What would it take to move your leadership to the next level? A kick in the ass, perhaps? Read on for a special Q&A between the founder of JB Media Group, Justin Belleme, and speaker, author, consultant, and CEO of Giant Leap Consulting, Bill Treasurer.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting with one of my favorite and most inspirational mentors, Bill Treasurer. I first met Bill in the fall of 2011 at an overnight retreat for the Leadership Asheville program where he was a facilitator.
JB Media Group was in its first year of business and the program was a stretch for me, both financially and as a time commitment. I was certainly out of my comfort zone at the retreat, but I couldn’t have imagined better facilitator for what I was working through.
One of the areas that Bill is best known for is his work around building and cultivating courage in leaders. I was so moved and impressed by the sessions at the retreat that I hired Bill a year later to facilitate JB Media Group’s new overnight retreat in 2012. This experience helped our team build trust and a deeper connection to each other. It set the stage for our next period of growth.
Bill’s newest book, A Leadership Kick in the Ass, will be released on January 16, 2017. I wanted to connect with him and learn about how his philosophies have evolved in the last few years.
Justin Belleme: Bill, you’ve been working in leadership coaching and courage building for a while now. How has your philosophy changed in the years since we last worked together?
Bill Treasurer: I’ve become less of a leadership purist in a lot of ways. Before working with a lot of leaders, I relied on book knowledge too much, which, in the case of leadership, tends to be overly idealistic. Now I believe that leadership is a practice of approximation. Now that I’ve spent two decades working with, coaching, and developing leaders, I realize that there are no perfect leaders. Each leader can approximate a leader ideal, but no one leader lives the leader ideal perfectly. Leaders are human beings, and human beings are a blend of good and bad. You strive to do good, but some days you do bad. Effective leaders lead with goodness more often than ineffective leaders, but even good leaders sometimes fall short.
I also think that too many leaders are what I would call conditional leaders. They know that embodying a clear set of values, being a good role model, and inspiring others is the right way to lead, but when they face major stressors, they ditch good behaviors and start operating out of fear. They tell themselves, “I’ll act like a good leader just as soon as all these frustrations go away!” It’s conditional leadership; I’ll be good when the situation gets better, when people stop complaining, when I get paid more, etc., etc.
JB: I can certainly relate to the conditional leadership, I know I have been there in growing JB Media Group. We are at a point now where leadership expectations are changing at the team level as we grow. What advice do you have for growing organizations where team members are going to have to grow as leaders as they move from service delivery to more of a management role?
BT: My advice would be to get clear on why you want to grow more leaders. Is it to prepare for leader succession, to prep the next generation of leaders coming up? Is it because your company is growing and you need leaders who can provide stability as the company grows? Is it to professionalize the company, so that everyone is living into a higher standard? Start by identifying why you even need more leaders.
It’s also a really good idea to tie leadership development to the strategy of the organization, because both strategy and leadership should be future focused. Strategy is about where you want to go; leadership provides the energy and executional focus to help the organization get to its destination. So once you define the strategy, you should next define the kind of leaders who can help get you to the future you’ve defined. You may find that your strategy is surfacing attributes of leadership that your organization doesn’t yet possess. That’s where the development comes in. Either you have to work with your existing leaders to develop the skills and attributes your strategy dictates you need, or you have to hire leaders from the outside who already have them.
JB: That makes sense. We are looking to do both internal leadership development and identify the needed leadership attributes as the team grows. As a follow-up, how can existing leaders in the organization support a culture of leadership development and courage building?
BT: First, define the values that you expect everyone to embody. Leaders set the culture by first establishing—and more important embodying—the values that make up the culture.
Second, don’t be cheap. Too many business owners view leadership development as an expense, so they try to do it on the cheap. For example, I was recently contacted by a $500-million building company that wanted me to do a half-day leadership program for all 80 of the company’s leaders. This was going to be the only means of developing their leaders this year. I declined, because I knew that a session like that would have no lasting value at all. Existing leaders need to view leadership development as an investment in the company’s future.
Thirdly, each employee deserves to have a performance plan that is updated, at a minimum, each year. That plan should include specific expectations about courageous actions that are expected of the employee in the year ahead. In addition to an aspiring leader’s actual job performance, they need to be judged against how outside their comfort zone they were willing to go, and how much leadership they demonstrated.
JB: Thank you Bill, I really needed to hear that. I have not been shy about investing in leadership development and outside support based on our company size, but performance plans and evaluations have been one of my biggest weaknesses as a leader so far in growing the company. We have put many of the team members through Leadership Asheville and will continue to utilize retreats, planning sessions, and internal process development projects to give team members a chance to work on their own leadership.
I would like to move on to a few questions about your new book. I believe that this is your sixth book. What was your major inspiration the title, A Leadership Kick in the Ass.
BT: The original title was Leadership is Freak’n Hard because so much of the book is about just how hard leadership really is. But as the book evolved, I realized that it’s really about those singular moments, typically in the form of a humiliating failure, that are so perplexing that they cause you to question everything about your leadership. The publisher and I settled on the truth of the words “kick in the ass” because that’s what those situations feel like. The phrase may not be highbrow, but I’d rather speak like my readers and clients than the leadership textbooks I used to read.
JB: In your book you introduce the term Confident Humility. How do confidence and humility interact in the context of leadership and courage?
BT: To be most effective, you need both. If you’re all confidence and no humility, you run a serious risk of becoming arrogant and “all about me.” If you’re all humility and no confidence, people will take advantage of you. We need both. We want leaders to be strong, assertive, and have backbone. But we also want them to not be stuck up, to remember their roots, and to show grace. The first law of leadership is this: It’s not about YOU. It’s about those being led. A courageous leader puts his or her strength (confidence) to work for the good of others (humility).
JB: That makes sense. At times I could use a little more confidence in my leadership style. You also have a section on “How to Kick Your Own Ass.” Is it important for a leader to kick their own ass every now and then? What are some of the signs that a self ass kicking might be in order?
BT: You bet! A leader must always keep his or her ego in check. Put another way, a leader has to guard against losing his or her humility. Being a leader comes with a lot of trappings that may cause you to think you’re more special than you actually are. People will defer to your ideas and decisions, not because they’re good, but because your nameplate says “leader.” Leaders have to guard against getting pampered into thinking that they are superior to non-leaders. Don’t surround yourself with kiss-ups and sycophants.
One tip I provide in the book is to appoint a Chief Ego Deflator. It’s important for every leader to have kinship with a few key people who won’t pamper you. You need that special someone who can hold up the mirror so you can catch yourself being yourself. You need at least one person who can call bullshit on your trickery and self-deception. Love that person. Cherish that person. Give that person latitude to kick your fanny freely. That person can keep your ego from raging and your humility from falling asleep.
JB: “Chief Ego Deflator,” that’s a good one. I tend to be an optimist so it’s good for me to have a few members of my team who keep me in check, to ensure that I am not getting ahead of myself. I don’t want to run us off a cliff.
You work with a lot of leaders in your coaching and consulting business. I’m curious, who are your courage and leadership heroes?
BT: I love witnessing unconditional leadership when people take the high road when it would be so much easier to take the low road. Remember last year when a deranged racist murdered nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church? The grieving family members of the victims openly expressed their forgiveness for the perpetrator during the court proceedings. They upheld their deep Christian values even as they endured unimaginable loss. They are some of my heroes, because they showed such courage and restraint. I’m sure I never would have been able to do that.
Another of my courageous leadership heroes, surprisingly, is Chester Arthur, the 21st President of the United States. I tell his comeback story in A Leadership Kick in the Ass, and I won’t spoil the fun by retelling it here. But his story, in an odd way, is our story. All of us start out good, pure, and innocent. Then life hits us and we start compromising our values and deeply held beliefs, and we turn into someone less good. If we’re lucky, we meet an intercessor (or leader) who holds a mirror up to ourselves so we can see how astray we’ve become, but also recollect, and more importantly reclaim, our basic goodness. Chester Arthur epitomizes the arch of the human story. Your readers will just have to pick up the book to learn how!
JB: Any final words or thoughts to share?
BT: Only “thank you!” And always to remember to lead for the good of others.