A Courageous Character Keeps Your Leadership Development Journey on Track
Those who follow my leadership development strategies know that I often talk about accountability and personal responsibility. When writing articles, I want to include the concept every single time. When keynoting, it’s always a key point. Some even refer to me as the “Accountability Queen.” 😊
What fuels my commitment to accountability and personal responsibility as a core leadership performance principle?
Personal confession – even with the nickname “The Accountability Queen,” I find that I continually need to challenge myself to resist the temptation to finger-point. I catch myself shifting blame even more during these tumultuous times, this Era of Exponential Progress, Digital Disruption, and Cancel Culture.
That’s one of the reasons I appreciate Lessons in Leadership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
If it’s true for me, it may be the same for you. Plus, it seems that the Blame-Game-Cancel-Culture mindset has become the American way. Cultural norms can be seductive – convincing us that it’s acceptable to finger-point and come up with an excuse when we can’t keep our commitments.
However, as visionary leaders, we get to be counter-cultural. We are strategically called to this time in history to do what’s healthy, expanding our own leadership capacity, in addition to the capacity of everyone on our teams.
Our daughter, Danae, had to deal with this challenge when climbing Kilimanjaro. So, did my son and daughter-in-law, Westin and Maria, who just summited Kilimanjaro this past weekend.
And, that’s why we’re talking about accountability again today.
Blame-Game-Cancel-Culture Saps Your Leadership Oxygen
In the intro to this series, we discuss this Era of Exponential Progress. Some executive leaders embrace the changes brought about by Digital Disruption. Others perceive the unknown as threatening and fearful.
Both social and legacy media capitalize on this uncertainty. It seems like we’re fighting a new virus…the highly contagious Fear Virus. This new pandemic robs you of your Leadership Oxygen and positive leadership influence.
As an experienced leader, you know the importance of accountability and personal responsibility for yourself and your teams. You value honesty, integrity, and serving leadership. You prioritize values and virtues. All of these become even more important during times of chaos and disruption.
However…the executive leaders I talk to, tell me that this time seems…different.
Whatever the reason for feeling overwhelmed, when your character core isn’t strengthened and protected, you stall out. With the inability to use your Leadership Oxygen, you lose vision and hope in the midst of all the chaos and change.
You become a visionless, strategy-less leader. Yikes!
Let’s discuss how you get more Leadership Oxygen when you strengthen your accountability and personal responsibility, a vital part of your virtuous character core.
What’s happening in your world? What is stealing your Leadership Energy and Oxygen?
Lack of Leadership Oxygen Stalls Leadership Influence
My daughter, Danae, recently climbs to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Before tackling the trail, Danae does her research. She discovers that many climbers fail due to a lack of oxygen. Get the first part of Danae’s story here.
Here’s how Danae reports:
“Many of the people who fail to make it to the top, choose the shortest route. The result? They don’t allow enough time for their bodies to adapt to changing conditions. Can you imagine, Mom, you’re going through five different ecological zones on your way to the top of this majestic mountain? You start off in Bushland. It’s hot and dry. Then you move through a Rainforest Zone. It’s warm and humid. At 13 000 ft you hit the Moorland Zone, and then the Alpine Desert Zone. With the rise in altitude, animal and plant life all but disappears and it’s getting colder. At 16 500 ft, you’re in the Arctic Zone!”
Mountaineers can suffer from a lack of oxygen when they move up a mountain too quickly.
Let’s discuss the first leadership strategy lesson you can learn from these climbers’ failures.
Fuel your Leadership Oxygen with a Courageous Character Core
Many climbers choose the shortest route. It looks like the “right” choice – the easy route. However, their bodies don’t get time to acclimatize. They fail due to a lack of oxygen. Today’s challenges also have the potential to steal your Leadership Oxygen. If your character core isn’t strong you stall out trying to catch your breath.
In this Era of Exponential Progress, changes take place at breakneck speed. You often need to make instant decisions as you deal with unknown and unpredictable cultural, economic, political, or technological zones.
This taxes you on a spiritual/motivational, relational, physical, mental, or financial level. Often, it sneaks up and launches a surprise attack in the area where you are paying the least attention. It might be the area you regarded to be the “easy route.”
The result? In your efforts to expand your leadership influence, you experience a lack of Leadership Oxygen.
That’s why you need a special brand of courage and character – Sisu Courage!
What similarities do you see between Danae’s Kilimanjaro experience and your leadership development adventure?
3 Leadership Development Steps to Build Leadership Oxygen
A friend sends me Lessons in Leadership by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, as a New Year’s gift. Not being familiar with Sacks (even though I have a library full of leadership resources!), I hesitatingly open the book. When I read this opening, I’m hooked!
“A leader is one who takes responsibility. Leadership is born when we become active, rather than passive, when we do not wait for someone else to act because perhaps there is no one else! At least not here, not now.”
Rabbi Sacks understands the leadership challenges of today. He knows that even the most successful leaders might be tempted to take the seemingly “easy” route of the Blame-Game-Cancel-Culture. Conventional practices – that enticing short route of shifting blame, are not leading you to a path where you can expand your leadership. Gradually they get their Leadership Oxygen sucked out of them.
Experienced, successful mountaineers regularly exercise their lungs, and prepare for the most difficult conditions. Similarly, you get to continuously strengthen the character traits that will help you navigate the future.
So what is the counter-cultural move that you make to handle the rapid shifts in your tricky leadership terrain? By keeping a close watch on your own accountability and personal responsibility, you keep your Leadership Oxygen supply at a healthy level.
Sacks talk about responsibility/accountability on three different levels. I believe these three leadership development action steps will strengthen you, as you continue reaching for your goals and expanding your leadership influence.
- Personal Responsibility
- Moral Responsibility
- Collective Responsibility
Watch This Video: Leadership Development: Is Accountability Part of a Courageous Leadership Character
Action Step #1: Personal Responsibility Boosts Leadership Development
During the pandemic, a myriad of blame-game options existed. The challenges were extreme, unprecedented, and unexpected. Here’s one leader’s honest account of what he experienced…
“Danita, I feel out of control. I’m unable to plan and predict. I feel cheated and want to blame someone. Who do I pick? The government? Health officials? Media? China? I feel like the wind has been knocked out of me!”
Have you also experienced the emotional turmoil and frustration this leader describes?
On the flip side, other leaders manage to embrace a mindset of accountability. They stay healthy on spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual, and financial levels. How did they do it? The way to a strong leader and a robust culture starts with each person addressing his or her own growth areas.
You create a vision for a hopeful future when you take responsibility for your choices and actions. Courageously reframe your climb up a challenging mountain with a counter-cultural strategy. That’s how you convert the fear and uncertainty associated with the Era of Exponential Progress into an adventurous leadership development journey. This builds your Leadership Oxygen capacity.
When you discover that you haven’t made the best choices, Rabbi Sacks has encouraging advice.
“It is not their victories that make people leaders; it is the way they cope with their defeats – their ability to learn, to recover, and to grow!”
Top Tip: 3 Strategies to Expand Your Leadership Influence
When the terrain is quickly changing and you feel out of breath, get renewed clarity on your vision, values, and virtues. The ebook 3 Strategies to Expand your Leadership Influence – The Personal Vision, Values, and Virtues eBook might be a place to start. Get it here.
Action Step #2: Moral Responsibility Calls for Courage to Not Conform
As a leader, you need maximum oxygen capacity to stand up to the type of peer pressure that’s rampant in many cultures. It takes courage to do what’s right. In fact, it takes that special brand of courage – SISU Courage.
When Exponential Progress, Digital Disruption, and Cancel Culture are in full swing, and when moral responsibility is at a low, excuses can be a natural response. I heard one leader lament, “Well, everyone else is doing it. It’s a cultural trend and I feel like I need to comply.”
Falling for this go-along-to-get-along strategy is typical of conventional practices. Today you are called to be a counter-cultural leader.
Here’s an example. We see in the news, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles around the nation are concerned. Recently, I have had three separate conversations with school board members. I ask them what they believe is their overall responsibility. They all reply that their job is policy-oriented. In other words, the belief is that their primary role is to enforce state and federal policies. One even said, “I regularly set my own personal convictions aside, and JUST implement state and federal policy.”
Yikes! That’s not Moral Responsibility! They sound like the people in Germany during the reign of Adolf Hitler! They neglected their Moral Responsibility.
I share my concern with a top North Dakota elected official. I appreciate his response: “Elected officials have a lot more responsibility than implementing state and federal policy! We’re the gatekeepers for our society and are a place where bad policy can be fixed.”
As leaders, we have a Gatekeeper role…whether at home or at work.
As a vision-casting leader, you are uniquely called to have the courage to counter-cultural. Don’t conform. Don’t join the go-along-to-get-along crowd. This is a compromise that leads to the decay of our company, families, and country.
In the words of Rabbi Sacks, “Moral responsibility demands that we don’t look the other way when we see injustice. Instead, we register protest, because our silence may be regarded as consent.”
I’m also challenged by this statement from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: “The simple step of a courageous individual is to not take part in a lie. One word of truth outweighs the world.”
To be a counter-cultural leader with this level of Leadership Oxygen, you need a special brand of courage – Sisu Courage! Read more about this powerful word, Sisu, in my article, How the Sisu Spirit Improves Your Leadership Strategy. Sisu is a word that my Finnish ancestors used. It describes the ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles with grit and determination!
Top Tip: Take the D.A.K.O.T.A. Survey
In Millennials Matter, I use the acronym D.A.K.O.T.A. to define the character traits I associate with solid virtues. This acronym is based upon my appreciation for my North Dakota roots. I invite you to work through the D.A.K.O.T.A. survey. It’s a helpful tool to discern where you and/or your team stands on Accountability. Plus, you’ll discover other critical character traits to strengthen your Leadership Oxygen capacity. Timeless traits such as Determination; Awareness; Knowing; Optimism; and Trustworthiness.
Action Step #3: Collective Responsibility Drives a Positive Leadership Influence
I personally find this concept by Rabbi Sacks in Lessons in Leadership to be mind-blowing and counter-cultural:
“The Israelites were called e be a nation of servant leaders. They were the people called on, by virtue of the covenant, to accept responsibility not only for themselves and their families but for the moral-spiritual state of the nation as a whole. This is a principle that later became known as kol Yisreal arevim zeh bazeh, “All Israelites are responsible for one another” (Shavuot 39a). Jews were the people who did not leave leadership to a single individual, however wholly or exalted, or to an elite. Instead, every one of them was expected to be both a prince and a servant; that is to say, every one of them was called on to be a leader. Never was leadership more profoundly democratized.”
He goes on to say, “As Chaim Weizmann, first president of Israel, famously said, “I had a nation of 1 million presidents.”
I see collective responsibility in action when parents, grandparents, and community members take action. They have learned the easy route of go-along-get-along might not be the best route after all. They seek to find out what’s in their children’s school books and curriculum. They attend school board meetings. They are willing to serve on the board. I admire their willingness to look beyond conventional practices, be counter-cultural, and engage in civil matters.
As Alexandr Solzhenitsyn says in Under the Rubble: “If we wait for history to present us with freedom and other precious gifts, we risk waiting in vain. History is us – and there is no alternative but to shoulder the burden of what we so passionately desire and bear it out of the depths.”
Top Tip: Make a Domino Difference
I keep a domino on my desk and stop to reflect on it every day. Plus, I have an orange stickie note that says: What Domino Difference might I do today to make a positive impact?
Why a domino?
Here’s what I say: Did you know that a domino can knock over another domino 1 1/2 times its size? So, in only 29 moves, a domino that’s 5mm high – not professional size, not tournament size, but a micro size – can eventually knock down a domino the size of the Empire State Building!
So, here’s my question for you today…what 5 mm micro moves might you make that will build your Leadership Oxygen capacity so that your leadership influence continues to expand?
These words from Rabbi Sacks shine a light on what you might do to strengthen your leadership influence…
“A great leader creates leaders. If we make a positive difference to one other person, that is enough. If you change a life, you begin to change the universe in the only way we can: one person at a time, one day at a time, one act at a time.”
Make your domino move today, even if it’s “only” a 5mm micro move.
Your Leadership Development Kilimanjaro is no Match for Your Courageous Character
I know my friends tease me about talking about accountability so often. I know they call me “The Accountability Queen!” And yet, they agree…
You get more Leadership Oxygen when you strengthen your accountability and personal responsibility, a vital part of your character core.
By strengthening your accountability muscle, you strengthen your courageous character core. This strong foundation boosts your oxygen levels so that you have the leadership lung capacity to reach your destination.
Here’s a summary of the first leadership development strategy:
- Courageous Character – Get more Leadership Oxygen when you strengthen your character core. A solid core builds your leadership capacity. Plus, it fuels the courage needed to stand up to the attacks you may face on a personal, moral, and collective level.
With your strengthened, courageous character core, I’m confident you will reach your leadership summit.
Your leadership matters, NOW, more than ever.
This article was featured in my March Newsletter. Here’s a link to the newsletter – there are more articles and videos you may find useful. Danita Bye 2nd Newsletter of this Year
You can read all the articles in the Sisu Courage Series by clicking on the links below:
Leadership Development Lesson: Nurture a courageous character core so that you always have enough Leadership Oxygen to climb your Leadership Kilimanjaro.
Leadership Development Question: What might you do to build Sisu Courage in these difficult times?