Leading Blog






10.14.19

Robert Iger's 20 Leadership Lessons

Robert Iger Leadership Lessons

ROBERT IGER has worked for the same company for forty-five years: twenty-two of them at ABC, and another twenty-three at Disney, after Disney acquired ABC in 1995—the last fourteen of those years, as the CEO of Disney. He shares it all in The Ride of a Lifetime. Like the biggest, most exciting rides were once called at Disneyland, he says his time as CEO of Disney has been like a fourteen-year ride on a giant E-Ticket attraction.

After sharing a bit of his background, he quickly delves into his career beginning at ABC, and the lessons he’s learned and the principles that have guided him that help “nurture the good and manage the bad.”

He explains the thinking behind his habit of waking at 4:15 am.

It’s vital to create space in each day to let your thoughts wander beyond your immediate job responsibilities, to turn things over in your mind in a less pressured, more creative way than is possible once the daily triage kicks in. I am certain I’d be less productive and less creative in my work if I didn’t also spend those first hours away from the emails and text messages and phone calls that require so much attention as the day goes on.

Iger writes of the key mentors in his career and his relationship with Steve Jobs, George Lucas, and Michael Eisner. Iger truly embraces innovation. When he took over as CEO in 2005, he laid out three strategic priorities saying it should be about the future, not the past: Recommit to the concept that quality matters, embrace technology instead of fighting it, and think bigger—think global—and turn Disney into a stronger brand in international markets.

These priorities have guided the company through all of the growth and acquisitions since he was named CEO. Today, Disney is the largest media company in the world, counting Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, and 21st Century Fox among its properties. Its value is nearly five times what it was when Iger took over.

You have to approach your work and life with a sense of genuine humility. The success I’ve enjoyed has been due in part to my own efforts, but it’s also been due to so much beyond me, the effort and support and examples of so many people, and to twists of fate beyond my control.

What follows are 20 leadership lessons from the book but stripped of the stories that brought them to life. You’ll have to read the book to get that.

1
I talk a lot about “the relentless pursuit of perfection.” In practice, this can mean a lot of things, and it’s hard to define. It’s a mindset, more than a specific set of rules. It’s not about perfectionism at all costs. It’s about creating an environment in which people refuse to accept mediocrity. It’s about pushing back against the urge to say that “good enough” is good enough.

2
Be decent to people. Treat everyone with fairness and empathy. This doesn’t mean that you lower your expectations or convey the message that mistakes don’t matter. It means that you create an environment where people know you’ll hear them out, that you’re emotionally consistent and fair-minded, and that they’ll be given second choices for honest mistakes. Excellence and fairness don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Strive for perfection but always be aware of the pitfalls of caring only about the product and never the people.

3
True integrity—a sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrong—is a kind of secret weapon.

4
Value ability more than experience, and put people in roles that require more of them than they know they have in them.

5
Do not fake anything. You have to be humble, and you can’t pretend to be someone you’re not or to know something you don’t. True authority and true leadership come from knowing who you are and not pretending to be anything else.

6
Don’t start negatively and don’t start small. People will often focus on little details as a way of masking a lack of any clear, coherent, big thoughts. If you start petty, you seem petty.

7
Don’t let ambition get ahead of opportunity. By fixating on a future job or project, you become impatient with where you are. You don’t tend enough to the responsibilities you do have, and so ambition can become counterproductive. It’s important to know how to find the balance—do the job you have well; be patient; look for opportunities to pitch in and expand and grow; and make yourself one of the people, through attitude and energy and focus, whom your bosses feel they have to turn to when an opportunity arises.

8
My former boss Dan Burke [ABC] once handed me a note that said: “Avoid getting into the business of manufacturing trombone oil. You may become the greatest trombone-oil manufacturer in the world, but in the end, the world only consumes a few quarts of oil a year!” He was telling me not to invest in small projects that would sap my and the company’s resources and not give much back. I still have that note in my desk, and I use it when talking to our executives about what to pursue and where to put their energy.

9
We all want to believe we’re indispensable. You have to be self-aware enough that you don’t cling to the notion that you are the only person who can do this job. At its essence, good leadership isn’t about being indispensable; it’s about helping others be prepared to step into your shoes—giving them access to your own decision-making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and sometimes being honest with them about why they’re not ready for the next step up.

10
Too often, we lead from a place of fear rather than courage, stubbornly trying to build a bulwark to protect old models that can’t possibly survive the sea change that is underway. It’s hard to look at your current models, sometimes even ones that are profitable in the moment, and make a decision to undermine them in order to face the change that’s coming.

11
Optimism emerges from faith in yourself and in the people who work for you. It’s not about saying things are good when they’re not, and it’s not about conveying some blind faith that “things will work out.” It’s about believing in your and others’ abilities.

12
People sometimes shy away from big swings because they build a case against trying something before they even step up to the plate. Long shots aren’t usually as long as they seem. With enough thoughtfulness and commitment, the boldest ideas can be executed.

13
You have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. If you don’t articulate your priorities clearly, then the people around you don’t know what their own should be. Time and energy and capital get wasted.

14
You can do a lot for the morale of the people around you (and therefore the people around them) just by taking the guesswork out of their day-to-day life. A lot of work is complex and requires intense amounts of focus and energy, but this kind of messaging is fairly simple: This is where we want to be. This is how we’re going to get there.

15
It’s easy to be optimistic when everyone is telling you you’re great. It’s much harder, and much more necessary, when your sense of yourself is on the line.

16
As a leader, you are the embodiment of that company. What that means is this: Your values—your sense of integrity and decency and honesty, the way you comport yourself in the world—are a stand-in for the values of the company. You can be the head of a seven-person organization or a quarter-million-person organization, and the same truth holds: what people think of you is what they think of your company.

17
Projecting your anxiety onto your team is counterproductive. It’s subtle, but heirs a difference between communicating that you share their stress—that you’re in it with them—and communicating that you need them to deliver in order to alleviate your stress.

18
The decision to disrupt a business model that is working for you requires no small amount of courage. It means intentionally taking on short-term losses in the hope that a long-term risk will pay off. Routines and priorities get disrupted. Traditional ways of doing business get slowly marginalized and eroded—and start to lose money—as a new model takes over. That’s a big ask, in terms of a company’s culture and mindset. When you do it, you’re saying to people who for their entire careers have been compensated based on the success of their traditional business: “Don’t worry about that too much anymore. Worry about this instead.” But this isn’t profitable yet, and won’t be for a while. Deal with this kind of uncertainty by going back to basics: Lay out your strategic priorities clearly. Remain optimistic in the face of the unknown. And be accessible and fair-minded to people whose work lives are being thrown into disarray.

19
It’s not good to have power for too long. You don’t realize the way your voice seems to boom louder than every other voice in the room. You get used to people withholding their opinions until they hear what you have to say. People are afraid to bring ideas to you, afraid to dissent, afraid to engage. This can happen even to the most well-intentioned leaders. You have to work consciously and actively to fend off its corrosive effects.

20
Hold on to your awareness of yourself, even as the world tells you how important and powerful you are. The moment you start to believe it all too much, the moment you look at yourself in the mirror and see a title emblazoned on your forehead, you’ve lost your way.

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That Will Never Work Stephen Schwarzmans 25 Rules



Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:39 AM
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10.09.19

What Every Business Leader Needs to Know to Thrive in an Economic Downturn

Thrive in an Economic Downturn

A convergence of troubling signs forecast a looming economic downturn. Many believe it’s certain that a recession is pending.

Proactive business leaders aren’t worried. They see any economic change as a springboard for profitable growth and competitive advantage. Rather than spreading a message of caution, worry or gloom, they’re sending a more strategic message: “We will not decline when the economy falters. We will instead show the market what we’re made of.”

The strategic leader knows the importance of stepping out of the busyness of business despite the temptation to go faster in times of economic uncertainty. But speeding up only adds pressure and overwhelms the workforce. Stretching employees to the limit by having them put in longer hours, sell more, and get faster results only leads to burnout and neglects the longer view. By attending to the here-and-now and neglecting the longer view or bigger picture, organizational leaders and their teams may do well enough for a while. But they’re unlikely to thrive over time.

True success lies in knowing when to slow down and when to speed up. Building in a strategic pause, or deliberate break in the day -- or week or month -- allows leaders to stop doing and start thinking. It allows time for developing a high-impact plan of action with clear accountabilities, timelines, and pathways of communication. They can then come away with a renewed sense of confidence, purpose, and optimism.

To recession-proof their businesses, companies should be slowing down and allowing time to identify ways to be proactive, strategic, and future-focused.

Use strategic pauses to assess these six factors that can lead to accelerated growth and a recession-proof business:

1. Assess the competition. Make time to understand in which ways the competition has the advantage. What are your competitors’ gaps or weaknesses? How can you differentiate and elevate your organization to gain advantage and increase market share?

2. Assess your organization. Determine where you are today as a team and a company. What do you bring? What are your signature strengths and talents? Do you have the right people in the right roles, doing the right things to ensure success today and accelerate growth and innovation for a stellar future? And, importantly, are you adding value in ways that mean the most to you, the company, the customer, and your clients?

3. Assess the market. What will differentiate your organization as a future-focused, customer-centric, innovation-driving engine of growth? Where will you see profitable openings in the market? Ask yourself: Will less agile organizations struggle to keep up? How will we pick up customers in need of access to the products and services we offer? Which new products and services can we provide to fill the void?

4. Assess risk. Where might you lose market share in the face of an economic downturn? Which employees are likely to become worried about the future of the company or industry? What’s your plan for retaining and developing your top talent?

5. Look out over the horizon. While it’s essential to continue providing exceptional customer service, product reliability, and your tried-and-true client offerings, you must also be laser-focused on driving meaningful innovation that improves all your product lines and service offerings.

6. Assure your stakeholders. Make sure that your employees, customers, and investors see you and your company as confident, courageous, savvy, and ready to make the most of any economic shifts that come along.

Slowing down and pausing can feel implausible and impractical in the midst of an economic free-fall. But by taking the time to develop a more thoughtful path forward, you will be ensuring your success in any economic climate.

* * *

Leading Forum
Liz Bywater, Ph.D., works with senior executives and teams across an array of companies, such as Johnson & Johnson, Bristol-Myers Squibb, AmerisourceBergen, and Nike. She brings a rapidly actionable framework for success, which is captured in her book, Slow Down to Speed Up: Lead, Succeed and Thrive in a 24/7 World. She writes a monthly column for Life Science Leader and provides expert commentary for the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, FierceCEO, and other top media outlets. Learn more at lizbywater.com.

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Bull Inside the Bear Upside of Downturn



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10.07.19

Stephen Schwarzman’s 25 Rules for Work & Life

Stephen Schwarzman

BLACKSTONE chairman, CEO, and co-founder Stephen Schwarzman has written a book about the potential that can be realized when you combine personal responsibility with ambition. What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence chronicles his life leading up to the founding of Blackstone and the journey to build it into what it has become today. He shares the lessons and the opportunities that have come his way as a result of his success. It is inspiring and instructive. Well worth the time to read.

Schwarzman grew up in a successful entrepreneurial family selling curtains and linens in Philadelphia. His Dad was content with the one store. Schwarzman was not. He had more ambition. Even in high school he wanted to create something more than the status quo. Through connections and hard work, he got a popular rhythm and blues group of the late 50s, Little Anthony and the Imperials, to come and play at his school. He learned that “if you want something badly enough, you can find a way. You can create it out of nothing. But wanting something isn’t enough. If you’re going to pursue difficult goals, you’re inevitably going to fall short sometimes. It’s one of the costs of ambition.” But you try anyway.

With good grades and being fleet-of-foot, he was admitted to Yale University. Like most freshmen, he was lonely and intimidated. He got through it and during the summer he grew in confidence by taking a job at sea. With a new mindset he began his sophomore year determined to make it create something out of nothing as he did in high school. He started a dorm room business and a dance society to bring girls around. His determination and creativity make for a good read.

After graduation he got a job at Donaldson Lufkin Jenrette, went to Harvard Business School and ended up at Lehman. This is where he really learned about finance and discovered his strengths. He left Lehman and in 1985 Schwarzman co-founded Blackstone with his mentor and friend Pete Peterson with a $400,000 investment. Today, Blackstone has over $500 billion in assets under management. But as with all new ventures it had its share of inflection points, setbacks and disappointments.

He says, “To be successful you have to put yourself in situations and places you have no right being in. You shake your head at your stupidity. But through sheer will, you wear the world down, and it gives you what you want.” Here are 25 more rules for work and life that are woven throughout his book:

1
It’s as easy to do something big as it is to do something small, so reach for a fantasy worthy of your pursuit, with rewards commensurate to your effort.

2
The best executives are made, not born. They never stop learning. Study the people and organizations in your life that have had enormous success. They offer a free course from the real world to help you improve.

3
Write or call the people you admire, and ask for advice or a meeting. You never know who will be willing to meet with you. You may end up learning something important or form a connection you can leverage for the rest of your life. Meeting people early in life creates an unusual bond.

4
There is nothing more interesting to people than their own problems. Think about what others are dealing with, and try to come up with ideas to help them. Almost anyone, however senior or important, is receptive to good ideas provided you are thoughtful.

5
Every business is a closed, integrated system with a set of distinct but interrelated parts. Great managers understand how each part works on its own and in relation to all the others.

6
Information is the most important asset in business. The more you know, the more perspectives you have, and the more likely you are to spot patterns and anomalies before your competition. So always be open to new inputs, whether they are people, experiences, or knowledge.

7
When you’re young, only take a job that provides you with a steep learning curve and strong training. First jobs are foundational. Don’t take a job just because it seems prestigious.

8
When presenting yourself, remember that impressions matter. The whole picture has to be right. Others will be watching for all sorts of clues and cues that tell who you are. Be on time. Be authentic. Be prepared.

9
No one person, however smart, can solve every problem. But an army of smart people talking openly with one another will.

10
People in a tough spot often focus on their own problems, when the answer usually lies in fixing someone else’s.

11
Believe in something greater than yourself and your personal needs. It can be your company, your country, or a duty for service. Any challenge you tackle that is inspired by your beliefs and core values will be worth it, regardless of whether you succeed or fail.

12
Never deviate from your sense of right and wrong. Your integrity must be unquestionable. It is easy to do what’s right when you don’t have to write a check or suffer any consequences. It’s harder when you have to give something up. Always do what you say you will, and never mislead anyone for your own advantage.

13
Be bold. Successful entrepreneurs, managers, and individuals have the confidence and courage to act when the moment seems right. They accept risk when others are cautious and take action when everyone else is frozen, but they do so smartly. This trait is the mark of a leader.

14
Never get complacent. Nothing is forever. Whether it is an individual or a business, your competition will defeat you if you are not constantly seeking ways to reinvent and improve yourself. Organizations, especially, are more fragile than you think.

15
Sales rarely get made on the first pitch. Just because you believe in something doesn’t mean everyone else will. You need to be able to sell your vision with conviction over and over again. Most people don’t like change, so you need to be able to convince them why they should accept it. Don't be afraid to ask for what you want.

16
If you see a huge, transformative opportunity, don’t worry that no one else is pursuing it. You might be seeing something others don’t. The harder the problem is, the more limited the competition, and the greater the reward for whomever can solve it.

17
Success comes down to rare moments of opportunity. Be open, alert, and ready to seize them. Gather the right people and resources; then commit. If you’re not prepared to apply that kind of effort, either the opportunity isn’t as compelling as you think or you are not the right person to pursue it.

18
Time wounds all deals, sometimes even fatally. Often the longer you wait, the more surprises await you. In tough negotiations especially, keep everyone at the table long enough to reach an agreement.

19
Don’t lose money!!! Objectively assess the risks of every opportunity.

20
Make decisions when you are ready, not under pressure. Others will always push you to make a decision for their own purposes, internal politics, or some other external need. But you can almost always say, “I think I need a little more time to think about this. I’ll get back to you.” This tactic is very effective at defusing even the most difficult and uncomfortable situations.

21
Worrying is an active, liberating activity. If channeled appropriately, it allows you to articulate the downside in any situation and drives you to take action to avoid it.

22
Failure is the best teacher in an organization. Talk about failures openly and objectively. Analyze what went wrong. You will learn new rules for decision making and organizational behavior. If evaluated well, failures have the potential to change the course of any organization and make it more successful in the future.

23
Hire 10s whenever you can. They are proactive about sensing problems, designing solutions, and taking a business in new directions. They also attract and hire other 10s. You can always build something around a 10.

24
Be there for the people you know to be good, even when everyone else is walking away. Anyone can end up in a tough situation. A random act of kindness in someone’s time of need can change the course of a life and create an unexpected friendship or loyalty.

25
Everyone has dreams. Do what you can to help others achieve theirs.

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Sam Zell William Donaldson



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10.03.19

7 Steps to Bulletproof Problem Solving

7 Steps to Bulletproof Problem Solving

THE WORLD ECONOMIC FORUM’S Future of Jobs Report lists complex problem-solving as the number one skill for jobs in 2020. Organizations are looking for people that can define problems and form solid creative responses.

Like leaders themselves, good problem solvers are made, not born. Yet these skills are rarely taught. That’s where Bulletproof Problem Solving comes in. McKinsey alums Charles Conn and Rob McLean teach us how to be bulletproof problem solvers using a simple 7-steps approach.

The approach has its foundation in the hypothesis-driven structure of the scientific method. This process is not just applicable to business but is useful in finding solutions for personal problems as well. In the book they apply the process to individual problems such as, “Should I put solar panels on my roof?,” “What career should I choose?,” and “Is where I live affecting my health?” Business examples range from “Should my startup raise its prices?” and “Should we go to court?” to “Can obesity be reduced?”

This process can be applied to nearly every problem is responds well to the systematic problem-solving method that this approach provides.

The Seven Steps to Bullet-Proof Problem Solving are:

Step One: Define the Problem
How do you define a problem in a precise way to meet the decision maker’s needs? The important first step is to describe the context and the boundaries of the problem that is agreed upon by those involved in making the decision. A weak problem statement is a common problem. “Rushing into analysis with a vague problem statement is a clear formula for long hours and frustrated clients.”

Step Two: Disaggregate the Issues
How do you disaggregate the issues and develop hypotheses to be explored? Every problem needs to be broken down into its basic issues. “We employ logic trees of various types to elegantly disassemble problems into parts for analysis, driving alternative hypotheses of the answer.”

Step Three: Prioritize the Issues, Prune the Tree
How do you prioritize what to do and what not to do? Once you have defined the issues, you need to decide which ones are the most important or have the greatest impact on the final outcome.

Step Four: Build a Workplan and Timetable
How do you develop a workplan and assign analytical tasks? “Once the component parts are defined and prioritized, you then have to link each part to a plan for fact gathering and analysis. The workplan and timetable assigns team members to analytic tasks with specific outputs and completion dates.”

Step Five: Conduct Critical Analyses
How do you decide on the fact gathering and analysis to resolve the issues, while avoiding cognitive biases? Some problems don’t need complex analysis, others require more complex tools. A structured approach will help to eliminate bias and a massaging of the facts. Having a diverse team allows for different viewpoints to be brought together.

Step Six: Synthesize Findings from the Analysis
How do you go about synthesizing the findings to highlight insights? “Findings have to be assembled into a logical structure to test validity and then synthesized in a way that convinces others that you have a good solution.”

Step Seven: Prepare a Powerful Communication
How do you communicate them in a compelling way? Finally, a storyline needs to be developed that links your solution back to the original problem. Importantly, it needs to be told in a way your audience understands and is made relevant to them. In other words, tell a great story.

While this is presented in a linear way, the authors make a great point that you learn more about the problem as you go. You shouldn’t be so eager to get to the end that you don’t go back and refine previous steps. “While the process has a beginning and an end, we encourage you to think of problem solving as an iterative process rather than a linear one. At each stage we improve our understanding of the problem and use those greater insights to refine our earlier answers.”

Bulletproof Problem Solving Steps

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Farsighted Creating Great Choices



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10.01.19

First Look: Leadership Books for October 2019

Here's a look at some of the best leadership books to be released in October 2019. Don't miss out on other great new and future releases.

9780735213500The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek

Do you know how to play the game you’re in?

In finite games, like football or chess, the players are known, the rules are fixed, and the endpoint is clear. The winners and losers are easily identified. In infinite games, like business or politics or life itself, the players come and go, the rules are changeable, and there is no defined endpoint. There are no winners or losers in an infinite game; there is only ahead and behind.

9780525559931Sailing True North: Ten Admirals and the Voyage of Character by Admiral James Stavridis

In Sailing True North, Admiral Stavridis offers a much more intimate, human accounting: the lessons of leadership and character contained in the lives and careers of history's most significant naval commanders. He brings a lifetime of reflection to bear on the subjects of his study—on naval history, on the vocation of the admiral with its special tests and challenges, and on the sweep of global geopolitics. Above all, this is a book that will help you navigate your own life's voyage: the voyage of leadership of course, but more important, the voyage of character. Sadly, evil men can be effective leaders sailing toward bad ends; ultimately, leadership without character is like a ship underway without a rudder. Sailing True North helps us find the right course to chart.

9781633695917The Leader You Want to Be: Five Essential Principles for Bringing Out Your Best Self—Every Day by Amy Jen Su

How can you be the leader you want to be, every day? The answer is more than a time-management system or a silver-bullet solution for changing your routines. Leadership expert and coach Amy Jen Su's powerful new book helps readers discover that the answer lies within. By focusing in specific ways on five key leadership elements—Purpose, Process, People, Presence, and Peace--you can increase your time, capacity, energy, and ultimately your impact, with less stress and more equanimity.

9781119566243The Intelligent Leader: Unlocking the 7 Secrets to Leading Others and Leaving Your Legacy by John Mattone

In The Intelligent Leader, Mattone lays out an accessible, practical, and compelling path that anyone can take to become the kind of leader that brings enrichment to the lives of others, enjoys a more fulfilling life, and leaves a lasting legacy. Each chapter uses a variety of real-world examples, tools, and assessments to explore one of Mattone’s 7 dimensions of Intelligent Leadership.

9781948836814Leap: Do You Have What it Takes to Become an Entrepreneur? by Gino Wickman

In this three-part book, Gino Wickman reveals the six essential traits that every entrepreneur needs in order to succeed, based on real-world startups that have reached incredible heights. If these traits ring true for you, you’ll get a glimpse of what your life would look like as an entrepreneur. What’s more, Wickman will help you determine what type of business best suits your unique skill set and provide a detailed roadmap, with tools, tips, and exercises, that will accelerate your path to startup success.

9780062871336What You Do Is Who You Are: How to Create Your Business Culture by Ben Horowitz

What You Do Is Who You Are is a journey through culture, from ancient to modern. Along the way, it answers a question fundamental to any organization: who are we? How do people talk about us when we’re not around? How do we treat our customers? Are we there for people in a pinch? Can we be trusted? Who you are is not the values you list on the wall. It’s not what you say in company-wide meeting. It’s not your marketing campaign. It’s not even what you believe. Who you are is what you do. This book aims to help you do the things you need to become the kind of leader you want to be—and others want to follow.

For bulk orders call 1-626-441-2024

discounted books

Build your leadership library with these specials on over 39 titles. All titles are at least 40% off the list price and are available only in limited quantities.

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“It is a man’s duty to have books. A library is not a luxury, but one of the necessities of life.”
— Henry Ward Beecher

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Whats New in Leadership Books Leadership Classics



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09.30.19

LeadershipNow 140: September 2019 Compilation

twitter

twitter Here are a selection of tweets from September 2019 that you don't want to miss:

See more on twitter Twitter.

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That Will Never Work Hard Times for Leaders



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09.26.19

How Your Bright Shiny Objects Derail Your Team — and Damage the Business

How Your Bright Shiny Objects Derail Your Team

IN COACHING VISIONARY LEADERS, I hear a common pain point: Their team isn’t moving fast enough or focusing on the right things. As we dig deeper, however, we inevitably discover that their team isn’t the problem. Instead, it’s their own preoccupation with bright shiny objects — or what I call BSOs.

From madcap product ideas to mythic mergers, BSOs can run the gamut. All the same, they’re a challenge for visionary leaders. No doubt, their ability to bridge the gap between unlimited possibility and reality is a critical skill. But, when left unchecked, their attraction to BSOs often hurts their teams, usually by derailing their work with needless obstacles.

Even more critically, BSOs have the propensity to damage the business. How? By introducing ideas that should have never been considered in the first place. After all, just because something could be done doesn’t mean it should be done.

If you’re a visionary leader, and can admit to loving BSOs, you most likely need a process to better understand, manage, and vet them.

Ask yourself questions

Imagine a typical Monday morning huddle. Your team is busy discussing current or upcoming projects and priorities. Then, with unbridled exuberance, you storm in and say, “I’ve got an amazing idea.” Unbeknownst to you, it’s like you just lobbed a bomb onto the team. Now, to indulge your BSO, they lose their energy and focus.

So how can you tell when you’ve just lobbed a BSO onto your team? Stunned silence. Rolling eyes. Icy stares. Crossed arms. A barrage of questions. Those are only some of the signs. Plus, under their breath, people are probably muttering some kind of rebuke. “Are you kidding me?” “Oh, come on. Seriously?” “Here we go again.” “But what about…?” Et cetera.

To avoid such an experience — let alone not derail your team — make a habit of first asking yourself a few questions about your current BSO. Consider these five to start:

1. How does this align with the business’s current strategies and priorities?

2. How would doing this affect other, more important work?

3. What business concerns would this solve, and do we already have other, potentially better solutions in place?

4. If this is actually something we should do, what is the best timing — to do it now or to wait until some other business priorities have been met?

5. Who can I run this by before lobbing it onto my team?

Enlist a “voice of no”

At some point, most visionary leaders learn that they need a COO or other common-sense leader to counterbalance their BSOs. I call such a person a “voice of no.”

So, when a visionary leader brings up a BSO, her voice of no might say, “Here’s why we can’t do that right now” or “Here’s what must happen first.” In this way, a voice of no protects a leader’s team from creative mayhem while also not stifling the leader’s visionary proclivities.

In considering a COO or a voice of no, look for someone who clearly gets the importance of focus, continuity, and business priorities, and who seems to have a “less is more” mindset — preferring to do fewer things very well than to do many things ineffectively.

If you’re not in a position to bring in a COO or a voice of no, you can develop your team to take on the role. This, however, will require you to openly acknowledge your BSO inclinations, to have clear-cut business imperatives, to give people the authority and freedom to ‘gut check’ your ideas, and to make room in meetings for real, strategic conversations.

Have a vetting process

It took me years to recognize my own insatiable appetite for BSOs. The good news is I now have a simple process in place to properly vet my BSOs and, in doing so, to protect my team from any “incoming.”

To start vetting your own BSOs, I suggest these four steps:

1. Find a sounding board.

Seek out someone thoughtful and measured, inside or outside the business but not on your team, to serve as your sounding board. Look for someone who you can trust and feel comfortable with to casually bounce around ideas and, equally important, who is fully capable of being candid with you. For me, that’s my business partner and wife, Angela, who also acts as my voice of no. If she isn’t convinced, I know to let go of a BSO or at least put it on ice.

2. Put your idea in writing.

If your idea seems workable after bouncing it off your sounding board, put it in writing. This needn’t be pretty or take up much time. Just create a skeleton with your rough thoughts and some preliminary goals. The point here is to simply flesh out your idea enough to be easily articulated and understood.

3. Seek first-round feedback.

Once you’ve put your idea in writing, go back to your sounding board and one or two other people (but, again, no one on your team). Ask for feedback, both positive and negative, on your thought process and on the clarity and viability of your idea. Take this input to heart and then create a tighter, slightly more formal document.

4. Approach your team.

At this point, your idea has gone from being a BSO to something much more tangible and well thought out. So, finally, it’s time to go ahead and bring the idea to your team. I suggest giving them a few days or even a week to read and mull everything over, and also scheduling a meeting to discuss their feedback and, if appropriate, consider the way forward. Also, be sure to remind people that they have the authority and freedom to push back on your idea and even act as a voice of no.

And last but not least, remember that your team is only as effective and successful as your leadership. By learning to understand, manage, and vet your BSOs, you’ll help your team to move fast — and focus on the right things.

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Leading Forum
Charlie Gilkey is an author, entrepreneur, philosopher, Army veteran, and renowned productivity expert. Founder of Productive Flourishing, Gilkey helps professional creatives, leaders, and changemakers take meaningful action on work that matters. His new book is Start Finishing: How to Go from Idea to Done. Learn more at StartFinishingBook.com

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Simplicity Think Twice



Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:12 AM
| Comments (0) | Find more on this topic in Vision

09.24.19

“That Will Never Work”

That Will Never Work

THE STORY GOES that the idea for Netflix came to Reed Hastings after he was hit with a $40 late fee when he returned his rental of Apollo 13 to Blockbuster. Annoyed, he thought, “What if there were no late fees?” And wham, the idea for Netflix was born.

Of course, we like stories like that. It’s neat and clean, but in this case, it’s not true. It’s useful though, and it captures in a paragraph the essence of what Netflix is all about. Marc Randolph, Netflix’s co-founder, and first CEO says it’s emotionally true. “Reed’s oft-repeated origin story,” he says, “is branding at its finest, and I don’t begrudge him for it at all.”

The real story is longer. While it is messy and complicated, it is much more exciting. Marc Randolph shares it all in That Will Never Work: The Birth of Netflix and the Amazing Life of an Idea. I read a lot of business books, and I can say this is one of the best you’ll ever read on starting and growing a business—the emotions, the triumphs, the failures and the lessons learned. The story is a well-told page-turner.

Briefly, the real story is that while carpooling with Hastings to jobs that would soon be redundant due to a merger, Randolph would pitch ideas to him in search of the next act. After a slew of ideas like customized shampoo, dog food, and baseball bats, Randolph hit upon renting VHS tapes online. But, among other things, the costs for acquisition and shipping were too high, so it was ruled out. That is until they learned about an emerging technology—DVDs. Then the game was on.

DVDs were cheaper and lighter, but would they be shipped safely. They tested it by mailing a CD in a greeting card envelope to Hastings. It worked, and they had their idea.

And people said, “That will never work.”

When you start a company, what you’re really doing is getting other people to latch on to an idea. You have to convince your future employees, investors, business partners, and board members that your idea is worth spending money, reputation, and time on.

Randolph risked his time and Hastings risked his money. Now the work began.

I needed to come up with something approaching a business plan. Notice that I used the word “approaching.” I never intended to get there. Most business plans are a complete waste of time. They become obsolete the minute the business starts and you realize how wildly off the mark you were with your expectations. So the trick is to take your idea and set it on a collision course with reality as soon as possible.

Randolph takes us through the whole process from idea to launch day. Any entrepreneur will relate to the journey, and any would-be entrepreneur will find it enlightening. He candidly writes about pitching the idea to investors (what it was like to take a check for 1.9 million dollars to the bank), finding and getting talent, setting up an office, building the basics, building an inventory and the mailer, and building a website.

And creating an innovative culture:

Real innovation comes not from top-down pronouncements and narrowly defined tasks. It comes from hiring innovators focused on the big picture who can orient themselves within a problem and solve it without having their hand held the whole time. We call it loosely coupled but tightly aligned.

He adds this:

Most companies end up building a system to protect themselves from people who lack judgment. And that only ends up frustrating the people who have it.

Launch Day: April 14, 1998

There are a great many stages in the life cycle of a startup. But a tectonic shift happens on launch day. Before you go live, you’re in the dreamy zone of planning and forecasts: your efforts are provisional.

The day your site launches, something shifts. Your work now is no longer predictive and anticipatory: it’s fundamentally reactive. Those problems you anticipated? You didn’t know the half of it. Your planned solutions? They’re a drop in the bucket. And there are hundreds—thousands—of issues that you could have never even imagine, and now have to deal with.

For better and for worse, things never go as planned. And Randolph gives an account of all of it—the possible acquisition of Netflix by Amazon, the potential buyout by Blockbuster, the rethinking of the business model, the ups and downs. Great stories with lessons in them all.

My favorite chapter was, I’m Losing Faith in You. After about 18 months in, Hastings comes to him and tells him that he’s losing faith in his ability to run the company alone. He suggests (really more of an ultimatum) that he come in as CEO and Randolph become president. He writes, “Radical honesty is great, until it’s aimed at you.”

Randolph had to take a look at himself—his strengths and weaknesses, his goals and motivations—and decide what was best for the company. It takes a tremendous amount of humility to do that and to agree to what Hastings was asking.

I realized that there were really two dreams, and I might need to sacrifice one of them to ensure that the other came true.

The company was one dream. Me at the helm was another. And if the company was going to succeed, I needed to honestly confront my own limitations. I need to acknowledge that I was a builder, someone creative and freewheeling enough to assemble a team, to create a culture, to launch an idea from the back of an envelope into a company, an office, a product that existed in the world. Now we were going to have to grow, and rapidly, and that took a different skill set entirely.

And that was Hastings strength. Hastings became CEO and Randolph became the president in 1998. His self-knowledge made is easier for him to know when it was time to go as he eventually did in 2003 not long after Netflix went public. He realized that he liked building things more than the finished product. In the end he writes, “I missed the late nights and early mornings, the lawn chairs and card tables. I missed the feeling of all hands on deck, and the expectation that every day you’d be working on a problem that wasn’t strictly tied to your job description.”

Marc Randolph HPU
As far as “that will never work” goes, Randolph says, quoting William Goldman in Adventures in the Screen Trade, “Nobody Knows Anything.” Which he claims is an encouragement. “If Nobody Knows Anything, then you have to trust yourself. You have to test yourself. And you have to be willing to fail. Not only had all of the people who told me that Netflix would never work (including my wife) gotten it wrong, but so had I. We all had. We’d known that the idea could work, but in the end, nobody knew anything about how—until it did.”

Randolph is conversational and generous to others throughout. There is a lot of experience-based wisdom in this book. Here are a few more insights:

We were always trying to avoid one of the number one pitfalls of startup entrepreneurship: building imaginary castles in your mind, meticulously designed, complete with turrets, drawbridges, moats. Overplanning and overdesigning is often just overthinking—or just plain old procrastination. When it comes to ideas, it’s more efficient to test ten bad ones than spend days trying to come up with something perfect.

Here’s what I’ve learned: when it comes to making your dream a reality, one of the most powerful weapons at your disposal is dogged, bullheaded insistence. It pays to be the person who won’t take no for an answer, since in business, no doesn’t always mean no.

You have to learn to love the problem, not the solution. That’s how you stay engaged when things take longer than you expected.

The most powerful step that anyone can take to turn their dreams into reality is a simple one: you just need to start. The only real way to find out if your idea is a good one is to do it. You’ll learn more in one hour of doing something than in a lifetime of thinking about it.

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BurnThe Business Plan Dear Founder



Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:35 PM
| Comments (0) | Find more on this topic in Entrepreneurship



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