Monday, December 26, 2011

Leaders know how to outbehave the competition.

Think of it as a shift from valuing size to valuing significance.  “How much?” and “How big?” aren’t the right questions.  Instead we should be asking how we can create organizations and societies that mirror our deepest values.  We live in the Era of Behavior.  ~Dov Seidman

A friend recently introduced me to the book, How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything, by Dov Seidman.  Dov says,
"The flood of information, unprecedented transparency, increasing interconnectedness—and our global interdependence—are dramatically reshaping today's world, the world of business, and our lives. We are in the Era of Behavior and the rules of the game have fundamentally changed. It is no longer what you do that matters most and sets you apart from others, but how you do what you do. Whats are commodities, easily duplicated or reverse-engineered. Sustainable advantage and enduring success for organizations and the people who work for them now lie in the realm of how, the new frontier of conduct."
The idea of behavior and leadership isn’t new, and Seidman would agree with that.  However, Seidman would say that behavior has taken a new priority, new importance, and a new mandate for organizations and individuals.  He believes that what will really set organizations apart is how they do what they do or stated another way, how they behave.  He suggests successful organizations will be those that outbehave their competition.

For some time now, as the year draws to a close I’ve maintained the tradition of contemplating the coming year – what I want to accomplish, what I want to achieve, what my priorities should be, etc.  As you can see there’s always been a theme: what.  Seidman has now challenged me to alter my long-standing tradition of thinking about “what” as I approach 2012 and instead contemplate “how.”  How would 2012 look different from 2011 if I focused my energy on thinking about how instead of what?  That certainly reframes my personal and professional planning for 2012.  It seems prudent to give Seidman’s approach a try and make 2012 the year of how.  How will I behave this year?  Sounds like I’ve got some work to do this week.

Organizationally, Seidman also suggests that we shift our thinking from valuing size to valuing significance.  In some regards that almost sounds un-American.  We want to super-size everything!  And we’ve been taught to live by the mantra that you’re either growing or dying, bigger is better, etc.  Imagine for moment how your own organization might look different if the focus became significance as opposed to size?  How your organization might look different if it truly mirrored your deepest values; mirrored them so clearly that they were evident to anyone within the first few minutes of interacting with your organization?  Would that difference establish a degree of significance that set you apart from all other organizations that do what you do?

Anyone willing to join me in making 2012 the year of how as opposed to what?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Leaders get past their own need.

Successful leaders get past their own need.  They see life as a place to give, and as a by-product of giving, they receive back in the end.  ~Henry Cloud

Given the time of year, it seemed appropriate to pause and take a moment to think about giving and leadership. 

A leader who I greatly admire is Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS (probably better known as TOMS Shoes but they’ve added sun glasses, etc. so they’ve grown way beyond shoes).  I admire Blake because his sense of giving in the context of for-profit business initiated a movement.  In Blake’s recent book, Start Something that Matters, he says
“There is something different in the air these days: I feel it when I talk to business leaders, give speeches at high school and college campuses, and engage in conversation with fellow patrons at coffee shops.  People are hungry for success—that’s nothing new.  What’s changed is the definition of that success.  Increasingly, the quest for success is not the same quest for status and money.  The definition has broadened to include contributing something to the world…”
We live in an era when giving is truly becoming a virtue to be pursued, admired, and included in the idea of “success.”  Frankly, it goes well beyond an idea, it is a movement.  I’m personally challenged by Blake’s philosophy of simplicity, which I think is linked to our ability to give.  Blake says, “Own as little as you can get away with.  Seriously—how much do you need?  The fact is, the more you have, the more effort and money you have to spend taking care of it, which distracts you from enjoying it.”  He goes even further to say, “Clean out your closet.  Clean out your storage drawers—at least four times a year.  I firmly believe that the less stuff you have sitting around, the less stuff you have cluttering up your mind.”   

The generation of emerging leaders has a lot to teach us Baby Boomers about leadership and giving.  For thousands of years we’ve been told that it is better to give than to receive, but this generation of leaders seems to actually “get it.”  Maybe it’s because they’ve known from a fairly early age that their likelihood for financial gain greater than their parents’ was going to be minimal, so they began searching for meaning in other places.  Or maybe they simply observed their parents' and the entire Baby Boom generation's drive for money and status, which we never seem to have enough of, and it really didn't appear all that appealing from a distance.

Regardless, we have a lot to learn from the generation of young social entrepreneurs and philanthropists who clearly see the value in giving and seem to very quickly get past their own need.  As we pause during this holiday season, may we all (especially us Baby Boomers!) take an extra moment to get past our own need and see life as a place to give.

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Winston Churchill who said, “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

Monday, December 12, 2011

As a leader, where are you standing?

What you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing; it also depends on what kind of a person you are.  ~C.S. Lewis

Each of the phrases of this C.S. Lewis quote caught my attention.  The first part, “what you see and hear depends a good deal on where you are standing,” made me think about where I might be standing both figuratively and literally.  Figuratively, it might mean where my head is, what my position is on an issue, or how attentive (or not) I might be toward a topic or person.  It could also mean where I’m standing, literally.  If I’m leading a team of people how often do I get out of my office and physically go stand in their space.  How often am I, literally, standing where I can see and hear in a different way or am I depending too much on technology to do my seeing and hearing for me.

The second phrase, “it also depends on what kind of a person you are,” caused me to consider the idea that who I am could be more instrumental in what I see and hear than what someone is actually trying to show or tell me. 

I just started a program to understand the basic tenets of coaching and it was described as learning how to be “in the moment” with someone.  My first reaction was, really, we have to pay someone to be “in the moment” with us?  But then after I thought about it for just a few more minutes I realized that probably really is the case.  We've become so caught up in our harried jobs and lives that we’ve forgotten where we’re standing.  This was echoed by a friend who was challenging me, and others, to be really present in the lives of others. 

You would think, as leaders, we’d be attuned to where we are standing and how that influences what we see and hear.  You would think we’d want to be present in the lives of others, but have the brisk pace of change and the constant infiltration of technology caused us to only stand further from those we’re trying to lead?

What kind of person am I?  I don’t think C.S. Lewis intended for this statement to be taken as we are either a good or bad person, but simply to recognize that what kind of person we are will influence what we see and hear.  I know I’ve been in situations where I’ve thought to myself, “I wish I could see the situation the way so-and-so does.”  Maybe I could see things differently, but maybe it doesn't start with how I hear or see things, maybe it actually starts with what kind of person I am. 

On the flipside, if I want someone to hear or see something in a specific way, then I need to consider the kind of person they are.  Just this morning, now knowing that someone on a staff I’m working with is highly competitive, I presented an idea from a very competitive perspective and she was not only ready to jump onboard, she was ready to take the lead.  What you see and hear depends a great deal on the kind of person you are.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Leaders give values heat.

Leaders must figure out what values they believe should be manifested in their organizations.  And then put them over the flame of a Bunsen burner by teaching on those values, underscoring them, enforcing them, and making heroes out of the people who are living them out.  ~Bill Hybels

I've watched a lot of organizations debate, scrutinize, and pore over creating their values and wordsmith the definitions until each noun, verb and preposition was perfect.  And then there they sat.  Simply putting values in writing doesn't make them meaningful or practiced. 

Have you ever flown on Southwest Airlines?  I realize I’m picking on one of the most values-driven organizations you can find, but you only have to fly once on Southwest and you get it.  I just checked their Web site and I’m certainly not surprised to learn that one of their values is to have a fun loving attitude.  Do flight attendants on any other airline ever tell jokes and laugh at themselves?  Not in my experience.  What about their value of having a servant’s heart?  When I get on a Southwest flight I feel like I’m being genuinely welcomed aboard the plane as opposed to being herded and tolerated.

As Hybels states “Whatever the value, if it’s alive and well in an organization, it’s not by accident.  It’s only there because of intentional, committed, dedicated effort.”

I recently heard a former CEO tell a story about the values at his publishing company.  An editor had approved a design for a book cover that the CEO thought was, well, let’s just say not as good as it could have been.  He went to the editor and in a slightly raised voice (in an open office environment) began to berate the editor and asked him what he was possibly thinking to approve a cover like that!  The conversation was overheard by a co-worker who then went to the CEO and said he didn’t think his behavior represented their value of respect.  The CEO agreed; how he chose to address the issue was not respectful.  The CEO returned to the editor and apologized for his behavior.

This happened because the CEO had turned up the heat on their values through extensive training, orientation and dedicated effort.  The heat had been turned up so high, that even the CEO couldn’t get away with not modeling their corporate values.  That’s the way it’s supposed to work – values so hot that they can’t be missed or swept under the rug even when the CEO slips up.

One way to check the heat level on your values is to honestly ask yourself, if someone were to come to our organization would they see an observable difference between us and another organization in our industry?  Would someone be able to identify at least some of our values without going to our Web site and looking up our list of values? 

Hybels says “When you heat up a value, you help people change states.  Want to jolt people out of business as usual?  Heat up innovation.  What to untangle confusion?  Heat up clarity.  New ‘states’ elicit new attitudes, new aptitudes, and new actions.  It’s not rocket science.  It’s just plain chemistry.  Which is a lot about heat.”

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leaders balance the glue and the grease.

Leaders build or strengthen their organizational glue—purpose/mission/culture—while launching enterprise-wide change initiatives, which require disciplined execution—the grease.  [Effective leaders work from a perspective where] glue and grease exist in parallel.  ~Douglas A. Ready and Emily Truelove

This is not necessarily a new concept, but authors Ready and Truelove may have presented it in a new analogy – the glue and the grease – which connotes some interesting visual images.

The organizational glue should remind people why they come to work every day.  I’ve seen a number of organizations where the vast majority of employees can recite the mission statement or purpose, but stating a mission doesn’t make it glue.  Author and visiting professor at London Business School, Gary Hamel, might suggest that the stronger an organization’s mission, the less need for layers of management because employees are driven more by the mission than by their manager.  It should also be noted that a strong mission is intended to mean how sticky the glue is or well the glue bonds; not how firm or aggressive the mission’s language.  The glue will create a unified culture that’s prepared for disciplined execution.

The grease drives productive change.  In practical terms, the grease is a methodical plan, detailed in a series of work initiatives that are aligned with the organization’s purpose.  Another word for methodical could be disciplined; it’s a plan that’s not only well thought out; it’s executed with an almost regimented series of targets and milestones. 

Many organizations have a very worthy mission, but many leaders stop there; consequently, so does the organization.  Mission alone does not create a sustainable future.  It’s an organization of all glue and no grease.  Whether an organization’s mission is to make as much money has humanly possibly or to obliterate poverty, both require a methodical plan that’s aligned with the organization’s purpose in order to achieve their mission.  They both need disciplined execution.

There are a number of young leaders who are changing how organizations “execute” or grease the skids.  Leaders like Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS; Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos; Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook; and even music sensation Taylor Swift who serves as her own manager and clearly does it quite well.  All of these young leaders have something in common – disciplined execution.  They not only move very deliberately toward a specific mission, they do it with unwavering discipline. 

Glue and grease; it’s kind of like oil and water, yin and yang, right and left, and north and south.  They are polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces that are interconnected and interdependent; and they give rise to each other in turn. 

Balancing glue and grease is something effective leaders artfully manipulate every day.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Leaders achieve results.

Effective leaders have the ability and discipline to weed through busy activities, identify what results they need to achieve, and then focus their time, energy, and resources on achieving those results.  ~Kathryn Scanland

We all bemoan and complain about not getting enough done, not making it through our to-do list, and not having enough time.  It’s not difficult in nearly any job, profession, or position to create busy work and maintain a high level of activity.

Effective leaders have the ability and discipline to weed through busy activities, identify what results they need to achieve and then focus their time, energy and resources on achieving those results.  In my work I’ve run into numerous clients who have ideas, many of them good ideas; however, many times they don’t know what it is they are trying to achieve through that idea.  As I frequently say, it’s an idea without a strategy.

It can be as simple as creating a brochure highlighting customer success stories (but not knowing how it will be used or what results might be achieved by having this brochure), or buying a new software application or program to organize contacts (but not knowing what results we might hope for given this new way of organizing contacts), or even acquiring another organization (but not having identified our expectations for what we’ll be able to achieve with this specific organization that is now a part of our larger organization).  Until we identify the results we hope to achieve by all this activity, all we’re really doing is staying busy, but not necessarily achieving results.

I attend client board meetings periodically and I’ve found that experience to be somewhat like watching a soap opera, at least so I’ve been told.  Since I’m not a soap opera watcher I can only go by what I’ve heard, but I’ve heard that you can watch a soap opera once a year and keep up with the plot.  Many times that’s how I feel about board meetings.  I can pop in once a year (or once every several years) and feel like I’m sitting through the same meeting I sat through one or two years ago.  I think it’s because even board meetings (and other similar meetings) become an activity without a great deal of thought given to what results we hope to achieve by having that meeting.

Peter Drucker might refer to achieving results as contribution.  In The Essential Drucker, he provides an illustration.
Nurse Bryan was a long-serving nurse at a hospital.  She was not particularly distinguished, had not in fact ever been a supervisor.  But whenever a decision on a patient’s care came up on her floor, Nurse Bryan would ask, “Are we doing the best we can do to help this patient?”  Patients on Nurse Bryan’s floor did better and recovered faster.  Gradually over the years, the whole hospital had learned to adopt what came to be known as Nurse Bryan’s Rule; had learned, in other words, to ask, “Are we really making the best contribution to the purpose of this hospital?”
Achieving results separates the effective leaders from the leaders who are just busy people.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Leaders are responsible.

Whether a man is burdened by power or enjoys power; whether he is trapped by responsibility or made free by it; whether he is moved by other people and outer forces or moves them – this is the essence of leadership.  ~Theodore H. White (May 6, 1915 – May 15, 1986) was an American political journalist, historian, and novelist, known for his wartime reporting and accounts of presidential elections

I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of responsibility and a leader’s role regarding responsibility.  This first came to mind a few months ago when I heard an interview (that we’ve all likely heard a number of times) with Rupert Murdoch, founder and CEO of News Corporation, the second largest media conglomerate.  Following the debacle of the phone hacking scandal at the News of the World, Mr. Murdoch stated that he wasn't responsible for his employees’ behavior.

No, Mr. Murdoch can’t control or, for that matter, even be aware of all of his employees’ behavior when he has more than 50,000 employees.  However, is he responsible? 

Then more recently this issue of a leader’s responsibility, again, hit the national news.  This time with the ordeal that continues to unfold at Penn State.  It’s a little risky for me to raise this given my knowledge of athletics, but once again I’ve heard some of the University’s leadership argue that they aren’t responsible for others’ behavior. 

This has caused me ask, so what does responsibility really mean in the context of leadership?  Well, the dictionary tells us that responsible means accountable or answerable.  I would interpret that to mean that even if I didn’t perform the act, if one of my employees did, as the leader, I am accountable or answerable.  Then I am responsible.  In the case of Mr. Murdoch, no, he didn’t actually hack into individual’s phones personally; but it does seem that he is answerable for the employees who did.

In the case of Penn State, whether or not University leaders were aware of what had been happening over the course of years, they are answerable; therefore, they are responsible.  That would be my argument; if you are answerable, then you are responsible.

As leaders, while something may not be our fault or the result of our personal behavior, we’re leaders, we’re answerable; therefore, we are responsible.  The Penn State leadership was, and is, responsible for creating one of the most winning football teams in the nation.  They are also responsible for the poor judgment of one of the members of their coaching staff.  As Mr. White so aptly stated, “…whether he is trapped by responsibility or made free by it…this is the essence of leadership.”

For what are you answerable?  Are you also ready to be responsible?

Monday, November 7, 2011

How do you make people feel?

Leaders draw their effectiveness less from what they know or what power they wield, and more from how they make the people around them feel.  ~Betsy Myers, Take the Lead

Betsy Myers is the founding director of the Center for Women and Business at Bentley University. Prior to her appointment, Betsy was most recently speaking and leading corporate workshops around the world on the changing nature of leadership and women's leadership, work that continues in her role with the center. Her new book, Take the Lead, was released on September 13, 2011.

I recently had the opportunity to interact with a leader in an organization who prided herself on not always being liked because she was willing to make tough decisions.  Unfortunately, that’s not quite how the rest of the staff viewed the situation.  The staff felt as though she wasn’t listening, and when they did express concern or disagreement, they felt invalidated; their experience and knowledge was dismissed.

Not long ago while channel surfing one evening, I came across the show Shark Tank.  Individuals bring their ideas or inventions to a panel of about five potential investors, each of whom are highly successful entrepreneurs and have made millions.  On this particular episode, I missed the portion where the individual described his idea, but that really didn’t seem to matter.  I caught it just in time to hear every single one of the five potential investors tell the guy how much they didn’t like him, personally.  They liked his idea and even offered to invest, as long as he had nothing to do with the business.  They would only buy him out; they would not invest in his business if working with him was part of the deal.  In a matter of less than 10 minutes, this guy/contestant had managed to make very one of the investors feel frustrated and downright angry.  Unfortunately, the contestant was completely taken by surprise and utterly baffled by the response he received from the potential investors.  He had no idea how his behavior was making them feel.

Years ago I worked for a college president who is a gifted leader on many levels.  He was, and still is, one of the best listeners I know.  His ability to listen had incredible repercussions on how he made people feel.  When you feel listened to, really heard, you feel validated.  I remember someone saying that if they ever had to be fired, they would like to be fired by this president.  Why?  He would be honest and candid, but it would be overlaid with compassion and care.  In other words, you’d be fired, but could somehow still walk out with your dignity and your head held high because he would make you feel cared for, even in the midst of being fired.

Leadership guru and author, Warren Bennis, says that “good leaders make people feel that they’re at the very heart of things, not at the periphery.  Everyone feels that he or she makes a difference to the success of the organization.  When that happens people feel centered and that gives their work meaning.

How do you think the people around you feel?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Leaders know what to abandon.

The idea of measurement in organizations is directly connected to the whole concept of renewal, one of the essential ingredients of which is abandonment.  What are we going to give up?  What are we going to abandon?  ~Max De Pree

Max De Pree is probably most well-known for his book, Leadership is an Art, published in 1989 and considered a leadership classic, and serving as CEO of Herman Miller.  Max’s father, D.J. De Pree, was the founder of Herman Miller, contract furniture manufacturer.  Herman Miller has been consistently recognized as one of Fortune Magazine’s “Most Admired Companies,” having placed at the top of the list for furniture companies for the past 18 consecutive years.

There were three words in this quote from Max that stood out to me: measurement, renewal, and abandonment.  Those are three words that I typically don’t see used in the same sentence.  After I thought about it, I began to realize that connecting the dots among measurement, renewal and abandonment, actually makes a lot of sense even though at first glance it didn’t seem that obvious. 

If I’m seeking renewal, of just about anything, I typically begin with determining what I’m going to measure.  If I want to renew my health, I may start by measuring my weight; if I want to renew my business, I may start by measuring my degree of personal reward/fulfillment with the ROI of my time; if I want to renew a relationship, I may begin by thinking about the quality of time vs. the quantity of time I spend in that relationship. 

Then comes the hard part, if I’m seeking renewal, what am I going to abandon?   The word abandon is far more specific and extreme than say, “reduce” or “decrease.”  Max is suggesting that I need to determine what I’m going to cease, eliminate, stop, walk away from, etc.  Suddenly, everything seems important, necessary, maybe even critical, so how can I abandon anything?  If I don’t abandon something and only “add-on,” then have I really “renewed”; or have I just modified or tweaked what I’ve always been doing but with the expectation of being renewed? 

Letting go is hard, really hard.  But if we want to experience renewal on a personal level, a department level, or an organization level, we must come face-to-face with the idea of abandonment. 

If a city wants to begin an urban renewal project, where do they begin?  They typically begin with an area of the city that has been abandoned.  If you own a trademark and don’t file the appropriate renewal forms, your trademark may be considered abandoned and therefore cancelled.  We could probably think of a number of examples where once something is abandoned, the only recourse is to seek some form of renewal.

Renewal follows abandonment.  What in our lives and our organizations are we willing to abandon in order to experience renewal?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Leading is about much more than making money.

What Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, learned about organizational culture from playing poker: “The game is a lot more enjoyable when you’re trying to do more than just make money.”

I've just started reading the book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion and Purpose by Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos).  While I haven’t finished the book, I quickly discovered that Tony really gets the concept of culture and its impact on an organization.  He embodies the idea that leadership is about so much more than making money.  And as he describes, if you focus on the vision and your culture, first, you will make money.

At a mere 24 years of age, Tony Hsieh and friends developed LinkExchange, an Internet advertising service, and sold it to Microsoft for $265million.  Tony would receive about $40million if he stayed with Microsoft for 12 months following the acquisition.  If he didn’t stay with Microsoft for 12 months, he’d walk away from about half of that, or about $20million.  Below is some of Tony’s thinking during this season.
…most of my free time was spent just being introspective and thinking.  I didn’t need more money, so what was it good for?  I wasn’t spending the money I already had.  So why was I staying at Microsoft, “vesting in peace,” trying to get more of it? 
I thought about how easily we are all brainwashed by our society and culture to stop thinking and just assume by default that more money equals more success and more happiness, when ultimately happiness is really just about enjoying life.

…I could make more money even though I had all the money I ever needed for the rest of my life.  A lot was going to change about the world.  We were on the eve of not only a new century, but a new millennium.  The world was about to change in a dramatic way, and I was about to miss out on it so that I could make even more money when I already had all the money I would ever need.

And then I stopped thinking to myself and started talking to myself:  “There will never be another 1999.  What are you going to do about it?” 
I already knew the answer.  In that moment, I had chosen to be true to myself and walk away from all the money that was keeping me at Microsoft.
And he did just that, Tony walked away from $20million for one year of employment in order to enjoy life.  He didn’t know it at the time, but he was also on the cusp of creating an organizational culture that would change how many organizations “do business” and how many leaders lead.

Whether your work is for-profit or not-for-profit, revenues are essential to every organization.  The need for those revenues can have a powerful grip on a leader’s focus, energy and self-evaluation of what’s been achieved.  But what’s been proven, time and again, is that when a leader focuses on a vision and higher purpose for the organization, revenues become a consequence instead of a goal.  And many times, are greater than what was imagined possible.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Leaders know the answer to How? is yes.

We often avoid the question of whether something is worth doing by going straight to the question “How do we do it?”  In fact, when we believe that something is definitely not worth doing, we are particularly eager to start asking How?  ~Peter Block

I attended a planning session this past weekend and the facilitator quoted Peter Block, one of my (many) favorite leadership authors.  One of Peter’s books is entitled, The Answer to How is Yes.  Peter suggests:
Too often when a discussion is dominated by the question of How? we risk overvaluing what is practical and doable and postpone the question of larger purpose.  If we are really committed to the pursuit of what matters, we might be well served to hold a moratorium on the question How?  
If we could agree that for six months we would not ask How?, something in our lives, our organizations, and our culture might shift for the better.  It would force us to engage in conversations about why we do what we do, as individuals and as organizations.  It would create the space for longer discussions about purpose, about what is worth doing.  It would refocus our attention on deciding what is the right question, rather than what is the right answer.
It would also force us to act as if we already knew how—we just have to figure out what is worth doing.  It would give priority to aim over speed.  At some point we would either find the right question or grow weary of its pursuit, and we would be pulled into meaningful action, despite our uncertainty and our caution about being wrong.  My wish is that we exchange what we know how to do for what means most to us. [The Answer to How is Yes, Peter Block, Berrett-Koehler, 2002.]
Sticking to only what we know how to do can cause us to become, well, stuck.  This applies equally to individuals and organizations. 

I've lived this phenomenon.  My first experience in consulting focused on market research—the emphasis area of my MBA.  After about 10 years I wanted to change direction in my consulting so I went back to school and got a doctorate in management and organizational leadership.  I completed that doctorate eight years ago, but I’ve only recently stopped saying that I do market research.  Because market research was what I knew how to do I kept hanging onto it; even though what had really come to matter to me was seeing organizations change and leaders develop.  I’ve finally made the transition from “how” to “what really matters,” and I no longer say that I do research when asked, but it took me eight years!  I don’t intend to lose that much time from focusing on what really matters, ever again.

In the mid-nineties, AT&T asked Motorola to develop a digital phone.  Motorola thought that customers would not accept digital because of the poor voice quality.  They had the attitude that they were the market leader, they were doing great, and if they refused, it would not happen.  So, AT&T went to Nokia instead, and Nokia didn’t say How? they said Yes!  Nokia led the way, ending the era of analog and beginning the new digital era.  Nokia took market leadership from Motorola.  [Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud, HarperCollins, 2010.]

I have a hunch that Steve Jobs rarely, if ever, asked the question How?  Peter Block says “the phrase, ‘what matters’ is shorthand for our capacity to dream, to reclaim our freedom, to be idealistic, and to give our lives to those things which are vague, hard to measure, and invisible.”  I think Steve Jobs spent his life focusing on what matters and his answer to How? was nearly always a resounding Yes!  And aren’t we grateful?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Leaders come clean.

Coming clean, or transparency, is about being open.  It’s about being real and genuine.  The counterfeit of transparency is illusion: pretending, “seeming” rather than “being,” making things appear different than they really are.  ~Stephen M.R. Covey

Not long ago I had a conversation with someone about trust.  He believed that because he had not told a flat-out lie, the level of trust between us should not be affected by his hiding things or withholding and failing to disclose information.  I disagreed.  His lack of transparency caused me to be suspicious and uncertain what I could, or couldn’t, believe; hence, I wasn’t sure when I could really trust him.

Ironically, a few months prior to this, I had another conversation with this same person.  In this instance, I had gone through a rather traumatic experience and he asked me how I got through it.  I responded with one word: transparency.  From the instant I got the news of this ordeal, I selected a few people to whom I disclosed everything – what was happening, what I was feeling, my struggle to process everything as quickly as it was unfolding, etc.  That transparency was a Godsend.  Coming clean, being frank, open and candid with people I trusted was a reflection of the quality of my relationship with these people.

Authors Karen Walker and Barbara Pagano describe transparency like this:
Leaders who keep in mind the spirit of authenticity while working hard to create meaningful connections with their followers, demonstrating sincerity of being, and revealing personal information that adds value to the context of work, will be practicing an important part of leadership transparency that builds credibility. Doing so, however, requires a certain level of maturity and self-awareness and a heightened sense of how people might perceive, dissect, and disseminate the information that is revealed. And because authenticity or personal transparency ultimately describes the quality of a relationship, leaders must create opportunities in which to engage with their followers, allowing the followers to know them. [Source:  TheLinkage Leader, Transparency: The Clear Path to Leadership Credibility, Karen Walker & Barbara Pagano, 2005-2008.]
Stephen M.R. Covey says that transparency will usually establish trust fast.  I would contend that the opposite is also true.  A lack of transparency will usually erode trust very quickly.  So how do we move toward a higher degree of transparency?

Organizational and leadership gurus, James O’Toole and Warren Bennis say that, “If you want to develop a culture of candor [and transparency], start with your own behavior and then work outward – and keep these recommendations in mind.  Tell the truth.  Encourage people to speak truth to power.  Reward contrarians.  Practice having unpleasant conversations.  Diversify your sources of information.  Admit your mistakes.  Build organizational support for transparency.  Set information free.”

Monday, October 3, 2011

Leaders surrender.

Leaders who surrender are not “giving in,” they are “giving over.” (~Kathryn Scanland)  They recognize that their successes are with and through others.  They don’t need to take the glory with them when they leave; they intentionally leave it behind. (~Susan Debnam)

For most people, the idea of “leaders surrender” is the opposite of what they would think or anticipate.  If you’re leading aren’t you controlling, commanding, directing, and winning?  Not surrendering?!
Well, hopefully your organization is winning, but many times (and I’d argue most of the time), the organization wins because the leaders surrender.  The most appropriate definition of surrender in this context is to lay down your arms.  What are your arms?  Author of Mine's Bigger Than Yours, Susan Debnam, suggests a list of traits that I believe fall into the category of what leaders need to surrender to be truly effective.  Here are just a few:
Invincibility: They ignore cautionary words and take flagrant risks.
Sensitivity to criticism: They say they want teamwork but really want yes-men.
Lack of empathy: They crave empathy but are not empathic themselves. They can be brutally exploitative.
Intense desire to compete: They are relentless and ruthless in their pursuit of victory, often unrestrained by conscience and convinced that threats abound.
Tendency towards grandiosity: They over-estimate their own abilities.
Addiction to adulation: They have a constant and often petulant need to be told of their greatness.
Inability to learn from others: They like making speeches, telling, transmitting and indoctrinating, but are less open to hearing others’ views and suggestions.
Distaste for personal development:  They don’t want to change and as long as they are successful, they don’t think they have to.
In my conversations with various leaders one of the aspects of leadership that frequently enters the discussion is self-sacrifice.  Many people in leadership positions define self-sacrifice as giving up personal time or time with their family.  What sacrifice really means in the context of leadership begins with the above list of traits.  It’s not about patting yourself on the back because you never see your family or have no personal life; sacrifice is about surrendering your need for self-admiration (being right, getting the credit, never failing, always having an answer, etc.). 

Leaders who surrender are not “giving in,” they are “giving over.”  They recognize that their successes are with and through others.  They don’t need to take the glory with them when they leave; they intentionally leave it behind.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Leaders manage the second half of their life.

There is one prerequisite for managing the second half of your life: You must begin doing so long before you enter it.  ~Peter Drucker

I was drawn to an article in The Best of HBR (Harvard Business Review) which was a reprint from January 2005 called Managing Oneself by Peter Drucker.  The section on managing the second half of your life really caught my attention, for several reasons. 

With the surge of Baby Boomers now beginning to retire, there are more and more individuals in organizations who are in the second half of their life.  It’s not uncommon for me to run into at least one individual on every leadership team I work with who is contemplating leaving because they realize they probably have only “one more job in them.”  Or others are considering reinventing themselves one last time by going back to school to pursue a degree or complete a degree they started years earlier.

Another reason this caught my attention is because it’s right where I’m at, personally.  As I approach my 50th birthday in a little over a year, I think about one more professional evolution and what that might look like.  But I also think about what might follow and I have begun the process of creating a completely different life/vocation. Even the process of creating this different life over the next 10 or so years, I’ve found to bring great joy and anticipation, as opposed to dreading the unknown.  I was encouraged to learn that at least according to Peter Drucker, it seems that I’m on the right track.  Although I have to confess, I’ve been motivated to do this by the many clients I’ve watched move into a state of anxiety and depression because they have no idea “what’s next” as they approach the latter part of their professional careers.

Peter suggests several ways to manage the second half of your life, and to begin so, now.

He says there are three ways to develop another career.  The first is actually to start one.  Often this takes nothing more than moving from one kind of organization to another.  There are also growing numbers of people who move into different lines of work altogether: the business exec who enters the ministry at 45, for instance; or the midlevel manager who leaves corporate life after 20 years to attend law school and become a small-town attorney.

The second way to prepare for the second half of your life is to develop a parallel career.  These people create a parallel job, many times in a nonprofit organization that takes another 10 hours of work a week.  They might run the battered women’s shelter, work as a children’s librarian for the local public library, sit on the school board, and so on.

Finally, there are the social entrepreneurs.  These leaders love their work, are very successful, and many times start another activity, usually a nonprofit. 

The prerequisite for managing the second half of your life:  You must begin long before you enter it.

As a side note, two-thirds of Peter Drucker’s 39 books were published after his 65th birthday.  Guess I still have a lot of time!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Leaders create the best.

Effective leaders don’t copy or mimic what others are doing and claim it’s the best practice.  Effective leaders are deliberately and intentionally creating the best practice.  ~Kathryn Scanland

The quote this week was inspired out of my own frustration.  In my role as a consultant I’m frequently asked what others are doing, what’s the “typical” way that something is done or handled, or what’s the “best practice” for a range of organizational challenges.  What frustrates me is many times I feel like what I’m really being asked is not what’s best, but what are others doing that we can copy so we don’t have to spend a lot of time or effort thinking about this.

If we’re copying or mimicking what’s typical or common then how can we call that a “best practice”? 

In my first job out of college it didn’t take very long before I was irritating my boss with questions and inquiries about how we could change, improve or enhance what we were doing.  I made the very inaccurate assumption that everyone in a leadership position was interested in moving beyond mediocrity or the status quo.  My boss and I actually got into a rather intense conversation about mediocrity.  He felt that in many cases mediocrity or the status quo was quite acceptable, maybe even preferred.  Wow, this was so eye-opening for me that I still remember the conversation in detail even though it took place more than 25 years ago.

I had no idea that so many people in organizations really were content with being common, typical, mediocre or maintaining the status quo.  So when someone in a leadership position asks me for the “best practice,” I bristle.  I know I’ve flippantly responded with something like, “Why don’t you create the best practice”? 

I’m not suggesting that leaders should reinvent the wheel with every process, service, product, etc., etc.  I am suggesting that when it’s critical to their core business, leaders should do the very hard (and rewarding) work of creating the best practice.  Yes, it’s hard work to be the best, of course it is.  But if you’re copying the common or typical practice can you really say you’re a “leader” because you’re clearly not in the “lead.” 

If you say you’re the leader in your industry then who’s copying your best practice?  If no one’s mimicking your work, then maybe you’re not the one in the lead. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Leaders make art, not work.

Making art means being a linchpin who creates change, makes things happen, makes a difference, is generous – and does all this without permission from the boss.  ~Seth Godin

In his most recent book, Linchpin: Are you indispensable?, Seth Godin suggests that what leaders really do is create art, not work.  Seth says that
Art isn't only a painting.  Art is anything that's creative, passionate, and personal.  And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.  An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo.  And an artist takes it personally.  Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.
Seth’s description reminded me of a modern day artist/leader, Michelle Rhee.  Most of us wouldn’t think of Michelle as an “artist,” but using Seth’s description, she was probably one of the greatest artists of the first decade of the 21st century.  

Michelle was the chancellor of the D.C. public schools who quickly found herself on the cover of TIME magazine.  She knew she was walking into a system in disarray that was clearly not serving the students or providing a quality, or even acceptable, educational experience.  She was bold and courageous.  She didn’t follow the status quo.  She closed an unprecedented number of underperforming schools along with firing a record number of principals.  And yes, she took it personal.  Her own children were in a school where she fired the principal.

Michelle wasn’t “doing work,” she was undoubtedly “creating art.”  Her art, which was first created in 2008, is a masterpiece that many of us continue to admire today.

So why aren’t more leaders artists instead of workers?  Seth tells why.
Here's the truth you have to wrestle with: the reason that art (writing, engaging, leading, all of it) is valuable is precisely why I can't tell you how to do it.  If there were a map, there'd be no art, because art is the act of navigating without a map.  Don't you hate that?  I love that there's no map.
If you’re willing to navigate without a map, then maybe you’re willing to become an artist of leadership.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Leaders fail.

If failure isn’t an option, than neither is success.  ~Seth Godin

I mentioned in a previous blog that I attended the Global Leadership Summit in August.  Seth Godin was another speaker at this event.  As I’ve talked with other attendees, one of the themes (which I believe was unintentional) that seemed to appear in a number of the speakers’ presentations was the idea of failure.

When you’re going to a “leadership summit” you may not expect, or want, to hear a lot of talk about failure.  You’re a leader after all; shouldn’t the focus be more about success?  But I think Seth was right on point when he said that if failure isn’t an option, than neither is success.  Maybe stated differently, the road to success passes through failure.

A number of years ago I spent a good deal of time making a presentation on a book that I co-authored that focused on workforce, employment and education issues.  In that presentation I talked about failure as a key to learning and how our Western approach to education does not encourage or embrace the idea of failure.  I used Thomas Edison as my example.  Mr. Edison made more than 1,000 attempts before he successfully invented the incandescent light bulb.  In other words, he failed far more than he succeeded and it’s because of those failures that he was able to give us light that would change how we live. 

What intrigued me about the Thomas Edison example is how the audience would react.  They would listen to my presentation – I was fairly good at holding their attention – but when I got to the point about failure, I could see the audience literally lean in to what I was saying.  This caught me off guard.  Really?  Of all the points I was trying to make about employment, jobs, education, being globally competitive, what seemed to really draw them in was failure

Our American culture shuns failure, we lie to hide it, we are embarrassed by it, and we go to extreme measures to cover it up.  When we fail, we immediately jump into the next relationship, the next project, the next acquisition, the next deal, the next hire, etc. to avoid doing the hard work of learning from what went wrong.  In the end, we pay a very high price for our pride by repeating the same failures, again and again.

Imagine a leader who truly embraced failure.  Someone who was transparent when things didn’t work out as planned or hoped.  A leader who took the time not to just say it was a “learning experience” but was disciplined to do the work of learning; a leader who took the time to examine how they, personally, contributed to what didn’t succeed; someone who owned the failure.

The road to success passes through failure; effective leaders are those who accept that fact, embrace it, and lean into it.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Leaders make personal shifts to address the bigger issues.

Everyone has goals; it is the next steps that count.  Ask yourself these questions: ‘For those things to happen, what kind of team do we have to become?  And how do each of us need to change to make that happen?’  ~ Dr. Henry Cloud quoting a confidential client

I've been reading a lot of Dr. Henry Cloud’s more recent writing lately and this week’s quote was lifted from his book, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality. 

Henry suggests that effective leaders not only see the bigger picture, they also realize that they must focus on the bigger issues, which are bigger than themselves.  “The greatest [leaders] are the ones who have not sought greatness, but served greatly the causes, values, and missions that were much bigger than them.”  Henry quotes Thomas Merton who said, “To consider persons and events and situations only in the light of their effect upon myself is to live on the doorstep of hell.”

Henry’s client, who I’ve quoted this week, is someone who runs the western United States for one of the big telecommunications companies.  He takes his team of direct reports on a retreat every year and they begin with a few questions.  The first is, ‘What would we like to see happen in the next year?’  This gets them to their vision, and the goals.  In this particular year, their goal was admittedly audacious.  They wanted to do so well that the whole company would stop and want to know how they did it.  But, then they asked themselves these questions: ‘For those things to happen, what kind of team do we have to become?  And how do each of us need to change to make that happen?’ 

They went to work making shifts in themselves focusing on their audacious goal and they did so well that the CEO flew out to find out what they did that was different than everyone else, and how everyone could learn from it.  They achieved their vision!

Henry believes that their vision demanded that these individuals make shifts in their practices to meet the demands of reality.  They did not ask reality to shift, but they did the shifting. 

If you’ve had a hard time identifying what you truly value, I think this can be a good test to help make that determination.  I’ve found that if I believe something is really important or bigger than me (like their audacious goal),  I’m much more willing to shift my thinking, or give up getting things my way because I’m so focused on the bigger issue.  Ironically, if I’m fighting so hard to have it my way and am unwilling to shift then I’m probably focusing more on myself than I’m willing to admit.  And I most likely haven’t asked how I need to change in order to address the bigger issue.  As this week’s title states, “Leaders make personal shifts to address the bigger issues.”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Leaders deal with challenging people.

Leaders know that their organization's future is tied to its people.  They are not only voracious about attracting and retaining fantastic people, they have a plan for dealing with challenging people.  ~Bill Hybels, 2011 Global Leadership Summit

This week I’m continuing with Bill Hybel’s presentation from the Global Leadership Summit on August 11, 2011.  Another of the Five Critical Questions leaders must ask was question two: “What is your plan for dealing with challenging people”?

Bill stressed the importance of the leadership team having a collective point of view as to how they would deal with challenging people, and he was very specific.  I think to the surprise of many in the audience.

Bill said that challenging people typically fall into three different categories.

Fantastic Fred.  These are the people who may be quite competent at their job, skill or task, maybe even fantastic.  The challenge is their attitude.  They have a bad attitude and they are spreading that bad attitude to others in the organization.  So, how much time do they give the Fantastic Freds at Willow Creek to get things turned around?  30 days.  They start the conversation immediately, and then they need to see change in 30 days, and if not, Fantastic Fred is asked to find an organization that might be a better fit.

Underperformers.  In some regards this is the easiest category because the underperformers are typically obvious, although not always to the underperformer.  These folks are given a clear explanation of how they are underperforming and what acceptable performance would look like.  Then they have 3 months (no more) to show that they can meet the expectations of their position.

Those lacking talent elasticity.  This is the most difficult of the three categories because these challenging people are good and hard-working; they may have been with the organization for many years.  Unfortunately, the growth of the organization now requires a greater capacity than what they appear to have; in other words, they don’t have the talent elasticity to grow with the organization.  This group is given the longest amount of time to either find a different place within the organization or bring their skills and performance up to the level the organization now requires.  They are given 6-12 months.

Why should you have a specific plan to deal with challenging people?  If you don’t, you’ll discourage your best performers and run the risk of losing them.  One commonality among the three categories of challenging people is they aren’t really happy people.  Maintaining status quo isn’t going to change that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What are you naming, facing and resolving?

Leaders name, face and resolve the problems that exist in their organizations.  ~Bill Hybels, 2011 Global Leadership Summit

In 1995 the Willow Creek Association (founded by Bill Hybels) launched the first Global Leadership Summit.  Today, well over 100,000 leaders attend the annual event at over 185 locations and in more than 70 countries.  As is custom, Bill Hybels opened this year’s event that took place last week with a thoughtful, insightful and practical presentation of Five Critical Questions a leader must ask.

The quote for this week is one of the five critical questions Bill posed to the massive audience of leaders.  “Are you naming, facing and resolving the problems that exist in your organization”?

Bill included in his presentation a lifecycle diagram to help identify, or “name” the problems in our organizations.  Below is my attempt to recreate the diagram so please forgive my crude drawing, but the concept is what matters.  Bill told us to go through all of our products/programs/services, etc. and place them on the diagram.  Are they accelerating, booming, decelerating or are they tanking?  When something begins to decelerate it’s getting tired, new ideas need to be infused to move it back to accelerating and avoid tanking.  In other words, address the problem.
I would add one possibility that Bill did not mention so I’m inserting my own opinion here.  I don’t think everything that begins to decelerate should be moved back to being accelerated.  Sometimes ideas, programs, products, services, etc. have truly served their purpose and it may be time to end it before more time and resources are invested while it’s tanking.

Most important, naming and facing problems is the first step to resolution.  All organizations have an elephant or two in the room.  Are we ready to name them and face them?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Leaders make necessary endings.

"Getting to the next level always requires ending something, leaving it behind, and moving on.  Growth itself demands that we move on.  Without the ability to end things, people stay stuck, never becoming who they are meant to be, never accomplishing all that their talents and abilities should afford them."  ~Henry Cloud, Necessary Endings, pg. 7.
Necessary Endings.  I thought that was a great book title and since I was familiar with the author, Dr. Henry Cloud, I was even more intrigued.

In my work as a consultant, I work with clients who are attempting to grow their organizations.  But many times growth ends up being a process of piling on, more and more.  

The title of the second chapter of Necessary Endings is "Pruning: Growth Depends on Getting Rid of the Unwanted or the Superfluous."  Dr. Cloud uses the analogy of pruning to describe what he really means by necessary endings.  He says that a gardener will intentionally and purposefully cut off branches and buds that fall into three categories:

1. Healthy buds or branches that are not the best ones

The caretaker constantly examines the bush to see which buds are worthy of the plant's limited fuel and support and cuts the others away.  He prunes them.  Takes them away, never to return.  He ends their role in the life of the bush and puts an end to the bush's having to divert resources to them.  In doing so, the gardener frees those needed resources so the plant can redirect them to the buds with the greatest potential to become mature.  Those buds get the best that the bush has to offer, and they thrive and grow to fullness.

2. Sick branches that are not going to get well.

Some branches are sick or diseased and are not ever going to make it.  For a while, the gardener may monitor them, fertilize and nurture them, or otherwise try to make them healthy.  But at some point, he realizes that more water, more fertilizer, or more care is just not going to help.  For whatever reason, they are not going to recover and become what he needs them to be to create the final picture of beauty he wants for the bush and the garden.

3. Dead branches that are taking up space needed for the healthy ones to thrive.

Then there are the branches and buds that are dead and taking up space.  The healthy branches need that room to reach their full length and height, but they cannot spread when dead branches force them to bend and turn corners; they should be growing straight for the goal.  To give the healthy blooms and branches room and an unobstructed path to grow, the dead ones are cut away.

Cloud says that executing the three types of necessary endings, as described above, is what characterizes people who get results.

I'll write more about Necessary Endings in future weeks.  In the meantime, for my own business as well as working with clients on strategic planning, pruning will become a critical piece of  thinking strategically and creating growth initiatives.