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Walking on Unfamiliar Ground

We are walking on unfamiliar ground; wars, massive layoffs and an unpredictable future. As leaders, the deep questions as we tread on the initial stage of the 21st century are; Will we develop the quality of leadership needed to lead families, schools, churches, government and business organizations? Can we face new uncertainties and still increase productivity without inflicting wounds? Can we succeed without breaking the wills of those we lead?

The uncertainties of knowledge work have changed today?s workplace from a secure haven to a jungle infested with mean spirited buffaloes stampeding on unsuspecting villagers. Turbulence in Asia hurts computer industries in Boise, Idaho. Bettering the bottom line, technological advancement, less restricted international trading rules, and regional, national or international mergers, have precipitated unprecedented layoffs. And no one is sure of his source of bread tomorrow nor is he willing to commit his loyalty blindly to a single company. Already, we are trending on uncharted waters in the global village.

This is the environment that will separate leaders with a heart from the rest. I believe true leaders focus on developing colleagues, thus un-leasing ultimate potential and productivity in work, family and community.

I am often asked, "How do I motivate my people?" "How can I create a workplace that?s positive, team-oriented, and fosters growth?" "How can I build a compelling vision and increase productivity??

Here are 9 top tips for walking on unfamiliar ground

1. Don?t stuff your vision. People thrive in activities in which their aspirations, hopes and resources are incorporated from the start. Peter Senge in "The Fifth Discipline" says people are only motivated by personal visions which usually include aspects that concern any social entity, family, community, public or private organizations.

2. ?One finger cannot kill a lice.? This Kamba proverb means leaders have to walk on unfamiliar ground with others, sooner or later. Traditional knowledge has it that in some communities, when a buffalo was sighted, people would gather with spears and form a circle as they approached it. One person would spear the buffalo and then run away. As the buffalo pursued the first spear-thrower, another person speared it from another side. The buffalo would change direction and run toward the source of new pain. This went on until the beast was overpowered. In thriving, not just surviving in un-familiar ground, success starts in getting the team around the buffalo.

3. Most leaders with goals of building team-oriented programs fail because, instead of building a strong community, they become trapped in the passion of feeding the self-esteem of the ?worried few?. People?s confidence and productivity are largely influenced by a sense of belonging, being accepted and that there are resources for the team?s overall purpose. A community, not ?self?, provides these productivity assets. In sports, teams consist of talented specialists. To win games, these specialists perform their best by working together with each other. It?s a community thing.

4. Grow whole people. Don?t separate business from body and soul. As I work with college football coaches about developing a motivational program that helps athletes win games (some have won conference championship and Bowl games), my suggestion is, develop them academically, morally and athletically. When people learn you want them to grow in all areas, not just in the aspect you need today, they are motivated to excel in life and become key contributors across the board. The assurance that players can have life off the court is a key to success for many winning teams. The same principle applies in all social institutions

5. Take hold of the buffalo?s horn and let others take care of the kicks. Jomo Kenyatta, the late first president of Kenya, after being imprisoned by the British for his struggle for independence, told his countrymen, ?I have held the buffalo?s horn, it?s your turn to deal with the kicks.? One man held a buffalo?s horns while others attend to the hind legs with whatever tools were available. An effective leader tackles critical matters and needs his team to follow with ?knowledge work machetes.?

6. Fish or fishing skills? If you make the people whom you lead dependent on your skills and wisdom you will have to support them perpetually with handouts. Providing them with skills and a safe work environment breaks apart this uncertainty of knowledge work so individuals can handle it as they fish.

7. Inner peace. The importance of inner peace is not discussed in our modern corporate world. However, great leaders know that peace of mind and soul give them the stability and focus they need to undertake the difficult decisions. At the top, you find that your decisions relegate you to emotional isolation. Uncertain business environments amplify isolation. Inner peace gives tranquility a fulcrum and place to stand so you can move your world.

8. Resilience after an experience with ?buffaloes.? Water buffaloes invaded villages without warning, disturbing harmony and leaving villagers insecure and stressed. Loss of a loved one, divorce, being fired, illness, unfilled dreams are ?social buffaloes.? A leader needs to learn to bounce back from the effects of these ?buffaloes? and help those around him bounce back from their ?buffaloes? as well.

9. ?A child who washes his hands eats with kings.? The meaning of this African proverb is that age or academic/cultural credentials don?t determine one?s social status. Character does. This is doubly true on uncertain ground. To lead, character, integrity, a set of quality values and consistence are a must to withstand the ebbs and flows expected in unfamiliar ground.

In African savannas, rainfall and mosquitoes come in the same season. Challenges and opportunities are wrapped together. Today?s unfamiliar ground has it?s challenges and opportunities. The above nine principles are time-tested and transcend generations and cultures.

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