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.