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.”