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Being Relevant

Determining what matters is the one of the first tasks of a leader. Peter Drucker wrote, “The right answer to the irrelevant question misdirects. But the wrong answer to a relevant issue still puts the spotlight where it belongs.” One can be right but irrelevant. What matters, what is relevant is dictated objectively by the situation one find themselves in. Determining what is right on complex issues can be daunting and take time, but it is vital that the issue we are working on is relevant. A leader’s job is not necessarily to solve the problems at hand, but to get us thinking about the right problems at the right time.
This means creating understanding from the analysis of both sides—or more often, all sides—of an issue. Without the relevant issue we are just spinning our wheels.

A leader might also make use of what Andy Grove calls helpful Cassandras. You may remember from Greek Mythology, Cassandra's great beauty caused Apollo to grant her the gift of prophecy. Helpful Cassandras are those people that can help a leader see other points of view, people that are willing to be blunt, so that a leader doesn’t win an argument they ought to lose.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:20 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


They Came, They Conquered, They Collected: What Dictators Collect

Weekend Supplement

An article in Psychology Today by Caroline Tiger asks the question, "What drives the need for dictators to collect material possessions that are over the top?"
Tyrants collect money and power, but they also amass bric-a-brac like the rest of us. What, if anything, do their material leanings signify?

Possible motives for collecting abound: compulsion, competition, exhibitionism, desire for immortality and the need for experts' approval.

Stephen Anderson, professor of neurology at the University of Iowa, has come closest to finding a biological basis for the yen to collect. In 2004 he showed that damage to an area of the prefrontal cortex can lead to hoarding—the pathological cousin of collecting. Anderson doubts that's the case with the dictators. "Most people who have injuries to this part of the brain are not going to be successful," he says, "even in a bad-guy way." Still, he wouldn't be surprised if the bad guys' neural wiring were somehow amiss.

Saddam HusseinThe Man: Saddam Hussein

The Stash: Sci-fi fantasy paintings featuring menacing dragons and barely-clad blondes.
Adolf HitlerThe Man: Adolf Hitler

The Stash: Bavarian 18th century furniture. Munich antique dealers were ordered to keep an eye out for him.
Kim Jong IlThe Man: Kim Jong Il

The Stash: 20,000 videos (Daffy Duck cartoons, Star Wars, Liz Taylor and Sean Connery flicks)
Idi AminThe Man: Idi Amin

The Stash: Several racing cars and loads of old film reels of I Love Lucy reruns and Tom and Jerry cartoons
Joseph StalinThe Man: Joseph Stalin

The Stash: Westerns with Spencer Tracy, Clark Gable and John Wayne. Stalin also inherited Joseph Goebbels's films.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:23 AM
| Comments (0) | Weekend Supplement


Five Qualities of Great Leaders

In The Nature of Leadership, Joseph White writes,"To be a great leader, you have to be successful at achieving change—important, consequential change in the results for which you are responsible. Making change successfully is a leader's greatest challenge." To this end a great leader utilizes the following qualities to produce results and make change.
  • INNOVATION: Great leaders are original thinkers, and often contrarians. They are usually guided by a few big, revolutionary ideas. For Abraham Lincoln, it was eliminating slavery. For Ronald Reagan, it was crushing Communism. For Warren Buffett, it was finding a way to make the frowned-upon practice of putting all your nest eggs into a single basket pay off for investors.

  • RISK TAKING: Great leaders are informed risk takers with a track record (but never a perfect record) of success. They act decisively, not recklessly, to maximize lucky breaks. Herb Kelleher took full advantage of the deregulation of the airline industry in 1978 by launching Southwest Airlines.

  • SPOTTING TALENT: Great leaders have an insatiable appetite for outstanding talent. They know they need people different from themselves, and stronger and smarter, to achieve their aspirations. Steve Jobs, a very smart entrepreneur, recognized that he needed strong, professional leadership for his promising start-up. He set his sights on John Sculley, an outstanding executive slated to become CEO of PepsiCo, as the ideal CEO for Apple Computers. Then, he worked to sell Sculley on joining him in running Apple.

  • HELICOPTER VIEW: Great leaders have an extraordinary sense of perspective. They routinely put an immediate challenge into a larger context of the past, the future, and current events, while keeping the organization’s mission and practical consequences firmly in mind. With the creation of GE Healthcare and his “eco-imagination” strategy, Jeff Immelt, General Electric’s new CEO, has reflected Jack Welch’s quality-improvement philosophy while encouraging innovation, anticipating future trends, and responding to environmental realities.

  • THE SPARKLE FACTOR: Great leaders have presence. Every great leader, regardless of his or her personality, has a special, compelling something. There’s no formula for “sparkle.” But you know it when you see it. Barak Obama, the junior U.S. Senator from Illinois, is intelligent, well spoken, warm, energetic, and thoughtful. He has the sparkle factor in abundance, which will give him an edge if he tries to become America’s first African-American president.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:30 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


Assertiveness: The Meekest and Mightiest Make the Worst Leaders

Balance. Easy to understand, tough to practice.

The overuse of strength creates a weakness. Every strength has a point where it becomes a liability. Maturity and self-control help to rein in the excesses of our personality.

Not surprisingly, recent research by Stanford professor Frank Flynn has found that the greatest identifiable trait that can hold someone back from becoming a great leader is being too assertive—or not assertive enough. In other words, assertiveness that is out of balance.

In the Stanford Graduate School of Business News, Marguerite Rigoglioso reports:
Analyzing three years’ worth of written and survey data on students, as well as students’ assessments of their own former bosses, Flynn and Ames found that excessive or inadequate assertiveness was the No. 1 issue listed in the weakness column when it came to evaluating individuals’ leadership potential. “It was mentioned twice as frequently as any other issue. It appeared as a clear factor in weakness comments more than lack of intelligence, conscientiousness, and charisma combined,” Flynn says. Specifically, what the researchers found was essentially an “inverted U” between the ratings of a person’s assertiveness and his or her leadership ability: Up to a certain point it was positively associated, but then it went back down.

Assertiveness Chart

“The analogy we use is that assertiveness is like salt in a sauce: Too much spoils the dish, but too little is equally distracting,” Flynn says. Interestingly, at the “just right” point, assertiveness disappears as a leadership quality, either positive or negative. “While getting assertiveness wrong in one direction or the other dominates perceptions of weakness, getting it right is not a major theme in perceptions of strengths,” Flynn says. “In other words, nobody ever compliments the chef on a perfectly salted dish.”

What Flynn and Ames discovered was that when people were determined to be extremely assertive, the social costs of their behavior—others’ hurt feelings and damaged relationships—were seen to override the positive aspects of their ability to get the job done. Conversely, when they were deemed too passive, their inability to move projects along and achieve goals was what stuck in people’s minds, not their ability to preserve social harmony. “People pay more attention to what’s bad about assertive or non-assertive behavior than what’s good about it,” Flynn explains.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:32 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Personal Development


The Neuroscience of Leadership Webinar

    Stephanie West Allen, JD of idealawg informed us of an upcoming webinar sponsored by strategy+business on the The Neuroscience of Leadership. Stephanie also has information on this topic on her blog.
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:05 AM
| Comments (0) | NewsWire

Neurogenesis: Environment Matters to the Brain

Elizabeth Gould's research in neurogenesis—the process of creating new brain cells—is adding to our understanding of how our environment directly affects the quality of our thinking. A professor of psychology at Princeton University, she is changing our understanding of the production of new neurons and the plasticity of the brain.
Elizabeth Gould

The brain is a remarkably pliable organ that is greatly influenced by our surroundings. In chronically boring environments or stressful conditions, the structure of the brain is altered. Brain cells starve and retreat and new cells are not created. Yet remarkably, the brain can also heal itself. When the environmental conditions are enriched the brain begins to create new brain cells and the density of neuronal dendrites (the branches that connect one neuron to another). It would seem design—in all its various forms—matters.

In an article in Seed magazine, writer Jonah Lehrer reports on Gould’s research:
The subject of stress has been the single continuous thread running through Gould’s research career. From the brain’s perspective, stress is primarily signaled by an increase in the bloodstream of a class of steroid called glucocorticoids, which put the body on a heightened state of alert. But glucocorticoids can have one nasty side-effect: They are toxic for the brain. When stress becomes chronic, neurons stop investing in themselves. Neurogenesis ceases. Dendrites disappear. The hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for learning and memory, begins withering away.

The social implications of this research are staggering. If boring environments, stressful noises, and the primate’s particular slot in the dominance hierarchy all shape the architecture of the brain—and Gould’s team has shown that they do—then the playing field isn’t level. Poverty and stress aren’t just an idea: they are an anatomy. Some brains never even have a chance.

Gould’s work implies that the symptoms of poverty are not simply states of mind; they actually warp the mind. Because neurons are designed to reflect their circumstances, not to rise above them, the monotonous stress of living in a slum literally limits the brain.

On a cellular level, the scars of stress can literally be healed by learning new things. Genia Kozorovitskiy, an effusive graduate student who began working with Gould as a Princeton undergrad, has studied the effects of various environments on their colony of marmosets. As predicted, putting marmosets in a plain cage—the kind typically used in science labs—led to plain-looking brains. The primates suffered from reduced neurogenesis and their neurons had fewer interconnections. However, if these same marmosets were transferred to an enriched enclosure—complete with branches, hidden food, and a rotation of toys—their adult brains began to recover rapidly. In under four weeks, the brains of the deprived marmosets underwent radical renovations at the cellular level. Their neurons demonstrated significant increases in the density of their connections and amount of proteins in their synapses.

The mind is like a muscle: it swells with exercise. Gould’s and Kozorovitskiy’s work reminds us not only how easy it is to hurt a brain, but how little it takes for that brain to heal. Give a primate just a few extra playthings, and its neurons are capable of escaping the downward cycle of stress.

The research should give us pause to consider the environment we function in and the environment we create for others to perform in.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:00 AM
| Comments (0) | Thinking


Henry Mintzburg and Frank Brown on Teaching Leadership


THE FINANCIAL TIMES published in a special section on Business Education, a leadership debate between Henry Mintzburg and Frank Brown that has gotten a lot of attention.
Henry Mintzberg
McGill University professor Mintzberg’s comments are a bit sensational at first blush, but he makes a good point. Mintzberg writes: “We have this obsession with leadership. Its intention may be to empower people, but its effect is often to disempower them. By focusing on the single person, even in the context of others, leadership becomes part of the syndrome of individuality that is sweeping the world and undermining organizations in particular and communities in general.”

At the core of what he takes issue with is the way leadership is portrayed. And rightly so. He has a problem with leaders being presented as “the great one who rides in on a white horse.” It gives the impression that the leader did it all by themselves. He adds: “We have too much of this leadership apart—the hyped-up, individually focused, context-free leadership so popular in the classrooms as well as the press. Courses and MBA programmes that claim to create leaders all too often promote hubris instead. No leader has ever been created in a classroom.”

How true. Leadership studies do need to be reconsidered. The current methodology no doubt lead Stanford’s James March to say the following in a recent interview in the Harvard Business Review:
I doubt that “leadership” is a useful concept for serious scholarship. The idea of leadership is imposed on our interpretation of history by our human myths, or by the way, we think that history is supposed to be described. As a result, the fact that people talk about leaders and attribute importance to them is neither surprising nor informative.

Leadership cannot be taught in the sense that a person can sit in a classroom and walk away a leader any more than one can read a leadership book every week and call themselves a leader. It is possible, however, to teach principles, to lay the groundwork for a way of thinking and to create awareness of traits and characteristics. But until a person combines all of that with their own thinking and character, making it a part of who they are, they are not a leader. And that simply takes time and practice. There is no short-cut to leadership.

The leadership journey is an ongoing journey into self-knowledge or awareness. It is a process of reflection to see where you stand in relation to where you should be and determining the steps you need to take in order to get there.

Mintzberg’s problem with the conventional MBA classroom is the way it is taught—overemphasizing the science at the expense of its practice and the kinds of “leaders” it tends to generate—MBAs that are too young, and have too little experience to appreciate what they are being taught. That is to say, it tends to produce heroic-type leaders that have no experience to fully understand the world they are charging-in to. As Mark Twain said, "When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years." It is astonishing how much these “leaders” find there is to learn after they’ve been out in the workplace for a while that never found a place—or they were never able to make a connection to—in the classroom.
Frank Brown

To get the experience and practice necessary to become leaders, Frank Brown, former dean of INSEAD (currently Managing Director & Chief Operating Officer at General Atlantic), writes, “Indeed, true leaders are committed mentors and supporters for training and development initiatives that allow employees to climb the leadership ladder.” He continues:
Simply said, the last thing the business world needs is more managers. On the contrary, it is in need of more leaders.

But let’s be careful how we define leadership. A leader may, in fact, be the person occupying the corner office. But, he or she may too be the person ascending the divisional ranks or the more youthful executive fresh from business school. The concept of leadership must not be confined to just the “headliners”; it must be a concept with the potential to include and apply to everyone.

On teaching leadership in the classroom you might take a look at Leadership Can Be Taught by Shanon Daloz Parks regarding Ronald Heifetz’s efforts at Harvard.

An important book in the area of leadership development is Welter and Egmon’s book, The Prepared Mind of the Leader, for this is where leadership really begins.

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Managers Can Be Leaders Bedtime Stories for Managers

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:42 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership Development


The Nature of Leadership

Nature Of Leadership

A SURPRISE in this month’s crop of books is The Nature of Leadership by B. Joseph White. Essentially, it is a blueprint for leadership development. He has created a leadership pyramid founded on basics such as a desire to be in charge, and the corresponding ability, strength, and character that all leaders—especially the great ones—must possess.

MammalFrom there he divides leadership characteristics between analytical reptilian leadership characteristics and those of the nurturing, engaged mammal. While we generally have a tendency to lean one way or the other, we must develop a capacity to deal effectively with both the reptilian economic and performance issues and the mammalian soft or people issues.

White cautions, “I make no judgment about the inherent value of Reptiles and Mammals in the workplace. Both are vital and most people are, of course a complex mix of the two. We need task-oriented, no-nonsense Reptiles to ensure the work gets done and done well. We need people-oriented, nurturing Mammals to maintain the human community through which work gets done.” He adds, “I believe organizations falter, fail, or don’t reach their potential both because of leadership that is inadequately Reptilian and because of leadership that is inadequately Mammalian.”

ReptileFinally, all these skills and qualities will coalesce into something bigger than the sum of their parts, an intangible but very real "sparkle factor" that separates the great leaders from the merely good.

You can read Chapter 1 online: Become a Leader, a Better Leader, a Great Leader

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:51 AM
| Comments (0) | Books , Leadership Development , Personal Development


Focus on the War, Not the Battle

Early Christian philosopher, Augustine of Hippo (354-430), proposed that to drive out the bad—those habits or qualities we don’t want—we need to focus on the good—those habit, qualities or strengths we do want. At home this was always referred to as focus on the war not the battle. The implication is that when we have a problem we want to change, we need to focus on the new habit we want to form and not the bad habit we want to replace. In relationships, we need to focus on the good that we want to develop and strengthen and not the bad we would like to drive out. Focus on the strengths and they will drive out or minimize the weaknesses.

There seems to be some support for this in current studies of neuroplasticity. Our brain physically changes—makes new connections—based on what we pay attention to; it moves in the direction of our most dominate thoughts. Jeffrey Schwartz and Sharon Begley write in The Mind and the Brain, “Physical changes in the brain depend for their creation on a mental state in the mind—the state called attention. Introspection, willed attention, subjective state—pick your favorite description of an internal mental state—can redraw the contours of the mind, and in so doing can rewire the circuits of the brain, for it's attention that makes neuroplasticity possible." We literally change our brain consistent with that which we send our time thinking about. Shouldn’t we then be thinking about where we want to go and not the miles we have to go to get there?

In terms of leadership, David Rock writes in Quiet Leadership, “[W]e need to help people focus on solutions instead of problems. We need to give up our desire to find behaviors to fix, and become fascinated with identifying and growing people’s strengths.” Focus on the war—the desired end—and not the battle—the obstacles we face in getting there.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:32 AM
| Comments (0) | Personal Development


Hiring Teams as the Talent

Often overlooked in the rush to find that one person that can make a difference in your organization is the context that that superstar worked in. Rarely is an individual great of and by themselves. It usually requires a team of people working together in a great environment to make something great happen. Taking the superstar out of that context can often lead to less than great performance. Thinking of and hiring the team as the talent may be what we should be looking for when trying to hire-in great performance.

Bob Sutton makes this point in an excellent post on his blog. Commenting on a May 2006 Harvard Business Review article by Boris Groysberg, Andrew McLean and Nitin Nohria entitled, Are Leaders Portable? he writes:
One of the most interesting findings … was that GE executives who brought along 3 or more GE alumni to join their teams had “annualized abnormal returns” of 15.7% above average; while those that hired one or none from GE had -16.7%. Groysberg and his colleagues call this past experience working together “relationship human capital,” horrible language from economics. Other researchers call it “prior joint experience,” which isn’t much better. But whatever you call it, while HR practices turn attention to individual stars, study after study shows when people have experience working together – and have learned who knows what, how to read those little signals that people send off, and can communicate ideas quickly and efficiently – their teams and organizations perform better.

The implication of this research is pretty clear and shows the limits of modern HR practices, assumptions, and even the enterprise software systems that they use. If you are going to hire some “talent,” don’t focus on just landing that lone star – focus on hiring as much of his or her team, or network, as possible. You win the war for talent by bringing aboard talented sets of people, not talented solo acts.

[A]s the war for talent seems to be heating up again, companies that fight it right will spend less time looking for solo stars and more time looking for dynamic duos, teams, and networks of people that have worked together in the past and want to work together more in the future. And perhaps it is time for modern HR practices to catch-up with the evidence.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:50 PM
| Comments (0) | General Business


Grassroots Change

Grassroots Change

Robert Redford has focused considerable energy at bringing about change on issues that are important to him. Common sense or emotional intelligence will tell you that the best way to change things is not to charge in. You can be results-driven without being a bull-in-a-china-shop. Change can begin at any level.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Turning an Industry Inside Out: A Conversation with Robert Redford, he notes two approaches to change in an organization or industry: top-down and bottom-up. The former is the more difficult and the latter takes longer and requires considerable skill and patience. Some lessons he has learned over the last 20 years:

  • "Corporate powers that be aren't going to be interested in the fruits of your labor and passion unless you are adept at understanding their agenda and speaking their language."
  • Direct confrontation can backfire. You can’t be forceful, loud, confrontational, or declarative. You have to sell what you have on their terms.
  • A better way to change a system is to work through it as a bottom-up insider, quietly chipping away at standard operating procedures, creating small opportunities to do what you really want to do, until you achieve a real success. Then you can break out your agenda in a larger way. You have to work behind the scenes
  • Building credibility is essential. Once you have earned credibility and are in a position to get what you want, you need to strike a series of devil’s bargains. To horse-trade with the devil, you have to look him squarely in the eye and make the right demands for him. Then you need to be prepared to "horse-trade with the devil" by trading "a sure thing for the right to experiment."
  • Incremental change has higher potential for success.
  • Timing is critical. Development in the industry or in the business can open or close doors for opportunity for change.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:47 AM
| Comments (0) | Change


How To Fine Tune Your Listening Skills

“Why do most of us like to talk so much? Because we want to be noticed. We get a charge out of being the center of the universe. But when you yap on, you use up all of the oxygen and energy in the room, which is debilitating for everyone else” say authors Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval in The Power of Nice. Often times, more communication is less communication.

They suggest five ways to fine tune your listening skills:

Let the Other Guy Be Smarter. When you let the other guy’s brilliance shine through, you not only gain new information, you also earn their goodwill. Everyone likes to be around people who make them feel intelligent.

Keep It Simple. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best one. By listening rather than pontificating you will often hear the simple connection that makes the difference.

Ask, Don’t Tell. When you ask questions, you tell people that you care about them, that you’re interested in what they have to say. You also send an oh-so-subtle message that you’re a bright, inquisitive individual who would like to know more. That’s why even the smallest question can have a huge impact.

Don’t Argue So Much. Whenever problems or conflicts arise, there is a natural tendency to try and “talk your way out of it.” But sometimes you win your case by shutting up and listening your way out of it.

Everyone Is Worth a Listen. Jay Leno says, “We live in a society of exclusion. There is this idea that you should try to keep people out—‘Oh, you can’t come into this club, you have to be a member, you don’t have enough money, you’re not handsome enough.’ But if you go through life with the opposite attitude and try to include everybody, it opens up doors.”

Remember Dale Carnegie's quote: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you."

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:59 AM
| Comments (0) | Communication , Personal Development


Warren Buffett on Ethics

In an article entitled Buffett on Backdating and Other Bad Behavior, the Wall Street Journal reported on a short memo Warren Buffett sent to his managers regarding the recent scandals involving stock-options backdating and H-P’s leak probe. Buffett wrote, “The five most dangerous words in business may be ‘Everybody else is doing it,’”
On backdating, Buffett wrote, “My guess is that a great many of the people involved would not have behaved in the manner they did except for the fact that they felt others were doing so as well.”

He added: “So, at Berkshire, let’s start with what is legal, but always go on to what we would feel comfortable about being printed on the front page of our local paper, and never proceed forward simply on the basis of the fact that other people are doing it.”
This once again underscores the point that there is most often a difference between what is legal and what is right or ethical. Legally we may be allowed to behave in ways that are not ethical. We are allowed to conduct ourselves in ways that we would not like to see others doing to us. Legal is about what we can get away with. Ethical is about what is right. The spirit of the law sometimes looks very different than the letter of the law.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:02 AM
| Comments (0) | Ethics


What is Trust?


David Abshire, President of the Center for the Study of the Presidency, in a speech delivered this summer had this to say about trust:

Trust is a word with which we are truly familiar. Yet, it is difficult to define in a truly comprehensive way. You may not know that it is a word of Scandinavian origin. It connects “agreement,” “pact,” and “faith”—all wrapped into one. Webster notes two definitions: first, “a confident dependence on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something”; second, “something committed or entrusted to one to be used or cared for in the interest of another.” The first definition is commonplace and correlates with our grade-school interpretation. But, the latter definition embraces the transcendent qualities of the word.

Trust, in its fullest sense, extends beyond simply having great confidence in a person or faith that a task will be performed. What I will call interactive trust manifests itself when one becomes committed to the protection and care of someone else—he is entrusted to that person, who holds his faith in trust.

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Do You Trust People Trust Factor

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:59 AM
| Comments (0) | Personal Development


Carly Fiorina On Leading Change

Fiornia-Tough Choices
Recounting her days at Lucent, Carly Fiorina writes in Tough Choices about the challenge of bringing about organizational change:
As is true whenever a new leader issues a challenge, a critical mass of the old-timers must rise to that challenge. If this fails to happen, the new leader is simply ignored. People who’ve never operated in large, complex companies are often surprised to learn that even a change agent with title and position can be effectively rendered powerless by people’s collective decision to maintain the status quo. A boss can hire and fire. A boss can reallocate people and money. A boss can measure and reward. A boss can threaten or inspire. Each of these actions and decisions will be analyzed and interpreted by an organization. Some interpretations will motivate change. But no boss, even a president or a CEO, can order people to change. No boss can force people to behave differently. People operate based on their own free will. They will make their own decisions, and in big companies those decisions are easy to hide.

Leadership is about making a positive difference, and anyone, from any position, can choose to lead.

People don’t want to be mediocre; they’re just sometimes afraid they can’t be any better, or that it won’t make any difference even if they are.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:18 AM
| Comments (0) | Books , Change , Leaders


Carly Fiorina: Hewlett-Packard Leaks

Tough Choices
The New York Times reported Thursday (October 5) that according to former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina, she “ordered the first of a series of leak investigations into contacts by board members with journalists in January 2005.”

In her new book, Tough Choices, she writes that it began with the leak of a January 2005 meeting to the Wall Street Journal. After a suggestion by Larry Babbio that every Board member should resign, she wrote, “I suggested instead that we ask the Nominating and Governance Committee to launch an investigation to be conducted by outside counsel. On rare other occasions when we’d had an ethical issue arise in the company that warranted the Board’s attention, the Audit Committee had conducted an investigation with outside counsel. Because this was a matter internal to the Board, I felt the Nominating and Governance Committee should handle this one. No one argued.”

Fiornia continues:
Bob Knowling convened the committee by telephone ten minutes later. The members agreed that Larry Sonsini would interview each Board member. Bob requested that Larry use the interviews to conduct not only an investigation, but also an objective assessment of the Board. Beyond the leak, there was much about the Board’s dynamics that was disturbing. The committee agreed. Each Board member should be asked their views of the effectiveness of the Board, the qualifications of each Board member and how we could improve our meetings and deliberations. I thought it was a great idea. We needed to know what had happened to ensure that it never happened again, but perhaps we could also accomplish something more positive and productive. I thought we could weather this storm; we had weathered so many. I didn’t expect anyone to resign over this, nor did I intend to ask. I thought this could be a useful wake-up call to several board members who were not as smart as they thought they were.

It turns out I wasn’t as smart as I needed to be. Somehow, at some point during the next two weeks, certain Board members would decide to fire me.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:15 PM
| Comments (0) | Books , Leaders


Teaching Leadership

Teaching Leadership

This summer author Paul Taffinder spoke to the Wall Street Journal Online about teaching leadership:

I wouldn't say anyone is born a leader. There have been some studies that indicate people who have been exposed to psychologically traumatic experiences are better leaders. They've had to overcome trials and tribulations. So they're more inclined to be challenging and look deep within themselves for what they believe in. Leaders like that learn to be clear about the story they're telling about where they have come from and where they're going.

Teaching people to control risk is much easier than teaching people to create it. And it's essential for companies to draw the distinction between leadership and management. It's just wrong to use them interchangeably. Managers tend to react. Leaders tend to seek out opportunities. Managers follow the rules. Leaders change the rules. Managers seek and follow direction. Leaders inspire achievement. These are profound differences. Of course, you need both. But organizations fail to recognize the difference.

Organizations start to fail when they start to produce too many managers and not enough leaders. Or too many leaders of a certain type. The lesson in the corporate world, how can you simulate that [traumatic experience] in the corporate world without destroying people. How can you learn from it without becoming a casualty.

Leadership Crash Course
Paul Taffinder’s book The Leadership Crash Course helps to translate lessons learned into practical applications to improve your leadership skills. Looking at the basic personal and emotional components of leadership, the book offers a series of modules that individuals at many levels can study, deploy and refer to from time to time. The lessons are geared toward diagnosing your own behaviors and then applying different techniques to leverage strengths and improve development areas. His web site has interactive tools to further explore your leadership style and preferences.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:58 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership Development


Teaching as Marketing

Seth Godin wrote an excellent post on his blog about communication through speeches or talk. He writes about the dynamics of speech: “Speech is both linear and unpaceable. You can’t skip around and you can’t speed it up. When the speaker covers something you know, you are bored. When he quickly covers something you don’t understand, you are lost.” This is both the advantage and the challenge of speech.
Martin Luther King

A speech has always been a platform to sell ideas, but we often forget that and just drone on presenting what perhaps is important to us (often the audience can’t tell) without regard to our listeners. Godin adds, “If marketing is the art of spreading ideas, then teaching is a kind of marketing. And teaching to groups verbally is broken, perhaps beyond repair. Consumers of information won’t stand for it. We’re learning less every time we are confronted with this technique, because we’ve been spoiled by the remote control and the web.”

Godin suggests, “If you teach—teach anything—I think you need to start by acknowledging that there’s a need to sell your ideas emotionally. So you need to use whatever tools are available to you—an evocative PowerPoint image, say, or a truly impassioned speech.” Speech isn’t broken; we just don’t take the time to do it well. A well crafted speech has the potential to cut through the clutter and hold your attention more intimately than nearly any other form of communication.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:17 AM
| Comments (0) | Communication


Leadership in Action is About Dilemmas

Leadership in Action is About Dilemmas

Paul Taffinder writes in The Leadership Crash Course that leadership in action is about dilemmas. In an age where we have more choices than ever before, the leader’s job becomes more urgent. The problem isn’t necessarily that we have so many choices, but what we base our selection of choices on. The leader’s job is to guide this process. This might be called imposing context. This speaks to the need we all share for a framework within which to live.

Context takes into account where we have been and where we are and where we want to go. The leader must add to the conversation those things that need to be considered to make proper choices. A leader should help to cut through the clutter and help people to consider especially those things beyond the realm of selfish concern.

Ironically, getting where we want nearly always means not getting what we want. Leader’s frequently must guide people through behaviors and places they would never choose for themselves if left to their own desires. In a society that wants to achieve the desired ends by simply going straight to the desired ends and short-circuiting the necessary intermediate steps, this can be quite a challenge. At times like these, a leader’s self-knowledge becomes all the more important.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:44 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership Development


Leadership Books: October 2006

Here's a look at some of the best leadership books being released in October. For a look a little further out see the Winter 2006 releases.

Leading at a Higher Level: Blanchard on Leadership and Creating High Performing Organizations by Ken Blanchard
Leadership Agility: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change by William B. Joiner and Stephen A. Josephs
Micromessaging: Why Great Leadership is Beyond Words by Stephen Young
L.L. Bean: The Making of an American Icon by Leon Gorman
The Go Point: When It's Time to Decide--Knowing What to Do and When to Do It by Michael Useem

0131443909 0385517475 0071467572 1578511836 1400082986

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:11 AM
| Comments (0) | Books




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