Monday, November 25, 2013

Grateful for JFK.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.  ~John F. Kennedy

It seems appropriate this week to pause and remember with gratitude one of our nation's leaders: John F. Kennedy.  One of the things I admire most about JFK was his imperfection.  He had flaws, and as time has passed we've all become more aware of those blemishes.  But that didn't mean his life couldn't still be used for good.  He left us with a legacy of vision and leadership, in spite of his imperfections.

Following are a few JFK quotes that demonstrate why this week, I am thankful for his leadership and his legacy.

"Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

"Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men."

"A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people."

"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on."

"Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners, and necessity has made us allies. Those whom God has so joined together, let no man put asunder."

"Tolerance implies no lack of commitment to one's own beliefs.  Rather it condemns the oppression or persecution of others."

"Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

"Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction."

"This country cannot afford to be materially rich and spiritually poor."

"We shall be judged more by what we do at home than what we preach abroad."

"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win ...It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency."

"My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

Monday, November 18, 2013

What’s your dispositional sin?

Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.  ~Ephesians 4:31

Dispositional sins.  As leaders, I don't think this requires a specific faith or religious affiliation. Dispositional sins are equally devastating for both the religious and non-religious alike.  There is no discrimination or preference when it comes to dispositional sins.  As A.W. Tozer pointed out in one of his books on leadership, "These sins are as many as the various facets of human nature.  Just so there may be no misunderstanding let us list a few of them: sensitiveness, irritability, churlishness, faultfinding, peevishness, temper, resentfulness, cruelty, uncharitable attitudes, and of course there are many more."  Now to modify Tozer's words just a bit…These kill the spirit of an organization and slow down any progress which the leader may be making in the organization or the community.

So as leaders, what do we do about these ugly dispositional flaws?

As Tozer stated, these are facets of human nature; maybe the first thing we could do about these dispositional sins is admit that we have them.  Yes, that's right, we ALL have them.  It's human nature. 

Liz Wiseman, author of Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, distinguishes between a multiplier and a diminisher.  Through extensive research, some of the "dispositional sins" that represent diminishers are: controlling, micromanaging, selfishness, not listening, and not delegating.  In a presentation Liz made at the Global Leadership Summit, she described how she frequently used a phrase: "How hard can that be?"  Maybe her optimism is a strength; but it was coming across to her staff as demoralizing, frustrating, and a reflection that she wasn't really listening to their concerns.  Then one day when she made that statement once again, a brave soul simply blurted out, "Would you please stop saying that!"  This was the first time she became aware that this habit had actually become a dispositional flaw.  She thanked the staff member, changed her behavior (even with her children) and saw a significant shift in how others responded to her requests.   She took the first and very important step in addressing her dispositional sin, she admitted she had one! 

Being a perfectionist, faultfinding is certainly one of my dispositional sins.  When faced with a situation, a person, a "thing," my human nature is to first focus on the faults, or what's not perfect.  However, one of my strengths, using StrengthsFinder language, is maximizer—how to get the most, the best out of people.  Taking something that's good and making it great.  That may describe the brighter side of being a perfectionist.  Using that strength, maybe I could practice focusing, first, on what's good and how I could help make it great.  Said another way, how can I use some of my strengths to reframe my dispositional flaws.  Not that I can suddenly turn my sins into saintly actions, but maybe I can work at mitigating those nasty, annoying dispositional flaws with some—okay LOTS—of intentional practice.

When it comes to defining leadership, I’m a behaviorist.  I believe that leadership is all about the behaviors we exhibit.  That means we have to take the good with the bad.  We have to leverage our strengths while recognizing and admitting we've got some dispositional sins that need some work as well.

Monday, November 11, 2013

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.  ~Nelson Mandela
Gregg Levoy, author of Callings: Finding and Following an Authentic Life, talks about personal histories.  He says, "The word history means to learn by inquiry, and in turning toward our own histories with inquiring minds, with curiosities sufficient to the immensity of them, we can help ourselves heal.  We can even be shown a calling.  In turn, by following the calls we're shown, we can sometimes heal the past and can go back to it in order to remember ourselves, to pull ourselves together into a more solid form."

Levoy continues with, "The past shapes us, but by following the deep calling to heal ourselves and throw off old curses, we may be able to reshape our response to that past and perhaps even the way in which we remember it.  Sometimes we're called to move backward so that we can move forward with a greater sense of ourselves, and with greater confidence."

As humans we have histories and as leaders we have a history that has shaped our leadership.  I don't know about you, but there are parts of my history I'd like to highlight, hit the delete button, and send it off into cyberspace never to be seen or heard from again.  But histories don't work that way.  We have to take the best of times along with the worst of times.  Our histories cannot be rewritten, but they can be healed.   

A leader who immediately comes to mind as an example of someone who allowed their history to be healed is Nelson Mandela.  Rosabeth Moss Kanter wrote in an HBR blog earlier this year, "Nelson Mandela famously forgave his oppressors.  After the end of apartheid, which had fostered racial separation and kept blacks impoverished, Mandela became South Africa's first democratically elected President.  Some in his political party clamored for revenge against members of the previous regime or perhaps even all privileged white people.  Instead, to avoid violence, stabilize and unite the nation, and attract investment in the economy, Mandela appointed a racially integrated cabinet, visited the widow of one of the top apartheid leaders, and created the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that would clear the air and permit moving forward."

Borrowing again from Gregg Levoy's writing, "Psychologist Jean Houston says that one way toward holiness is by being punched full of holes by life.  She stresses that wounding is an age-old training ground for teachers and healers.  In order to discover what is trying to be born in you from your wound, what gift or call might be pressing for delivery, however, you need to stop reciting the small story about it—the particulars, the details—and tell the larger story.  'Tell the tale anew,' she says, 'This time with the wounding as the middle of the story.'"

Nelson Mandela undoubtedly chose to make his wounding the middle of his story.  He allowed his history to be healed and he was certainly shown a call.  As leaders, we should ask how our histories have shaped our leadership and if part of our history is in need of healing.  Through that healing, we might discover a call. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Go Johnny Go!

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.  ~Peter F. Drucker

As I've confessed before, I'm a faithful fan of the reality TV show, Shark Tank.  I enjoy the optimism and creativity of the entrepreneurs juxtaposed against the analysis and critique of the would-be investors.  Last week, I witnessed something on this show that's a rare occurrence, venture capitalists truly moved by the genuine compassion and sincerity of the one of the presenting entrepreneurs, Johnny Georges. 

Johnny is a fruit farmer from Florida (as was his father) and he invented a product that allows farmers to not only use significantly less water to irrigate their groves, but also helps to prevent damage from frost.  He has been selling direct to farmers and his margins are somewhat thin, especially by venture capitalist standards.  As the sharks began their questions and critique, a number asked why he wasn't charging more so he could improve his margin.  Johnny replied with a very sincere and compassionate response, "Because I'm selling to farmers."  He repeated this several times, with just as much genuine sincerity as the first time he made the statement.  It was quite clear that if you read between the lines he was really saying, "Because it is just the right thing to do."

At this point, Kevin O'Leary (aka: Mr. Wonderful) would have typically said something like, "If you're not willing to consider raising your price and increase your margins then you're dead to me."  But even Mr. O'Leary stayed silent—miraculous! One by one the sharks backed away from investing in Johnny's business.  Until it came to first-time shark, John Paul DeJoria, co-founder of Paul Mitchell.  He told Johnny that if he'd be willing to raise his price by just a dollar or two he'd invest the full amount he had requested.  Done deal, and barely a dry eye among the sharks!

I just discovered that there are a number of people who blog about Shark Tank and here's what one blogger had to say about Johnny.  "Johnny Georges, what can I say, this guy is about as genuine as any good hearted person you would ever be lucky enough to meet.  He is now a real super star, possessing unique genuine qualities hard to ignore.  By the looks of the dozens of comments that came pouring in after he was featured on the show, apparently there are thousands and thousands of other folks who feel the same way about Johnny Georges.  Sometimes running a successful business has nothing to do with the bottom line, but has everything to do with doing the right thing."  

I'm guessing that Johnny wouldn't categorize himself as a "leader," but I think there may be thousands of folks out there (myself included) who would follow Johnny to the end of the earth.  I couldn't agree more with the blogger, Johnny had unique genuine qualities hard to ignore.  He wasn't charismatic, or even overly articulate.  But genuineness simply oozed out of him.  I think it was so hard to ignore because unfortunately, we see it so rarely these days.  There wasn't a self-centered bone in this guy's body.

After the show I kept thinking, where have we gone so wrong that simple genuineness is now a rarity?  Something we see so infrequently that we're overcome with emotion when it does pass our way. 

This week how could we each join Johnny and let go of our self-centeredness, reach deep inside to our genuine selves and just simply do the right thing?