point out your own occasional pretentiousness—I’m thinking especially of after dinner times with the family.
- While the above, I believe, are necessary leadership qualities, the strongest you to me is that you are a strong, faithful, reliable ROCK.
The closest I ever felt to you was when Dad was life-threateningly ill and you were right there as often as you possibly could be. I know that was hard on you and Christine and your children, but you and the Lord kept me in one piece. I was very, very close to the edge of losing it many times, but I didn’t want to disappoint my leader.
13. Spouse

- You stay cool and calm. Whenever I get uptight about something, whether it is really warranted or not, you are able to calm me down and remind me of what’s really important. You do this mainly by not letting things effect you or not showing that you are being affected by whatever is going on. This happens almost daily with my dealings with raising children (having a sense of humor most often helps). I remember that you stayed calm and responded quickly when Nathan’s stroller fell into the lake—with Nathan in it. I just stood there in hysteria. You were not only a comfort to your Dad when he was sick, but your Mom and your sister needed your stability.

- Intelligence and a willingness to apply it in your various activities across work, home, church, military.

-You get it done. You are a hard worker, balancing family, work, school, church and military. We have moved times in the last years and many of those moves you did totally on your own. When you take on a task, I don’t have to worry about it because it will be done on time and done well. You are able to take on responsibilities that many men would not be able to handle—getting a PhD while supporting a young growing family, fulfilling military duties and succeeding in moving up in rank to Major, being nice to your loud, overbearing Brazilian relatives… Thanks, I love you!

14. TB- Colleague, supervisor

HonestThere isn't one really telling story that would demonstrate this any clearer than the couple times that when I have confronted you with a concern or question, you willingly took ownership with no excuses. You clearly communicated your own personal thoughts on the situations and effected changes to correct the discrepancy.LoyalYour loyalty has multiple layers. I see, and appreciate, that you are extremely loyal to family first and foremost. Your career search has always focused on what would provide the best for your family. However, there is an institutional loyalty that exists - even though it was best to find a job which would provide better for your family you initiated discussions with UB to attempt a means of staying with them.OpenWhen I first started talking with you as you finished up your Ph.D. and trying to get you into the career field (academia) that you wanted at that time - I knew that I could say something to you and that I would receive personalized feedback. You do not couch your discussions with useless platitudes, you are willing to say what is on your mind - in a manner that others see it as feedback not criticism. I saw this many times with your students.Those three things said - as positive as they are they can work against you too. To be too honest and open can leave you vulnerable to criticism of being cold and callous. Loyalty also can create possible situations where you may find yourself reluctant to leave something behind - yet it may be necessary in order to further yourself.

15. JK- Boss
1. One of your greatest strengths is:
An ability to look at all angles of a problem/situation, or issue and come to a conclusion or recommended course of action that will address ‘root cause’ issues.
For example, I think of the time when:
When you were asked to create a scorecard for the TP&PM team, you quickly learned as much as you could about balanced scorecards, the programs we managed, what metrics we track, and how we could measure effectiveness. You took the time to talk with each team member, inviting all ideas, thoughts into a shared solution for our team, while incorporating best practices from the literature and knowledge from what other companies have done in the past. You made each of our team members feel as though they contributed to the project and were in fact, owners of the end product. I was impressed with your ability to balance both best practices from the literature and incorporate aspects of what success will look like from our team’s perspective while balancing and recommending what will work best based on Lowe’s culture.
2. One of your greatest strengths is:
Your openness to feedback.
For example, I think of the time when:
One of the things I most appreciate about working with you over the summer Dana was your openness to feedback. You both asked for feedback on an on-going basis and then when received, was open to what was discussed and it became a dialogue and conversation, with clear action steps and direction that you could take. I also appreciated your willingness to share feedback with me and others. I strongly felt your feedback was both valuable and action-based and made our working relationship so much richer because of it. I feel this is one of the most difficult things to understand and appreciate and your ability to do both will serve you well in your career.
3. One of your greatest strengths is:
Openness for change and visionary, ‘out of the box’ thinking.
For example, I think of the time when:
While you have a great deal of knowledge, you are always open to and encouraged new ways of looking at things. This is very important as we can become very focused on what we need to do and work on the ‘way it’s always been done’ rather than take a little time to review and seek new information to look at issues, problems, and solutions in a new light. I appreciate the strategy and vision you brought into our team.

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