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08.05.14

Leading Views: It's 11:30

Leading Views In Be the Best at What Matters Most, author Joe Calloway relates a story about the importance of the need to get going:

Sunday afternoon, my 10-year-old daughter, Jessica, asked me if she and her best friend, Emma, could set up a lemonade stand in our yard. It was a very drizzly, wet, cool day. But I thought a lesson could be learned about disappointment and realistic expectations, so I said "Sure." They painted a sign ("50 Cents a Cup - All Proceeds to Benefit Animal Shelter"), made the lemonade, set up their table in the yard, and stood in the drizzle. I sighed the sigh that a wise parent sighs as his child is about to face disappointment.

Finally, a lone, soggy jogger stopped. Then a car. Then neighbors started coming over. THEN the Grey Line Tour bus comes to a screeching halt right in front of our house. (I'm in Nashville. A music star lives in my neighborhood. Not unusual.) The tour bus driver opened his door, ordered a cup of lemonade, then invited the girls to bring their pitcher onto the bus and almost every passenger bought a cup.

After two hours, the girls had made almost $60 for the animal shelter.

A valuable lesson was learned. Not by them. By me. The lesson was that sometimes, even when everything seems stacked against you, you just go. It's just your time. Because you make it your time.

As Andy Sambury of Saturday Night Live once said, "We don't start the show because we're ready. We start the show because it's 11:30."

For Jessica and Emma, it was 11:30.

Look at your watch.

What time is it?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:01 PM
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11.21.13

Leading Views: Intuition is about Listening

Leading Views Ray Davis, CEO of Umpqua Bank, writes in Leading Through Uncertainty, that following your intuition is important at any time, but especially so in uncertain conditions. Intuition shouldn’t be thought of as being irrational but rather a “powerful, heightened state of awareness.” Intuition isn’t a magical process that happens inside of you. Its quality is dependent on how well you are informed by the reality of what’s happening around you. The only way to accomplish that is to listen and pay attention. He writes:
At its core intuition is about listening; it’s not some magical thing that you either have or don’t have. It’s being focused and zeroing in on people. When you’re intuitive, you’re listening closely to what others have to say, and watching and feeling intently. You’re observing everything that’s going on around you and taking it all in, increasing the amount of data that you’re gathering and processing. This all becomes fuel for your intuition.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:15 PM
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12.05.12

The Truth About Becoming a Great Leader

Leading Forum
This is a guest post by Bill McBean, author of The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows that You Don't. The seven facts he presents are clearly articulated in this very straightforward book. He begins by saying that when it comes to business ownership, “the reality is very different from the dream, even when you are successful.” How true. I know when I first started my business over thirty years ago, I had no idea what I was getting into. Here, McBean shares the importance of leadership:

Being a leader sounds like a great thing to be -- and it certainly is. But here is the rub: though the word "leadership" gets tossed around a lot, real, productive leadership is still very uncommon. Now, I'm not quoting any study or research. I'm giving you my opinion based on what I have witnessed over the last four decades of business ownership.

What is needed in order to be a good leader? I think it begins with two macro concepts. First, a leader has to have the ability to visualize what success looks like; meaning that leaders must be able to define their organization's success destination, describe what the organization will look like when it gets there, and determine how long it will take to achieve those goals. Secondly, leaders have to have the ability to understand where their organization's weaknesses and strengths are, and then they must have the character and courage to move the organization from where it is today to where they want it to be tomorrow -- the destination.

The keywords in this macro description are "visualization," "character," and "courage," because in my mind the key step in becoming a great leader is understanding where you're going. And then, you have to have the character and courage to inspire others to follow you down that path to success.

Sure, leadership can be more complicated than this. But in my mind, before you dive into the many nuances of leadership, the first step in becoming a good leader is taking the time to define what leadership means for you. But your definition has to be based on the two macro concepts of defining your success destination and developing the character qualities that encourage others to follow your lead.

The point is, leadership begins with your definition of what leadership means to you. Without knowing that, you will never develop a clear understanding of what leadership is, or of what you have to do to become a great leader. Or said another way, you will never be the leader you could be, meaning you will never reach your personal potential. And as a result, the organization you're leading, whether it's your own business or someone else's, will never move to the next level.

In my book, The Facts of Business Life, I describe seven facts, or business basics, that business owners have to understand in order to be successful. What's important to note about the seven facts is that they are sequential in nature. In other words, to improve your organization, you start with Fact One, and the better you know and implement Fact One, the more effective Fact Two will be, and so on. And Fact One, "If you don't lead, no one will follow," is all about leadership because I believe leadership is a vital ingredient to the success of any organization. Without leadership, a business goes nowhere because business basics like management, creating processes, demanding accountability, planning, and marketing, which are covered in other Facts in the book, never even come into play.

In other words, I think leadership is the first step toward owning and operating a successful business. It's the foundation on which the rest of the business disciplines rely. Before there can be effective management and controls, an organization will have to have the leader's courage and vision to enforce the disciplines, put power and accountability behind objectives and goals, reward those who succeed and replace those who don't, and so on.

Without effective leadership, there is just chaos because there is little team work, little consistency, little employee pride, and little customer loyalty. Every day is just another day, without purpose or direction. Your organization will operate just like many other unfortunate businesses that open their doors and close them shortly thereafter with little fanfare and few people missing them.

There is an old saying that a "skunk stinks from the head down." It's true for skunks, and it's true for leadership. The strength of an organization comes from the top, its leadership, and the number of leaders who can be developed within the organization. Many business owners know this. But what most don't know is how to become great leaders, and how to develop them.

Where do you begin? You emulate great leaders, and every great leader began by taking one important first step: defining what leadership means to them. Once you know what kind of leader you want to be you can begin developing the skills needed and the courage to test yourself in front of others.

Are you that person?

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Leadership
Bill McBean is the author of The Facts of Business Life: What Every Successful Business Owner Knows That You Don't. McBean has spent most of his nearly forty years as a successful business owner in the automobile industry where, among many other achievements, he purchased several underperforming dealerships and turned them into a successful business enterprise with yearly sales of more than $160 million. Since selling the company to the world's largest automotive retailer, AutoNation, McBean has been involved in several new businesses, including McBean Partners, an investment and business mentoring company, and Net Claims Now, which provides administrative services and support to the restoration industry. For more information go to FactsOfBusinessLife.com

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:05 PM
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11.20.12

Leading Views: Good Poker Players Know When to Fold

Leading ViewsWe are often controlled by habits and mindless behavior. In times of uncertainty we easily revert to the familiar, when what we need to do is explore uncharted territory.

In Adhocracy, Robert Waterman notes that “Bureaucracy gets us through the day; it deals efficiently with everyday problems. The trouble is, change ignores conventional bureaucratic lines. The real action in organizations occurs outside ‘the proper channels.’”

The goal of adhocracy is change. But change efforts need to monitored and evaluated along the way at predetermined milestones. Waterman explains:

Stud poker is a good metaphor for this process. In stud poker, as in product development or any other ad hoc work, you don’t know whether you have a winner until the last card has been played. But as each card is dealt, just as a project proceeds through each phase, you buy more information on the probable success of the outcome. With each card, staying in the game gets more expensive and more risky, just as each successive phase of the project tends to get bigger and more costly than the last.

poker cardsGood poker players know when to fold. Managers often don’t—for several reasons:

First, they don’t bother to break big projects up into bite-sized chunks. It lends some semblance to structure to the unknown.

Second, as the project grows, more and more people’s egos and careers become invested in making sure the damned thing succeeds. Managers proceed against odds no poker player would touch because they don’t see that a failure can turn into a valuable learning experience.

Finally, they don’t get rewarded for “the perfect mistake”—a good try that was called off for the right reasons.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:08 PM
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09.11.12

Leading Views: Gathering Feedback that Drives Growth

Leading ViewsPeople need feedback to grow. In Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go authors Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni share a good method for gathering feedback that drives growth:

Encourage employees to gather feedback from others before sharing your own. It’s not about politeness but about power. You’ve got it and, as a result, your perspective may carry undue weight. When employees come to you with a plate full of feedback from others, they are better able to put your perspective into perspective.

Many people have not had the benefit of learning how to solicit and accept feedback graciously. Since the act of opening one’s self up to the opinions of others can be challenging, the agenda for such a discussion should be simple—as straightforward as ABC. Encourage employees to focus on just three things as they gather feedback from others: abilities, blind spots, and conditions.

Abilities:
• What are my greatest strengths?
• What can you always count on me to do?

Blind Spots:
• What behaviors have you observed that might get in my way?
• How might my strengths work against me?

Conditions:
• In what settings or under what circumstances do I make the greatest contributions?
• Under what conditions have you seen me struggling?
• What factors have you noticed trigger stress or other negative reactions for me?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:23 PM
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07.10.12

Leading Views: Four Leadership Imperatives

Leading Views In The Performance Pipeline author Stephen Drotter describes a pipeline model that helps leaders at all levels address four leadership imperatives. The Performance Pipeline model focuses attention on each layer's results and on the interconnectedness of the layers.

Leaders at every level need to think more broadly, find new methods, provide greater clarity, and enable sharper focus. These must become the guiding ideas for leaders at all levels. Delivering the right results at the right time in the right way has to be primary, and new tools and practices are required to do it. We must make a fundamental shift in our basic leadership practices if we are to succeed in this uncertain environment.

There are four key imperatives for leaders in our current environment:

The First Imperative: Every leader spends thirty minutes to one hour or more daily in uninterrupted thought.

The Second Imperative: Everyone must innovate as a natural and expected part of one’s daily routine.

The Third Imperative: Leaders must provide true role clarity and purpose for every employee.

The Fourth Imperative: Leaders must create an environment where sufficient focus is achievable.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:23 AM
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05.17.12

Leading Views: The Star Follower

Leading Views Frequently, when you hear a leader say that they want followers they can trust, what they mean is they want followers who will do what they say and never question them. When they do this, they are letting their insecurities show. It’s not a healthy relationship for either the leader or the follower. The leader becomes isolated and the followers do not grow into their own potential.

Robert Kelly, author of The Power of Followership, described the leader/follower dynamic in The Art of Followership, this way:
Star followers think for themselves, are very active, and have very positive energy. They do not accept the leader’s decision without their own independent evaluation of its soundness. If they agree with the leader, they give full support. If they disagree, they challenge the leader, offering constructive alternatives that will help the leader and organization get where they want to go. Some people view these people as really “leaders in disguise,” but this is basically because those people have a hard time accepting that followers can display such independence and positive behavior. Star followers are often referred to as “my right-person” or my “go-to person.”

The words “leader” and “follower” bring to mind a common script in which the leader is in charge, saying, “You do this, and you do that.” Meanwhile, followers are imagined as inferior beings in need of the leader’s direction, motivation, and protection. We need to rethink this outdated script.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:58 PM
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04.11.12

Leading Views: The Haircut Problem

Leading ViewsIn Rippling, by Beverly Schwartz explores five strategic ways that social entrepreneurs change social systems. Esther Dyson reflects on one of those ways: restructuring institutional norms. When trying to introduce a new way of thinking, explains Dyson, you have to deal with the haircut problem—thinking that the current way is the right way.

We need to change how people think: not just what they notice, which is hard enough, but also their perceptions of justice and propriety. In many cases, such as ineffective education, few people benefit from the current situation, but they just can’t imagine things any other way. They think that the current order of things is the right order of things. I call that the haircut problem—a well-known phenomenon in certain segments of certain societies. Tell someone that you like their new haircut, and they immediately think: “I must have looked horrible before or they wouldn’t have said anything.”

Anytime you prefer a new haircut to the old one or anytime you ask a society to change, you are implicitly criticizing the way things used to be. People don’t like being told they are not perfect—especially by outsiders. If you call their basic assumptions into question, you are telling them that they have been wrong or unjust, prejudiced or ignorant. The trick is to honor the past (or the present) while talking about the benefits of the new management. This can be hard to do. It takes not just cleverness but also courage—even as you lead.
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:06 AM
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02.03.12

Leading Views: Ideas are Immortal. Inspiration is Perishable.

Leading ViewsIn ReWork—a go-to book for inspiration—authors Jason Fried and David Hansson explain why you need to get on with it. Just do it.

We all have ideas. Ideas are immortal. They last forever.

What doesn’t last forever is inspiration. Inspiration is like fresh fruit or milk: It has an expiration date.

If you want to do something, you’ve got to do it now. You can’t put it on the shelf and wait two months to get around to it. You can’t just say you’ll do it later. Later, you won’t be pumped up about it anymore.

If you’re inspired on a Friday, swear of the weekend and dive into the project. When you’re high on inspiration, you can get two weeks work done in twenty-four hours. Inspiration is a time machine in that way.

Inspiration is a magical thing, a productivity multiplier, a motivator. But it won’t wait for you. Inspiration is a now thing. If it grabs you, grab it right back and put it to work.

Of Related Interest:
  How to Decommoditize Your Leadership
  Get to the Why by Starting at the Epicenter

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:05 PM
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01.26.12

Leading Views: Resilience

Leading ViewsBecause we always make mistakes and always will, Norm Brodsky and Bo Burlingham, authors of Street Smarts say that the most important quality for business success is resilience—the ability to bounce back from failure, to turn around a bad situation, to profit from your mistakes.

Point One: Those who persevere win. Be resilient and welcome failure. That’s how you become a better businessperson.

Point Two: You learn by refusing to make excuses and looking inside yourself for the reason things have gone wrong.

Point Three: Focus and discipline are more important than identifying opportunities, but they have to be balanced with flexibility.

Point Four: The solutions are seldom right in front of you. You need to learn how to spot them out of the corner of your eye.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:52 PM
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01.04.12

Leading Views: James Stockdale on Leadership

Leading ViewsIn A Vietnam Experience: Ten Years of Reflection (1984) by James Stockdale, he writes:

Leadership must be based on goodwill. Goodwill does not mean posturing and, least of all, pandering to the mob. It means obvious and wholehearted commitment to helping followers. We are tired of leaders we fear, tired of leaders we love, and most tired of leaders who let us take liberties with them. What we need for leaders are men of the heart who are so helpful that they, in effect, do away with the need of their jobs. But leaders like that are never out of a job, never out of followers. Strange as it sounds, great leaders gain authority by giving it away.
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:51 PM
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07.14.11

Leading Views: Alain de Botton on Success and Snobs

Leading Views Alain de Botton, author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, shared his views at TED on success and snobs:

One of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. A lot of the time our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They’re sucked in from other people. And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves. What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we’re truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.

One of the reasons we might be suffering is that we are surrounded by snobs. A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses it to come to a complete vision of who you are. That is snobbery. And the dominant form of snobbery that exists today is job snobbery — you encounter it within minutes at a party when you get asked that famous, iconic question of the 21st century: “What do you do?” The opposite of a snob is your mother.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:41 PM
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06.29.11

Leading Views: Four Ways to Change

Leading ViewsWe know what to do to make people happy at work says Brian Tracy. The problem is that we either forget to do those things that make people happy, neglect to do them because we are distracted by other things, refuse to do them because we don’t understand their importance, or, worst of all, do things that actually make people unhappy and then justify our behavior with self-righteous excuses and rationalizations.

To make people feel really happy about themselves, you don’t have to change your entire personality or become a completely different person, you simply have to treat them exactly the way you would like to be treated, over and over again, until it becomes a series of automatic and easy behaviors for you.

There are only four ways that you can change anything about yourself, your life, your work, or your relationships with others:
  1. You can do more of certain things. What should you be doing more of to build a positive, upbeat, happy work environment?
  2. You could do less of other things. What should you be doing less of if you want people to feel wonderful about themselves every day?
  3. You could start doing something that you are not doing today. What things should you start doing that would cause people to feel happier about themselves and their work?
  4. You could stop certain behaviors altogether. What are the things that you are doing on a regular basis that you should discontinue?
If you are not sure about any of the answers to these questions, sit down with your staff, as individuals or in a group setting, and have the courage and honesty to ask them these questions:

• What would you like me to do more of in the days and weeks ahead?
• What would you like me to do less of?
• What would you like me to start doing that I am not doing today?
• What would you like me to stop doing altogether?

Adapted from Full Engagement! Inspire, Motivate, and Bring Out the Best in Your People by Brian Tracy

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:33 PM
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06.22.11

Leading Views: Keep Dissenters Close to Provide Perspective

Leading ViewsDecade of Change is a collection of articles from the Gallup Management Journal designed to provide a roadmap for moving forward into an uncertain future. In an interview with retired Lieutenant General Russel Honoré, he advises that leaders should keep dissenters close to provide perspective. This point cannot be stressed enough because although we all know it, most of us rarely encourage it. He shares the following with Senior Editor Jennifer Robison:

You’ve got three groups of people in your organization. First you’ve got the people who, when you say it, will get it done. Those are the people that want to replace you.

Then you’ve got the people who are on the team but aren’t necessarily motivated to get the task done. Those are the people in the middle. You can’t run the organization without them, so you take them as they are.

And then you have the third group. They’re very effective, but they don’t seem motivated. They argue with you. What you must decide is, is it OK to have a person from the third group on the team, or should you get rid of him? Members of that third group can be very competent, and many leaders let them go because they aren’t jumping up and down every time the boss walks in.

So an art of leadership is to sort those three groups out. You don’t have to worry about the ones that want your job. They’re clapping every time the boss says something, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to be on the team and be solid key players. Then you’ve got those who don’t cheer, but they get it done. But the third group could be the most productive, because sometimes the least conformist member of the group can say, “Yeah, this is what the boss says, but this is what the organization needs.” Some of your best innovations come from the mavericks.

Group one is good for accomplishing a mission, but if you don’t have people bringing up the negatives, you won’t have any perspective.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:58 PM
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03.24.11

Leading Views: Getting Another Perspective

Leading ViewsIn The Velocity Manifesto author Scott Klososky reminds us of the importance of getting another perspective:

When I was CEO out building my technology companies, I never realized how limited my thinking was until I became a consultant and speaker. When you go to the same office and are surrounded by the same people every day, and you are thinking about solving the same problems over and over again, you invariably become a bit myopic. Only by getting away from your usual world and observing other, very different environments can you build the skill of assimilating ideas from other industries into your own. Perspective is a powerful thing, and looking at the world through the eyes of another industry is a great move.

Of Related Interest:
  5 Leadership Lessons: The Velocity Manifesto

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:42 AM
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01.18.11

Leading Views: Focus on the Questions, Not the Answers

Leading ViewsAmerica’s first-ever Olympic champion in the sport of aerial skiing Nikki Stone, believes that the key to success can be summed up in the Turtle Effect. That is to be soft on the inside, have a hard shell and be willing to stick your neck out.

The Turtle Effect has seven key lessons. As she puts it: “To have a soft inside, I would need a passion for my pursuits. To build a hard shell, I’d have to focus on the task at hand, completely commit to my goals, and develop the ability to overcome any adversity that was thrown my way. And in order to stick my neck out, I’d have to have confidence, take substantial risks, and be a team player in order to succeed.”

In her book When Turtles Fly, Stone shows how these lessons play a part in the lives of 40 extraordinary successful individuals. In one chapter she urges us to focus on the questions, not the answers. She writes:
We are often so focused on finding answers that we forget to keep asking questions. We need to explore the unknown in order to further our learning. People are sometimes afraid of questions that don’t have concrete answers, or answers that may be hard to discover. Kids have it right, constantly asking “why?”

Think up questions that you don’t have an answer to. Become a kid again this week and ask people “why?” rather than just accepting their statements. You may find out more on the subject or you may even find out that there really is no sound reasoning to their response.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:05 PM
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12.28.10

Leading Views: Being an Insider and an Outsider

Leading Views “The power of being simultaneously an insider and an outsider.” ~Dov Frohman

Think about it.
Flexibility. Freedom. Insight.

Dove Frohman wrote in Leadership the Hard Way:

“Unless you are prepared to see things differently and go against the current, you are unlikely to accomplish anything truly important. And to go against the current, you have to be something of an outsider, living on the edge, a member of a small but vibrant counterculture.” He adds, “You must free yourself from habitual ways of looking at things, cultivate an independent and questioning perspective, and be ready to embrace alternative and counterintuitive points of view.”

What is your standard deviation?

Related Interest:
Learning Leadership the Hard Way

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09.14.10

Leading Views: Five Essential Leadership Questions

Leading ViewsIn The Mirror Test author Jeffrey Hayzlett reminds us that “having the mindset of a leader is more important than learning tactics of leadership that fill thousands of books and seminars nationwide. After all, tactics can change and vary depending on where your business is and they type of business it is. The need for strong leadership does not. Success and growth depend on it. Your employees depend on it. The mood of your company depends on it."

So the first question you need to ask, says Hayzlett, is not “How do you lead?” but “Can you lead?” If yes, then ask the following:
  1. Am I acting like myself or trying to be someone else?
  2. Can I read the signs in my business and be decisive and do the things every leader must do to succeed?
  3. Am I the right fit for what I am doing in my business? Am I doing what I do best?
  4. Am I dealing honestly with my employees and making them part of my business?
  5. Can I eliminate the external (employee) and internal (ego) obstacles that hold my business and me back?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:30 PM
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07.06.10

Leading Views: Are You Relevant?

Leading ViewsJoe Calloway, Chuck Feltz and Kris Young believe that leadership and success will always be intentional and never by chance. In a time when we are required to do more with less, we need to be able to draw the value out of existing resources. One crucial way of doing that is to be relevant. In Never by Chance they write that businesses lose their relevance every day. If you don’t have a clear definition of what relevance means to your business you’ll never see it coming. Joe Calloway writes:

As a leader, relevance is one of lenses through which you should use to make every decision, every single day. Does this decision advance the vision and fit our culture? Does this decision make us more relevant to our customers? The question of relevance is especially vital from a competitive standpoint. You compete to the extent that you are relevant to your customers, and you differentiate to the extent that you are more relevant than your competition.

So how do you find out how to be relevant to your customers? It’s simple: You ask them. Your methods can range from formal market research, to having conversations, to simply paying attention. If you own a coffee shop, are you asking your customers what newspaper they would prefer? If you own an industrial supply business, are you asking your customers what they need in terms of material and delivery? Every employee—not just management—should be asking questions, having conversations, and looking for clues with every customer interaction they have. Part of your culture should be your constant attempt to be more relevant to customers.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:22 AM
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05.11.10

Leading Views: Leadership Without a Pinch of Fear is Like Cooking Without Salt

Leading Views On July 1, Nitin Nohria will become the tenth dean of Harvard Business School. He brings with him a new perspective that is much needed at this time. Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter told Stefan Stern of the Financial Times, “This is about leaders who take responsibility. I could characterize it as the start of a shift to moral capitalism. And not just as a corrective. This is something new.”

Nohria is by all reports a collaborative leader and a reflective one as well. In the 2000 book, The Arc of Ambition that he co-authored with James Champy, they write about the need for positive anxiety in leadership and the need to share power:

Fear chills minds, numbs souls, kills initiative and businesses. And yet, our arsenal can’t be entirely devoid of fear. A certain amount of fear is necessary to improve performance—assuming that by fear one means positive anxiety, the edgy urge to do a great job and not let down the team.

Those incapable of instilling that feeling throughout a company may well invite disrespect for the common enterprise. They flirt with apathy and mediocrity. Leadership without a pinch of fear is like cooking without salt.

But the ambitious don’t take advice easily…Once they are in charge, they may feel their position threatened by other opinions, particularly those that differ from their own.

More likely, ambitious people just believe that they are right. In their minds, they suffer no fools. Time is too short for that.

Sometimes, they also select men and women for their boards who reflect their own opinions. That’s a dangerous practice, especially if somewhere in the exercise of your ambition, you are wrong (it happens, you know). Someone needs to be present who dares to disagree with you.

Coming to grips with our own ambitions is ultimately a forewarning about the myth of omnipotence. No solo ruler of a complex can ever have enough creativity, knowledge, and time to make the right decisions single-handedly. His or her survival depends on sowing and reaping the brilliant work of others. By sacrificing the appearance of power, we achieve the substance—the real reward—of power.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:03 AM
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04.27.10

Leading Views: Donald Powell on the Qualities of a Leader

Leading Views In Thriving In the New Economy by Lori Ann LaRocco, former Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Chairman Donald Powell shares his view of what a leader should be:

Leadership is vital; it provides hope and stability. We usually know it when we see it. Leaders don’t panic. Leaders have ice in their veins. Leaders are disciplined and have a plan—and they execute. If the facts change, they change their course. Leaders set the tone, and more importantly, they lead through example … they walk the talk!

Leaders must be able to stand the heat. They sometimes have to look people in the eye and say, we thought about doing that and decided not to participate, because we think a product/action has abnormal risk and would not be long-term beneficial to our shareholders. That is hard to do, especially when there is much pressure to perform with peers, but leaders don’t follow the crowd; and sometimes these decisions can have consequences.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:29 AM
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04.13.10

Leading Views: Teaching Fire a Lesson

Leading ViewsIn Linchpin, Seth Godin explains the futility in trying to get others to conform to what we think they should be doing. It’s a form of control which stems from a lack of respect for others. People are going to do what they are going to do and for what seems to them to be very good reasons. Worrying about what other people are doing only clouds our judgment and upsets us emotionally and has little if any effect on them. Accepting people for what they are frees us to be the best we can be. Here’s Godin on teaching people a lesson:

Fire is hot. That’s what it does. If you get burned by fire, you can be annoyed at yourself, but being angry at the fire doesn’t do you much good. And trying to teach the fire a lesson so it won’t be hot next time is certainly not time well spent.

Our inclination is to give fire a pass, because it’s not human. But human beings are similar, in that they’re not going to change anytime soon either.

Many (most?) people in organizations handle their interactions as though they are in charge of teaching people a lesson. We make policies and are vindictive and focus on the past because we worry that if we don’t, someone will get away with it.

So when a driver cuts us off, we scream and yell. We say we’re doing it so he’ll learn and not in danger the next guy, but of course, he can’t hear you. There’s a media mogul who stole from me in 1987 and I haven’t spoken to him since. He doesn’t know I exist, I bet. So much for teaching him a lesson.

The ability to see the world as it is begins with an understanding that perhaps it’s not your job to change what can’t be changed. Particularly if the act of working on that change harms you and your goals in the process.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:28 AM
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03.30.10

Leading Views: The Leader as Communicator

Leading Views Clarence B. Randall (1891-1967) was chairman of Inland Steel Co. of East Chicago, Indiana. A celebrated corporate chieftain, author, and civic leader, he held various government posts, including special consultant to President Eisenhower on foreign economic policy. In The Executive in Transition (1967), he shares his views on the need for developing communication skills:

Speech is a part of manners, and the able businessman must learn to express himself in English which is clear as well as colloquial.

Clarence B Randall
There are too many talkers who have never learned to listen. They broadcast but do not receive. The only time they stop the flow of words is when they are out of breath. Their minds are choked by what they want to say and closed to what the other person wishes to offer in reply.

If I were to name the one skill most important to the young man or woman leaving college hopeful of achieving executive status in industry, I would say without a moment’s hesitation that it is the capacity to speak and write the English language with clarity and force. No idea, however brilliant, has value for society unless it can be communicated to others.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:33 AM
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03.02.10

Leading Views: Structure Formally, but Work Informally

Leading Views In The Right Fight, authors Saj-nicole Joni and Damon Beyer explain that in order for a leader to receive reliable information they need to go outside the constructs of the formal organization:

Great leaders learn how to work out tensions and conflicts through the informal networks that make the formal organization hum. They acknowledge their need for access to unfiltered information and recognize the creative potential in opportunities for unfettered thinking. They leverage their personal and expertise-based relationships in the informal organization to gather information, to gauge employee morale and mood, to allow things to bubble up from the best and the brightest, to test hunches, and to champion ideas.

Beyond that, they set up systems that encourage everyone to participate in the informal knowledge sharing, creating an open culture radically unlike the “mushroom” environment of far too many companies—where the lower an employee is on the org chart, the more likely he is to be kept in the dark.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:33 PM
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02.16.10

Leading Views: Law of Unintended Consequences

Leading Views In Thriving In the New Economy by Lori Ann LaRocco, Larry Lindsey, CEO of economic advisory firm The Lindsey Group, says that to thrive in time of crisis you need objectivity. It means that you don’t get caught up in the moment. This requires the perspective that history can give you. He writes:

One of history’s great lessons is that policy makers, in both the public and private sectors, tend to underestimate the costs involved when they contemplate the actions necessary to address some adverse change in circumstances. Although this is due in part to long periods of conditioning to the relationships and magnitudes that existed before the crisis, an equally important cause of the underestimation is the Law of Unintended Consequences. Even the most carefully designed policy responses involve unforeseen results, and in a crisis, there is not the time for as careful a consideration of the consequences of policy as might be ideal.

The way we approach this challenge is to imagine ourselves as future historians writing about the events of the present. This causes us to contemplate an outcome, which we as future historians have the advantage of knowing with 20/20 hindsight, and then work back to establish a chain of events that led to that outcome. When you do that, you have to visualize how something is going to happen and decide whether or not your vision is realistic. If it is not realistic, you reject it. Thus, only a small fraction of the speculative ‘‘future histories’’ one considers actually make it into the range of plausible scenarios.

This future-history approach doesn’t guarantee that you will have picked the right future, but it does facilitate objectivity. Once present-day events occurred that differed from what you imagined, that is, once the world ended up somewhere other than where you thought it was going to end up, you would know that, objectively, you were wrong.

Of Related Interest:
  Thriving In the New Economy

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:11 PM
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02.02.10

Leading Views: Toxic Emotions in the Workplace

Leading ViewsPeter Frost explains in Toxic Emotions at Work that toxicity is a normal by-product of organizational life. According to Frost, when ignored, toxic emotions betray employees' hopes, bruise their egos, reduce their enthusiasm for work, and diminish their sense of connectedness to their company's community and goals. Compassionate responses to pain, on the other hand, encourage those who are suffering to effect constructive changes in their work lives. Despite their powerful role in employee performance, toxic emotions are rarely addressed by organizations:

It is true that good leadership by its very nature engenders pain. It pushes people out of their comfort zones—which is necessary to get things done in a world of competition and change. Even so, some managers are malicious or lack good decision-making or people-managing skills, and therefore unduly contribute to the frustration, anger and low morale of their employees.

Not just managers but organizations themselves create conditions for toxicity through policies and practices that fail to include the human factor in their execution. Their modes of production, especially the ever-changing technologies of work, squeeze out time for humanity, for civility, for people to reflect on their actions.

We need to recognize that the values we reinforce in our organizations often are a prime source of toxicity. Unbridled attention to the bottom line, regardless of what it takes to achieve a given return on investments, blinds us to the possibilities of even more long-run effectiveness, if we take into account the value and emotional health of our workforce. The toxicity that flows from managers who ignore the emotional costs of their actions (to themselves and to others) can poison the wells of innovation and goodwill in the company. Corporate lies, distortions, and manipulations that cover up mistakes and foster self-aggrandizement do little to benefit any of the stakeholders.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:00 AM
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01.19.10

Leading Views: How To Increase Your Value

Leading ViewsIn The Unforced Error, Jeffrey Krames is talking about taking responsibility. No Responsibility = No Value. Taking responsibility is about seeing the larger goals of the company and your part in it. It’s about learning to leader from where you are. To not take responsibility is to say “I don’t want to be part of the solution.” In fact, you become part of the problem. Kramer writes:

At Work, people often look at their jobs in terms of tasks rather than responsibilities. But if you don’t view responsibility in the broader sense, you may be committing the most subtle of unforced errors: Over time you may fall off the corporate radar screen. Your boss may feel that you are capable of completing a routine task or matter, but if the assignment is more than routine, or if the boss is looking for someone to take the initiative, she will not think of you. And when it comes time to promote someone or to draw up a list of the valuable people she needs to keep when corporate belt tightening requires a layoff, she will not think of you.

If there is nobody addressing a problem that you observe, or taking advantage of an opportunity that you see, think about whether you should be doing it yourself.

Taking responsibility is about developing a mind-set that says: “I am responsible for what happens in my unit. It’s my job to help get us to success.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:47 AM
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01.05.10

Leading Views: Parker Palmer on Leading From Within

Leading ViewsParker Palmer, founder and senior partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal, says that we tend to ignore what is going on inside us. Inner issues can distract from the message we are trying to project, the good that we would accomplish. It’s a call to be integrated or authentic. A leader’s personal issues can work their way into the culture of those we lead. Leaders need to not only master the skills of working through and with others, but also the discipline to manage what is going on inside—character issues both good and bad. From Let Your Life Speak, he explains:

We have a long tradition of approaching leadership via the “power of positive thinking.” I want to counterbalance that approach by paying special attention to the tendency we have as leaders to project more shadow than light. Leadership is hard work for which one is regularly criticized and rarely rewarded, so it is understandable that we need to bolster ourselves with positive thoughts. But by failing to look at our shadows, we feed a dangerous delusion that leaders too often indulge: that our efforts are always well intended, our power is always benign, and the problem is always in those difficult people whom we are trying to lead.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:44 AM
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11.03.09

Leading Views: Winning Hearts and Minds

Leading ViewsSmart people with great credentials often self-destruct because they fail to connect with the people they are trying to influence. Both teachers and leaders must win the hearts and minds of those they lead. Without an emotional connection, both students and employees are just getting through the day. Leaders must learn to focus on the human side if they are to be effective. In Fierce Leadership author Susan Scott shares the difference between good teachers and bad teachers:

What makes for a bad teacher? Things like rigid control, broadcasting from the front of the room, and yes/no, right/wrong feedback. What makes for a good teacher? Things like creating a “holding space” for lively interaction, flexibility in how students become engaged in a topic, a regard for student perspective, the ability to personalize the material for each student, responding to questions and answers with sensitivity, and providing high-quality feedback “where there is a back-and-forth exchange to get a deeper understanding.”

Sounds like the behavior of a good leader.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:30 PM
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10.27.09

Leading Views: Assume the Guests Point of View

Leading ViewsImagineer John Hench shares in his book Designing Disney, Walt Disney's approach to people:

"To design most effectively for our guests, we learned that we had to observe them up close, waiting in lines with them, going on rides with them, eating with them. Walt insisted on this by saying, ‘You guys get down there at least twice a month. For God’s sake, don’t eat off the lot. Stay there…lunch with the guests…talk to them.’ This was new to us; as filmmakers, we were used to sitting in our sweatboxes at the studio, passing judgment on our work without knowing how the public might actually respond to it. Going out into the park taught us how guests were being treated and how they responded to sensory information, what worked and what didn’t, what their needs were and how we could meet them in entertaining ways. We paid attention to guests’ patterns of movement and the ways in which they expressed their emotions. We got an idea of what was going on in their minds. Disney Imagineers prefer such an experiential process of gathering information from our guests to focus groups or surveys. When designers see guests in their natural states of behavior, they gain a better understanding of the space and time guests need in a story environment.

Walt had the idea that guests could feel perfection.”

As Frank Gehry writes in the forward, "when you’ve got a love for people, you want them to have experiences that make them think differently when they leave."

That's management by wandering around.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:43 AM
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10.13.09

Leading Views: Leadership Isn't a Reward

Leading ViewsTom Peters reminds us that leadership shouldn’t be a reward or a title bestowed as a way of saying thanks. Unfortunately it isn’t confined to business and government. We see it in organizations of all types and most regrettably in schools where it reinforces the wrong concept of what it means to be a leader. Peters told an audience:

"Only in the stupid world of business and government, do we promote the best accountant to the head of the accounting department, the best salesman to the head of the sales department, the best trainer to the head of the training department. You don’t do that in sports, right?!

"The definition of most of our coaches at the professional level is that they were second rate or marginal players who were brilliant students of the game and people. That is, they were good at leading. What are leaders good at doing? Leading."

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:04 AM
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09.22.09

Leading Views: PhD in Leadership, Short Course

Leading ViewsDee Hock is the founder and former CEO of the VISA and author of One from Many: VISA and the Rise of Chaordic Organization. In Fast Company magazine he reduced leadership to its most basic relational (common sense) element. How often we forget this simple concept or are so unaware that we can’t get a fix on our own behavior.

"PhD in Leadership, Short Course: Make a careful list of all things done to you that you abhorred. Don't do them to others, ever. Make another list of things done for you that you loved. Do them for others, always."

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:52 AM
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09.08.09

Leading Views: Why We Need Leaders

Leading ViewsPublic philosopher Tom Morris expresses something in True Success: A New Philosophy of Excellence that speaks to the why of leadership:

"We all need help. We need guidance for our journeys through life. Even the most successful of us need reminders and fresh, crisp articulations of the truths we may only vaguely grasp that have, in one way or another, led us to whatever we have managed to accomplish. We need to rethink. We need to refocus. How can we get where we still need to go? And how can we best convey to others what it takes to get there together?"

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:32 AM
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08.25.09

Leading Views: Manager as Orchestra Conductor

Leading ViewsIn Managerial Behavior: Administration in Complex Organizations, Leonard Sayles creates a more realistic picture of the manager/leader as orchestra conductor:

"The manager is like a symphony orchestra conductor, endeavoring to maintain a melodious performance in which the contributions of the various instruments are coordinated and sequenced, patterned and paced, while the orchestra members are having various personal difficulties, stage hands are moving music stands, alternating excessive heat and cold are creating audience and instrumental problems, and the sponsor of the concert is insisting on irrational changes in the program."

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:47 AM
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