Leadership Contrails

Gerwig 2014-06-27

Do you notice your surroundings? Often, people who have good self-awareness also notice their surroundings. And as you already know, self-awareness is considered the world over as a key to personal growth and development. If you take nothing else from this week’s brief leadership article, take this; improve your ability to see. Your surroundings. Yourself. Others.

Let me tell a short story about furniture to begin. Ever have a piece of furniture that you couldn’t part with, either because you couldn’t afford a new piece or you couldn’t stand to part with it (it was too comfortable or you were too attached to it or you were too “whatever”)?

Years ago, not long after we were first married, my wife and I were given an old brown, sleeper sofa. We gladly accepted it and put it in a spare bedroom that served as my office. It was great. It was built like a tank and our young boys couldn’t destruct it. We spent hours playing on it. Reading on it. Building make-believe forts out of the cushions. Taking Sunday afternoon naps on it. And so on.

It was almost like part of the family. Looking back. I should have given it a name and claimed it as an annual tax deduction. You get the idea. It was a great sofa and I loved it. However, the sofa was old when we inherited it and was used often and hard once it found its way into my study.

Yes, the day came when “we” decided it was time to part with the sofa. We listed it locally but couldn’t find a buyer. We tried to donate it but not even the charities wanted it. Too heavy. Too old. After shedding a few tears because 1) I was losing one of my babies, and 2) No one wanted her, I told my wife we’d drag it to the curb and someone would take it. After all, we had people cruise our neighborhood street weekly looking for bargains and “stuff” (read junk). I was convinced it would be gone in a couple hours. Wrong. No one took it! Finally, we called the city for a special pick-up. My baby went to the dump. No one would pay for her. No one wanted her. I was devastated.

All joking aside, I remember a critical lesson. Not everyone sees things like I do. What I thought was a treasure (ok, at least a decent hand-me-down sofa), others saw as a piece of junk they wouldn’t even haul away and reupholster with new fabric.

An observation I’ve made is that mediocre and poor leaders don’t “see” clearly. They don’t truly see their surroundings. They don’t look in all directions. And they believe they’re holding a treasure while others only see a piece of junk. World-class leaders, on the other hand, not only have an ability to cast a forward-looking vision, they have the ability to look back and see where they’ve been. They see the results of their actions (the consequences of their behaviors) and make adjustments (large and small) in order to improve.

You see, each of us leaves a wake, a trail or a path behind us, somewhat like the contrails of a jet flying across a perfectly deep blue sky. As we look behind us, what do we see? A path of destruction like the path left by a tornado? Or a path of blessing and abundance like the path left by the legendary Johnny Appleseed (who left a path, a contrail, of apple trees)?

World-class leaders leave contrails of better relationships. Stronger employees. Healthier teams and marriages. Well-adjusted children. If they’ve left a negative spot or two along the path, they quickly make needed adjustments. Their vision is clear and their self-awareness is high. If they see a piece of junk or a blemish, they recognize it for what it is. If they see true treasure, they appreciate its value. Either way, world-class leaders see clearly when looking at their contrails.

Set a forward-looking vision and work a plan to achieve it, but also look behind occasionally at your contrails. Assess where you’ve been and how you’ve done. Are you leaving a positive wake wherever you go? Or a path of destruction? Improve your ability to see. Within. Without. Self. Others. Surroundings. Clearly.

Look carefully, make an honest assessment, adjust, and move on. Good luck!

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.

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