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7 Principles to Lead with Imagination

Lead With Imagination

IMAGINATION is about seeing what others don’t see. In a disruptive world, we need leaders with more imagination. We all have the capacity for imagination and applied it has the power to unlock or fullest potential.

Brian Paradis was the Chief Financial Officer for Florida Hospital when he was tasked with leading the troubled organization in 2006. Plagued with doubt and inexperience, he records his journey in Lead with Imagination, to turn the enterprise around.

Lead with Imagination he writes is about “how to lead and how to do it with imagination. It is first about how to be, about character, before checklists and a list of to-dos.” It’s about “how to release yourself and those you lead from the constraints of the mind’s own making and those of our organizations.”

This is a powerful book. Honest, straightforward, and insightful. The lessons Paradis has learned on his journey, we can learn along with him. He cites a passage from General Gordon Sullivan’s book, Hope Is Not a Method, that is particularly instructive. Sullivan was a primary inheritor of a U.S. Army in shambles after Vietnam.

Today’s problems can be so close, so intense, that they become like blinders. Getting beyond today begins by imagining your organization out in the future. Ask yourself “What could be?” Postulate the new paradigm, and then imagine your organization in it. Many people seem uncomfortable with this process. They see it as too much art and too little science—as irrelevant theology in a world that has deadlines to meet. It is not. It is how the Army’s leaders of the 1970s and 1980s built the Army that was successful in the Persian Gulf War. It is how successful leaders in business, in all walks of life, in fact, operate: by keeping their eyes on today and on the vision—always moving forward.

Imagination is about removing those blinders Sullivan describes. Below, I have reproduced his summary of each of Paradis’ seven principles. You will need to read the stories in each of these chapters to get the full impact of his message.

1. Love in All Interactions

Love is the foundation, the soil, and the fuel for imagination. Love is both power and powerful. An act, service, or business endeavor done in love universally turns out better. However, love is hard. It is much easier to give in to fear, cynicism, and self-interest than to lead, live, and serve with love.

Paradis says love should be our brand, first inside our organizations so that it can radiate outside our organizations to whomever we serve.

2. Out of the Comfort Zone: Leaning into Authenticity and Humility

Once you commit to the principle of love, a high hurdle presents itself when leaning into authenticity in your leadership. At the same time, you must become self-aware about the influence your ego casts. Your ego must be managed. There is not a simple formula for this work. The struggle is the heart of this part of the journey to lead with imagination. It is difficult, if not impossible, to move forward effectively without consistency and balance to your words matching your actions.

Authenticity and humility build trust.

I end where I began: authentically making mistakes, and in humility, saying sorry, asking for forgiveness, and admitting that sometimes I just don’t know. …This is the place where you will earn the trust of the people you have the privilege to lead as a servant.

3. Chaos, Calm, and A Canvas: Creating the Environment That Matters

A leader’s primary job is to set the stage, not perform on it. If you want to lead with imagination, you must unleash the power, capacity, and energy of the many and release the stranglehold of the few—even if the few includes you. This is creative work. We often use the language of ‘creating culture’; however, we don’t think enough about what those words mean. This is work that involves careful thought and consideration of every decision we make as another brushstroke applies the paint, either moving us toward a performance masterpiece of moving us away from it.

4. The Act of Fearlessness: Practicing Vulnerability and Right Risk-Taking

Vulnerability is about putting yourself in harm’s potential way, or ‘out there,’ in order to accomplish something. It requires clear and creative action. It exposes you. In that place of exposure, we move from preparing to lead to leading with imagination. First, we take risks personally, then we can begin taking right risks organizationally. This is where the trifecta of imagination, creativity, and innovation get their solid foothold in what might be described as virtuous momentum.

5. Tolerating Curiosity

Curiosity starts with questions. Both quality and quantity matter. Asking them is less than half the process. Holding the answer open, suspending judgment, questioning: do we even have the right answer yet? That is the larger half. That is the art.

Curiosity is next about pursuing this process within the team, designing the space both physically and psychologically that is safe and collaborative, and tolerating the possible inefficiency of a ‘best idea wins’ mind-set. It is being curious about customers and stakeholders, anchored with empathy. Far too many times, we stop asking and listening, believing we know the answers and leaving the most important insights undiscovered. Finally, curiosity is about being relentless and disciplined about the process.

6. The Misunderstanding About Humor

Laughter creates a runway for love to land on, and then take off again. Life is serious, to be sure. Organizations are serious, too, but they are made up of humans. And because of that, humor contributes an essential living element to culture. Humor makes us human. It connects us. It gives us energy and capacity to handle stress and challenge. It lifts us. If we believe people are our greatest organizational capacity, then infusing humor into an enterprise is a high return on investment and undervalued as a creative and cultural force. Humor opens a pathway to breakthroughs and new insights. It becomes a competitive advantage.

7. Connecting the Dots: Doing Whatever It Takes

Leadership is hard work. Leading with imagination and leading for results require skill and competence, constant self-evaluation, a servant’s heart, and a relentlessness to get it ‘mostly’ right. It is about asking the important and difficult questions of yourself and of the organization and waiting for the answers. It is about engaging and encouraging what is working and owning and dealing with what is not. It is about finding the way and doing whatever job needs to be done to support the team. It is about continuously and consistently imagining the vision, communicating it, and taking daily action toward it. Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, has described the ‘long line’ or vision of musical piece. He explains how the ‘line’ is easily lost with too much attention to single notes or short passages. As leaders, it is our constant job to keep bringing our organizations and enterprises back to the long line of the music and connecting the dots back to the big why.

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Managing in the Gray Making the Impossible Possible

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:55 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


Great Leaders Have No Rules

Great Leaders Have No Rules

THERE ARE well-intentioned behaviors and assumptions about leadership that we have accepted over the years that really don’t serve us well. Kevin Kruse has identified ten such assumptions and provided effective counter-thinking in Great Leaders Have No Rules.

His goal is to “teach you how to be both the boss everyone wants to work for and the high achiever every CEO wants to hire—all without drama, stress, or endless hours in the office.”

The ten principles highlighted below are well supported with research, the experience of Kruse and many interviews. Some of them will immediately resonate with you, others will take some consideration. Here they are:

1. Close Your Open-Door Policy

The idea is to promote transparency, trust, and information flow. But leapfrogging the chain of command, dependency, and the productivity nightmare it creates, to name a few of the unintended consequences of this idea, make it worth overhauling. It is a passive solution to trust and information flow. It can also discourage autonomy, empowerment. It’s better to have office hours, set ground rules, have weekly one-on-one meetings, and a scheduled system of communication.

2. Shut Off Your Smartphone

While smartphone activities can give you a big dopamine hit, they are distracting, they diminish brainpower, contribute to stress, accidents and fatalities, and smartphone surveillance impedes candor. Put them away and limit your access during the day. It will improve your safety and focus.

3. Have No Rules

Principles do more and go further than any rule ever could. Principles are less micromanaging and more like guardrails. “Instead of rules, leaders need to hire talent who can be trusted, make company values actionable, set guidelines, and be willing to coach those who make honest mistakes.”

4. Be Likable, Not Liked

Wanting to be liked is normal, but it makes it difficult to make tough choices and give candid feedback. Leadership is not about you. It’s about what’s best for those you lead. You can be tough and tender. “You should try to be likable, without caring whether you are liked.” It’s about results.

5. Lead with Love

John Wooden said it best, “I will not like you all the same, but I will love you all the same.” That’s a tough concept to get sometimes. Kruse writes, “Whether I like you, and whether you like me, is irrelevant. In our daily interactions, I will lead with love. Who said leadership is easy?” Like and love are two different things. Like is an emotion. Love is a decision.

6. Crowd Your Calendar

Throw out your to-do list. “Great leaders actually schedule everything. Instead of placing tasks on a to-do list, they pick a date, time, and duration and schedule it on their calendar. This is the only guaranteed way to know that you are investing your minutes in alignment with your values and goals.”

7. Play Favorites

People are different. So, if we are treating them the same, that isn’t fair. Standards apply equally to everyone. But people who perform better and are more engaged deserve to be treated better and have their strengths developed. “Great leaders take the time to identify each person’s strengths and then align opportunities and career path options to take advantage of them.”

8. Reveal Everything (Even Salaries)

Radical transparency “enables team members to move fast, adapt to change, and make wise decisions and reduces their need to knock on your door with ‘got a minute’ questions.”

9. Show Weakness

Being able to show weakness is a sign of courage and confidence. It is most often wise to keep your internal anxieties to yourself, but vulnerability builds trust. A culture of trust and psychological safety reduces the magnitude of mistakes and fosters innovation.

10. Leadership Is Not A Choice

Leadership is influence. In that sense, that includes all of us, all the time. I define leadership as intentional influence so that we see it not as a passive activity but as a condition that we need to take responsibility for. Nevertheless, we are always “on,” and we need to keep that in mind at work, at home, among friends, and with everyone with whom we come into contact. We are representing a worldview. Kruse stresses leading by example—taking responsibility for the change you want to see. “If leadership is influence, then leadership isn’t a choice.”

He concludes with a choice we all need to make. “Will you live your life on autopilot, or will you lead with intent? Are you leading in a positive direction or are you leading in a negative direction? How will you lead today?

One of the great features of Kruse’s book is that he ends each chapter with a section titled, “How Might You Apply This If You’re A … manager, sales professional, sports coach, military officer, and/or parent. Extremely practical and designed to help you implement the principles he discusses immediately. Great Leaders Have No Rules is well-written and persuasive and just what you need to increase your leadership effectiveness.

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Advice You Can Use Colin Powell

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:23 AM
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36 Lessons for Business & Life from Trillion Dollar Coach Bill Campbell

Trillion Dollar Coach

BILL CAMPBELL was one of the most influential background players in Silicon Valley. He helped to build some of Silicon Valley’s greatest companies including Google, Apple, and Intuit and to create over a trillion dollars in market value.

In Trillion Dollar Coach, authors Eric Schmidt, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Alan Eagle, state that “without a doubt, Bill Campbell was one of the people most integral to Google’s success. Without him, the company would not be where it was today.” Campbell was a coach, mentor, and friend to Steve Jobs spending many Sunday afternoons walking and talking. He coached many others including Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Chegg, John Hennessy, former President of Stanford University, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.

He was simply known as “coach” in part because he was a coach of the Columbia University football team from 1974 to 1979, but mostly for his business mentoring. Campbell worked with individuals, but he coached teams. “Coaching is the best way to mold effective people into powerful teams.” Campbell coached people to coach teams. “The best coach for any team is the manager who leads that team. Being a good coach is essential to being a good manager and leader. Coaching is no longer a specialty; you cannot be a good manager without being a good coach.”

Remarkably, he repeatedly declined compensation except for some Google stock that he donated to charity. “When asked about his habit of eschewing compensation, Bill would say that he had a different way of measuring his impact, his own kind of yardstick. I look at all the people who’ve worked for me, or I’ve helped in some way, he would say, and I count up how many are great leaders now. That’s how I measure success.”

From their own experience with Campbell and with stories from the many lives he impacted, the authors have assembled his thoughts and principles about business and life—and importantly how to bring people together. They are listed below but get the book to read the stories that illuminate the thinking behind the principles.

Your Title Makes You A Manager, Your People Make You A Leader.
To be a good leader, you first need to be a good manager. Don’t demand respect, rather accrue it.

It’s the People.
The top priority of any manger is the well-being and success of her people.

Start with Trip Reports.
To build rapport and better relationships among team members, start team meetings with trip reports or other types of personal, non-business topics.

5 Words on A White Board.
Have a structure for one-on-one’s and take the time to prepare for them, as they are the best way to help people be more effective and to grow.

Best Idea, Not Consensus.
The manager's job is to run a decision-making process that ensures all perspectives get heard and considered, and, if necessary, to break ties and make the decision. The goal of consensus leads to “groupthink” and inferior decisions. There isn’t a head at the Round Table, but there is a throne behind it.

Lead Based on First Principles.
Define the “first principles” for the situation, the immutable truths that are the foundation for the company or product, and help guide the decision from those principles.

Manage the Aberrant Genius.
Aberrant geniuses—high-performing but difficult team members—should be tolerated and even protected, as long as their behavior isn’t unethical or abusive and their value outweighs the toll their behavior takes on management, colleagues, and teams.

Money’s Not Just About the Money.
Compensating people well demonstrates love and respect and ties them strongly to the goals of the company.

Innovation Is Where the Crazy People Have Stature.
The purpose of a company is to bring a product vision to life. All the other components are in service to product.

Let People Leave with Their Heads Held High.
If you have to let people go, be generous, treat them well, and celebrate their accomplishments.

Build an Envelope of Trust.
Listen intently, practice complete candor, and be an evangelist for courage by believing in people more than they believe in themselves.

Only Coach the Coachable.
The traits that make a person coachable include honesty and humility, the willingness to persevere and work hard, and a constant openness to learning.

Practice Free-Form Listening.
Listen to people with your full and undivided attention—don’t think ahead to what you’re going to say next—and ask questions to get to the real issue.

No Gap Between Statements and Fact.
Be relentlessly honest and candid, couple negative feedback with caring, give feedback as soon as possible, and if the feedback is negative, deliver it privately.

Don’t Stick It in Their Ear.
Don’t tell people what to do, offer stories and help guide them to the best decisions for them.

Be the Evangelist for Courage.
Believe in people more than they believe in themselves and push them to be more courageous.

Full Identity Front and Center.
People are most effective when they can be completely themselves and bring their full identity to work.

Team First.
You can’t get anything done without a team so the most important thing to look for in people is a team-first attitude. That the team wins has to be the most important thing.

Work the Team, Then the Problem.
When faced with a problem or opportunity, the first step is to ensure the right team is in place and working on it.

Pick the Right Players.
The top characteristics to look for are smarts and hearts: the ability to learn fast, a willingness to work hard, integrity, grit, empathy, and a team-first attitude.

Pair People.
Peer relationships are critical and often overlooked, so seek opportunities to pair people up on projects or decisions.

Everyone Needs to Be at the Table.
Winning depends on having the best team, and the best teams have more women.

Solve the Biggest Problem.
Identify the biggest problem, the “elephant in the room,” bring it front and center, and tackle it first.

Don’t Let the Bitch Sessions Last.
Air all the negative issues, but don’t dwell on them. Move on as fast as possible.

Winning Right.
Strive to win, but always win right, with commitment, teamwork, and integrity.

Leaders Lead.
When things are going bad, teams are looking for even more loyalty, commitment, and decisiveness from their leaders. When you’re losing, recommit to the cause. Lead.

Fill the Gaps Between People.
Listen observe, and fill the communication and understanding gaps between people. Spot those fissures before they become deep and permanent, and act to fix them by filling in the information gaps and correcting and miscommunication.

Permission to Be Empathetic.
Leading teams becomes a lot more joyful, and the teams more effective, when you know and care about people.

It’s OK to Love.
The people on your team are people, and the team becomes stronger when you break down the walls between the professional and human personas and embrace the whole person with love.

To Care About People, You Have To Care About People.
Ask about their lives outside of work, understand their families, and when things get rough, show up.

Cheer Demonstrably for People and Their Success.
Don’t just sit there, stand up and show them the love for the work they are doing.

Always Build Community.
Build communities inside and outside of work. A place is much stronger when people are connected. Invest in creating real, emotional bonds between people.

Help People.
Be generous with your time, connections, and other resources.

Love the Founders.
Hold a special reverence for—and protect—the people with the most vision and passion for the company. Campbell held a very special place in his heart for the people who have the guts and skills to start companies.

Build Relationships Whenever You Can.
When you’re in the elevator, passing someone in the hallway, or see your teammates in the cafeteria, take the time to stop and chat.

Positive Human Values Generate Positive Business Outcomes.
There are things we all care about as people—love, family, money, attention, power, meaning, purpose—that are factors in any business situation. That to create effective teams, you need to understand and pay attention to these human values.

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Leader as Coach Coaching Effect

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:54 AM
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The Truth About You

Truth About Yo

IN THE January/February 2019 issue of Communication Arts, Ernie Schenck writes about two kinds of truth: authentic and inauthentic. Authentic truth is who you are. Inauthentic truth is who you are when everyone is looking. It’s accepting what the loudest voices around you are saying because you don’t want to look bad. It’s commonplace in politics, but we see it everywhere. It’s pandering. Not leadership. It’s denigrating. Not serving.

Inauthentic leadership is selfish. We use it to get something. To get us from A-to-B. As leaders, we need to be sure we are walking our talk. If we talk about service to others, then everything we do must be guided by that value. If we believe in building others, then everything we do must build others without regard for our own position. If we are empathetic, then our criticisms are constructive and measured, not strident.

The alignment between who we are—our authentic truth—and what we say and do is critical. A leader who acts or his or her authentic truth is a leader that can be trusted. If we jump on every bandwagon that comes through, we can be perceived as not knowing our own mind. When we lead from who we are and not from where everyone else thinks we should, more than just being trusted, we can more easily adapt, grow, and lead in a thoughtful and measured manner.

Here are Schenck’s thoughts on truth in advertising from The Truth Is Out There. Kind Of.:

The authentic truth. It’s absolute. It’s unshakeable. Its power to propel us as creatives mighty beyond measure. But there is another truth. It is feeble. It is disingenuous. And it is something we’ve rarely seen before. The kind of truth that’s fleeting. Fabricated. Cloaked in insincerity. And if we’re not careful, it can lure us onto a bandwagon that at best is uncomfortable and at worst can suck the spirit out of us. Call it the inauthentic truth.

We all want to ally ourselves with brands that have hitched their star to a purpose. Who doesn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want to work on a Patagonia, a Ben & Jerry’s, a Dove—brands that found their true north long ago, way before purpose became trendier than a retro flip phone or a pair of Louis Vuitton workout pants.

But what about the brands that are late to the party, that feel compelled to stand for something more than just a great car or a phenomenal running shoe or the smartphone to end all smartphones for no other reason than it’s what the market expects right now. I don’t need to spell it out for you. You know who they are. The poseurs. The opportunists. The ones that are willing to embrace any cause, any movement, any social activism if it means getting themselves a place at the table.

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12 Keys Self Awareness Grounded

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:25 PM
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Everything Begins with a Day One

This is Day One

EADERSHIP IS intentional influence. Leadership is about being intentional. It’s about taking responsibility for everything we do. We affect others in ways we never imagined. It is prudent of us then to be intentional about how we live out our life. It gives us the moral authority to lead. The value we add becomes the meaning in our life.

This is Day One by Drew Dudley is about choosing to lead. Everything worthwhile in life begins with a Day One. “If you want to be a leader, chose to be a leader today. Repeat that choice every day. It doesn’t matter if you failed to do it yesterday or if you’ve done it every day for a decade: every new day begins with a recommitment to that choice.”

And it’s a daily choice. With everything in our environment to distract us from that choice, to push us into being reactive rather than proactive, some days that choice will take a huge effort. But the payoff is big.
Your most enduring legacy will very likely have nothing to do with your plans. The greatest impact you will have on the people around you and the organizations of which you are a part will almost always be a result of the unplanned consequences of your everyday actions.

It’s the daily behaviors that add up to a successful life—to successful leadership. So we must plan to make a difference.

Our leadership plan must revolve around who we want to be—our values. We must identify and define those values and then do something every day that embodies those values. “When you no longer must consciously align your behavior with your values—when it happens by instinct—you have created a ‘personal culture of leadership.’”

Dudley has identified six values in his life that drive his behavior every day. Yours may be different. They are articulated through six questions that when asked in advance of your day can lead to a change in your behavior. His six questions are:

1. Impact—What have I done today to recognize someone else’s leadership?

“Leadership recognized is leadership created. What if we all worked to create a culture in which the true measure of our lives is how many people smile when our name is spoken twenty years after they last saw us.” Answering this question “will create moments of impact that remind others they have mattered, do matter, and will matter in the future.” Let people know they are leaders to us.

2. Courage—What did I try today that might not work, but I tried it anyway?

Courage is demonstrated through action. “Effective personal leadership is the willingness to honestly ask ourselves: ‘In what areas of my life am I settling? Leadership is having the courage to be honest with yourself about where in your life you are allowing yourself to settle and taking action to ensure you don’t do it for a single day longer.”

3. Empowerment—What did I do today to move someone else closer to a goal?

We are responsible. “One of the reasons so few people put up their hand when asked if they are a leader is they’ve accepted a situation where the things that they are chasing in their life—the things they believe will make them happy—can only come from someone else.” A driver in New Orleans told Dudley, “We serve others whenever we help them move closer to one of their goals. For some people that might mean an educational goal, a career goal, or a goal related to their legacy. But let me tell you, the most important goals you can help someone reach are the goals related to their dignity. People need to feel seen, they need to feel understood, they need to feel connected to another person. Too many people in this world don’t have those goals met.” Acting for the success of others.

4. Growth—What did I do today to make it more likely someone will learn something?

Expand your capacity. “Go too long without appreciable growth in your life and not only does it become difficult to see yourself as a leader, it become difficult to feel like you matter.” I liked this statement: “You can’t lead on a need-to-know-only basis. You can fix things, you can maintain, but you can’t lead.” We must continually expose ourselves to the new and uncomfortable. “It’s not enough to be supportive when you see opportunities to help people, you must be a catalyst for creating those opportunities and forgiving others the tools to create them for themselves. Forget power, influence, and control: make people feel like they’re better when you’re around and they will follow you anywhere.”

5. Class—When did I elevate instead of escalate today?

We can choose our response. We don’t have to operate on autopilot. “Class is elevating a situation when your instincts push you to escalate, when it would be easier to escalate and when you have every right to escalate. The difference lies in your goal for the resolution of the situation: elevating means trying to succeed, escalating means trying to win.” Treat people better than they deserve to be treated.

6. Self-Respect—What did I do today to be good to myself?

“The fact that we have the rest of our lives ahead of us is the biggest reason we don’t do things today that will make the rest of our lives better.” Plan failure into your plans. It’s inevitable. “The most extraordinary leaders I’ve known are the ones who are best at healing.” Only hurt people hurt others. “It means leaders have got to forgive and leaders have got to heal. If we don’t evict the things living rent free in our heads, we will carry them with us and one day use them as weapons against those we care about most.”

The last section of the book is a workbook of sorts to help you define your own values and create your own questions based on those values. This is Day One will help to see leadership as a responsibility everyone has. It’s a choice. We can build a community of leaders one day at a time.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:37 AM
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William Donaldson on Entrepreneurial Leadership

William Donaldson


ILLIAM DONALDSON has led a full life. He was most notably a co-founder of the investment banking firm of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette in 1959, served in Henry Kissinger’s State Department, was the founding dean at the Yale School of Management, served as chairman and chief executive of the New York Stock Exchange, turnaround CEO of Aetna, chairman of the SEC, and now CEO of the private investment firm Donaldson Enterprises.

Donaldson and Karl Weber extract relevant lessons for leaders in Entrepreneurial Leader. The thread that runs through his career is the entrepreneurial mindset. That mindset is “about the application of creative thinking and prudent risk-taking to build innovative, long-lasting organizations in any sector of the economy.”

There are leaders and there are entrepreneurs, but not all leaders are entrepreneurs, and not all entrepreneurs are leaders. Simply put, I believe that entrepreneurial is a mindset—a way of thinking—and leadership is a way of acting. Entrepreneurial leadership, then, describes the way such a leader behaves.

The case method he experienced at the Harvard Business School, showed him that “in many cases, the deeper you delve into a problem, the less obvious the answers are.” This realization is empowering because “since nobody really knows the one perfect solution to the kinds of real-life challenges organizations face, it’s important to have the courage to ask questions, to propose answers, to challenge assumptions, and to experiment—all of which are key elements of the entrepreneurial drive.”

As founding dean and professor at the Yale school of management, he taught a course on entrepreneurial leadership. He focused on the personal characteristics of the leader. “Of course, an entrepreneurial leader needs to know about subjects like financial management, competitive strategy, market analysis, and the like. But I think those topics are distinctly secondary. More important are the human qualities that the entrepreneurial leader brings to the job—the ability to see the world through fresh eyes; the ability to pay attention to both the big picture and the small details that define a particular situation; a high degree of personal energy, optimism, and a sense of fun; the readiness to shape and define the system in which he or she operates rather than being controlled by a system someone else has created; and, most important, a strong sense of integrity.”

By integrity, he means that they transcend themselves. They look beyond their ego. They remain true to the vision and commit to the value of individuals.

He notes that an entrepreneur is not a gambler. “The smart entrepreneur uses careful planning, intelligent strategy, and lots of hard work to minimize the risk as much as possible.”

Effective leaders must be entrepreneurial—which means getting things done, regardless of the obstacles.

Entrepreneurial leaders must have the ability to learn fast in environments of ambiguity and change, while providing clarity and coherence for those around them.

Entrepreneurial leaders have the ability to see the world a bit differently from everyone else. They have the drive to innovate—the willingness to continually experiment, to test new ways of organizing and deploying resources, to abandon outmoded approaches when circumstances change; in short, to “make all things new.”

I found this comment especially useful as it speaks to the mission here at LeadershipNow:

In the business arena, entrepreneurial leaders must think and behave as if they own the company—whether they do or not. Entrepreneurial leaders must define systems rather than be defined by them; they must adopt an ownership mentality. They understand that they must take ownership of their choices, including the smaller, day-to-day decisions they make. They must take full responsibility for them rather than attributing them to “the system” or “circumstances.” Entrepreneurial leaders also think continually about the big picture—the broader goal that everyone in the organization is supposed to be working toward—and strive to be guided not by short-term gain or personal profit but by long-term objectives that help everyone. Furthermore, entrepreneurial leaders find ways to encourage everyone in the organization to think and behave in this way, and create circumstances that help them do this.

The behind-the-scenes look at the roles he has taken on throughout his life—especially the rationale behind and the building of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette—is instructive. The range of his life and career demonstrate the broad relevance of the principles he describes in this book and makes for a fascinating read.

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That Will Never Work Learning to Lead Williams

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:43 PM
| Comments (0) | Entrepreneurship , Leadership


Who Will Lead Us Tomorrow?

Lead Us Tomorrow


E ARE RAISING TODAY, the men and women who will lead us tomorrow. It is a responsibility that should not be taken lightly. It should be done with forethought and with a consideration of the kind of world we hope they and we will live in when it’s their turn to lead.

Developing leaders places a huge responsibility on us today that goes beyond telling those future leaders what we think. To develop leaders, we must not only envision the leaders we want tomorrow, but we must behave in the manner of the leaders we want to see.

We may not like the leadership or lack of it that we see today, but if our reaction to anything we don’t like is anger, outrage, hatred, and vicious rhetoric, we are endorsing those values by way of example. Unwittingly, we perpetuate hatred, outrage, and vulgarity in the leaders of tomorrow. They learn to lead by watching us “lead.”

Martin Luther King succeeded because he calmly but passionately painted a picture of a world that appealed to our morality. He shared a positive idea to replace a negative idea without attacking other people. His example had moral weight. He was silenced by hatred. Hatred and anger is an idea without reason—it’s unreasonable—a rudderless opinion with no foundation.

We must be the leaders we want to see developed in the generations that follow us. If you want leaders who listen, who are understanding, compassionate, civil, and respectful, then we must display those values in our dealings with what we see happening around us. If not, we are the problem. If we want others to respect us and listen to us, we must respectfully listen to them. We talk when we should be listening.

If we believe people should be respectful of each other, then we must be those people. Returning in kind is tempting and sometimes funny, but it does nothing but add to the discord we see around us. Real leaders resist the temptation and rise above it. Our response should be one that is conscious and empathetic of the other person's frustration and often misplaced angst. To do anything else only adds to the destructive division we see today.

Real leaders connect, they don’t divide. They focus on similarities, not differences. We often think that if I don’t yell, I won’t be heard, but we aren’t heard because we are yelling. The most strident voice is not the leader. Harsh words do not connect with others. “Blood in the streets” is not a mature response to disagreement.

When we become the leaders we should be, those that follow will learn to lead the way they should. As we learn and grow, those around us will learn and grow. We are modeling now the kind of leadership we will have in the future.

American poet Edwin Markham’s poem captures the need for us to grow into the leaders we want others to be:

We are all blind until we see
—That in the human plan
Nothing is worth the making if
—It does not make the man.

Why build these cities glorious
—If man unbuilded goes?
In vain we build the work, unless
—The builder also grows.

If we want our children to be intentional about their lives, we must too be intentional about ours with the end in mind—with the consequences of our personal behavior in mind. Meaningful lives are built; they don’t just happen. If we want them to be adults, we must act like adults. We are shaping the character of future leaders today. We must resolve to be the leaders we wish to see.

What will our future leaders be like? Who will lead us tomorrow? What legacy are we leaving for our children? We only need to look at ourselves.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:54 AM
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Michael Lombardi’s Lessons in Leadership

Michael Lombardi


ICHAEL LOMBARDI has been an American football executive for decades. He has worked on the staffs of NFL legends Al Davis, Bill Walsh, and Bill Belichick and with Nick Saban while with the Cleveland Browns. He is also a media analyst writing for Bill Simmon’s The Ringer, where he also hosts his top-ten sports podcast, GM Street.

In Gridiron Genius, you will certainly get the inside scoop on the game of football, but it’s much more than that. As a three-time Super Bowl champion, Michael Lombardi provides lessons in organizational culture, team building, strategy, and character. His philosophies on how to build championship teams were foundational for the teams built by both Walsh and Belichick.

Organizations of all types will benefit from the insights found here. “Football is ultimately a business, and as in any successful business the most important ingredients are a sound culture, a realistic plan, strong leadership, and a talented workforce.” So let’s look at some of the leadership lessons to be found here.

The main lesson that comes through his experience with great coaches and owners is that culture comes first. “If you haven’t created an underlying ecosystem of excellence, short-term success is all it will ever be.”

On Bill Walsh building the San Francisco 49ers in 1979: “From the talent on and off the field, to the quality of the workplace, to the practice fields. No detail was too small for Walsh to consider because, to his assembly line way of thinking, only the sum of them all could produce the organization he wanted. As he was fond of saying, if he managed to perfect the culture, the wins would take care of themselves.”

He writes: “Character assessment is by far the hardest challenge for team builders. More than any other factor, inaccurate character assessment is why draft boards are to this day littered with so many mistakes. For starters, let’s be honest, there’s a sliding scale of morality in the NFL (as in every industry), in which the more talented a player is, the more he can get away with.”

“Each player retains information differently, and it’s the coach’s job to determine the best way to instruct him.”

What Makes a Great Quarterback?

A winning way. (Winning is a habit.) A thick skin. (The measure of who we are is how we react to something that does not go our way.) Work ethic. (Your best player has to set a tone for intolerance for anything that gets in the way of winning.) Football smarts. (A quick mind come with preparation. You prepare so well that you don’t have to think; you just react.) Innate ability. (Born with it quality: Walsh couldn’t define it, but he knew it when he saw it.) Carriage. (Quarterbacks have to inspire. They can always look as if they have it all under control and that somehow they will figure out how to lead the team to victory. No one wants to follow a sulker.) Leadership. (Quarterbacks who fail to gain the respect of teammates leave a team rudderless.)

Building a team: “A big part of Walsh’s genius was his uncanny ability to spot a quarterback in a crowd. Even from a distance and after only a few throws, he could sense immediately if a quarterback could run his offense. Guys like Walsh and Belichick are unusual this way: They can visualize how skill sets fit in their schemes in a way that both maximizes those abilities and fuels the system.”

From Bill Belichick:

“Although practice doesn’t make perfect, it gets you closer to perfection each time you do it.”

“We aren’t collecting talent; we are building a team.”

Mental Toughness: Doing what is best for the team when it might not be the best for you. If players can fight past exhaustion, if they can focus when they’re completely drained, well, that’s mental toughness.

On Bill Walsh:

“His meticulousness was evident everywhere.”

“Walsh opted for less experienced men who shared his curiosity and displayed a willingness to learn his system and methods.”

What Makes a Great Coach?

Command of the Room. Followers need something to commit to. A leader has to have a plan. On Nick Saban at Cleveland: He had a strong plan and an effective way of communicating that plan, and his ability to be self-critical earned the players’ trust in a way that rivaled their feelings for Belichick.

Command of the Message. What good is the plan if you can’t talk about the plan? Players can’t accomplish anything unless they can visualize the path. Delivery isn’t as important as meaning.

Command of Self. Personal accountability is the ultimate sign of strength. Sophocles sums it up best: “All men make mistakes, but a good man yields when he knows his course is wrong and repairs the evil. The only crime is pride.” Ego is the leading cause of unemployment in the coaching world.

Command of Opportunity. Becoming an NFL head coach is a process. You learn on the fly. In the beginning, it is likely you’ll be bad at it. You just have to keep working at it until you get good and pray that you don’t end up a one-hit wonder.

Command of the Process. A leader must be fair and consistent. When rule don’t apply to everyone, the ensuing chaos collapses whatever foundation a leader has tried so hard to build.

In a particularly good section of the book, Combating Complacency he talks about how Belichick and Walsh fight complacency. This was interesting: “Whether the Patriots have just won the Super Bowl or not, the first thing Belichick does is wipe the slate clean. One of his favorite sayings is, ‘To live in the past is to die in the present.’ It’s why you see no Super Bowl trophies as you walk through the players’ entrance and why all the photos from the previous season are removed as soon as the season is over. That clean slate demands a trip back to basic principles and fundamentals after a detailed examination of the current process.” He adds, “What impressed me the most about Belichick and Walsh in their self-awareness. With the same kind of success in the NFL many lesser men have become close-minded, authoritarian, and lazy.”

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Of Related Interest:
  Leadership is Destroying Culture by Michael Lombardi at TEDx
  4th and Goal Every Day

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:16 AM
| Comments (0) | General Business , Human Resources , Leadership , Teamwork


Humble Leadership

Humble Leadership


T NEVER HURTS TO BE REMINDED of the need for humility. We tend to fall back on transactional relationships and rule-based leadership. Edgar Schein and Peter Schein call this Level 1 based leadership.

What they advocate in Humble Leadership is moving to and developing an organizational culture based on Level 2 relationships. That is relationships that are intentionally personal, cooperative, and trusting.

Level 2 relationships come naturally with friends and family, but no so much at work. Level 2 relationships come about by seeing others as a whole person and not just as someone filling a role at the moment. It’s being able to say in actions and words, “I want to get to know you better so that we can trust each other in getting our jobs done better.”

In my own work, it’s not uncommon to see people who would tell you that relationships are important to them, shift into Level 1 transactional relationships with the people they are working with. Transactional relationships can somehow make us feel like we are serious and getting down to business by avoiding all of the relationship stuff. Not to mention, it’s just easier to avoid the hard work of developing trust and openness with another person or team. But it comes at a cost. As they describe it, Humble Leadership is about “building relationships that get the job done and that avoid the indifference, manipulation, or, worse, lying and concealing that so often arise in work relationships.”

Much of our work life occurs at Level 1 because the services, stores, hospitals, and businesses we deal with are organized bureaucratically to deal with us at that level. This is typically the source of our dissatisfaction with bureaucracies. We don’t like being treated so impersonally, especially at work.

Evolving the managerial culture from Level 1 to Level 2 is the defining task for Humble Leadership.” The authors suggest that to move from Level 1 to Level 2 relationships, we need to personize our relationships at work. By that, they mean getting to know them as a whole person by minimizing subordination so that we “emphasize collaboration, joint responsibility, and your own willingness to help them succeed.” One of the best ways to get that started is by learning together “because in that context the boss and the employee can give each other direct feedback and suggestions on how he work could be done better.”

In a Level 2 workgroup Humble Leadership emerges by enabling whoever has pertinent information or expertise to speak up and improve whatever the group is seeking to accomplish.

The process of creating and maintaining Level 2 relationships requires a learning mindset, cooperative attitudes, and skills in interpersonal and group dynamics.

The Heroic leader will no longer be the leader with all of the answers, going it alone to forge a new future. The leader of the future will need to be humble, cooperative, and open. Leadership will be expressed as “we together.”

At the end of the book, there are exercises to help you shift from Level 1 relationships to Level 2 relationships.

Humble Leadership Chart

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Theory U Yes to the Mess

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The Dichotomy of Leadership



O MUCH OF LEADERSHIP is managing tensions. Leaders must know when to adapt. This is where self-awareness plays a big part. In a word, they need balance. And that’s what The Dichotomy of Leadership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin is all about.

After the publication of their first book, Extreme Ownership, many people latched on to the aggressive implications of the word “extreme” and missed the more nuanced balance that a leader must have. “Leaders must find the equilibrium between opposing forces that pull in opposite directions.” The Dichotomy of Leadership is meant to help leaders find that equilibrium.

Extreme is almost never the answer. Anything can be taken too far. A leader must be able to where to be on any given continuum in any given situation. Steadiness comes to mind. Or as the Romans termed it: gravitas. Knowing what the tensions or the dichotomies are is the first step avoiding the trap of extremes. Willink and Babin offer twelve. We’ll review eight of them here.


The bottom line that leaders build on is the first dichotomy: To care about your people more than anything—but at the same time, lead them. “And as a leader, you might have to make decisions that hurt individuals on your team. But you also have to make decisions that will allow you to continue the mission for the greater good of everyone on the team.” This concept frequently gets lost on some discussing leadership. It’s easy to get this wrong. Getting it right is caring. It’s the job of leading.

Own it All, but Empower Others

The next tension is between micromanagement and hands-off leadership styles. You have to have to take ownership, but at the same time, give ownership. “With Extreme Ownership you are responsible for everything in your world. But you can’t make every decision. You have to empower your team to lead, to take ownership. So you have to give them ownership.” Leaders set the destination but ownership comes when people can help set the course.

Resolute, but Not Overbearing

When and where do you hold the line? “There is a time to stand firm and enforce the rules and there is a time to give ground and allow the rules to bend. They must set high standards, but they cannot be domineering or inflexible on matters of little strategic importance.” It’s about your leadership capital. “Leadership capital is the recognition that there is a finite amount of power that any leader possesses. It can be expended foolishly, by leaders who harp on matters that are trivial and strategically unimportant. Prioritizing those areas where standards cannot be compromised and holding the line there while allowing for some slack in other, less critical areas is a wise use of leadership capital.” It’s an act of strength for a leader—the opposite of insecurity.

When to Mentor, When to Fire

Knowing when to work with someone and when to let them go isn’t easy. “Most underperformers don’t need to be fired, they need to be led.” The balance when leaders remember that “Instead of focusing on one individual, there is a team—and that the performance of the team trumps the performance of a single individual. Instead of continuing to invest in one subpar performer, once a concerted effort has been made to coach and train that individual to no avail, the leader must remove the individual.”

Disciplined, Not Rigid

Rules can be imposed with too much rigidity that it stifles the team’s ability to think and adapt. Leading isn’t about following the exact procedure, but being able to think and do what makes the most sense so that you can support and lead your team. “Disciplined standard operating procedures, repeatable processes, and consistent methodologies are helpful in any organization. The more discipline a team exercises, the more freedom that team will have to maneuver by implementing small adjustments to existing plans.”

A Leader and a Follower

Following is a part of leading well. Babin recalls, “Leading didn’t mean pushing my agenda or proving I had all the answers. It was about collaborating with the rest of the team and determining how we could most effectively accomplish our mission. There were many times in my Navy career when, in an effort to prove my leadership, I failed to follow. And rather than strengthen me as a leader in the eyes of the team, it undermined my leadership.” Good leadership not only includes encouraging junior members of the team to step up and contribute but to support the boss even when you disagree with the decision and “execute the plan as if it were your own.”

Plan, but Don’t Overplan

Trying to plan for every contingency can create more problems than it solves. Plan you must, but “you cannot plan for every contingency. If you try to create a solution for every single potential problem that might arise, you overwhelm your team, you overwhelm the planning process, you overcomplicate decisions for the leader. Therefore, it is imperative that leaders focus on only the most likely contingencies that might arise for each phase of an operation. Choose at most the three or four most probable contingencies for each phase, along with the worst case scenario.”

Humble, Not Passive

Humility is the leader’s most important quality. Be humble or get humbled. “An important part of being a leader is to be humble enough to see beyond his or her own needs.” And while humility means that you need to recognize that you are part of a larger whole and don’t have all of the answers, “being humble doesn’t mean being passive. It doesn’t mean to not push back when it truly matters. Humility has to be balanced by knowing when to make a stand.” That is, “willing to push back, voice their concerns, stand up to the good of the team and provide feedback.” Humility means knowing when to lead and when to follow. “Pushing back against an order or task from the boss should be the rarest of exceptions and definitely not the rule. Staying humble is the key to developing trust with the chain of command.”

When SEAL leaders had to be fired from “leadership positions in a platoon or task unit, it was almost never because they were tactically unsound, physically unfit, or incompetent. It was most often because they were not humble: they couldn’t check their ego, they refused to accept constructive criticism or take ownership of their mistakes.”

Other dichotomies they cover include: Train Hard, but Train Smart; Aggressive, Not Reckless, Hold People Accountable, but Don’t Hold Their Hands; and Focused, but Detached.

When you find that you are not managing well one of these tensions, the tendency can be to overcompensate. “When a leader moves to rebalance, however, caution must be exercised not to overcorrect. This is a common error: when leaders sense they have gone too far in one direction, they can react by going too far in the other direction. This is ineffective and can make the situation worse. So instead, make measured, calculated adjustments, monitor the results, and then continue to make small, iterative corrections until balance is achieved.”

Balance is never achieved once and done. You will need to move back and forth along these continuums to achieve the results you need because circumstances are always changing. “The leader must continue to monitor the situation, readjust as changes happen, and restore balance.”

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20 Habits to Build Your Leadership On Extreme Ownership

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What Is the Role of Leaders in Emerging Technology?

Emerging Technology

N JUNE 9th last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s 2017 commencement address. He zeroed in on the distinction between technology and what it means to be human. His comments also point to the kinds of things—human things like empathy, communication, imagination, and relationships—we need to be developing to live and lead in the emerging artificial intelligence landscape.
Technology is capable of doing great things. But it doesn’t want to do great things. It doesn’t want anything. That part takes all of us. It takes our values and our commitment to our families and our neighbors and our communities, our love of beauty and belief that all of our faiths are interconnected, our decency, our kindness.

I’m not worried about artificial intelligence giving computers the ability to think like humans. I’m more concerned about people thinking like computers without values or compassion, without concern for consequences. Because if science is a search in the darkness, then the humanities are a candle that shows us where we’ve been and the danger that lies ahead.

For a leader to be that candle they need to be able to create context by communicating across disciplines. They need to be able to share ideas to take advantage of all of the information that is available and put it to a creative solution. In short, leaders will need to define focus and create meaning. An emphasis on communication will be essential for building a stable narrative and a practical relationship with technology throughout an organization or team.

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The Mathematical Corporation Will AI Take Your Job

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:16 AM
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The Journey to Servant Leadership

Servant Leadership

T'S NOT ABOUT YOU. That’s where servant leadership begins. Success is based on your influence in the marketplace and those you help. Or rather, it is significance over success. This is a very different mindset from a power-leadership model. And it takes time because we are predisposed to lead from a power mindset.

When Art Barter bought Datron World Communications in 2004, he was determined to create a servant leadership culture in his organization. In doing so the company went from $10 million in annual sales to $200 million today. He explains, “by following the principles of servant leadership, we were able as a committed and engaged team to create a growth mindset and far exceed our normal production with basically what we already had.”

In The Art of Servant Leadership II, Barter shares the journey from power-based leadership to servant leadership. Inside you will find the ups and downs, the trials and triumphs, and the rewards of making the journey. What worked and what didn’t.

Making a change from a power-based leadership style to a servant leadership style is not easy and must begin at the top. At the beginning, there are trust issues. And quite frankly, it is a difficult approach to wrap your mind around. It’s unnatural and some otherwise great people will never make the transition. It’s an ongoing process—a cycle of education, understanding, applying, and reflecting.

Educate to Own
Leaders must educate to the point of ownership. It has to be ongoing and consistent. Barter began by preaching more or less but soon learned that if they were going to own it, they and to be part of the educational process. Based on the principles of servant leadership, he asked his team to define what servant leadership looked like to them and then said let’s do that. “Let them decide up front what that will look like; it allows them to start their transformation because they own that definition.” Barter moved from educate-to-train to educate-to-own. It is important too, says Barter, that the leader’s voice is in the process so that everyone is speaking the same thing and that you meet people where they are.

Understand and Empower
When things get tough it’s easy for a leader to fall back on power. And when you do it takes humility to face the real issue. Barter said that he had to look at himself at times and ask, “’What did I do to generate that response?’ It took me a while to get to the point where I started looking inside first.” He adds, “They can’t put me on a pedestal and expect me to be perfect, because I’m going through a continual transformation right along with them.” As to empowering others, “there are times when the best thing you can do to help people transform is to stop teaching them and just encourage them, giving them space to work on their own transformations.” Not just listening but listening to understand, empowers people.

You can’t put an organization on hold to make the transformation to a servant leadership culture. You must be profitable and self-sustaining. But servant leadership stresses the means more than the results. It is a culture that makes it safe for failure. Encouraging others and one-on-one mentoring helps to send that message. Here are two key thoughts that caught my attention in this section:
Someone on your team isn’t performing well. Maybe this person is dealing with some personal issues, or perhaps is struggling with what he or she is being asked to do. What would happen if two other people on the team took that person aside and helped him or her get through those challenges and stayed with the team member until the challenges were resolved? What would that look like in today’s workplace? In most workplaces, a person who starts falling falls alone because nobody wants to be part of it.

That’s the basic difference between the power model and the service model. The power model says, “If I do something, I want something in return.” But the servant leader says, “We’re here to help you. We’re willing to give you what you need. You can reward us if you feel like we served you appropriately.” It’s an investment, and most of the time we’ll see something out of it because people see that we conduct business differently.

Self-reflection and team reflection are necessary in a servant leadership culture. At Datron the create what they call a “fascination-for-the-truth” environment. It begins by never killing the messenger. They also host monthly get-togethers and quarterly off-sites. They invest money into developing the team by sending people to conferences, bringing in outside speakers, and encouraging reading.

Confrontations at Datron are meant to restore relationships and not to convince the other person that you’re right and they’re wrong. The real test of servant leadership is if those you are serving are growing.

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Servant Leadership in ActionFrances Hesselbein

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:45 PM
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Co-Active Leadership

Co-Active Leadership

T'S EASY TO THINK that you need a title to be a leader. So much of what we talk about when we talk about leadership is in the context of a title. It’s also easy to think that there’s only one way to lead.

In Co-Active Leadership, Karen and Henry Kimsey-House define leadership as “those who are responsible for their world.” So much of leadership is about initiative—taking responsibility. In this sense, anyone can choose to lead. “Leadership development, then, becomes about growing the size of the world for which one is able to be responsible.” Naturally, this would mean not only becoming “first-class noticers” but increasing one’s competence.

A multidimensional view of leadership allows for anyone to lead. The authors have created the Co-Active Leadership model that is multidimensional. “Everyone, at different times, plays all five roles, shifting from dimension to dimension as the circumstances and the needs of the moment require.”

The five dimensions are: Co-Active Leadership

Co-Active Leader Within
This is where all leadership begins—from within. It begins with taking responsibility for who you are, knowing your values, and then leading in alignment with those values. I agree with the authors that what we need to lead is within us, but leading with a “take me as I am” approach can lead to disaster. Self-awareness is about seeing who I am in relation to those I impact and asking ourselves if this is the person I want to be. Opening our heart is not enough. The bigger question is what is motivating the heart. From “Within” we move into the other dimensions as appropriate.

Co-Active Leader in Front
Leading in front is not about being in charge. A Co-Active Leader in Front fosters a “connection with the people who are following them and stand firmly for a clear direction and purpose.” They understand too that it is not about them, it’s also about creating the space for others to step up and share their knowledge and creativity. It’s about providing guidance.

Co-Active Leader Behind
This is about service. Co-Active Leaders Behind “focus on providing whatever is needed and, through openhearted and enthusiastic participation, advance the action in a way that holds everyone together.” They are most concerned about the whole. It’s about encouraging others.

Co-Active Leader Beside
Two can be better than one. Co-Active Leaders Beside “take responsibility for their world by creating their partnership around a shared vision and intention and supporting each other’s strength to generate a powerful synergy in which the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts.” It’s about partnering with team members.

Co-Active Leader in the Field
The field referred to here is “the energetic field that surrounds all of life and offering us information all the time.” So Co-Active Leaders in the Field is “about expanding our attention beyond individual people to connect with the energetic field that surrounds life.” It’s about drawing on insights from beyond the rational mind. It about sensing and connectedness.

Seeing leadership as more than top-down command, frees anyone to lead. Seeing leadership in the multi-dimensional way the authors present here, enriches a leaders responses and approaches to any given situation.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:45 AM
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The Excellence Dividend

The Excellence DIvidend

OM PETERS has produced another thought-provoking book. The Excellence Dividend is 100% Peters. He is a fanatical lifelong learner and this book represents a summary of what he has learned over the last few decades. He considers it a sequel to In Search of Excellence. You might not agree with everything he writes, but it will make you think.

We are faced with a tech tsunami that threatens our work. Daniel Huttenlocher, dean of Cornell Tech, said, “The industrial revolution was about augmenting and replacing physical labor, and the digital revolution has been about augmenting and replacing mental labor.” Machine learning and Artificial intelligence will change the way we work.

Peters says that the best defense against this tech tsunami is excellence. Excellence is an offensive strategy. It's proactive. We need to focus “on the human attributes that will, effectively deployed, likely remain beyond the realm of artificial intelligence.” He believes we need to go on the offensive creating excellence in everything we do.

Excellence is not a list of dos and don’ts. It’s really a quality of heart. It’s a “state of mind.” It’s expressed in everything we do—the next thing we do. It’s our next e-mail; our next conversation. “Excellence is a moment-to-moment way of life. Or it is nothing at all. There’s no tomorrow in excellence; there is only right now.” “Excellence is the next five minutes.” Little touches are the most important differentiators. Little is greater than big.

Execution, then is everything. Execution is the leader's job. “Amateurs talk about strategy. Professionals talk about logistics,” said General Omar Bradley. “Get moving now. Get the job done. On this score, nothing has changed in 50 years, including the fact that all too often the strategy is inspiring, but the execution is largely AWOL.”

People first. Hard is soft. Soft is hard. “Your customers will never be happier than your employees.” Training is your most important investment. “Simply put,” says Peters, “helping your employees achieve a worthwhile future turns out to be the most profitable way to run a company. Period.”

When it comes to innovation WTTMSW: Whoever Tries The Most Stuff Wins and it’s corollary, WTTMSASTMSUTFW: Whoever Tries the Most Stuff And Screws The Most Stuff Up The Fastest Wins. It’s a numbers game. “If you know where you’re heading, you’re not innovating. If things work out as planned, you weren’t chasing anything interesting.”

We must become fully immersed to innovate. “To deal effectively and creatively with a given context, we must push ourselves hard, very hard, systematically, one day at a time, one hour at a time, to become fully engaged with novelty. Novel settings. Novel people. Novel everything.”

When it comes to leaders, “the best of the best are extraordinary listeners.” Most of us think we are good listeners, but we aren’t. “Listening is strategy.” It’s not passive. It’s an action word. “Fierce listening. Aggressive listening.

Peters offers a solid explanation of 26 Tactics to spur leadership excellence. Of course it would not be complete without MBWA. Managing By Wandering Around. As John le Carré said, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.” The list includes, you are your calendar, it’s always showtime, the rule of zero (every day is a start-up), acknowledgment, thank you, civility, and apologize.

There is much, much, much more in The Excellence Dividend. As you might expect from a Tom Peters book (or anything by him), there is a lot to digest and much to learn from. He gives specific behaviors that you can put into practice now. But I think Peters would say, “Don’t think too long. Execute on excellence NOW and learn by doing.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:49 PM
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Key Tips for Bridging the Generational Divide in the Workplace

Generational Divide

ILLENNIALS NOW MAKE UP the largest percentage of the workforce. As workers, they’re characterized as brazen, fearless and unwilling to take “no” for an answer. Their assuredness and technological expertise have radically changed office dynamics. Top-down, command-and-control leadership styles are outdated and ineffective with this modern-day workforce.

The clash of perspectives, with the Boomer generation craving the comfort of a hierarchical organization and Millennials demanding inclusion and collaboration, impacts the bottom line. Millennials will abandon any job if the culture their manager has created is unworkable for them. If it means more than six jobs in ten years, so be it. But such turnover is costly. Research shows the average cost of employee turnover is about 20 percent of the employee’s annual salary. Other costs of not adapting leadership styles for your younger employees are harder to quantify, including lost knowledge, relationships, opportunities, and more.

Transforming from an entrenched and unworkable generational disconnect into a dynamic organization able to face 21st century challenges collaboratively requires key actions, including:

1. Reassess attitudes toward junior employees.

Boomers and Millennials have distinct differences in how they act and how they want to be regarded in the workplace. These differences are potentially lethal to your business, particularly when leaders aren’t prepared to make the most of the talent and innovation the young employees bring. Strategies that move managers, supervisors and executives away from being simply directors to become “people developers”—coaches, motivators and listeners—will serve in providing the collaborative culture Millennials crave. And management will realize that all generations in the organization respond better to relational leadership opposed to directives and demands.

2. Realign workplace expectations.

Boomers remain in the mindset that junior employees have to pay their dues and show respect, just as they had to do. But Millennials expect their supervisors to understand the amazing life experiences and skills they bring. They value autonomy, flexibility and opportunity to express their opinion. Leaders are challenged to clearly communicate expectations and standards and allow the young employees to take ownership of their work. This means treating them as owners, not renters. Treating them like renters allows them to do the minimum amount of work and expect others to fix any problems. Owners, on the other hand, have skin in the game and own their part of the overall results.

3. Capitalize on new skills.

Millennials bring a specific set of game-changing technological skills to the workplace, yet Boomers often have no idea what these tools are, what they do or how they’re changing the business landscape. In the multi-generational workplace, a useful approach for capitalizing on Millennials’ skills is to employ “reverse mentoring.” Instead of the usual older-to-younger employee mentoring, the junior employee mentors the senior employee. Reverse mentoring helps close the technological knowledge gap, empowers high-potential employees and drives understanding and empathy between generations.

Companies who can effectively bridge the generation gap through leadership strategies that harness the potential of Millennials will create a competitive advantage. After all, the young employees are yearning for personal value in their work and the opportunity to contribute to something that matters. The alternative is that the manager—and the organization—become irrelevant.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Kelly Riggs and Robby Riggs. Kelly Riggs is an author, speaker and business performance coach for executives and companies throughout the U.S. and Canada. Kelly is a former sales executive and two-time national Salesperson of the Year with well over two decades of executive management and training experience. Robby Riggs is a corporate consultant specializing in strategic transformation initiatives and driving successful change in companies ranging from start-ups to Fortune 100s. Their new book, Counter Mentor Leadership: How to Unlock the Potential of the 4-Generation Workplace, offers practical, actionable advice that improves workplace culture and enables organizations to bridge the generational divide. Learn more at CounterMentors.com

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:30 PM
| Comments (0) | Human Resources , Leadership


The Power of Vulnerability


ANG UP THE CAPE. Effectiveness in leadership is not about having all of the answers but not knowing and accessing the power of those you lead.

In The Power of Vulnerability, Barry Kaplan and Jeffrey Manchester explain that the secret to unleashing the power of leaders, teams, and organizations, is through vulnerability. The more that leaders open their hearts, reveal their fears and show their authentic selves, the deeper the connections among team members will be, and the more the team will achieve.

Part of what makes it work is that when we get behind the façades that we habitually put up, we begin to understand others better—their motivations, values, and beliefs. As we better understand what is going on inside of us, we will better understand what is going on inside of others and take their comments and behaviors less personally. We will begin to understand their points of view more completely. It generates respect and a willingness to share points of view that can strengthen the group as a whole.

You don’t begin this journey to authenticity and vulnerability by giving away the store. There are real and imagined risks. Some environments carry more risk than others. “Imagine that there is a continuum of risk, on one end of the spectrum is where you shut down completely, and at the other end, you are wide open. You stand somewhere along that continuum as you subjectivity determine what’s what. That’s your spot of safety, where your internal risk manager allows you to play.” To take the first step, “you’ll need to get permission from your internal risk manager to take a small step, say to stretch just 10 percent, in showing vulnerability.”
If you don’t believe it’s safe enough for you to share your opinions, you are not going to. Yet because you have clarity about what you want, you can now imagine the relational and team dynamics to ensure that you can express yourself more fully. Because you have clarity about your need to create safety, it’s already safer.
As you also make it safe for others to show their vulnerabilities, it will become safer for you. Creating a safe space for others involves:

1. Getting Present:

Set aside distractions. While you may feel safe in being disconnected, “if you’re going to be more open and vulnerable and show up in your power, then you must first shift from disconnection to the intentional practice of connection.” The authors suggest checking yourself mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Where are you right now through these four energy centers?

2. Understanding and Committing to Guidelines and a Protocol for How We Are Going to Connect:

For example, everyone commits to respect confidentiality, being present in the moment, staying when times get tough, speaking the truth, asking for what you want, owning your judgments and feelings, actively listening, and asking permission before offering feedback or advice.

3. Using the “Clearing and Resolution Model:”

Clear the elephants in the room so that “everyone can be aligned with themselves and the people they work with.” There is a process of clearing that asks five questions; What are the facts? What are your perspectives? What are you feeling? What was your role in attracting the issue to you? What do you want specifically?

4. Completing Exercises to Take Steps Toward Authenticity:

Break the ice with an exercise like everyone sharing a bit of themselves to get you to move out of your head to opening up emotionally to become more present. Create shared experiences. “The weekly or monthly meetings don’t count because the primary focus in those sessions is on the business of the company. Additional investment on a quarterly, semi-annual, and, at a minimum, annual offsite is required to help continue the momentum of trust and connection that has been established.”

5. Anchoring and Integrating the Process:

Create a rhythm by creating rituals that serve to maintain the connection you’ve established. The heart of authenticity is connection. It has to be a conscious choice practiced over and over.
When our souls transparently connect with other souls, something magical happens. You begin to be seen and known and accepted for who you are and what your viewpoint offers. Your diversity is embraced, as is everyone else’s. This creates a deeper sense of understanding and respect for everyone around us.

The best way to get stuff done, to be the boss, to be a real leader, is to encourage others to step into their best version of personal leadership. That means you as a boss, need to accept that you may not always be right, that you may not always know the answer, that you may not even know who does know. You’ll also need to accept that it is okay and even sensible (though risky) to move into the unknown, that it is okay to believe that the best outcome is when you can be both the boss and a leader without having to always lead. Embrace the reality that sometimes the highest form of leadership is when you lead from behind be creating the environment for others to claim their power and step in before you.

Begin the journey by practicing vulnerability in the hope that others on your team will really see you and seek a version of the journey for themselves. And hang up the cape.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:50 AM
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Moving Your Agenda

Moving Your Agenda


OVING YOUR AGENDA is not always easy. Yet, as a leader, you are remembered because you were able to move an agenda.

Samuel Bacharach writes in The Agenda Mover, that leadership is “about your capacity to take your ideas and work them through the maze of resistance, overcome challenges, and put those ideas in place. Leaders are remembered for their accomplishments, not their promises.”

To that end, Bacharach has provided a practical guide to do just that. He presents a four-step process that anyone can learn to master with practice.

To move an agenda, you need to learn to harness what others have to offer if for no other reason than you have blind spots. You need to build a coalition and develop the managerial skills required to maintain forward movement. It requires a campaign of pragmatic leadership. “Agenda movers are aware that their self-interest, emotions, cognitive capacity, and background can trip them up if they are not careful and that being smart is not a guarantor of success.”

Agenda Movers

The four major stages in any campaign are first, you must anticipate the agendas of others. Second, you must mobilize your campaign. Third, you need to negotiate buy-in. And fourth, you must sustain momentum. In this post we will focus on the first stage—Anticipate the Agenda of Others—because this is the stage that most of us miss or move too quickly over and set ourselves up for frustration or failure.

Anticipate the Agenda of Others

This means knowing where others are coming from. Putting yourself in their shoes. Empathy. Our own egos are the enemy here.

You need to know who you are dealing with—the stakeholders. Bacharach lists four: Top Dogs (organizational decision-makers), Gatekeepers (the liaisons), Gurus (senior individuals, external consultants, the board of directors), and the Players (people directly impacted by your agenda). The players are your essential ally. Never underestimate them.

All of these stakeholders have their own agendas and ways they go about accomplishing them. There are the Tinkerers versus the Overhaulers and the Planners versus Improvisers that make up the Four Agenda Archetypes. There is the Let’s-Be-Careful Traditionalist, the Cross-That-Bridge-When-We-Come-to-It Adjuster, the Push-the-Envelope Developer, and the Tear-the-Envelope Revolutionary. If you know where you are coming from and where others are coming from you can begin to see what might motivate someone to join your change effort. This framework can help you do that.

Agenda Archetypes

Distinguishing traditionalists from developers, developers from adjusters, and adjusters from revolutionaries allows you to identify where others are coming from quickly and efficiently. In making these distinctions, be careful not to assume that these agendas are immutable or that people are uniformly consistent from one situation to another.

Of course, we are a factor in the process. We have our own motivations and our preferred ways of dealing with change. It is critical that we know where we are coming from too. We may need to adjust the approach we are comfortable with in order to move our agenda.

The chart below helps you to see how your motivation relates to the motivation of others. “Allies are those who share your agenda, and it is easy for them to see where you’re coming from.” Traditionalists can anticipate that a Revolutionary will resist their approach and agenda. But here is a key insight:

Agenda movers are leaders who understand that leading isn’t about meeting jubilantly with allies or reasoning earnestly with resistors. Successful leaders understand that the real challenge is in the gray area—converting potential allies into allies and making sure the potential resistors are not transformed into full-fledged resistors. Potential allies and potential resistors disagree with either your approach or your goals. Skillful negotiation may persuade these individuals to reconsider aspects of your agenda that differ from theirs. If you are not careful, potentials can easily switch to resistors.

Stakeholders Agenda

Mobilize Your Campaign

Timing and tone make a difference. “To mobilize others you must: focus your message; justify your agenda; establish your credibility; and gauge your support.” You do not want to oversell here. Choose your words carefully to justify why your agenda should be supported. Make sure your idea is well thought through and you demonstrate the ability to see it through.

Negotiate Support

“Getting the buy-in is about shifting your focus from sharing your passion for your idea to really thinking about where the other party is coming from.” It is a process of reducing their anxiety. How will it benefit them? If they come on board, it is reasonable to assume that it can be done, will they get any of the credit, and are they protected if it fails. They want to know what changes for them. Your approach to the situation will make a big difference. You can approach it with a controlling, hardline mindset if this is a one-time thing. On the other hand, you can try a more cooperative mindset that seeks to pull-them-in. This mindset may allow you to build supporters for any future agenda you may have.

Sustain Your Campaign

This is where the rubber meets the road. After you’ve won people over, you have to get it done. “You may have sold your idea and created a coalition, but you can only sustain momentum and get results if your team can keep up its energy and focus in spite of challenges, obstacles, and setbacks.” To create traction, you need to celebrate small victories, make sure they own the idea and manage with agility. You have to be smart about how you present yourself and deal with others. You can micromanage your team, but you are better acting as a facilitator coach.

To go the distance, your team must act with a collective purpose. You can sustain the campaign mindset by reminding them why they are part of your effort, reinforcing the payoff, keeping an optimistic outlook, and maintaining your credibility. It is crucial to remind people not only about the importance of the mission but also about how important they are to the mission.

Anyone successful at moving an agenda knows that it is not a solo effort. “Failed leaders are those who assume that they are the most important player.

The Agenda Mover is a book that leaders at all levels would benefit from reading. It is common to see people trying to push their agenda without first defining what they are up against and without any understanding of the impact they themselves are having on others. Without that knowledge, we often resort to destructive behaviors to get our agenda moving. In that regard, this book is critical for anyone with an idea they want to have taken seriously.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:45 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Problem Solving


The Leadership Triangle


RE LEADERS BORN or are they made? The underlying assumption here, of course, is that an individual is either a leader or not, whether by genetics or education. Period.

The elite of higher education would have us believe that leadership can be taught, especially if you are one of the privileged attending classes at a top tier university offering courses in leadership. But there are others who believe leaders come out of the womb with a mission to lead. Either way, we assume that leadership is dependent on personality traits and/or skills. That once a leader, always a leader.

But is this the case? Is the population to be divided simply into leaders who always lead and followers who always follow? Leadership is surely more complicated than that. Perhaps the question is not are leaders born or made, but rather, can leadership flourish in anyone when the circumstances for it are right? Does context matter?

We tend to remember leaders who seemingly made the impossible possible, but it was always in a particular context. Leaders like Martin Luther King defined by the civil rights movement, Margaret Thatcher defined by the Cold War, and Bill Gates defined by the burgeoning personal computer industry come to mind. For the most part, history doesn’t record how these leaders dealt with contexts outside their defining accomplishments. We examine their leadership and develop theories about their strategies, their skills, and their personality traits. But to understand a broader view of leadership, we must look beyond these historic figures and observe the anonymous trailblazers in our midst. A different picture of leadership emerges.

Hurricane Harvey in Texas demonstrated that “ordinary citizens” can step up to leadership when the situation is ripe for it. CNN captured a video of a local boat owner saying this: “We got eight people that done called for us already. So we’re going to go and get them eight, come on back, and try to save some more.” Crisis leadership in action.

The story of Todd Beamer, a sales rep for Oracle, still produces chills in anyone who hears it. He is the young man who called 911 during the hijacking of United Flight 93 on 9/11 and declared, “Let’s roll” as he and presumably a few others commandeered the airplane to prevent the hijackers from achieving their goal. They were willing to die for it.

Ordinary citizen leadership, however, need not be all about saving lives. Often it is about changing the status quo. Take Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, who took it upon herself to help women attain leadership roles in business, wrote a book about how to do it, Lean In, and started a foundation to promote it, Leanin.org. This was not part of her job.

I’ve had the opportunity in my life to interact and work with some of the most impactful leaders in their fields. Among them are Steve Jobs who returned to the company he co-founded after being ousted in 1985 having learned how to deal with adversity and turned it around with a vengeance. Audrey Rust gathered steam from a passionate group of homeowners in Woodside, California, who wanted to protect the natural beauty in the expanse beyond their backyards and preserved 53,000 acres in Santa Clara, San Mateo, and Santa Cruz counties under her leadership of the Peninsula Open Space Trust. And Walter Isaacson, having established himself as a talented journalist and media professional in the business world, took the reins of the Aspen Institute during a period of severe decline and redefined it as a purveyor of rich and varied content for the intellectually inclined. Certainly all of these people led others to fulfill a very particular mission and in so doing, created something out of nothing, something that made a difference in the world. But their leadership occurred in a particular context where their competence was significant, their confidence secure and their commitment established.

The truth is, leadership is all around us, and it arises within a certain context in which the leader’s ability (competence) aligns with faith of accomplishment (confidence) and forms a mission (commitment). I call this the Leadership Triangle.

So rather than ask if leaders are born or made, perhaps we should change the paradigm of leadership examination. Perhaps we have given short shrift in leadership study to the myriad people who find their competence, confidence, and commitment aligning with a particular context and jump in with both feet because there is simply no other choice but to lead.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Andy Cunningham. Andy is the founder and president of Cunningham Collective, a marketing, brand and communication strategy firm dedicated to bringing innovation to market. She is also the author of Get to Aha!: Discover Your Positioning DNA and Dominate Your Competition, and the host of the popular podcast Marketing Over Ice.

An entrepreneur at the forefront of marketing, branding, positioning and communicating “The Next Big Thing,” Andy has played a key role in the launch of a number of new technology categories and products (including the Apple Macintosh) over the past 35 years. Today she advises startups, serves on several corporate boards, is a Henry Crown Fellow and a trustee at the Aspen Institute. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and lives in Sausalito on an old wooden boat with her husband, Rand Siegfried. For more information, please visit get2aha.com and follow Andy on Twitter

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:34 AM
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5 Leadership Literacies You Will Need in the Future

Leadership Literacies

UTURIST Bob Johansen tells us in The New Leadership Literacies, that over the next ten years the world will become explosively more connected. Anything that can be distributed will. To help prepare leaders for the future, he offers a list of five new leadership literacies. He encourages us to expand on them, to draw our own insights and create actions to improve our leadership in the decade ahead.

Looking Backward from the Future

The present is too noisy to give us much in the way of insight. While most forecasters try to find a trend in the present noise, Johansen says we need to look ten years into the future and then looking backward from the future. “Looking long is using foresight to provoke insight and action.”

Looking back from the future provides more clarity than the other way around. “The best way to lead in a disruptive world is to be very clear where you’re going, tell a great story about it, and then be very flexible about how you bring that future to life.”

Although Johansen claims that anyone can do this, there isn’t much to explain just how that is done. The suggestion is to see through the noise now to a future that others cannot see to get clarity and dilemma flipping which is to turn unsolvable problems into opportunities.

Nevertheless, he does offer some good general advice. The future rewards clarity, but punishes certainty. Having clarity and being certain are two different things. Clarity is simple. Certainty is simplistic. “Clarity is usually expressed in stories, while certainty is usually expressed in rules. Rigid rules can get leaders into a lot of trouble in the VUCA world, while stories encourage people to engage.”

We can get stuck in the present and the issues of the day. “Sometimes, focusing on the future can help people move beyond the polarities of the present.” Looking back from the future gets us out of the present day noise.

Voluntary Fear Engagement

Gaming allows the user to engage in risky or unknown situations in a low-risk, even fun way. A good game has a good story and allows you to be in the story—interact within the story.

The most successful games are multi-player games. Gaming communities learn from each other and together.

Johansen believes that “gaming will become the most powerful learning medium in history.” The military, for example, uses simulations to train soldiers. Business needs to learn how to do the same. “Gaming, simulation, role-playing, improvisational theater, immersive travel, and similar experiences can help leaders create safe zones to practice their own leadership.”

Gaming allows for immersive learning. “The whole point of gameful engagement is to immerse yourself in a realistic but mock fearful environment and learn how to thrive, or at least push through it.” Gaming combined with gaming communities will allow users to learn in low-risk immersive experiences that allow them to prepare and practice.

Shape-Shifting Organizations

Shape-shifting organizations are those that have no center, grow from the edges, cannot be controlled, and where hierarchies come and go. “The best organizations will be characterized by partnerships of mutual benefit.” Not surprisingly, Johansen believes we are moving toward a future of distributed authority. That is to say, leadership is distributed and varied. Hierarchies are formed where they are needed and disbanded when the job is done. “Shape-shifting organizations grow from the edges, and it is at the edges where diversity and innovation thrive.”

Leadership Literacies

Being There Even When You Are Not

In shape-shifting organizations, leaders will need to have their presence felt no matter where they are. They will need to find more and varied points of contact. “Mixed-reality experiences will be able to be shared across distances. The best leaders will have vivid shared work and life experiences with the people they lead.” Additionally, “leaders will have to shift from thinking about physical proximity to attentional proximity.

Johansen believes that “the centerpiece of virtual presence will be vivid audio” over video.

Creating and Sustaining Positive Energy

“If leaders are going to thrive in a future of extreme disruption, they must not only manage their own energy, they must encourage, model, and reward positive energy in others.” Good health and fitness play a big part in that scenario. “Extreme fitness—physical, mental and even spiritual (though not necessarily religious)—will be required for most leadership roles.”

What Leaders Need to Do

Leaders must make a disrupted world more hopeful. Being dealers in hope if key. “Globally, a large number of people will be lacking in hope and unable to achieve a sense of meaning in their lives—and they will be very connected through digital media.” That hole needs to be filled with a positive hope and shared meaning. “A world of continuous disruption will be too much for many people to process—and many people will be susceptible to simplistic and dangerous calls to action.”

Fear is created by a lack of exposure. Leaders will need to be exposed to more globally and be willing to learn from a wide variety of sources. Johansen cautions: “It’s one thing to believe you’re right and have clarity about a future direction. It’s quite another to believe everybody else is wrong. Clarity can degrade into certainty.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:51 AM
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The Potential Principle: How Good Could You Be?

Potential Principle


OU KNOW HOW GOOD you are, but do you know how good you could be?

This is a case where it’s easy to think that good is good enough and get comfortable. Most of us live below our potential. As a result, we miss out on opportunities and therefore live below our true potential and hinder our ability to contribute to others.

The Potential Principle by Mark Sanborn is about how we can become better – even better than our best selves. It’s not about perfect. It’s about better.

So you might ask, “Better at what?” Sanborn presents a program to get you on the road to better. First, you need to figure out just what you want to improve.

What Do You Want to Improve?

Your journey toward better can be organized into four areas: Performing, Learning, Reflecting, and Thinking.

Improvement happens by not only things you initiate like interactive, collaborative activities but also by responding to what you hear, observe, learn as represented by the vertical line. Improvement also takes place in both our inner (things going on inside us) and our outer (things going with others) worlds as represented by the horizontal line. It’s about the inner world of being versus the outer world of performing.

Potential Matrix


The top right quadrant is the most familiar to us. “It’s where most of us consciously spend each day doing things: the observable world of initiating, acting, and producing.” It’s what people expect of us when we show up – results. It takes deliberate practice. Performance improvement is not a straight line. There are plateaus. Also, keep in mind the FIT model: Frequency, Intensity, and Technique. How often you practice, the intensity you bring to it and the techniques you use, make all the difference.


Learning involves the acquisition of new ideas that we put into practice. If we approach life humbly, we will be enriched by what we do not know. Intentional curiosity keeps us growing. “Develop a learning agenda.” Identify what you must or need to learn and then make the time and find the resources to do it.


Reflecting is the inner world of responding. This is an underappreciated value in our instant, tech driven world. It’s about waiting and listening. “Epiphanies—that is, clarity and deeper understanding about yourself and how to improve your life—happen through introspection.” It’s easy to think that we have no time for this and focus on the outer world of doing, but, says Sanborn, “the inner world informs the outer world, and that for the majority of us, going within to understand motivations, hopes fears, and dreams offers some of the greatest leverage to improving every area of our lives.”


Think about thinking. “Thinking is about proactively contemplating the world around you. It’s the source of vision, dreams, plans, and strategies. It uses external input and creates connections and directions.” Make the time to think about what you need to learn and unlearn. Focus your thinking and write it down. “Some of the biggest payoffs from thinking will occur when you review notes of previous thinking sessions and add to or modify what you came up with.

Sanborn explains each of these areas in more detail to help you develop the right mindset. Improvement in these four areas are key to improving consistently.

To be sure, each of us is more comfortable on one or two of these areas. If you are not spending enough time in an area, that will signal an area where you could improve. “Each area complements the others. If you are headed toward better, you’ll want to use each of the four areas identified. Doing so will help you reach your destination sooner and, perhaps more important, enrich the trip.”

Four Tools for Breakthrough Improvement

These four tools will help you “prevent complacency, create improvement, and bust through barriers” on your improvement journey.

  1. Disrupt Yourself (before someone else does)
    “Unwillingness to confront assumptions, challenge your thinking, and try new things is a roadblock to improvement.” It’s proactive rather than reactive. Ask disruptive questions like: “What is the most important lesson I’ve learned this past year? What am I doing out of habit that doesn’t serve me well?
  2. (re)Focus
    “Distraction impedes getting better.”
  3. Engage Others
    “Self-responsibility is the primary step toward a successful life. But engaging others and building mutually beneficial relationships will leverage everything you do.” Solicit advice, ideas, and counsel.
  4. Expand Your Capacity
    There’s room for more. Time x Effort = Capacity. “What one or two skills, if fully developed and consistently deployed, would make the biggest difference in your personal and professional improvement?”

The ideas you will find in The Potential Principle are not all new, but they are organized in such a way as to make them actionable. Sanborn has done a great job of laying the foundation and providing a blueprint for continuous improvement. All you need to do now is to put it into practice.

It seems like common sense: Become the best, and then hit cruise control. Right? Nope. When you reach the top, it’s time to hit the accelerator because you’re just getting started.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:28 PM
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4 Things Solitude Will Do for You



E LIVE in an age of noise. Getting some time for yourself is a challenge. But if we are going to lead effectively, we need white space. We need solitude.

I know none of us have any extra time, but there is overwhelming evidence that taking a time-out to simply think is foundational to your success.

Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin explore some solid reasons why you must make the time to think in Lead Yourself First.

When we say solitude we mean a “subjective state of mind, in which the mind, isolated from input from other minds, works through a problem on its own.” There is no particular structure to it—place, time, or length—but it must focus the mind. It’s scheduled white space—a commitment you make to yourself simply because your leadership begins with who you are—not what you do.

So let’s look at four things solitude will do for you.


Clarity is about what is true. What is signal and what is noise? Solitude facilitates that distillation process. It helps you to eliminate or deliberately deemphasize all distractions. That alone will help you to make the time to think. Clarity and focus go hand-in-hand. That kind of focused attention is often best done alone.

Intuition complements analytical thought. When we get stuck, “intuition can provide clarity when analytical thinking cannot.” The challenge is accessing it. Accessing intuition requires “a deeper form of solitude: an absence of inputs not only from other minds, but also from one’s own.”

Clarity is important for decision-making but it is also critical for understanding who you are—strengths and weaknesses. It helps to connect you with your core values and understand your place from that perspective.


Solitude opens the path to creativity. Solitude isn’t always the shortest distance to the goal. Joey Reiman, CEO of the consulting firm BrightHouse, credits their success to their “longer, incubation pace.” On one project he says, “If we had moved at a faster, business pace, we never would have excavated that original brand identity and then generalized it into a new ethos.”

Dena Braeger, mother of six in El Paso, offered this insight into information overload:

People make such an effort to copy what other people do, because we have so much access to information. I’m surrounded by people on Pinterest. I’ll be dammed if I make something on Pinterest. You’ll see things like these cupcakes that look amazing. And people copy them. But on the inside their phony, because the person didn’t create it themselves. We’re getting more of everything, but less of what is authentically ourselves. If we spent more time alone, creating something that might not look as amazing but is more authentic, we’d value ourselves more.

Creativity is doing something differently than the norm. Solitude allows us to get away from the inertia of our environment and connect to new possibilities.

Emotional Balance

Emotional balance requires you to respond rather than react. General James Mattis finds a lack of reflection the single biggest problem facing leaders. “The leader who neglects to step out of the sweep of events, to contemplate from whence they come and where they might go. Finds himself merely blown from one thing to another. But the leader who steps outside events is a leader who can change them.”

Solitude allows you to reflect on what is making you emotional and provide clarity on the issue. Often what you are emotional about is more of a distraction than an issue. Again Dena Braeger, the West Point graduate and mother of six in El Paso, said, “When I’m practicing solitude regularly, I self-correct so much better. I’m more focused on what’s important, and I let things go that aren’t important.”

Instead of allowing our emotions to adversely affect our leadership, it is wise to move away and deal with them in private. Our emotions will find an outlet somewhere. And that is best alone than in decisions made through unfiltered emotions that affect those around us.

Moral Courage

We’ve all seen them: leaders who take themselves too seriously—who believe their own press release. And it’s all too easy for any of us to fall prey to self-admiration. “Honest reflation can deflate these pretentions.” Reflection can pave the way to humility.

Solitude allows you to slow down and be clear and firmly convicted of your values and beliefs. “Leaders who are well anchored in what they believe are going to be more effective,” says Doug Conant, the former CEO and president of the Campbell Soup Company. When those criticisms come along that are design to enforce conformity, it is easier to weather the storm when you know that what you are doing is the right thing to do for the right reasons. It is the power to rise above.

Reclaiming Solitude

Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly, says that “The biggest mistake I’ve made in my career to date is believing that solitude is a luxury. I could chart the ups and downs of my quality of life personally and professionally and the amount of time I spend in solitude.” As important as it is, it is easy to let it slip away without even realizing it. We are continuously bombarded by pressures—both personal and social—not to stop and reflect but if we lose our solitude, we will lose who we are.

You don’t have to go off to a mountaintop or sit at the seashore. It can be a closed room, the library, a park bench, and even a waiting room.

We have a responsibility to seek out periods of solitude. We owe it to ourselves and those we lead.

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Of Related Interest:

  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 4
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 3
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 2
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 1
  Does Your Leadership Have “White Space?”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:05 PM
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The Mathematical Corporation

Mathematical Corporation

OU WILL SOON be able to give over almost half of your cognitive work to the machine. This is not to say that you will lose control, but rather, it points to the fact that the human role will become even more critical.

A mathematical corporation is one that takes advantage of machine intelligence by collaborating with it to achieve leading-edge results. It will require a shift in your thinking. “As a leader,” say Josh Sullivan and Angela Zutavern in The Mathematical Corporation, “you need to evolve your focus to excelling through imagination, creativity, reasoning, and problem structuring.”

Leading in the era of the mathematical corporation means learning to work with the machine to investigate mountains of data not by braking them down, but by keeping them together to mine insights never before imaginable. It means being able to distinguish what machines are good at doing from what people are good at doing. When people and machines are appropriately paired we can explore heretofore impossible strategies and execute incredible solutions.

Machines will not replace people but we will need to develop and capitalize on some uniquely human skills. “People will continue to be better than machines at many of the loftiest cognitive tasks, like asking questions to clarify a problem, composing experiments to test hypotheses, and drawing on truths in one discipline to elicit insights in another.”

Because of the machine’s ability to synthesize vast amounts of data, it would be wise to question your own judgments when machines offer a different conclusion from your own. Machines, for example, can recognize patterns better than we can. That said, “computers don’t know the cause of a pattern. They don’t have the human appetite to get to the bottom of the matter, and they don’t ask, ‘Just how does cause A lead to effect B?’ They learn, infer, and have high recall accuracy, but they don’t know the story of cause and effect. So, the task of taking a cause-and-effect understanding of a business system and crafting a strategy from it remains a people job.”

Getting the Questions Right

While Big Data adds complexity, it is only a problem if you don’t know how to mine it for value. The key skill for leaders is to be able to ask better questions than to offer solutions. Asking the right questions is critical. Poor questions lead to questionable insights. “That’s why as a leader, you need to remain at the tip of the process, seeing the world in a much broader and more differentiated way than others.”

Not only asking the right questions but removing our own biases from them, will bring us breakthrough insights and more nuanced answers. Another issue we will have to work through is not projecting our limitations and constraints on the machine. Although we have a mental model that we filter the world though, we must be careful not to constrain the machine—our questions—in the same way.

What About Intuition?

In the mathematical corporation, the role intuition will shift from judging reality to judging models. “No matter your feeling on intuition, its role is destined to shift to a smaller, if still critical position. As machine intelligence converts implicit understanding to exploit facts, replaces implicit assumptions with data-givens, counters biases with hard evidence, we have to admit the superiority of the cold facts encoded in 1s and 0s.” Often it will require a leap of faith on our part.

We will need to learn to ask bigger questions and questions that will lead us to better questions. The best machine collaborators will see this as a learning journey. “Conventional strategic planning practice calls for a relentless search for answers during a detailed analysis of context and a relentless analysis of the opportunity to find the right answer in one go. But when the answer is over the horizon, no amount of analysis of the landscape up front will reveal it. You need to go on a learning journey—sailing to the far shores to find the best answer.”

It requires a commitment to a cycle of questioning and learning, questioning and learning.

As digital technologies continue to develop and improve, leaders will need to become wise and discerning leaders of machines. Leaders will not only be expected to use this technology to their advantage to solve their own organizational issue but to help answers the questions that exist beyond their own walls.

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The Bridge to Growth

Bridge To Growth

HAT’S MORE IMPORTANT, strategy or execution? I believe both are critical. But what if something else is just as important? There is a third ingredient to business success, one that many companies undervalue: servant leadership.

In today’s business climate, the cadence between strategy and execution is compressing, making the integration of the two more important than ever. Too many workers are being left out of this equation. More and more people are disconnected from their company’s goals, even though they still report being satisfied with their jobs. A Global Workforce Survey conducted by Towers Watson revealed that a mere 21 percent of workers feel engaged and truly committed to their company’s success and goals, even though 86 percent report liking their jobs. Is this reflective of a failure of leadership, a shift in the attitudes of today’s workers, or both?

Apparently, many people are settling for a job that satisfies their basic needs, yet denies them a motivating answer to two important questions: “How does my personal work connect to my company’s goals, and how can I help us achieve them?” In these cases, leaders have unfortunately failed to fully engage workers in either the development or execution of their company’s mission, goals, and ultimately its journey toward success or failure. Too often, workers are being over-managed and under-led. I believe this “commitment gap” represents the largest source of untapped potential to create economic value in our society today.

How can leaders tap into this gap and raise the performance bar? This question matters more now than it ever has. As our world becomes more socially connected, more women progress into leadership roles, and millennials seek more meaning and purpose in their work than previous generations did, the principles of servant leadership are becoming more relevant than ever before.

Based on my experience leading high performing teams over the last 36 years, I developed a blueprint of nine proven leadership principles I've used to improve the performance of several businesses by moving workforces from satisfactorily disengaged to enthusiastically committed to winning:

1. Grow leaders and difference-makers, not just followers.

2. Build and orchestrate synergistic, high performance teams more powerful than the sum of their parts.

3. Focus your organization on strategic priorities and simplify operations to accelerate progress.

4. Champion the people who purchase and use your products and services.

5. Cultivate a performance-based culture of innovation that unleashes the innate desire in the people you lead to solve, create, and contribute to winning.

6. Communicate relentlessly to give your workforce the context they need to sign up for and truly commit to achieving company goals.

7. See the world through the eyes of others, and your example will breed a healthier organization.

8. Be the model you want emulated. Operate transparently, deliver on your promises, and remain steadfastly focused on doing the right things.

9. Coach people to achieve more than they thought possible. They need a model of success more than they need a critic. Inspire your entire organization to step up by revealing what success looks like, catching people doing something well, and showing your gratitude publicly.

If you connect with these principles, I encourage you to check out my new book The Bridge to Growth. It's packed with useful tips and tools, and each leadership principle is articulated using real-world success models that bring the principles to life.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Jude Rake. He is a veteran CEO with a 35+ year track record of building businesses to create economic value, from well known consumer packaged goods companies such as The Clorox Company, PepsiCo, and SC Johnson, to smaller family owned and private equity backed businesses. He founded JDR Growth Partners to help other leaders achieve growth.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:03 AM
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What Sets Apart the Greatest Teams of All-Time?

Captain Class

AM WALKER revisits the popular idea of leadership. In The Captain Class, Walker describes what makes an elite captain by analyzing the leadership of sixteen of the most dominate teams in history. What he found is that each team had the same type of captain—a singular leader with an unconventional skill set that drove the team to achieve sustained, historic greatness.

Ironically, it wasn’t the Roy Keane’s or the Michael Jordan’s that made it happen. “The best leaders in sports history were not mesmerizing characters. They didn’t always make for great television. That’s what we’ve come to expect, however. So that’s what we continue to get.” And so teams choose the wrong people to lead them. They promote people with the wrong characteristics. It’s typically not the player with the highest market value. What it takes to lead is not always what it seems.

What Walker discovered are the Seven Traits of Elite Captains. They explain why captains of exceptional teams are so influential. And it explains why we often look for the wrong kinds of leaders to lead us.

1. Extreme Doggedness and Focus in Competition

Elite Captains just keep coming. They overcome a group dynamic known as social loafing. It’s what happens when a single person’s contribution to a team is not noticeable or unidentifiable. We put less effort in. An Elite Captain improves everyone else’s performance by leaving nothing in reserve themselves. Their willingness to give everything—all of the time—encourages the rest of the team to raise their effort level to match.

2. Aggressive Play That Tests the Limits of the Rules

Elite Captains play the edges. Walker identifies a “hostile” variety of aggression to do harm and an “instrumental” variety that is used in pursuit of a worthwhile goal. “While the captains of Tier One often did ugly things, they did so while operating within the fuzzy confines of the rules of sports. (Although you can try to parse aggressive behavior and justify some but not all, it does matter how you win. Contrary to the examples of a couple of Walker’s Captains, winning at any cost is not a sustainable value.)

3. A Willingness to Do Thankless Jobs in the Shadows

An Elite Captain serves. This finding is worth giving a little extra thought to. It is the person willing to carry the water that makes the best captain. “In fact, superior leadership is just as likely (if not more so) to come from the team’s rear quarters than to emanate from its frontline superstar.”

Walker relates the story of the San Antonio Spur’s Tim Duncan. Duncan suppressed his own skills (and salary) in order to promote the goals and values of the team. “By lowering himself, he was able to coax the maximum performance out of the players around him.”

Walker notes: “One of the great paradoxes of management is that the people who pursue leadership positions most ardently are often the wrong people for the job. They’re motivated by the prestige the role conveys rather than a desire to promote the goals and values of the organization.”

4. A Low-Key, Practical, and Democratic Communication Style

Effective teams talk to one another and the person that fosters that culture is the captain. “They engaged with their teams constantly—listening, observing, and inserting themselves into every meaningful moment. They didn’t think of communication as a form of theater. They saw it as an unbroken flow of interactions, a never-ending parade of boxing ears, delivering hugs, and wiping noses.”

5. Motivates Others with Passionate Nonverbal Displays

Jack Lambert of the Pittsburgh Steelers, went out of his way on the field “to project extreme passion and emotion.” This is distinct from verbal communication. Great captains project their feelings to have a strong impact on the thoughts, feelings and emotions of their teammates. Communication based on displays rather than words.

6. Strong Convictions and The Courage to Stand Apart

All of the Tier One captains stood up to management in some way in their careers. It served to bring the teammates closer together and cement their leadership. Some dissent is a good thing and captains should stand up for the team even at the risk of displeasing superiors. But they focus on task conflict and not personal conflict. “Tranquility isn’t more important than the truth—at least the kind that’s told by a captain who is known to be fiercely committed, who labors in the service of the team, and who avoids attacking people on a personal level.”

7. Ironclad Emotional Control

Elite Captains have a kill switch; they are able to mute their personal emotional tendencies. Emotion and enable and it can disable. The Elite Captains walled off “destructive emotions in order to serve the interests of the team. They developed a kill switch for negative emotions.”

What Does This Say About Leadership?

Walker says we overcomplicate things. “We’ve been so busy scanning the horizon for transformational knights in shining armor that we’ve ignored the likelier truth: there are hundreds upon thousands of potentially transformative leaders right in our midst. We just lack the ability to recognize them.”

We are often swayed by the force of a person’s personality or talent, but real leadership is not readily found on a resume. It’s found in the day-in and day-out activities that reveal who they are.
The truth is that leadership is a ceaseless burden. It’s not something people should do for the self-reflected glory, or even because they have oodles of charisma or surpassing talent. It’s something they should do because they have the humility and fortitude to set aside the credit, and their own gratification and well-being, for the team—not just in pressure-packed moments but in every minute of every day.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:00 AM
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Humility Casts a Wide Net

Humility Casts a Wide Net

HUMILITY casts a wide net and makes possible the work of leadership. Nothing facilitates community, collaboration, and innovation like humility.

In Humility is the New Smart, Ed Hess and Katherine Ludwig define humility as “a mindset about oneself that is open-minded, self-accurate, and not all about me, and that enables one to embrace the world as it is in the pursuit of human excellence.”

Their definition encompasses the mind of a leader that will be able to lead in a changing and uncertain world. Humility is inclusive. It is inclusive of others ideas, others needs, others strengths, other contributions, and the realities that exist outside of our own head. A humble leader asks more questions and is open to more answers thus deepening the pool of resources they have to draw upon. But it requires a strength of character. As senior vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic, Pat Williams writes in Humility: The Secret Ingredient of Success:

  • Humble leaders are strong enough to listen to other points of view.

  • Humble leaders are strong enough to admit their mistakes and learn from them.

  • Humble leaders are strong enough to celebrate their achievements of others.

  • Humble leaders are strong enough to surround themselves with talented people without feeling threatened or diminished.


  • Humble people treat others as equals.

  • Humble people don’t claim to know everything.

  • Humble people are better team players.

  • Humble people are willing to set aside their egos.

Humility is the antidote to insecurity that often plagues us. A lack of humility actually drives insecurity. Humility makes your strengths productive and multiplies the strengths of others. Humility acknowledges a world beyond our own thinking and minimizes our own limitations. A good leader knows this and acts accordingly to produce the best results.

Do you have the strength to be humble?

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Footwashing for Leaders Sam Rayburn on Humility

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Robert Gates on the Essentials of Leading Change

Robert Gates

IN A TIME when change is not just inevitable, but must be encouraged and led, Robert Gates’ A Passion for Leadership is a must read.

Gates has led and continues to lead in a wide variety of organizations and organizational cultures. His collected wisdom serves to inspire us to lead others where they don’t often want to go and improve people’s lives. In addition to serving on numerous corporate boards, he has served as a United States secretary of defense, a director of the CIA, served eight presidents, served as president of Texas A&M University, and is currently the chancellor of the College of William and Mary and president of the Boy Scouts of America.

The one feature of the institutions with strong cultures he has led has been a strong sense of family. He describes it as a “commitment to taking care of one another at all times but especially in adversity or times of need.” All great cultures do have this sense of family.

At the same time, it is easy then to become insular and tolerate long-standing but inappropriate practices and behaviors because they are a tradition. It is important to define what traditions must be defended and those that must be changed to enable future success. “A good leader,” writes Gates, “must keep coming up with new perspectives, new ideas, new improvements. Only a committed leader can keep an organization—a bureaucracy—on its toes, continuously adapting, innovating, improving.”

Gates recognizes that we need leaders at all levels in an organization that are able to mobilize the willing and bring about productive change. More often than not those leaders are there, they just need to be liberated by the person at the top in an organizational culture of leadership. Not surprisingly, he identifies listening as the most critical thing a new leader can do. “Never miss a good chance to shut up.”

CIA director Bill Casey gave him some good advice early on. “Bill advised me not to focus on what I disagreed with but to see if there were one or two kernels of information or wisdom worth seizing on—finding a little wheat amid all the chaff. Just because 95 percent of what someone says is nuts, he would say, laughing, doesn’t mean you should ignore the 5 percent that might be useful. (He was always handing me pamphlets or books to read, warning, ‘This guy is crazy, but there’s an interesting idea on page x.’)”
To be an effective leader, one must demonstrate from the start an understanding of and respect for the role and views of the career employees in an organization and be clear that the new boss intends to make them participants and partners in reforming the place. This is the best possible preparation of the bureaucratic battlefield.
And that doesn’t mean just rearranging the organizational chart. “The main target is how people do their work, not where.”

Gates offers from experience, strategies, techniques, and principles for implementing change. He includes many examples from the organizations he has served.

Leading change is hard work and can’t be done from on-high. Gates cautions that while micro-knowledge is necessary, micromanagement is not. “For a leader to get the big things right depends a great deal on knowing the little things, especially when implementing difficult and controversial change. Without micro-knowledge, you are the prisoner of your bureaucracy and your staff, and they will play you like a cheap fiddle.”

Fundamentally, leadership is always about people. I’ll leave you with a few thoughts from Gates on leading:

☙ You can be the toughest, most demanding leader on the planet and still treat people with respect and dignity.

☙ A self-confident leader doesn’t cast such a large shadow that no one else can grow.

☙ Leaders who think they don’t need frank, critical advice every day are usually doomed.

☙ To change bureaucracies effectively, a leader must first make his people proud and eager to excel.

☙ Formal education can make someone a good manager, but it cannot make a leader, because leadership is more about the heart than the head.

☙ Core to leadership is the ability to relate to people—to empathize, understand, inspire, and motivate.

☙ If you fundamentally don’t like or respect most people, or if you think you are superior to others, chances are you won’t be much of a leader.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:56 PM
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The One Ingredient You Must Demonstrate in Your Leadership

Perry Noble suggests that there is one ingredient that would make a lot of leadership issues go away. In The Most Excellent Way to Lead, he turns to the advice of the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.

Paul had a lot to say about leadership and rightly so. Leadership comes to us naturally but without some guidance it’s not just easy to get it wrong, it's highly probable. In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church, he is discussing – in chapter 12 – how people should work together and points out that we all have roles but that none is more important or better than another. Just different.

And then at the end of chapter 12 he lists some of the roles needed in the church, but then he says in chapter 13 that no matter who you think you are or how gifted you think you are, if you can’t do it in love—outgoing concern for others—then you are nothing. Your leadership doesn't matter. You aren’t doing it right.

It sounds like Paul is just saying play nicer, but he’s talking about serving others in some of the most difficult ways possible.
“The most excellent way to lead is also the most difficult. It goes against our natural tendencies and the culture we live in, and it highlights the fact that leadership is ultimately about the leader.”
Paul is taking about being patient with others when your patience has run out.

Being kind when they don’t deserve it.

Being supportive of other people’s success and helpful when they stumble.

Looking out for the best interests of other’s before yourself.

Never keeping a tally of other people’s failures and wrong behaviors.

Always seeking the truth even when gossip is more believable.

Choosing to trust others when it would be easier to be suspicious of them.

Being optimistic even when circumstances compel you to do otherwise.

And never giving up on people even when you are discouraged.

Noble does a good job explaining each of these and more both on a personal level and organizationally. “The way we look at other people is important,” writes Noble, “and when we see them through the lens of love, our capacity to lead significantly increases.” Without love, as Simon Sinek has pointed out, “people are forced to spend too much time and energy protecting themselves from each other.”

Mark Sanborn adds, “when we allow love to define who we are as we work, we become irresistible leaders with a contagious passion for what we do.”

This is how we get things done through others. This is how we develop others and allow them to flourish under our leadership. It’s how we build more leaders to carry on after we are gone.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:02 AM
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The Superboss Playbook


IMAGINE A WORLD a world where the person who you call your boss changed your life by helping you accomplish more than you ever thought possible.

In every industry there is a leader that stands out. A Superboss.

What is their secret?

In Superbosses, Sydney Finkelstein discovered that although they may differ in leadership styles, they share a playbook that leads to extraordinary success founded on making other people successful.
Superbosses can be fierce or gentle, belligerent or self-depreciating, but whatever their style, they do a much better job inspiring and teaching because they get in their trenches with protégés, leading by example and giving them personalized attention they require to move up quickly.
Here then is the outline of The Superboss Playbook – Techniques, Mind-Sets, Philosophies, and Secrets of the World’s Best Bosses:

Superbosses recruit people who “get it.”
They look for people who are drivers of change. They are unusually smart (Ralph Lauren looked for people with a kind of fashion sense), creative (people who see things differently), extremely flexible (people who can do more than one thing). “One critical way superbosses do that is by adapting the job description to fit the person, rather than make the person fit the job.”

Superbosses motivate exceptional people to do the impossible.
They inject possibility into their workforce. They give them the confidence to believe that they can make things happen. Superboss Michael Milken said, “We are all capable of performing at a far higher level than we have. Faced with a challenge, we can do it. Maybe we’re not challenging ourselves enough.” Finkelstein adds, “Superbosses credibly push others into their discomfort zones because they model high performance themselves.”

Superbosses are uncompromisingly open.
While superbosses protect the “why,” they invite people to rethink everything else about the work they do. Most bosses are not really open to new ideas. “Rather than weaving innovation into the fabric of daily work, they contain and limit it by setting up special task forces, committees, and project teams devoted to adaptation and change. They ‘carve out’ time for innovation rather than living and breathing it every minute. It is particularly difficult to find bosses who are uncompromising in what they do and open to almost constant change.”

Superbosses embrace the apprenticeship model.
They “use this informal manner of instruction not only to convey knowledge but also to exert a powerful, almost parental influence on their protégés.” Operating a masters, they forge sustained, all-encompassing, intense, and intimate” relationships with the people that work for them.

Superbosses are traders in opportunities.
They trust their people and delegate. In the process they compress learning and growth. “Superboss organizations are widely regarded in their industries as launching pads—places where employees can, in word of their protégés, ‘find themselves’ and become ‘capable of doing what we were ultimately meant to do.” They give people the chance to succeed.

Superbosses fashion teams that function as a “band of brothers.”
They “inculcate a cultish sense of difference in their protégés.” Protégés are treated as leaders. “For superbosses, extreme collaboration and meaningful competition aren’t opposites; they go hand in hand.” Finkelstein explains: “One reason healthy, balanced competition is so valuable for organizations is that it generates a ‘cohort effect’ when it comes to talent; the more you help people become better, the more they help one another get better.”

Superbosses create a strategic alumni network.
“Superbosses make an effort to stay in touch with their disciples, even years after they have left.” When an employee walks out the door, the superboss does not consider the relationship over. It’s in their best interests to do so. It increases their own prestige and influence. Successful protégés in their alumni network attract more talent to the superboss.

We need new approaches to nurturing people and the Superboss Playbook presented by Finklestein, is completely learnable by any leader who is fearless, competitive, imaginative, credible, and authentic.

Superbosses is a fascinating look at the leaders that flourish and often change their industries by developing a future generation of leaders.

If you are not working for one, this book will help you to become one.

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The Three Types of Superbosses

Glorious Bastards: These superbosses care about one thing: winning. They’re the ultimate hard drivers, yet they realize that to get the very best results, they need to develop the world’s best people and teams. So they do.
Examples: Larry Ellison, Michael Milken, Bonnie Fuller, Julian Robertson, Jay Chiat

Nurturers: These coaches and teachers resemble traditional mentors the most. They take pride in bringing others along and care deeply about the success of their protégés. They help people accomplish more than they ever thought possible.
Examples: Mary Kay Ash, Bill Walsh, Michael Miles, Norman Brinker, Tommy Frist

Iconoclasts: These executives usually operate in creative fields, where their single-minded passion for their work inspires their protégés.
Examples: Ralph Lauren, Alice Waters, George Lucas, Jon Stewart, Lorne Michaels, Robert Noyce

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Leadership Value is Defined by the Receiver

WE ALL RESONATE with the clarion call for leaders to build on their strengths, be authentic, and demonstrate emotional intelligence. We can envision these noble, resonant, and genuine leaders as icons of effective leadership. But these virtuous leadership attributes are not the essence of leadership effectiveness.

Building on one’s strengths is incomplete unless one’s strengths strengthen someone else. Authenticity without a positive impact on someone else is more narcissism than leadership. Effective leaders turn their emotional intelligence into helping others find their purpose and meaning.

An underlying principle of effective leadership is that value is defined by the receiver more than the giver. This value-added principle applies in almost every relationship. When I give my wife a gift, she defines the value of the gift. When I was newly wed, I got her tickets to sporting events and she often suggested I enjoy myself. I have learned that the real gift is figuring out what will be meaningful to her, not me. Likewise, effective leaders recognize and serve the stakeholders who are impacted by their strengths, authenticity, and emotional style. They then work to deliver value to these stakeholders in ways that matter to the stakeholders.

When leaders focus on the value they create for others, they think less about who they are and how who they are, will make others better. They realize that the value of their values is in that others will achieve what matters to them. Ultimately, leaders are measured by what they leave behind and how their present actions shape future success.

Leaders should be asking themselves, “Who are the stakeholders I care about? Who do I want to make better because of what I do? Who will benefit from my choices today? How will my actions be seen by and affect others?” When pondering and responding to these questions, leaders matter because they create sustained leadership in others.

Value creating leaders talk more about “we” than “I”; they build on what is right more than what is wrong; they help others feel better about themselves when leaving an interaction with them; the work to institutionalize their ideas so that they are sustained; and they relish success in those they mentor.

It is time to look beyond a leader’s personal strengths, authenticity, and emotional well being to define how leaders’ build value for others.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Dave Ulrich. He is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan and a partner at The RBL Group, a consulting firm focused on helping organizations and leaders deliver value. He studies how organizations build capabilities of leadership, speed, learning, accountability, and talent through leveraging human resources. He has helped generate award winning data bases that assess alignment between strategies, organization capabilities, HR practices, HR competencies, and customer and investor results. He has published more than 200 articles and book chapters and 23 books, such as Leadership Code, Leadership Brand, Results Based Leadership and most recently The Leadership Capital Index: Realizing the Market Value of Leadership.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:07 PM
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7 Coaching Skills that You Need as a Leader

7 Coaching Skills

Whether you like it or not – if you are a leader, you are a coach.
—Joseph Grenny
Coaching exerts enormous leverage.

People struggle at work and at home. No one leaves their problems at the door when they come to work. And it affects their performance. Coaching is critical. Developing people is or should be a top priority of leaders.

Coaching doesn’t mean fixing people. It is developing a relationship that allows you to help people break through from one level of performance to another. It is unlocking potential.

Leadership BS
Michael Simpson writes in Unlocking Potential that coaching is built on four principles:

Building Trust: “Simply being in a position of authority does not make you a trusted coach. Your concern for the person you are coaching must be based on genuine and good intent. Your integrity must be inviolable. Your determination to keep confidences must be unshakable.” These are issues of your character.

Tapping Potential: “When a coach helps a person challenge their paradigms, they can more readily take responsibility for their life or situation. When they learn to align their paradigms to reality, many of the barriers to realizing their potential begin to fall.” “Potential suppressed by years of self-defensiveness, self-betrayal, or self-denial.”

Creating Commitment: You can’t make people commit, “But you can create the conditions where people commit to goals they themselves want to achieve.” This is done primarily by asking powerful coaching questions.

Executing Goals: “All successful coaching conversations need to link directly to actually meeting key performance indicators, measures, and objectives.”

Coaching is a skill with its own set of competencies. Simpson gives seven:
  1. Build Trust: Character and competence are foundational to building trust. As you demonstrate character and competence you can begin to expect it of others and build a culture of trustworthiness.
  2. Challenge Paradigms: “An individual that believes they can’t improve is not coachable—until that paradigm changes, you’ll go nowhere….Your task is to challenge them firmly and gently.”
  3. Seek Strategic Clarity: “With the coach’s help, the individual should choose personal goals and be completely clear about them with measureable endpoints. Without strategic clarity, coaching becomes aimless and endless.”
  4. Execute Flawlessly: “Execution may be the toughest challenge of all—the coach can help individuals to actually set, prioritize, and achieve their goals and help to hold them accountable.”
  5. Give Effective Feedback: “Give feedback that helps create awareness, focus on actions, and achieve the results that people want with whom you’re coaching.”
  6. Tap into Talent: “Most people underestimate their own talents. As a coach you need to know how to help people tap into the unique and vast reserve of the talents they already have.”
  7. Move the Middle: “The biggest opportunity for performance improvement in any organization is to help ‘move the middle,’ among those performers who are good, but not yet great.”

Simpson provides you with the essential questions and approach behind each of these skills. One of the benefits of coaching is that it also helps you to develop you. It holds you to a higher standard.

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Leader as Coach Coaching Effect

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:33 PM
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Are You Trading Influence for Attention?

Are You Trading Influence for Attention

PEGGY NOONAN brought up some great thoughts in her editorial, A Rash Leader in a Grave Time that would be good for us to consider in any time.

She was referring to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump, but too frequently we see the tendency of leaders in all walks of life, to use their “mouth as a blunt instrument” whenever they feel they are in the right, have a just cause, want to get attention, or simply want to put their foot down. Their comments may not be as flamboyant as Donald Trump’s, but they are just as dismissive. Some people find that to be an admirable quality in a leader, until of course, they don’t. When the leader steps on their toes, then the undisciplined rhetoric comes across as contemptuous.

Noonan says that the problem arises when a leader “doesn’t think it through, doesn’t anticipate legitimate pushback, doesn’t try to persuade, only declares.” It is disrespectful and shows a lack of self- and situational-awareness on the part of the leader.

A good leader has a self-awareness of the kind that helps them to understand their impact on others. A good leader seeks to influence and connect with everyone they touch and not just those ardent supporters in their camp. The goal isn’t to just whip up the troops but to gain converts. A leader’s rhetoric may point out differences but with the goal of ultimately bringing reconciliation. Noonan states, “one thing an effective leader must always do is know what can be misunderstood and guard against it, what can be misconstrued and used to paint you—and your followers—as bigoted. Leaders try hard not to let that happen. It is the due diligence of politics.” It’s the due diligence of leaders everywhere.

She uses the word politesse in this regard. In a time when grabbing attention is more important than civility, politesse it not a practical value. Taking the time to be civil or polite and to polish our words is a luxury we can’t afford or we may miss adding our voice to what’s trending. The pressure to respond doesn’t often leave us the time to be thoughtful, measured, and disciplined on our approach. We have to fight the forces that would intimidate us.

That doesn’t mean we can’t be remarkable in our speech. Noonan encourages, “It is possible for candidates to be vivid but careful, dramatic but responsible.

Politesse is a word that implies sacrifice which is at the core of good leadership. Sometimes we have to sacrifice our raw emotions for disciplined thought; our efficient bluntness for long-term understanding.

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Speaking With Presence Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great

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5 Leadership Lessons: Players First

5 Leadership Lessons
Players First is a biographical leadership guide from the University of Kentucky head basketball coach John Calipari. Although geared towards coaching and college basketball, the lessons and approaches are easily applicable to any other leadership situation.

His Players First philosophy is summed up this way: “I coach for the names on the backs of the jerseys—not just the front. My players. They are sent to me by their fathers, their mothers, their grandmothers, their aunts—whoever in this world raised them and loves them. Others look at their NBA bodies and consider them lucky. Future millionaires, just stopping through before they cash in. That’s not what I see. They’re kids, some of them as young as seventeen years old. They all need me in a different way.
Players First
Some want my affection, others my approval. It’s a burden to be responsible for other people’s children, sometimes a heavy burden.”

From this mindset comes this key point that any leader could ask. “If I’m struggling with a player, it’s where I ask myself: How would I want my own son treated?

These ideas are worth considering in your own leadership situation:

1 There’s not a coach time and a not-coach time. I’m always their coach. If I just walk away, or I look too busy or preoccupied, they don’t know, as a seventeen-year-old or eighteen-year-old, what that means. They wonder, Why did he do that? I don’t want them to think for a moment that I don’t care about them. I don’t want them to have a second’s worth of doubt.

2 The art of coaching at this level is about convincing great athletes to change. First we have to get them to accept what they’re not good at. My assistant coaches and I use the word “surrender.” Surrender to our instruction. Surrender to physical conditioning. If you’re delusional and see yourself one way while the rest of the world see something else, let it go. Believe what we’re telling you. Some player will say, “You just don’t understand my game.” But we do. Believe me, we get it. We’re just not liking it.

You have to be strong willed. You can’t have a mental picture of yourself that’s not accurate.

3 The best players I’ve coached have a demeanor about them that never moves. They have a calmness. You can’t read the score on their faces. They’ll get emotional, they’ll play with fire, but their demeanor will never be one of rage or anger. Physiology-wise, rage and anger are related to fear. Hook a guy up to wires and look at his brain, and that’s what you’ll find. [W]hen you play with a sense of rage, you don’t respond well to being challenged. [When the game is turning against you], you have no calm inner core to bring you back.

4 Part of coaching is acting. It’s true of any kind of leadership, whether you’re a CEO, an army general, or a father. Part of the job is that you don’t reveal your apprehensions. I don’t ever go into games thinking we’re going to lose, but of course I get anxious.

Along the same lines is this note sent to a player:

Alex, work hard to improve your body language. Body language is a facial expression, slouching, dropping your head, how you sand, how you sit, how you speak. Begin today. God created you as a winner and he has big plans for you. Work with him. Be the best. When you feel like you want to drop your head, lift it up. When you feel like slouching your body, stand up straight. When you want to frown or have a sour face, smile. When you feel like complaining, encourage someone else. When someone corrects you, thank God because they care.

5 We can’t have kids whose main thing is that they want respect. I respected you enough to give you a place in a heck of a basketball program and put you with other kids I think you’re going to love. You need to be able to give respect. I look for how kids act in front of the people raising them. If they disrespect their mothers or fathers or grandmothers, that’s it. I’m no longer interested.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:58 PM
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The Gift that Keeps on Giving

LEADERSHIP is stewardship. It requires a long term perspective.

It is difficult because it is fundamentally a process of reconciliation; a process of bringing a community of people together towards a common purpose. It is service.

Stewardship requires that the organizational leaders put leadership in the hands of every member of the organization. It gives them ownership of the future. As leaders, it is where we can contribute the most good for society as a whole. It’s good stewardship.

In Bob Chapman and Raj Sisodia’s remarkable book, Everybody Matters, they explain the idea this way:
So many American businesses destroy lives every day, but we make a lot of money, and then we feel really good when we write a check to the United Way for $1 million. But I belive we are creating the need for the United Way in the first place by destroying the lives of people who create the wealth that enable us to give. I believe the greatest charity is what we could do at work every day to take care of the people entrusted to us.

The greatest gift, the greatest charity we can give back to society is to be truly human leaders who treat the people under our leadership with profound respect and care and not as objects for our success and wealth. In other words, we need to see ourselves as stewards of the lives we have been given an opportunity to lead and influence.
As a leader, ask everyone you influence, “How can I serve you?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:52 PM
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Leadership BS

Leadership BS
Leadership BS by Jeffrey Pfeffer, is a very important book. It actually builds on the ideas and thinking presented in his classic book written with Bob Sutton, The Knowing Doing Gap over a decade ago.

Pfeffer wants to know why, in spite of the thousands of leadership books, blogs and seminars are there so many leadership failures? Pfeffer believes that the answer is to be found in the systemic processes that produce leaders who often behave differently from what most people might like or expect.

He’s right.

As a society we produce and reward leaders that think short-term and this is at odds with what it takes to get the leaders we think we want.

As we look around there are disconnects between:

• what leaders say and do,
• what the leadership industry says leaders should be doing and what they actually do,
• reality and the simplistic fixes we try to apply to it,
• what the leadership industry thinks it is achieving and what is actually happening or rather not happening,
• what we say we want and what we actually reward.

It’s not surprising that students of leadership often become disillusioned upon entering the workplace. Life rarely adheres to the good leader formula of success they have come to know.

Leadership BS is a compendium of human nature. It describes well the hypocrisy in all of us. We don’t always meet our own standards. We don’t always reward what we say we value. The real world doesn’t behave as it should. These are life issues as much as they are leadership issues. Consider the following comments from Leadership BS:
Once people believe they are better leaders—possibly because they have given talks or written about positive leadership, have attended lots of leadership trainings, or because they were once acknowledged for their good leadership—they are less likely to be as vigilant about their subsequent behavior, having already demonstrated their leadership credentials.

Although modesty may be valued in the leadership literature, self-promotion and assertiveness seem to produce better career results in the real world.

We seem to have a preference for immodest, grandiose, and narcissistic leaders. Narcissism and self-aggrandizement and the behaviors associated with these constructs reliably and consistently predict the selection of leaders, the evaluations made after interviews, and the selection of emergent leadership.
And finally, this would seem to be a fairly typical experience. Pfeffer was asking a woman who was being outmaneuvered by a peer how she responded to the whole thing:
She said that she responded by using her learning and ideas from a leadership course on personal dynamics, colloquially referred to as “touchy-feely,” to attempt to repair the relationship with her peer. “Why?” Pfeffer asks. “Because I have been taught to build relationships of authenticity and trust at work.” But it didn’t work because the peer was not interested in “repairing a relationship” or behaving with trust and authenticity; he was interested in taking over her team for his own advantage. Pfeffer comments: People not only have problems in their current positions, but they also lose out on attractive job opportunities by believing in the prescriptions so frequently proffered for how leaders should behave.
The leadership values aren’t the problem. It really becomes a “why” problem for each individual. Why do I believe what I believe? What kind of person do I want to be and why? How important is it to me to be this kind of person and why?

The fact is, you are going out into a world that doesn’t work the way it “should.” People are not always trustworthy, authentic, honest, supportive, generous, or any number of other highly regarded values. If you want to adhere to them you need to understand that the playing field isn't level. Not all organizations encourage virtuous behaviors.

Frequently, people do what works for them in the moment to get what they think they want now. It’s short-term thinking, but for many it seems to work. Leadership BS reads a bit like the book of Ecclesiastes. Solomon illuminated some of the same issues almost 3000 years ago. He noted that, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, people’s hearts are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (I wonder if Pfeffer peruses Ecclesiastes in the quiet moments.) Organizations that tolerate less than virtuous behavior will get less than virtuous behavior.

Machiavellian values would not still be circulating almost 500 years after they were first published, if they did not “work” in the real world. They do and quite spectacularly at times. So I have to ask myself, “What is most important to me?” knowing that I may not get some of the things I want out of life if I stick to my values. It is a commitment issue. Values are personal and they stand up to whatever is happening around you. If they don’t they’re not values they’re strategies. Strategies change when conditions change. Some people will argue that “I’ll temporarily trade my values in on a bigger prize and then I’ll go back to them after I get what I want”—the corner office for instance. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. Either way there’s always a price.

It’s a question of character. It is the same problem faced by schoolchildren every day: Do I compromise my values to get along, to be accepted, or to be promoted to the head of the line?

Narcissistic people often get the spotlight as Pfeffer noted. This can be confusing if a person doesn’t have the support structure to navigate human nature. We need to get better at building character from day one. Leadership begins in the home.

Pfeffer chides the leadership industry for focusing too much on inspiration and not enough on the reality of the world in which we live. And he is right. Inspiration is important as people need a vision, but there needs to be accountability along the way.
The leadership industry is so obsessively focused on the normative—what leaders should be doing and how things ought to be—that it has largely ignored asking the fundamental question of what actually is true and going on and why. Unless and until leaders are measured for what they really do and for actual workplace conditions, and until these leaders are held accountable for improving both their own behavior and, as a consequence, workplace outcomes, nothing will change.
He’s talking about creating accountability for what we say we value. Character is a long-term, life-long issue. Do you always stick to your beliefs even when you might lose in the moment for doing so? Fred Kiel demonstrates there is a long-term payoff for doing the right thing in his book Return on Character. The problem we all face in the short-term is that not everyone is playing by the same rules.

This isn’t a problem that is ever going to go away. We are all human and will continue to be human. We do need to work on ourselves but it is also an organizational problem. As Pfeffer and Sutton write in The Knowing-Doing Gap: “Some organizations are consistently able to turn knowledge into action, and do so even as they grow and absorb new people and even other organizations.” The difference between organizations that do and organizations that don’t comes “more from their management systems and practices than from differences in the quality of their people.”

The leadership industry certainly could do more. Knowing without doing leads nowhere.
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Of Related Interest:
  Return on Character
  Leadership Begins at Home

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:49 PM
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5 Leadership Lessons: Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season

5 Leadership Lessons

URBAN MEYER is an elite college football coach and currently the head football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes. In Above the Line Lessons in Leadership and Life from a Championship Season he presents the lessons he has learned over his career.

Meyer says, “A leader is someone who earns trust, sets a clear standard, and then equips and inspires people to meet that standard.”

1  Ironically, some coaches are so preoccupied with pushing for results that they fail to build a culture that sustains the behavior that produces results. But winning behavior will not thrive in a culture that does not support it.

2  If your habits don’t reflect your dreams and goals, you can either change your habits or change your dreams and goals.

3  Do whatever you can to reinforce someone’s confidence by helping him to achieve small victories. So much of leadership comes down to knowing the people you are leading and providing them with what they need to succeed. It is also about making them confident to take risks and make changes.

4  When things aren’t going right, the most important thing you can do is slow down, go deep, and figure out why. It is very easy in the world we live in to get so caught up in the tyranny of the urgent that we don’t make time to think. There are many distractions that pull leaders away from investing the time necessary to reflect on the issues and challenges facing their organizations.

5  Leadership is more about trust you have earned than the authority you have been granted. You must earn the right for people to follow you. It is about equipping people with the tools necessary to get and stay Above the Line. It’s about maximizing their talent and their lives. You are stretching people, helping then change and grow. You are taking people to places they never thought they would reach. You are helping them live better lives. Remember, you can’t lead people to a place that you are not going to as well. If it isn’t happening in you, it won’t happen through you.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:37 PM
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5 Leadership Lessons from Herb Greenburg

5 Leadership Lessons
Herb Greenberg, who lost his sight at age 10, developed a test to help companies assess potential employees’ abilities. He leveraged that into the global management-consulting firm, Caliper, in 1961. From What You Aren't Seeing: The Inspiring Story of Herb Greenberg we have the following lessons:

1  Leading starts with being clear about what you are willing to accept and what you need to fight for.

2  When you pull those around you into a cause that is noble and just, their collective spirit can transcend what they are capable of individually. That is when true leadership inspires. By tapping into our aspirations. We are all seeking meaning—and to be meaningful. We want to be part of something that is larger than ourselves. When a leader creates a clear sense of purpose, we respond because it helps to clarify our identity—why we are here, what we, ultimately, stand for. And when we stand for something together, feeling a strong sense of belonging, we get a glimpse into new possibilities—for ourselves and for others.

3  What are the personality attributes needed to succeed as a manager? You need to be bright enough to be able to think on your feet. You also need to be assertive enough to be able to push an agenda forward. Of course, you need to be persuasive, so you can bring others around and create consensus. In Addition, you need to be resilient enough to rebound from difficult situations that might arise. You also need to be self-motivated, as well as have what we call external structure, or the ability to organize thoughts, work and, people. And last, but not least, you need to have a high sense of urgency, or a need to get things done—now, rather than later.

4  Leadership is not something you can designate or anoint. Leadership is about the willingness of individuals to step up, take responsibility, become accountable, accept risk, and move forward. When you see someone who has those qualities and the drive to continuously improve, then, with recognition, mentoring, training, and experience, they might evolve from managing to leading. But there is no simple formula.

5  Leading is about being able to inspire others and succeeding through them, as you help them succeed.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:41 PM
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Fairness is Overrated

Fairness is Overrated
Fairness is Overrated is a solid leadership primer on what it takes to create a healthy culture day-in and day-out. Tim Stevens comes from a Church leadership perspective. However, his 52 principles are applicable anywhere because people are people with the same issues—only the peer pressure changes (unfortunately).

The 52 principles are organized around four key areas: Be a leader worth following, Find the right people, Build a healthy culture and Lead confidently through a crisis.

Stevens begins with “live a life with margins” and ends with the “five stages of failure.” Living a life with margin structured in not only helps all of the other leadership principles discussed here but it helps you move through the five stages of failure faster. So it’s a foundational principle.

A leader worth following has integrity. It’s about character. Knowing yourself and disconnecting is an important way to maintain integrity. You need to build space for what’s important.

Finding the right people—finding and developing leaders—is the most important thing his did as an executive pastor. “Here is what I believe to my core: the success of leaders will rise or fall based on the decisions they make about the people around them.”

When hiring people Stevens recommends not going solo. Get others involved. Chemistry is more important than skills, experience, or education. Use social media to “get to know” the people you are considering. Look for how they treat people they disagree with. Hiring too quickly leads to problems. Pay well. “You don’t want staff to join because of money. You don’t want staff to stay because of money. You don’t want staff to leave because of money.”

If you have a healthy culture, people are waiting in line to join your organization. A healthy culture is led by a leader who is not insecure about others succeeding. Gossip is not tolerated. Employees do life together; it’s not just a job.

In a healthy culture a leader turns over authority to others. Let your leaders lead. “No organization, church, government, or company can have a healthy culture and be run by a dictator, monarch, or single personality.” You need a strong team running the organization.

What Stevens is talking about here is humility. A toxic culture cannot be changed without it.

Leading confidently through a crisis means trusting the people you have in place to figure it out. A confident leader is not one that says, “I can figure it out” but one that says, “We can figure it out.” Having a great team in place is critical here. If you have found the right people and developed a healthy culture, then it becomes easier to lead confidently in a crisis.

These 52 principles are easier to implement if you have people who will speak truth to you. Again, humility is key here.

There is a lot to be considered in this book. It is well-written (a bit of a page turner) and you will want to go back again and again to see how you measure up.

And by the way, fairness is overrated. “Don’t confuse fairness with justice. Justice is about doing what is right. Fairness means everyone gets exactly the same thing.” It's about priorities.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:03 AM
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Could Embracing Ignorance Improve Your Leadership?

Ignorant Maestro
Orchestral conductor Itay Talgam writes in The Ignorant Maestro, that “the greatest leaders not only embrace ignorance but are convinced it is an essential choice on their part, allowing their people to reach upper floors that haven’t even been built yet.”

In short, your willingness to let go of knowing—the conscious decision to be ignorant, to not know the answers, not even try to predict them—and embrace the unknown will be the crucial tipping point in making you the best leader you can be.

The ignorance that Talgam speaks of is not about having a lake of knowledge, but being open to exploring other knowledge. It is humility. It is built on our knowledge but it is the willingness to go beyond what we know—to explore the unknown—so that the future is a matter of choice rather than the result of inertial thinking.

Ignorance combined with two other qualities, the willingness to explore the gaps and listening, can create the space for others to fully express themselves.

Gaps arise from incompatibilities; when something doesn’t make sense; the difference between what we say and do. They invite exploration and creative work. “Gaps with the most potential are often the most intimidating ones, so they are probably covered with layers of tradition, routine, and ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it here’ attitude.”

“When we avoid gaps,” say Talgam, “we give up the possibility of choosing an interpretation for them, of putting them into context, of giving them a story. Our openness to new meanings is what allows the freedom to choose a different future. This invites the constructive participation of all stakeholders and that requires a high degree of listening.

Great leaders listen from the perspective of ignorance. Instead of focusing on transmitting knowledge, focus on creating dialogue. Create the space for dialogue and learning by listening. “As a leader your choice for ignorance makes you focus on the learning processes of your people, supporting them in their autonomous discoveries.” Listening focuses on holding the space open for that exchange rather than on the outcome.

“Gaps are the renewable fuel of new thinking, enabling change. Gaps exploration, around your organization’s leading values and ideas, is a great sustainable energy source.” You explore gaps by “choosing to be ignorant, and by listening from the unique perspective of ignorance.”

Talgam looks at the leadership styles of six great conductors in terms of how each of them did or do embrace ignorance, explored gaps and listened. In terms of leaders creating a connection with those they lead, the example of Leonard Bernstein is instructive. For Bernstein it was not a nicety but a necessity.
For a precious half hour or so he was not rehearsing at all but moving around among people, greeting each and every player by name, his arm around a shoulder, hugging some and kissing others. Engaged in a hundred conversations, he was catching up with domestic news, remembering names of children and events he had been told about maybe a year earlier. These were not just niceties but the manifestation of relations based on empathy and mutual trust. These precious thirty minute were the basis for making music together.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:23 AM
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Creating a Dare-to-Serve Culture

Command and control is a leadership style that is in many ways our default leadership position. It’s very human. Leadership that serves is far more demanding of a leader. These demands easily drive us back into our old styles of leadership. It’s the daily grind that derails our best intentions.

Cheryl Bachelder became the CEO of the ailing Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen in 2007. By 2014 she had turned it around by deciding to lead through service. Dare to Serve is her account of the turnaround. It is valuable because is describes the thinking behind the servant leader approach and the daily decisions that were made been and are necessary to successfully adopt servant leadership in an organization. This is not servant leadership theory. It is servant leadership in day to day behavior.

She began with two decisions: to think positively about the people you lead and to be a leader who serves others over self-interest. These are based on six behaviors that are essential to serving people well and delivering superior performance: passion, listening, planning, coaching, accountability, and humility. These behaviors define how we will work together.

Bachelder lists five benefits to becoming a Dare-to-Serve Leader:
  1. People will tell you the stuff you need to know because they have taken the time to get to know their people well.
  2. People will be more likely to follow your bold vision because they know you have their best interests at heart.
  3. People will actually do the stuff you need to get done without a lot of reminding because they are not “leader dependent.”
  4. People will perform better because they have a safe environment focused on personal growth, promotion opportunities, and the “fun” of winning together.
  5. People will watch out for you and protect you from yourself because they, like you, are doing what’s right for the team.
What do you believe enough to act on? These are core beliefs that are so important to you that you will act promptly to rectify the situation when they are violated. Dare-to-Serve Leaders act on three core beliefs: human dignity, personal responsibility, and humility.

We tend to be careless with human dignity says Bachelder. We don’t listen, we are impatient, we publicly criticize, and joke in ways that hurt. Push your daily situations through a filter of what you would like someone to do for you.

“Lack of personal responsibility in a leader is just another form of self-absorption.” You must look at yourself an understand your own imperfections. “You will have no capacity to serve others unless you can take responsibility for your own self.”

Humility is the “behavior” that makes it all work. “We agreed that we are not naturally humble either. That means there are plenty of days we are hell to work for, too. Therefore, humility must be a principle that we have conviction about—or we will never demonstrate humility to our teams. This principle will forever be an aspiration, not an accomplishment. As hard as we try, we will repeatedly fall short.”

Bachelder has included 40 reflections for Dare-to-Serve Leaders to help you think about the leader you are.

How do you gain meaningful feedback from those you serve?

How well do you know the people who work for you? Do you know the three or four events of their lives that have shaped who they are today?

What is your daring aspiration for your team that is beyond what they know how to accomplish?

How would your daily behaviors be different if you put them through a filter of serving others well?

In short, “If you move yourself out of the spotlight and dare to serve others, you will deliver superior performance results.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:30 PM
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Cleaning the Toilet Can Make You a Better Leader

Clean Toilet
Leadership doesn’t make you better than anyone else, it make you more responsible.

As a leader you are more than an individual contributor. Leaders think about the context—the big picture—not just their function. Focused on the outcome, they do whatever needs to be done to move the organization forward. They do whatever they can to facilitate the work of others.

Leaders are connected to what others are doing. And we can accomplish this be asking, “How can I help you?” And then doing what needs to be done.

Michael Janda Founder of the creative agency RiSER, put it this way in Burn Your Portfolio:
I believe you are a better person if you’ve ever had a job that required you to clean a public restroom. This humbling task teaches so many lessons, among which is the willingness to do whatever the job requires. I have seen over and over again in my career that the people who are willing to go the extra mile and do whatever task is required of them by their boss or client are among the most valued in the company.

Ultimately, cleaning public toilets early in life is not the only way to learn gratitude and humble service to others. Many people are fortunate to learn these lessons in their homes. Others are born with service built deep inside of them. Regardless of how you learn to serve, learn it and learn it well.
Doing what needs to be done—including cleaning toilets—is taking ownership for the outcome. Going the extra mile—doing what needs to be done—helps to create a true culture of leadership in your organization—by example.

We don’t serve because we are leaders, we have the privilege to lead because we serve.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:34 PM
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Booknotes: Leadership Vertigo, Kidding Ourselves

Booknotes ☙ In Leadership Vertigo, authors S. Max Brown and Tanveer Naseer explain that there is a gap between what we know we should be doing and what we are actually doing. They call it “leadership vertigo” and they attribute it to false signals in our daily perceptions that inform us that we’re moving in a certain direction when in reality we’re not.

How do we avoid leadership vertigo? If we live the following four principles it will help us to keep our focus where it should be and avoid leadership vertigo: “We need to create a feeling of community, of being a part of something bigger than a collection of individuals. We need to consistently respond with an inquisitive mind, actively listening to our employees to learn from their experiences so that we can encourage them to share their creativity and insights. This is especially true when you are dealing with mistakes and failures. We also need to make sure that our employees see the authenticity behind our words and actions so that they will trust the compassion we exhibit in light of the challenges or obstacles they face.”

☙ Joseph Hallinan deals with the same issues in Kidding Ourselves. He writes, “We engage in self-deception so seamlessly, across so many aspects of our lives, that it seems, to be an inherent human quality—a built-in shock absorber that allows us to adjust to life’s stresses and strains not by altering ourselves, but by altering our perceptions.” He notes that this is not all bad. It allows us to adapt and persevere when the odds are against us. We like to believe that we are in control. It may be an illusion but the results it produces are real—to us.

☙ At the same time, “Once we have an opinion about how something should be, that expectation often colors our perception of how that thing actually is.” (Sounds like leadership vertigo.) The tail begins to wag the dog and our perceptions conform to our expectations. “When we look, we look with a purpose—we don’t look at something; we look for something…We tend to see what we expect to see and to experience what we expect to experience.

☙ Hallinan expertly draws our attention to a number of ways we deceive ourselves quite unconsciously. “There is very little we are not capable of seeing or believing.” While a little self-deception can lead to optimism, perseverance and success, being mindful of our proclivity for it can save us. “Striving to see the world accurately is immensely better than seeing is inaccurately.”

Leadership Vertigo Kidding Ourselves
Buy at AMZN Buy at AMZN

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Eight Critical Questions for Leading with Intention

Leading With Intention
Your leadership effectiveness is a direct result of the level of intention with which you operate.

In Leading With Intention, author Mindy Hall says leading with intention means “consciously deciding to lead by design rather than by default; being mindful of who it is you want to be and then living into that picture twenty-four hours a day. It is about seeing opportunities every day, in every interaction, to shape the tone, the experience, and the outcome of those interactions.”

Everything you do sends a message. It begins with self-awareness. “The rest is practice, consistency, and continuous effort.” Here are eight critical questions from Leading With Intention that the intentional leader needs to ask:
  1. What kind of environment do you create in your interactions with others? Does it inspire people to be their best? You are 100% responsible for the tone you set.
  2. Are you clear about your intentions? The simple act of being clear in your own mind about your intentions helps you come across as more grounded, prepared, and transparent.
  3. Do you have preconceived notions or mind-sets of a person or situation? Mindsets are not static; they are dynamic and with new information and/or experience we can shift our mind-sets. The key is being conscious of your mind-sets and being open to challenging them.
  4. Do you challenge those mindsets? Today’s business environment requires the ability to see beyond one’s own perspective.
  5. How open are you to your own learning? How open are you to your own learning, to changing what isn’t working, to seeking out new experiences, and to not being defensive of diverse opinions even when they are radically different than your own?
  6. Do you do what you say you are going to do? People pay more attention to what you do than what you say, and your behavior speaks volumes.
  7. How would others describe you as a leader? Leaders must actively manage their presence in every interaction, both formal and informal.
  8. Why do you do the work you do?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:14 PM
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Efficiency is the Wrong Mindset for a Leader


Efficiency always seems like the right answer. It’s reflexive. Faster. Easier. Who doesn’t want that?

And yet while efficiency is critical and often a competitive advantage, it is a problem when it becomes a mindset that is applied to everything we do; when it becomes an excuse for our lack of real connection. Faster and easier is not always better. As leaders, we have to know the difference. Some things are better over time. There is no such thing as efficient leadership. If efficiency is digital, leadership is analog.

Leadership is about influence and mobilizing people to achieve a common goal. This is done through relationships. Relationships do not benefit from efficiency.

Much of the practice of leadership is a process. If you rush the process you miss the fundamental issues that create meaning and engagement. Leaders are action-oriented people to be sure. Holding another meeting, having critical conversations, and reinforcing commitments, principles, and values, can seem like a waste of time especially when you see the goal and the need to get moving so clearly. But if you don’t take the time to do these things, you may end up on your own—leading no one. Leadership does not exist until we create a relationship with another person. It is our relationships that result in the actions we seek.

The efficiency—quality and flexibility—you get from people is primarily based on the relationship you have with them. Creating partners takes time. Distributing ownership takes time. The idea is to build relationships so that people in your sphere of influence, flourish.

Growth is rarely an efficient affair. It’s almost never a straight line. People have emotions, feelings, and history and that takes time to understand and work with. If we are to grow and learn and innovate we have to leave room for the inefficient. Growth is born in the question. Efficiency rarely leaves room for questions. It is a tension that has to be managed. We have to learn to maximize efficiency without restricting growth.

We know when it comes to people, better doesn’t always mean faster. Easier isn’t always the best way. But if we approach the practice of leadership with an efficiency-based mindset, we will look for shortcuts through a process that necessarily requires time and patience. The straight line can miss so much. The crooked path often adds the depth and color to our life that we can’t get in any other way.

Good relationships cultivated over time will bring you the level of commitment you want when you need it the most. If you haven't taken the time to build relationships all you have is a gun. Take the time now to build trusting, caring relationships with the people you serve.

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The Age of Enlightenment and You

Booknotes History affects the context we lead in. An understanding of the Age of Enlightenment—that still reverberates today—gives us a good basis to grasp the kind of world we are leading in. James MacGregor Burns’ Fire and Light is a good place to start. While the values of the Enlightenment and the importance of the individual seem unimaginable to live without, they do come at a price: a common and accessible worldview built on a firm foundation. Here are some ideas from his book:

☙Enlightenment remains the most powerful tool for challenging authority and liberating the human mind, an inspiration to leaders and followers worldwide, a method for effective change, and a framework of values by which that change can be measured.

☙No single idea of the Enlightenment was so laden and sweeping as this. If people could transform their minds, they could change their lives, and together with others they could change their communities and beyond.

☙Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence was less a guide to committed leadership than a resounding statement of Enlightenment ideals that had served its purpose of uniting Americans for war.

☙Thomas Paine’s Common Sense expressed an aspiration that lay at the heart of the Enlightenment, the dream of revolutionaries everywhere, that the people “have in our power to begin the world over again.”

☙No one had a greater role in fashioning the American experiment, basing the government on Enlightenment principle and then testing them in action, than James Madison.

☙Pursuing private interests, untethered to the thick social structure of old aristocracies, lacking deep familial roots, free of tradition and inherited beliefs, constantly on the move, democratic man, in Tocqueville’s portrait was profoundly alone. Lacking them, people would be crushed under the hypertrophy of selfhood; they would suffer the full consequences of the liberal society that made the isolated self the measure of all things personal and political and the market economy that made money the measure of all things economic and social.

☙For Enlightenment pioneers it meant embracing mankind as the measure of all things—not authority, not custom, not faith, but individual perception and reason were the foundation of truth.

☙The Enlightenment has created the opportunity and freedom to take part in a mighty intellectual revolution that has changed the lives of whole peoples. Indeed, the Enlightenment has taught that change is the constant, and that the opportunity and burden for human beings is to harness it for their common benefit.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:58 AM
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These Are Hard Times for Leaders

Hard Times for Leaders

Hard Times
BARBARA KELLERMAN has written about leaders (good and bad) and followers, but in Hard Times she turns her attention to the often-overlooked context in which we lead. Leaders, followers, and context, form a system of leadership.

“More than ever,” writes Kellerman, “it is better—better in practice and better in theory—to focus less on the leader and more on the leadership system.” It is difficult to navigate or change systems without understanding the underlying context they exist in. We diminish our capacity to lead when we don’t consider all aspects of leadership. Hard Times is about context. It’s not about looking in but looking out.

Everywhere leaders are finding it difficult to lead without using or threatening to use force because everywhere followers are making their lives difficult—and because everywhere context is both a cause and an effect of this power dynamic.

So this book is about what leaders need to know to develop contextual expertise. Her extensive examination considers twenty-four different ways the context in which we lead shapes leadership now—in the United States—in the second decade of the twenty-first century. However, much of what she discusses is global because it is human.

Tackling America’s historical background, she writes, “When the history of a country leaves a legacy that renders its citizens virtually allergic to authority, leadership is more difficult.” The capacity to persuade is more important than the capacity to control.

In examining religion, economics, organizations, law, business, technology, and media, the common thread is the diminishment of the leader. Leaders of the twenty-first-century “are likely to have less power, authority, and influence” than leaders of the twentieth-century making things “more complex and complicated than simpler and easier.”

Other contextual issues like money as influence, the anxiety of innovation, the competitive need to be first, class distinctions, cultural pressures, divisiveness, special interest groups, environmental issues, and risk management, have all intensified. These all serve to undermine leadership confidence and put us off-balance.

Risk management is not something that we generally like to spend our time thinking about. And unfortunately, some risk management platitudes only serve to put us asleep—only to wake up when a real risk comes along and we are ill-prepared to deal with it. We need to develop “risk management based not on what we know, or think we know, but on what we do not know.”

Leaders and followers have changed in profound ways too. In general, says Kellerman, all this adds up to the fact that leaders are getting weaker. Leaders may not have less influence but they do have less power. Titles mean less and “status means less, which means that their ability to lead has lessened as well.”As Kellerman, Moisés Naím and others have argued, power is “undergoing a historic and world-changing transformation. Big players are increasingly being challenged by newer and smaller ones, and those who have power are more constrained in the way they can use it.”

While I think this has always been and will continue to be an underlying truth on a micro level, we may very well see a backlash on this trend at the macro level. Time will tell.

The most obvious reason leaders have been enfeebled are first, changes in culture that entitled and embolden subordinates to demean and diminish their putative superiors, and second, changes in technology that enable ordinary people to obtain information, engage in self-expression, and make interpersonal connections in ways and to degrees that historically are unprecedented.

Increasingly, unable to rely on power and authority, on a more general level leaders are having to become what true leadership is about: influence. Exercising influence is what leaders should have been doing (and should have been trained to do) instead of relying on position and power because they could get away with it. Leaders “are more dependent than they ever were on their capacity to exercise influence.”

As leaders we need to keep focused not just on the leader and the followers but on the context in which they interact. “Leading has become a high-wire act that only the most skilled are able to perform successfully over a protracted period of time.”

We leaders and followers (and we are all both) have both allowed our standards (character) to drop. If we are to become leaders and followers that work together for the common good, we need to start talking about what we should do not what we can do. The goal is not getting what we want, but getting what is best. That requires more than knee–jerk opinions and more thoughtful consideration.

Kellerman’s insight at the end of the book is worth repeating because it says so much: “Leadership is not a profession.” Amen.

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Wrong with Leadership Training Good Followers Make the Best Leaders

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Leading People Like Family

Leaders Eat Last
In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek shares an insight he learned from Bob Chapman, Chairman and CEO of the Barry-Wehmiller Companies. It’s an important way of framing our leadership responsibility:
Every single employee is someone’s son or someone’s daughter. Parents work to offer their children a good life and a good education and to teach them the lessons that will help them grow up to be happy, confident and able to use all the talents they were blessed with. Those parents then hand their children over to a company with the hope the leaders of that company will exercise the same love and care as they have. “It is we, the companies, who are now responsible for these precious lives,” says Chapman.
Sinek explains: “Being a leader is like being a parent, and the company is like a new family to join. One that will care for us like we are their own … in sickness and in health. And if we are successful, our people will take on our company’s name as a sign of the family to which they are loyal.” He adds, “It is about committing to the well-being of those in our care and having a willingness to make sacrifices to see their interests advanced so that they may carry our banner long after we are gone.”
Circle of Safety
To that end we have to protect our people by creating what Sinek calls a Circle of Safety. We constantly face threats to our survival; forces working to hinder our success. These come of course, from without the organization and are these threats are largely beyond our control. But they also come from within our organizations and are well within our control. He writes:
Intimidation, humiliation, isolation, feeling dumb, feeling useless and rejection are all stresses we try to avoid inside the organization. But the danger is controllable and it should be the goal of leadership to set a culture free of danger from each other. And the way to do that is by giving people a sense of belonging. By offering them a strong culture based on a clear set of human values and beliefs. By giving them the power to make decisions. By offering them trust and empathy. By creating a Circle of Safety.
Too often, people are trying to protect themselves from leaders that are willing to sacrifice anyone to advance their own careers. “Without a Circle of Safety, people are forced to spend too much time and energy protecting themselves from each other.” We thrive when we feel safe in our group.

Leaders can be found at any level in an organization. They are the ones who are willing to give of themselves for the sake of others.

The title of the book—Leaders Eat Last—comes from a conversation with a Marine Corps general. He said, “Officers eat last.” Sinek watched as the most junior Marines ate first while the most senior Marines took their place at the back of the line. What’s symbolic in the chow hall is deadly serious on the battlefield: great leaders sacrifice their own comfort—even their own survival—for the good of those in their care. In a world where far too many leaders are looking out for themselves, Sinek offers numerous insights about the kind of sacrifice required to be a great leader.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:03 PM
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Six Critical Leadership Moments

Step Up
Step Up by Henry Evans and Colm Foster is about learning to recognize six critical leadership moments where we need to lead. These moments were areas that clients found difficult to deal with. Leadership is not someone else’s job. Anyone can recognize moments where leadership is required, know what to do and step up.

The six critical moments are:

Using anger intelligently in the workplace. The key is learning to respond rather than react. Anger is not an either/or emotion. There are levels of anger. “The problem for most people is not that they get angry; it’s that they become less intelligent when they do. Our beef is with stupidity, not anger.” If you understand your own anger you can recognize the opportunity to lead when you see anger in other people and become a catalyst for positive action. “Knowing that there is an optimal mood for every task that a group might undertake provides you with leadership opportunities. You can step up to help create the mood.”

Recognizing and dealing with “terminal politeness.” You and others may be avoiding important conversations that you should be having. They key is learning to skillfully distinguish between conflict with a person and conflict with his or her idea.

Making decisions when no one else making them. Rarely do you have perfect information, but you must be able to confidently decide on a course of action.

Taking ownership when others are externalizing a problem. What are you contributing to an ongoing problem? “Moments of leadership present themselves when the people around you are stuck in old ways of thinking and behaving.” Leadership moments involve those in which you must change as well as others. “It’s not easy for most people to accept the possibility that one of their most cherished and entrenched beliefs about how the world works may be wrong.”

Identifying and leveraging pessimism. Pessimists don’t belong in a leadership role but they do have value that you can and should leverage. They can “point out problems and shed light on tough issues that others may be avoiding. “Optimism is not the same as positivity, and pessimism is not the same as negativity. It is possible to be an optimist and have a slightly negative bias; you can see the trouble ahead but are confident in your ability to overcome obstacles and achieve a good result.”

Inspiring others to take action. This is about recognizing when you and others are stuck in unproductive and redundant dialogue. “You don’t have to be the group’s formal leader to recognize negative momentum and exercise the kind of leadership that will reverse that momentum.”

The authors note that you will not be successful enacting these behaviors unless you can do it in such a way that is emotionally safe for others for three simple reasons: the quality of your information deteriorates when people don’t feel safe talking to you, people will pursue goals beyond the point that makes sense out of fear of “crossing you,” and people simply don’t grow in a fearful environment.

Step Up contains concrete ideas for dealing with each of these areas with links to online resources.

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Quick and Nimble: A Leadership Companion

Adam Bryant has put together a great leadership companion with Quick and Nimble. There’s great advice on a wide range of leadership issues from Why Culture Matters to Alone at the Top. Here are several:

Why Culture Matters: A successful culture is like a green house where people and ideas can flourish—where everybody in the organization, regardless of rank or role, feels encouraged to speak frankly and openly and is rewarded for sharing ideas about new products, more efficient processes, and better way to serve customers.

A Simple Plan: “You have to be able to simplify things that are complex. At the end of the day, if the thirteen thousand people on the front lines don’t understand what you’re trying to do, forget it. You don’t stand a chance of making it work.” (David Barger, the CEO of JetBlue)

“We’re not a transparent culture so that we can be cool and it’s not about an open environment, because that’s not what makes a company transparent. It’s more around the fact that everyone needs to know where we are going and how we are going to get there. So we want everyone to understand our objectives and make that available to everyone as we’re evolving, so that people aren’t guessing and they’re not internally focused, because that’s one of the obstacles that a lot of companies fall into.” (Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics)

Rules of the Road: “Ideas can come from anywhere. There are no titles around an idea. As the CEO, I’m the chief editor of the company, but I want the idea to come from anybody. There’s no bureaucracy around an idea. In fact, bureaucracy around an idea is the death of an organization. I tell people all the time: If you have a great idea, and you’re passionate about it, and it makes sense, and you can’t get your boss to hear your idea, then you should leave. That’s not an organization that you’re going to thrive in.” (Steve Stoute, Translation LLC and Carol’s Daughter)

A Little Respect: “By definition if there’s leadership, it means there are followers, and you’re only as good as your followers. I believe the quality of the followers is in direct correlation to the respect you hold in them. It’s not how much they respect you that is most important. It’s actually how much you respect them. It’s everything.” (Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO DreamWorks Animation)

Play it Again and Again: “No matter how smart the people are that you are communicating to, the more of them there are, the dumber the collective gets. As the audience gets bigger and bigger, the bullet-point list has to be shorter and shorter, and the messages have to be simpler and simpler.” (Marcus Ryu, Guidewire)

Surfacing Problems: “I always ask, ‘Tell me one thing you really like about the company and one thing that frustrates you about the company.’ I always come out with at least one thing that is eye-opening.” (Ken Rees, CEO of Think Finance)

School Never Ends: “It’s about keeping them marketable. I encourage people: ‘Go out and find out what the market bears. You should do that and then come back and help me figure out what you need in your development that you’re not getting, because we owe that to you.’ I’ve been told by my associates that’s a countercultural approach to leadership: ‘You’re telling me to go look for another job?’ But my point is that I should be able to re-recruit them. I should be able to get them convinced that his is the best opportunity for them.” (Linda Heasley, former CEO of The Limited)

Alone at the Top: “Pacing is really important in an organization. I have in the past tended to overestimate the amount of change I can effect in the short run and then not fully appreciate the change I can effect in the long run. And so I’ve learned that it’s critical to think carefully about the pace of change, and it’s something that I’ve learned the hard way. it’s important to manage that carefully, because it’s not just about the pace of change that certain people in the company can manage. It's about the pace of change that the company as a whole can manage. You can push and push and nothing seems to happen, and then suddenly it takes off and you’re sort of running to catch up.” (Harry West, Continuum)

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Leading Through Uncertainty

Ray Davis
In times of great uncertainty, we must be leaders. In Leading Through Uncertainty, Ray Davis writes, “Effective leadership is motivating, and it can and should be the energy that propels a company through inevitable waves of change. Poor leadership can lead to disaster and has sunk more than a few companies and governments alike.”

Davis divides the book into three parts: leading yourself, leading your organization, and leading the way. He shares the ideas that have allowed Umpqua Bank—the West Coast’s largest independent community bank—to emerge from the economic crisis even stronger than before. The problem some will have with the book is that it requires a secure leader. A leader that can set his or her ego aside. And a leader that truly cares about their people, their organization and the people they affect.

Leading through uncertainty means leading with the truth. People can handle the truth. “The negative energy created by worrying is replaced with positive, productive actions and attitudes.” Of course, some leaders are afraid of the truth because it incriminates them and exposes their weaknesses.

Davis says, “I always tell our people that they’re entitled to get answers to every question they have. I let them know I’m not going to defend myself when it comes to their questions, but I will explain what’s going on. I also tell them that while they’re entitled to answers to every question, that doesn’t mean they are going to like the answers.”

Being truthful means acknowledging the problem. Saying peace when there is no peace—saying everything is fine when it isn’t—is only whitewashing that will erode trust and peace.

You must have a firm foundation in the basics, says Davis, and then walk the walk and talk the talk. We’re all busy but listening is essential. “I think it is a mistake for people in my position not to make themselves available to their customers, their people, and the community at large.” When you don’t have all the answers, listening goes a long way.

Leaders don’t lead in a vacuum. Secure leaders reach out to others. They give them the ability to provide constructive criticism which is hugely valuable of and by itself but it also serves to motivate and keep people involved in the process. “How else can a company get better if it’s not willing to listen to constructive criticism, if it’s not willing to listen to what it’s not doing as well as it could? If you’re not willing to listen, you’re not going to improve and you’re not going to grow.”

Great leadership begins with us. “I believe this starts with an introspective and honest inventory—first of yourself and then of your organization. Companies regularly evaluate their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to make sure they are focused on the right issues. I wonder, however, how many leaders do the same evaluation on themselves. I recommend this as a good starting point.”

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Of Related Interest:
  President and CEO = Head of Support

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:22 PM
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The White Knight Syndrome

White Knight Syndrome

AS A LEADER, it is easy to think that we alone possess all anyone needs to know; to think that our view of the world is the right one. After all, the view looks pretty good from where we sit. We’ve thought everything through. We have access to more information than anyone else. We have a way of doing things and it works—for us. So what rational person would question you? What could they possibly know that you don’t?

We can get a little self-important and think that we need to mount our white horse and begin a crusade to save the kingdom—charging through the organization bringing everyone in line with our way of thinking and our way of doing things. We know best and if they can’t see it, well then, they’re wrong. But before we do we should consider these questions:

Is this about me? Of course not. But before you get on your high horse, ask yourself if the issue is truly a right-wrong issue or simply a matter of opinion or approach? No one likes to be questioned, but the questions serve as a tool to help us grow. They keep us in check. If we're not being questioned, we have an even bigger problem. We have made our leadership about us—and everyone around us knows it. Only we are deluded enough to think otherwise.

Is there a connection I can build on? Find connection with the other side—even if you have only their intentions to consider. Rarely is anyone going out of their way to do the wrong thing. Most often it is their execution that is bad. Their timing can also be at the core of the problem. All these things can be fixed without diminishing the other side. Finding areas where you agree gives you something to build on and shows respect.

Am I motivated by the desire to establish my authority? If you have to correct someone, you should never leave them there. As a leader, your job is to build up not to put down. There are times when you have to correct but it should only be done in an effort to grow others and not to control them. If correction is about control, it’s about you—and you’ve lost before you’ve even gotten out of the gate.

white knight
Most crusades are about ego. They are designed to leverage differences. Stamp out opposition. Differences of opinion and approach serve to sharpen us, grow us, and open our thinking. If it is different it will make you uncomfortable. But that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong. Growth is risky, uncomfortable, and messy. Over time our own thinking numbs us if it is not challenged. It desensitizes us to the reality around us.

The most valuable people we have around us are those people who are willing to question us, consider another approach, and test our assumptions. We need these people if we are to grow into the leader we could be. It’s not about us.

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The 8 Elements that Bring People Together

Finding Allies, Building Alliances
Working together to solve a common problem provides us with a more complete picture of the problem, and can offer us more options, synergies and solutions, than we could achieve by working alone. Many of the issues we face will require collaboration at some level to solve or even manage them.

In Finding Allies, Building Alliances, authors Mike Leavitt and Rich McKeown, state, “The ability to get things done with collaborative networks is the next generation in human productivity.” We need to be able to form and work with and through value alliances. Value alliances are “a group of participants with aligned interests in pursuing an outcome with value for each of them.” These alliances can last long enough to solve the issue they came together to solve or they can be ongoing as an alliance enterprise to oversee the solution to the problem.

But value alliances are not always easy. “Value alliances require that participants subordinate their egos, their agendas, their preferred styles, and their biases—not to mention their organizational agendas—in favor of a shared benefit.” Some people just don’t have the aptitude—the collaborative intelligence if you will—to work well with others. “People with high collaborative intelligence make an effort to understand the views and needs of others; they listen honestly, thoughtfully and objectively. They don’t lock into positions prematurely. While they may possess strong points of view, they make an effort to hear other perspectives and will adjust their points of view once convinced they need adjusting.”

The authors have had a lot of experience creating, working with, and successfully resolving problems through effective value alliances. They share the good and the bad and the lessons learned along the way. They answer why you form value alliances, the eight key elements required for a collaborative effort to succeed, how you select productive participants and how you deal with the inevitable issues that come up dealing with other people. Their case is well thought out and clearly presented.

From their experience they have discovered why some collaborative efforts have failed and why others have succeeded. From that background they detail the 8 elements required for a collaborative network to succeed:

1. A Common Pain is a shared problem that motivates different people/groups to work together in ways that could otherwise seem counterintuitive. Value alliances “exist at the intersection of self-interest and common interest.” We often become collaborators when we discover that we can solve a problem on our own. “Few people are willing to place themselves in a collaborative position of they have an alternative.” (As a side note, leaders, because of their position and the authority it brings them, usually have an alternative—my way or the highway. The best leaders collaborate anyway.)
Collaborations require time, money, and people. The collaborative process is more complex, slower, and messier than independent decision making. To be willing to give up a degree of independence and control, a given leader must believe the problem poses a serious threat to the enterprise.
2. A Convener of Stature is a respected and influential presence who can bring people to the table and, when necessary, keep them there. “The inability to turn down an offer is one sign that you’re dealing with a convener of stature.” The book lays out the roles and responsibilities of the convener.

3. Representatives of Substance. The collaborative participants must bring the right mix of experience and expertise for legitimacy and have the authority to make decisions. Look for participants who possess at least one and ideally all three varieties of substance: authoritative, cognitive, and reputational. Sometimes it is wise to create additional layers of participants beyond the primary or core group. “Omitting people from the collaboration often guarantees that they’ll become external critics or even saboteurs.”

4. Committed Leaders are individuals who possess the skill, creativity, dedication and tenacity to move an alliance forward even when it hits the inevitable rough patches. Value alliances require committed leaders who fulfill many of these ten roles: organizer, diplomat, technician, teacher, counselor, matchmaker, salesperson, referee, judge, and disciplinarian. “If committed leaders can consistently achieve consensus, they will move the alliance forward. Finding consensus is an art form that alliance leaders must master.”

5. A Clearly Defined Purpose is a driving idea that keeps people on task rather than being sidetracked by complexity, ambiguity and other distractions. It is important to identify and deal with purpose creep—“an inexorable broadening of scope that eventually makes it impossible to relieve the common pain that drew the group together in the first place.” The authors provide a step-by-step guide to creating a purpose in a collaborative setting. They advise, “find a golden mean: big enough to matter and small enough to do.” And add, “As a committed leader, you need to develop a sixth sense for when people are setting goals that are too difficult to achieve or too wide-ranging; you also need to grasp when you’ve shrunk the purpose to the point that its achievement won’t have any real impact.”

6. A Formal Charter establishes rules that help resolve differences and avoid stalemates. The three crucial parts of a charter are: the Purpose section, the Principles section, and the Operating Procedures.

7. The Northbound Train is an intuitive confidence that an alliance will get to its destination, achieve something of unique value, and that those who aren’t on board will be disadvantaged. The idea is, “decisions that matter to me are going to be made and I need to be there. The train is headed north and I want a seat on it.” They explain why a northbound train slows and what to do about it. “The feeling generated by a northbound train is what carries the collaboration to its destination.”

8. Defining Common Ground. “Participants and leaders need to discuss the beliefs and ideas that they take for granted in their collaborative efforts.” A Common Information Base keeps everyone in the loop and avoids divisive secrets and opaqueness. “Defining common standards boils down to the capacity of collaborators to reach foundational agreements.” People are coming from all different places with different values and beliefs, but to get to the point where there is a recommendation or decision that everyone can buy into, and to hold the collaboration together until that point is reached, “Agreement about operating modes and information protocols is necessary.”

Finding Allies, Building Alliances brings clarity to an important topic. Collaborations are not easy. But it is the job of leadership. This book will help you to better understand the dynamics of collaboration. Interestingly, they explain why the Articles of Confederation could not work and why the United Sates Constitution does.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:43 AM
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The Good Struggle

The Good Struggle

NOT surprisingly, Joseph Badaracco has written an essential read for leaders of all kinds. The Good Struggle addresses the question of how to lead successfully and responsibly in our uncertain, high pressure, turbulent world.

Badaracco says that the inescapable pressures of leadership are intensified today because of the market-driven world in which we live.

“Almost everything—how we manage our organizations and our lives, how we make decisions at work and at home, and even how we think about ourselves—is deeply shaped by markets and market-based thinking.”

This creates greater uncertainty, obscures right choices, and puts pressure on us to abandon principles that we used to rely on. Responsible leaders find themselves engaged in the good struggle: “a long effort, demanding perseverance and courage, to make good on serious but profoundly fallible commitments in an uncertain and often unforgiving world.” He adds, “Struggle has always been central to accomplishing anything worthwhile, and this is especially true today.”

He offers five enduring—inescapable—questions. Responsible leadership consists of thoughtful and lived answers to them.

Am I Really Grappling with the Fundamentals? “The first responsibility of leaders is intellectual. It is the struggle to develop—to the extent possible—a deep, careful, analytical, data-driven understanding of the driving forces in the markets and society around them and to keep this understanding loose, flexible, and revisable.” Grasping the fundamentals can “reduce the chance of being blindsided, by encouraging the mental habit of looking for emerging patterns and odd developments with larger implications. It also promotes modesty, a healthy, low-level paranoia, and vigilance rather than hubris.”

He notes that everything now is modular—constantly being recombined. “Recombination also makes it much harder for leaders to inculcate values when people in their organizations know they and their leaders are basically modules in a plug-and-play world and could be moving on soon. The natural instinct is to take care of yourself, here and now.”

What Am I Really Accountable For? “Without clarity about accountability, leaders and their organization can drift or zigzag aimlessly.” Of course, many leaders do not want to be accountable to anyone or anything. “Accountability originates in an obligation to make good on the spirit of some jointly designed, provisional, and evolving objectives.” Here’s the question for any leader: “What pressures, scrutiny, and risks do we want to create or invite in order to build a strong, resilient, responsible organization?”

How Do I Make Critical Decisions? We need a broader view of critical decisions. Instead of viewing them as deep, abiding pledges that we must make good on, we need to see them more as evolving commitments. That is, “a pledge, by a leader and an organization, to move in a particular direction, but to do so in a flexible, open-ended way.” Decision making has to be as fluid as the markets around them. “Execution as learning.” “Instead of periodic big decisions, responsible leaders make or orchestrate an unending series of smaller ones—all aimed at some larger, broad, flexible objective.”

Do We Have the Right Core Values? Values are important because “they may be the only force that can counter the power of markets and market-based thinking….Today’s ever-present markets have their own implicit values, and they can easily overwhelm whatever values leaders want to instill in their organizations.” To lead responsibly, leaders must commit to “clarity, meaningful projects, and bright ethical lines. In different ways, each of these helps leaders and organizations respond to the risks and opportunities created by pervasive market forces.”

Why Have I Chosen This Life? People seek positions of leadership not despite the struggles involved, but because of them. “Responsible leadership is a challenge that—despite its inevitable risks, frustrations, and failures—demands and merits the best efforts of talented men and women, tests their competence and their characters fully, gives purpose and intensity to their lives and helps them lead the kind of lives they really value.” The purpose of our struggle matters.

Badaracco writes, “If the purpose of life is ease and comfort, no sensible person would take on the demands of leadership.” Perhaps in developing leaders at all levels we need to change that very prevalent mindset. Without it we can’t discover what we are and the person we are meant to be.

Badaracco doesn’t offer hard answers because they are evolving answers and should be individual answers created from introspection and reflection. But the insights and provocative concepts are enough to get you thinking in new ways.

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Why We Need Strangers

Part of the reason we get stuck and part of the reason we lack the feedback we need is that we are surrounded by the familiar. The familiar that continuously reminds us that we are doing the best we can and that we are doing it right. We are mired in the familiar when what we need is the strange.

We need strangers. “These strangers,” writes Alan Gregerman in The Necessity of Strangers, “whom we quickly choose to ignore or form an opinion about, are the people who force us out of our comfort zones and challenge us to question the knowledge, belief, and habits we hold dear.”

Gregerman asks, “What if strangers are actually, in many ways, more important than friends?” Interesting question.

There are two issues here. “First, most of us just don’t have enough friends or a diverse enough set of them to give us the breadth of insight and perspectives we need to continually stretch our thinking and to grow. And second, the exact reasons why we count on friends are the same reasons that their input may not be ideal for our efforts to stretch and grow.”

Maybe it’s not who you know but who you could know that will determine your success and growth.

While we tend to be adverse to outsider's thinking, our real aversions, says Gregerman, “should be to see our own thinking as the only way to move forward. The real trick is to “pick the right strangers with ties to what we hope to accomplish and then ask them the right questions.”

Gregerman suggests that 99% of all new ideas are based on an idea or practice that someone or something else has already had.

New employees are a great source of fresh ideas, but we tend to quickly shape them into the way we do things. “They arrive filled with different ideas and fresh perspectives based on a new and different set of work and life experiences—ideas, perspectives, and experiences that might actually make us more efficient, effective, innovative, customer-focused, and successful if we were willing to listen.”

If we don’t focus on the strange but instead focus on the different that we could tap into, we might grow in ways we never imagined. “Everyone matters. And that’s an idea that leaders must convey.”

The Necessity of Strangers is an excellent analysis on why we need to seek out the new and different. Gregerman suggests ways we might do this on a daily basis. When it comes to hiring, collaboration, and managing, most organizations reward “group think” in the name of strengthening their culture. When in fact, the opposite is what unlocks potential and leads to breakthrough ideas.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:42 PM
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Henry Ford on Leadership

Fords Lessons
HENRY FORD was born 150 years ago, three weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg on July 30, 1863. At 16 left the farm to develop his skills taking an apprenticeship as a machinist in Detroit. Ford would often switch jobs when he felt he could learn more in another position. Ford learned by careful observation and trial and error.

Although, his first and second car companies failed, Ford learned more about cars, how to run a business, and more importantly how to attract talent to make his vision a reality.

The times Ford was born into and his impact on them understandably convinced him of the superiority of his own intuition. He had the problem that haunts many successful leaders: self-delusion. He believed what he wanted to believe and was certain that he always knew best.

Harvard professor Richard Tedlow observed in Giants of Enterprise, "If Henry Ford had died in February of 1914, after the announcement of the $5 dollar day, he would be remembered almost without qualification as a man of true greatness. His flaws were noticeable in his first half century of life, but they would have been forgotten…. As his wealth grew and his fame engulfed the whole world, he lost all perspective. No life better exemplifies the derangement of power."

His defiant, tenacious, and compulsive nature accounts for his early successes. His inner strength made his dreams possible but it didn't leave much room for introspection. Without a healthy self-awareness, Ford allowed his strengths to run amuck. If he was creative, he was irrational. If he attracted great talent, he also drove it away. If he was direct, he was insensitive. Without an inner compass, Henry Ford was a man of great extremes—for better and for worse. Henry Ford leaves us much to be admired but he also reminds us of the importance of a healthy self-awareness.

On Failure:
  • Failure is only the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.
  • Even a mistake may turn out to be the one thing necessary to a worthwhile achievement.
  • There are no dead ends. There is always a way out. What you learn in one failure you utilize in your next success.
  • Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal.
  • When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.

On Lifelong Learning:
  • Education is not something to prepare you for life; it is a continuous part of life.
  • Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.
  • All that I personally own of any value is my experience, and that cannot be taken away. One should not complain of having one’s fund of experience added to.
On Success:
  • It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste.
  • If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.
  • My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me..
  • Don’t find fault, find a remedy..
  • Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.
  • Paying attention to simple little things that most men neglect makes a few men rich.
  • Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.
  • You say I started out with practically nothing, but that isn’t correct. We all start with all there is. It’s how we use it that makes things possible.
On Passion:
  • You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars.
On Character:
  • The greatest thing we can produce is character. Everything else can be taken away from us.
On Courage:
  • One of the greatest discoveries a man makes, one of his surprise, is to find he can do what he was afraid he couldn’t do.
On Initiative:
  • The unhappiest man on earth is the one who has nothing to do.
  • I am looking for a lot of men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.
On Teamwork:
  • Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.
  • You can take my factories, burn up my buildings, but give me my people and I’ll build the business right back again.
On Personal Responsibility:
  • What I greatly hope for these children, and for children everywhere, is a new attitude toward life – free from the gullibility which thinks we can get something for nothing; free from the greed which thinks any permanent good can come of overreaching others.
  • You will find men who want to be carried on the shoulders of others, who think that the world owes them a living. They don’t seem to see that we must all lift together and pull the weight.
  • The genius of the American people is self-reliance. The old principles that made us great – self-direction and self-help – are still contemporary and valid.
  • Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:18 AM
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The Business of Belief

"Belief has been a most powerful component of human nature that has somewhat been neglected," says Peter Halligan, a psychologist at Cardiff University. "But it has been capitalized on by marketing agents, politics and religion for the best part of two millennia."
Business of Belief
Tom Asacker reveals the role of belief in leadership in The Business of Belief.

For leaders and organization, belief is the issue. It is at the core of who we are, why we do what we do, or approach to change, and how we lead. "If you want to change the world, if you want to change your world, if you want to succeed at work, in the marketplace, or in any other social endeavor or organization, belief is your Holy Grail" writes Asacker.

Beliefs are nothing more than working assumptions. Belief may or may not be true or even rational. But belief is at the heart of making your leadership work.

We fight for choice and fight wars to protect choice, but we don't always live with choice, we more often live with our own self-imposed dogma. "Choice is liberating, and belief flourishes with the freedom to choose. But every choice also chains us, because it rejects a world brimming with competing opinions and possibilities. Our believing minds simply cannot function while brooding over all of those chains. The psychic strain would paralyze us. And so we ignore them."

We want control over our world. And that desire impacts how we operate in the world. "If we believe we know what's happening around us, especially the near term future and general direction, we feel safe. That's why we resist change and want our agendas and ideologies to prevail."

This is where, I believe leadership comes in. And Asacker addresses that in part two:
Those skilled at motivating people to cross a new bridge to change their beliefs and behavior, are not trying to cajole or manipulate them against their will. Rather, they seek to guide them to a new destination, a transformed way of feeling, thinking and acting that's aligned with their personal desires and values.

Effective leaders know that the first essential step to changing people's behavior is to understand their perspectives and embrace their desires and beliefs. Everything else flows naturally from there.
To paraphrase industrial designer Dieter Rams, good leaders "must have an intuition for the reality in which people live." It's one of the reasons that self-centered leaders struggle. Great leaders, as Asacker writes, must design new beliefs. "Creating belief is about affect before effect. It's about finding people who want to believe and making them feel comfortable." It's about making it ours.

And this is key: "Making it ours is not giving us control of the ship. Rather, it's connecting the voyage—especially the questions, highlights and successes—to our desires and choices." That's leadership.

In part three, Asacker turns to what we can do personally to understand and manage our own beliefs. He issues this challenge:
Face it: We are either breaking out of our spirit-sucking routines and breaking through to new insights and experiences, or we are breaking down. So when the opportunity to step out of your comfort zone arrives, and it definitely will come, take it. Say no to the sure thing and say yes to a creative challenge. Say no to short-term, comfort producing activities, and say yes to fear, passion and leadership.
I've only scratched the surface here. The Business of Belief is full of thought provoking ideas and statements that will make you think. Perhaps I should say they will distract you. "Distractions and difficulties turn on our thinking mind, which undermines belief by overriding our instincts." May you be distracted.

In The Business of Belief, Tom Asacker describes the job of leadership from the perspective of beliefs—yours and theirs. It's a critical message that every leader should read. For more insights, follow him on Twitter: @tomasacker

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Leadership and the Art of Struggle: 5 Things You Can Do

Art Of Struggle

STRUGGLE is a part of any human endeavor and leadership is no different. The problem is we view struggle as a negative. But struggle is how we grow. Without them we can’t reach our full potential as leaders.

We like to think of our leaders as flawless. We like to be perceived as flawless—or at least we like people to think we have everything under control. But as Joe Badaracco has pointed out, “leadership is a struggle by flawed human beings to make some important human values real and effective in the world as it is.”

It may sound counterintuitive, but considering the benefits illuminated by Stephen Snyder in Leadership and the Art of Struggle, we should welcome it as an important element of the leadership process and our own personal development. Snyder writes that we should face struggle “head on—not hiding from it or feeling shame—because struggle is the gateway to learning and growth.” It can also help us to discover our purpose and meaning and develop the adaptive energy necessary to sustain our leadership for a lifetime.

Struggles have three defining characteristics:
Change: Every struggle is triggered by some type of change.
Tensions: Change creates a natural set of tensions.
Being out of Balance: Change and its ensuing tensions throw a leader off balance. This may happen without us even being aware of it, but acknowledgement of it is central to regaining control.

In the world we live in today, this is a common occurrence often leading to burnout unless we learn to see struggle through a different lens. Snyder recommends:

Adopt a growth mindset. The first step in accomplishing this is through reflection—being aware of what is going on around you. Snyder’s former colleague at Microsoft, Frank Gaudette, used to say: “I reserve the right to wake up smarter every day.” A good mantra to make our own.

Center your mind, body and spirit. We all need some way to anchor ourselves and gain perspective that we practice daily like exercise and diet, prayer, connecting with nature, meditation, and/or journaling.

Build your support community. “Create a community of people whom you can connect and bond with and from whom you can seek advice and feedback.”

Overcome your blind spots. Blind spots by their very nature are hard to recognize. And they are frustrating because they blind us from seeing why people may be responding to us in counterproductive ways—leading us to finger pointing rather than personal responsibility. “Blind spots,” writes Snyder, “are the product of an overactive automatic mind and an underactive reflective mind.”

A fairly common blind spot Snyder calls the Conflict Blind Spot. This blind spot can cause someone to interpret every interaction through a distorted lens. It reinforces the perception that the other person is wrong and we are right.

Recommit, pivot, or leap. When we struggle we have essentially three options. The first is to recommit and stay the course. The second is to pivot and make a course correction. And third is to leap into uncharted territory far beyond our comfort zone. Choosing the right option requires that we examine ourselves and determine which choice is most consistent with our personal values or mission statement.

Every struggle is a chance to learn and to confront who we are and what we are becoming. Seen in that light, they are a gift. And our ability to deal with our own struggles effectively has an impact on those around us. Not only does it create a more positive environment to function in, but it provides a constructive example for others to follow.

Snyder has written an outstanding and practical book to help us to rethink the challenges and problems we face along the way. One of the best you’ll ever read on the topic.

(The Adaptive Leader Profile is available from Snyder Leadership Group.)

Struggles are an inevitable part of the leadership journey. With every episode of struggle, there is a learning opportunity. Snyder offers insights as how to accept and reconcile the struggles you find in your own leadership journey.

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People are Job 1

Trustworthy Leader
As a leader if you are not devoting your time to people issues, you’re missing the big picture. Amy Lyman, author of The Trustworthy Leader, was once asked what could you do if you only had five minutes a day to devote to people issues? It is a stunning question on its face but reveals something deeper.

Lyman explained that “leading is a full-time job. If you want to be a successful leader, you need to devote all of your time to people issues….Five minutes a day—or even five minutes an hour—is the wrong approach.” The problem is we tend to separate our “work” from the “people” issues; respond to people issues when asked to, but focus our intellectual talents on the mechanics of the specific tasks in front of us.

Lyman makes the point that people are integral to our ability in every single area in our organizations and if we do not include consideration of people in every aspect of our work, then we are doing ourselves and our organizations a great disservice. Yet it is not uncommon to find leaders who see people as the problem—the distraction—that takes them away from their work. Our work is people.
Trustworthy leaders…understand the complexity of bringing together a group of human beings to pursue extraordinary accomplishments. They are masters at guiding, directing, encouraging, and challenging people to contribute their best, in part because they ask the same of themselves. Trustworthy leaders know that their relationships with other throughout the organization are key to their success—however success is measured.
Lyman identifies six elements that both influence how a leader acts and reflect how that person thinks about being a leader:

Feels Honored—Sense of honor and gratitude for being asked to lead and acknowledging the responsibility that comes with it.

Inclusive—Promotes the inclusion of every person into the larger community of the organization.

Ability to Value and Engage Followers—Pay attention to followers and learn from them, support their contributions and connect with them beyond their work roles.

Openly Shares Information—Employees contributions will be magnified to the degree that they have access to useful information.

Develops Others—Help employees to learn, grow, and discover their talents. It’s part of who they are because they think about others more than themselves.

Ability to Move through Uncertainty to pursue Opportunities—The skillful weighing of risks and rewards attached to the opportunities available is one of the most important actions that leaders can take on.
When employees see their leader act with honor, feel included, choose to follow, have access to information they can use, and are supported in their development, they will support their leader’s efforts to try novel approaches and find the best way forward.
Trustworthy leaders succeed in the marketplace because their trustworthiness provides them with two key competitive advantages: first, they benefit from the cooperation of employees with each other, across departments, and throughout the organization as a whole; and second they engender a deep, strong commitment among employees to the long-term success of the company, its mission, and its vision as expressed by the leader.

Trustworthy Leaders know that being trustworthy is the critical factor that separates their leadership success from that of others.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:56 PM
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If it were just about leading, would you still want to be a leader?

Imagine for a moment that you as a leader didn’t have all the perks that seem to accompany positions of leadership—no lease car, no reserved parking space, no special dining rooms, offices, furnishings or refreshments and certainly not the compensation that creates jealousies. Would you still want to be a leader?

What if no one had to think that your way was always the best way? What if you had to ask as much as you told? What if being “in-charge” meant that it was your job to put others first? What if those you led got all the credit? Would you still want to lead?

What if all you got were the intrinsic rewards of leadership—the satisfaction of seeing others grow to their potential, perform to their best ability and knowing that you enabled that to happen, knowing that you were the catalyst, the spark, the steady, guiding hand throughout the process? Would that be enough to motivate you to lead? To deal with the downside of leadership?

Surgeon GeneralLeadership is hard work. It carries with it personal demands and expectations and complexities and ambiguities that most people never imagine when they decide to embark on the leadership journey. Perhaps it should come with a Surgeon General's Warning: May cause headache, nausea, loss of appetite, insomnia, neurosis, anxiety, indecision, depression, and hair loss.

Because of its demands, without a doubt, good leaders should be rewarded. But we need to ask frequently, “What are we in it for?” If we are in it for ourselves or just to make our dreams come true, our gains will go when we go. In our own mind, it can’t be about what we get but what we give. If we’re in it for the rewards, it will skew our thinking and diminish our role as a leader. It will create a culture where everything rests on the leader. And that’s not leadership, that’s self-promotion.

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Leadership as Provocative Competence

Yes to the Mess


AZZ HAS ALWAYS been a good metaphor for the art of leadership. In Yes to the Mess, Frank Barrett knocks it out of the park. How do we create a culture where people can innovate? Barrett wants us to look at leadership differently and increase our leadership repertoire beyond hierarchical models, “so that we more fully appreciate the power of relationships.” And in that he succeeds.

Barrett introduces us to what he calls Provocative Competence. It is the capacity “to create the discrepancy and dissonance that trigger people to move away from habitual positions and repetitive patterns.” Barrett says “Leadership as a design activity means creating space so that people will be tempted to grow on their own.”

Herbert Simon, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 for his research on decision making in organizations, believed that we should not think of leaders as making decisions on past data, “but as creating forms so that people can flourish in the future,” or as Barrett expresses more clearly, as shaping “worlds of interpretation in which others can make meaningful contributions.”

The outcome then, is to enliven activity and rouse the mind to life. It isn’t about authority but is “relational moves within an unfolding context” and are judged by “how well they work with the resources at their disposal … and how effectively they help free their own potential and that of others.”

Barrett breaks provocative competence down into five component parts:

First, it is an affirmative move. “What makes these interventions powerful is that the leader holds a positive image of what others are capable of. This often means seeing other people’s strengths better than they see their own strengths.”

Second, provocative competence involves introducing a small disruption to routine. “What makes provocative competence an ‘art’ is the introduction of just enough unusual material that it engages people to be mindful—to pay attention in new ways.” Timing and pacing is important he cautions. “Leaders who disrupt on a regular basis or try to be provocative all the time are obnoxious, and are eventually ignored and probably mimicked.”

Third, it is important to create situations that demand activity. People are expected to jump in and work it out and discover as they go.

Fourth, provocative competence means facilitating incremental reorientation by encouraging repetition. There is a balance here. “Not all repetition is the same. Sometimes you need to repeat a gesture and then start to notice it from a slightly different angle…. Even while people are learning on old habits, they have to attend to new cues and new options, and start to manage and process information within a new, broader context.”

Fifth, provocative competence involves analogic sharpening of perspectives and thought processes. “This is the point at which people look back at what is emerging and jump into the morass as they make comparisons, links, and connections to a larger, emerging whole.” This is the thrust of innovation. Net effect: “People start to notice affinity between pieces that previously seemed disconnected; resemblances that no one noticed before start to emerge.”

Of course, notes Barrett, “different groups have different levels of performance, and leaders certainly have to deal with imperfect talent, but saying yes to the mess means finding affirmation in the best of what already exists.” That’s the job of a great leader. It’s what separates leaders from bosses. “That’s a true gift: to be able to see people at their very best when their current behavior is far less than that.

Of Related Interest:
  Making Your Team Swing
  Leadership: Artistry Unleashed
  Does Your Leadership Have “White Space?”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:59 PM
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Heroic Leaders and Passive Followers

As leaders, if we take too much control and do not encourage others to take responsibility, we set ourselves and others up for failure.

Roger Martin calls it the responsibility virus and it always begins with the germ of fear. “This vacillation between over- and under-responsibility is an endless loop. Fear of failure drives them into an initial extreme position. The extreme positions of over- and under-responsibility drive them into failure. Failure causes them to flip into the other extreme. And so on.”

He adds that “Advising leaders to stop being heroic and exhorting passive followers to become more aggressive doesn’t get the job done. Heroic leaders and passive followers are pursuing what they feel, at that time and place, to be the optimal course of action.” But it is destructive. Yet we see it played out all the time in organizations, in part because we have a hard time wrapping our minds around the true function of leadership.

Martin explains that, “Take-charge leadership is the stuff of Hollywood and history books, deeply ingrained in our consciousness.” A heroic leader is one who takes on more responsibility than they can handle. And it undermines rather than builds followers.

In an article for the Stanford Innovation Review, Martin writes: “Take-charge leadership misapplied not only fails to inspire and engage, it produces passivity and alienation.

“When leaders assume 'heroic' responsibility for making critical choices, when their reaction to problems is to go it alone, work harder, and do more – with no collaboration or sharing of leadership – their 'heroism' is often their undoing.

“Such action often leads to an organizational affliction I have dubbed the 'responsibility virus.' A leader senses a subordinate flinch under pressure and responds by taking a disproportionate share of responsibility, prompting the subordinate to hesitate and become passive. The heroic leader reacts by leaping to fill the void. The passive employee retreats further, abdicating more responsibility, becoming distant, cynical, and lethargic. The leader, unable to cope with an impossible workload, becomes contemptuous and angry. A once-promising project becomes rudderless and spirals toward failure.”

Are you acting over-responsibly?

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Influencing Up

If you’re trying to make a significant contribution you will have to influence people you can’t control. In other words, you will need to influence up.

Often we get in our own way when trying to influence. In Influencing Up, authors Allan Cohen and David Bradford we have to overcome these barriers:
  • The assumptions you hold about how hard to push
  • An unwillingness to raise a tough issue or have a difficult conversation with your boss
  • A combative tone that provokes the exact reactions you dislike
  • Fear of being turned down
  • Inability to let go of your own concerns long enough to remember to give something valuable to get cooperation
  • Any problems you might have dealing with authority
Cohn and Bradford deal with all of these issues. Beside any self-examination you will need to do, you will need courage to deal with two influencing up issues:

First, the impact of large power differentials. Obviously, the greater the power differential between you and the powerful person, the more difficult influence becomes.
Unfortunately, this kind of large power gap tends to produce dysfunctional behavior for people on both sides of the equation. Relatively high-power people tend to overvalue their own contributions and undervalue others’, whereas those with less authority tend to overestimate higher-level individuals’ power and underestimate their own.
Second, becoming a partner with high-powered people. Partner does not necessarily mean equals. It’s a matter of “joining with” not just “reporting to” and taking responsibility for developing the partnership. To do that you need a clear understanding of your boss’s world.

Characteristics of this partnership are:
  • both partners are committed to the organizational goals and the success of the other,
  • you must be motivated by the desire to help and not just personal advancement,
  • you need to be proactive (a leader in your own right),
  • both partners must be honest and transparent, and free to offer honest feedback giving each other the benefit of the doubt,
  • and you must accept the differences between you and your partner.
Just as leaders should ask themselves, “Why am I doing that?” so should junior partners ask themselves, “Why aren’t I doing that?” Not all bosses of course, are interested in the idea of influencing up and this is one area where the partnering mind-set really helps.
You need to carefully examine the interests, power, knowledge, and agendas of every relevant individual, group, or organizational stakeholder—and determine who influences others. Although you might not be able to sway a powerful person, he or she might respond to someone else’s argument. Who has those connections? This complete analysis is critical for selling ideas or proposals, gaining backing for projects, neutralizing resistance, or otherwise making a difference.
Building on the model they first presented in their book Influence Without Authority, Cohen and Bradford deal with challenges of power differentials and partnering and how to overcome them in a step-by-step, straightforward way.

As long as you don’t inadvertently give away your power, are willing to do your homework, and act with reasonable courage, you can increase your influence with a variety of high-power people.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:42 AM
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Success is Oftentimes Wrongly Associated with External Gains

Joe Frontiera and Daniel Leidl present a valuable commentary on success in Team Turnarounds. The thoughts here have a direct application to leadership. Why we do what we do. Something to think about over the weekend.
Success is oftentimes wrongly associated with external gains, such as social standing, a high profile, an influential job title, a trophy that proves one team is better than its opponent, or a car that symbolizes wealth. But success is actually something much more personal, reflecting an internal commitment to specific values, characteristics and belief.

Success comes from helping others, from being the best you can be through fair and considerate participation, from a commitment to honesty and integrity, and from giving everything you have to achieving a specific goal. In this sense, success varies from person to person, and although more external measures of success do exist, they become much less important to the individual striving to attain a personal ideal.

Of Related Interest:
  How to Turn Your Team Around in Six Stages

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:17 PM
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Love Works

We’ve heard that love is the killer app from Tim Sanders and Mark Sanborn says that “when we allow love to define who we are as we work, we become irresistible leaders with a contagious passion for what we do.”

Joel Manby says that Love Works, but it’s hard. On the other hand, easy doesn’t get it done. It’s easier to “hit the numbers” than to worry about how our decisions impact the lives of others. It’s easier to fire someone than to work with them. But easier doesn’t build trust, it doesn’t grow and nurture a strong culture that brings out the best in people, and it doesn’t build a lasting, healthy organization that attracts the very best and stands the test of time.
Leading with love is a higher testament to one’s leadership acumen than simply taking the well-trodden path toward fear-based, power-hungry management. Leading with love demands commitment, strong will, and patience, but the results are second to none.
Manby says love is an action and not a feeling. He identifies seven behaviors: to be patient, kind, trusting, unselfish, truthful, forgiving, and dedicated. These are the bottom line behaviors for leading with love.

Leading with love is a lifestyle choice says Manby, and should part of what he calls your be goals as opposed to your do goals. Your be goals are completely within your power to execute.

How will you lead?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:23 PM
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What’s Wrong with Leadership Training Today?

Wrong with Leadership Training

The End of Leadership
IT’S A DIFFICULT TIME for leaders. “Our familiarity with and disrespect for our leaders,” writes Harvard professor, Barbara Kellerman in The End of Leadership, “coupled with our feeling entitled and being emboldened, saps their authority, which then drains their power and influence.”

Commenting on the 2011 budget-ceiling talks she finds that Barack Obama’s followers are “more disposed to resist him than to support him….No one was able to lead…and no one was willing to follow.” Perhaps no one was able to lead because no one was willing to follow.

Leading in America is now more difficult than ever “not only because we have too many bad leaders, but because we have too many bad followers.” Kellerman cites lack of involvement as the culprit, but it goes further than that. We have never been taught how to support a leader in the right way. Followership is as important a skill as leadership.

Kellerman notes that the contract—you lead, I’ll follow—between leaders and followers has been undermined “because of the information to which followers now have access, too many leaders are judged by too many followers to be unethical or incompetent or both.” Familiarity with our leaders had bred contempt. Technology has changed the social landscape providing us with so much more information. But it has, I would argue, informed us more broadly, but for the most part, not more deeply—if we even had the time or the inclination to go more deeply. I would also suggest that we are not, at times, very good judges. We lack facts and context much of the time. What frames our judgments are often selfish concerns—just like our leaders. And too, we rarely judge others in the manner that we would like to be judged.

The End of Leadership offers a report on the state of leadership and followership today. Kellerman has surveyed the history of leadership to pinpoint a trend—the diminishing power and influence of leaders and people in authority and the increase of power and influence of ordinary people—followers. In recent years, communications technology has played a large part. “The effect on leaders is to diminish them. The more we know about how leaders and managers manage, the more they tend to shrink.”

The contract between leader and follower has changed. The assumptions on which it was based has changed because first, “the old justifications for having power, authority, and influence are no longer so persuasive and second because people in the present think of themselves are more important, more entitled than did people in the past.”

Kurt Anderson asked in New York magazine, Is Democracy Killing Democracy? He writes: So now we have a country absolutely teeming with irregular passions and artful misrepresentations, whipped up to an unprecedented pitch and volume by the fundamentally new means of 24/7 cable and the hyperdemocratic web. [There is ] the misapprehension that democratic governing is supposed to be the same as democratic discourse, that elected officials are virtuous to the extent that they too default to unbudging, sky-is-falling recalcitrance and refusal. And the elected officials, as never before, are indulging that populist fantasy. Just as the founders feared, American democracy has gotten way too democratic.

I wonder if we have—in our radical shift to the entitlement of followers and the bad leadership that encourages it—sowed the seeds for an overcorrection in the other direction. Perhaps we will find ourselves welcoming a society governed by extremely self-deferential leaders to sort it out. History shows us that when societies get to the point that they can’t properly govern themselves, they don’t get more disciplined and make the necessary corrections, they instead get behind anyone that will make all the “bad” go away—usually with negative consequences.

Because we have been able to “do” leadership in a way that has been less respectful of the follower and get away with it, doesn’t mean we were doing it right. While old methods of leadership are not tolerated at the present time, it doesn’t mean leadership itself has changed. The “right” way of leading people has never changed; our approach to leading people just swings back and forth from ditch to ditch. History shows us that we rarely get it “right.”

Kellerman observes that in the world in which we actually live, “leaders tend to put self-interest ahead of the public interest.” How true.

The idea that our leaders reflect who we are should give us pause. Much of the problem with leadership training, in my view, is that we are trying to develop something in leaders long after the train has already left the station. It’s not that it can’t be done. It’ is just much harder. Good leadership development begins much earlier in life.

Given our situation, Kellerman asks, how do we learn to lead in the twenty-first century? How to learn to lead when leaders are diminished from what they were, even in the recent past? How to learn to lead when resources such as power, authority, and influence are scarcer than before—and when any number of followers is as likely to be resistant as deferent? And, finally, how to learn to lead when the context itself is fraught with complexity and constraint?

Could we develop betters leaders if we developed better followers and would better followers create a pool of better leaders? Should we be training for followership? Should we be teaching the right kind of followership is leadership?

The End of Leadership is a vitally important book that every leader/follower should read and consider, but it is the tip of a much larger discussion about leadership, followership and society. Kellerman writes that “it is meant as a caution about the future of leadership in the twenty-first century. For nearly everywhere, leaders are found wanting, followers are restive, and the context is changing—sometimes at warp speed. So unless we get a grip, the prognosis is grim.”

Kellerman says that the leadership industry must make at least four changes:

  1. It must end the leader-centrism that constricts the conversation.
  2. It must transcend the situational specifics that make it so myopic.
  3. It must subject itself to critical analysis.
  4. It must reflect the object of its affection—change with the changing times.

Kellerman lays the foundation with this: “We need to think of leadership as a creative act—for which leaders and followers both are educated, for which leaders and followers both are prepared over a lifetime of learning….There are ways to educate women and men so they learn to be good, smart followers as well as good, smart leaders, and develop as large capacity for contextual intelligence as for emotional intelligence.” Absolutely.

Given the precipitous decline of leaders in the estimation of their followers, are there alternatives to the existing models—ways of teaching leadership that take into account the vicissitudes of the twenty-first century?

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Hard Times for Leaders Good Followers Make the Best Leaders

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:19 PM
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What Matters Now

What Matters Now
What Matters Now by Gary Hamel is probably one of the most important books you could read this year. It is an invitation to rethink the fundamental assumptions we have about capitalism, management, institutions, and life at work. It is, as Hamel describes it, “a blueprint for creating organizations that are fit for the future and fit for human beings.”

The book is divided into five fundamental, make-or-break issues that will determine whether your organization thrives or dives in the years ahead: values, innovation, adaptability, passion and ideology. Here are some of his thoughts that become more powerful as they sink in:

Values Matter Now.

• What matters now is that managers embrace the responsibilities of stewardship.

• Every institution rests on moral footings, and there is no force that can erode those foundations more rapidly than a cataract of self-interest.

• I think corporate life is so manifestly profane, so mechanical, mundane, and materialistic, that any attempt to inject a spiritual note feels wildly out of place—the workplace equivalent of reading the Bible in a brothel.

Innovation Matters Now.

• Post these simple questions on your company’s idea wiki: First, what are the thoughtless little ways we irritate customers and what can we do to change that? And second, what are the small, unexpected delights we could deliver to our customers at virtually no additional cost?

• Whenever you identify a convergent belief, ask, does this rest on some inviolable law of physics, or is it simply an artifact of our devotion to precedent? By working systematically to surface these invisible dogmas, you can turn reactionaries into rebels.

• To innovate, you need to see your organization and the world around it as a portfolio of skills and assets than can be endlessly recombined into new products and businesses.

Adaptability Matters Now.

• To thrive in turbulent times, organizations must become a bit more disorganized and unmanaged—less structured, less hierarchical, and less routinized.

• There are only two things, I think, that can throw our habits into sharp relief: a crisis that brutally exposes our collective myopia, or a mission so compelling and preposterous that it forces us to rethink our time-worn practices.

• To put it bluntly, the conversation about “where we go next” should be dominated by individuals who have their emotional equity invested in the future rather than the past. It needs to be led by individuals who don’t feel the need to defend decisions that were taken ten or twenty years ago.

Passion Matters Now.

• It’s impossible to unleash human capabilities without first expanding the scope of employee autonomy. People need the freedom to challenge precedent, to “waste” time, to go outside of channels, to experiment, to take risks, and to follow their passions.

• How, many policies in your company exist only to preserve that fiction that the higher-ups really are in control? How many rules enforce standardization at the expense of initiative and passion, while delivering few if any performance benefits?

Ideology Matters Now.

• The creed of control reigns supreme. If you doubt this, ask yourself: Is your organization any less rules-driven than it was ten or twenty years ago? Do people on the front lines feel any less controlled? Are their freedoms any less abridged? And are little cogs any less obsesses with becoming big cogs?

• Give someone monarch-like authority, and sooner or later there will be a royal screw-up.

• We don’t have to content ourselves with an organizational model that was designed to serve the interests of ancient military commanders and smokestack-era CEOs.

It’s time to re-invent our leadership. This book will help in that process.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:54 PM
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The Inner World of the Leader: On the Couch with Manfred Kets de Vries

Why do organizations attempt to function on the basis that executives are logical, rational, dependable human beings?

And why does the belief persist that management is a rational task performed by rational people according to rational organizational objectives?

These are just a couple of the questions and myths that Manfred Kets de Vries grapples with in his series, On the Couch with Manfred Kets de Vries.

Kets de Vries is a clinical professor of leadership development at INSEAD. His background in economics, management, and psychoanalysis, adds a great deal of richness and context to the study of leadership. Over the last three years Jossey-Bass has published a mostly revised and updated collection of his rather large body of thoughtful-provoking writing in this series of three books.
The opinion of one of the power holders in the [Harvard Business School] Organizational Behavior department was that I would never write anything. That particular person must have had a very good understanding of human behavior. One of the small pleasures of life is doing something people say you will never do. I believe that [Reflections on Character and Leadership] is my twenty-ninth book. I have always thought that academics are masters in character assassination.

Reflections on Character and Leadership
Kets de Vries begins the series with Reflections on Character and Leadership. In it he examines some of the major issues about leadership. What makes a leader? What is good leadership? And what is bad? What happens to organizations if a leader derails? What are the impacts of successful and failed leadership on followers and organizations?

Every leader needs someone who is willing to speak out and tell the leader how it is in order to create checks and balances—the counterweight of the person in power. Without such people leaders easily derail and organizations can become paralyzed by fear, mistrust and insecurity. He explains how leaders construct organizations that are great places to work.
The era of the highly structured organization is past….Clearly, some executives may not be able to deal with the ambiguities that this new kind of networking, boundary-less organization entails—the external boundaries in an organization can be removed fairly easily, but the boundaries inside people’s heads are more difficult to dissolve. Weaning some leaders away from their need for authority, structures, and controls may take considerable time and effort. In the long run, however, it will be well worth it. Eventually, they will enjoy their work more, and be more effective.

Reflections on Leadership and Career Development
Kets de Vries says that narcissism is an inescapable aspect of human nature—and leadership. It has had a generally bad press. “There is such a thing as a healthy dose and it lies somewhere on a wide spectrum that ranges from grandiosity and showmanship to denigration and coldness.” He begins Reflections on Leadership and Career Development by discussing narcissism and leadership.
Leadership can be pathologically destructive or intensely inspirational. But what is it about the leaders themselves that causes them to be one or the other? I believe the answer lies in the degree of narcissism in the personality of the leader in question.

He discusses the qualities characterize great leaders and the interactions, both positive and dysfunctional, between leaders and followers. “The truly effective leader “is the one who knows how to balance reflection and action by using self-insight as a restraining force when the sirens of power start singing.” He takes a look at leadership archetypes and how they operate within organizations—and how to deal with them. He concludes with an examination of the issues, anxieties, and opportunities that we face at midlife and beyond. How can we alter our perspective on life to become “twice-born”?

Reflections on Groups and Organizations
Finally in Reflections on Groups and Organizations, Kets de Vries looks at leadership issues in the context of groups and organizations. He examines various ways in which neurotic individuals create neurotic organizations. He describes how folie à duex—literally “madness shared by two”—works in an organizational setting; how individuals’ activity or passivity and tendency toward conformism can contribute to the process and what checks and balances could be used to forestall and manage dysfunctional leader-follower relationships.

Kets de Vries doesn’t believe leaders are born. While some seem to have a head start, leadership potential can be developed. “Leadership potential is a delicate interplay between nature and nurture.”

An effective leader is someone, says Kets de Vries, “who is a little like a Zen riddle, or kōan—a paradox who is comfortable dealing with paradoxes. Because a leader has to be active and reflective, an introvert and an extrovert, engaged in both divergent and convergent thinking. A leader needs IQ, but also EQ. A leader has to think atomistically, but also holistically, for the short term and the long term. Anyone who can balance these contradictions effectively will do well.”

He advocates the building of an organization wide coaching culture ad discuss how it can be implemented.
There are several basic things that any leader has to do: provide focus, understand what makes their people tick, set an example, and make things happen. However, the distinguishing factor between mediocre and great leadership is always the same: the creation of meaning….When it comes down to it, people are searching for meaning.

This series of books cannot be read quickly. Each book in the series seeks to understand leaders, human nature and its vicissitudes. They need to be reflected on. They will challenge your thinking, widen your perspective and inspire you to do better.
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:08 PM
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Lead With Purpose

Lead with Purpose

WITHOUT A CLEAR SENSE of purpose, organizations become listless. John Baldoni says in Lead With Purpose that it falls to the leader to make certain that organizational purpose is understood and acted upon. Retired Army colonel, George Reed told Baldoni that the importance of this cannot be underestimated:
I don’t think you can hit purpose enough as a senior leader. It is one of those things that can be undercommunicated by an order of magnitude. You cannot oversell, overpronounce “Here’s why we’re here.”
The problem is that leaders think that they have communicated it enough, but the urgencies of the day cause people to forget their original intentions and their passion. It causes leaders to forget too. Repetition is essential. Baldoni states:
How well leaders use purpose to create the vision, mold the mission, and shape the values will serve as a testament to their ability to bring people together for a common cause.
It may begin with an explanation of what the organization does, says Baldoni, but it is vital that it be linked to the organizational culture and values. That means having clear-cut, definite goals, putting people first, and importantly, reducing purpose to a simple and memorable statement.

Baldoni has illuminated seven key people-smart things that organizations must do to succeed in the new future:

Make purpose a central focus. Organizations that succeed are those that know where they are headed and why. Leaders of purpose tap into the power of narrative to help employees make sense of adversity and have faith in their organization’s ability to not just survive, but continually adapt and thrive.

Instill purpose in others. Prioritize people. People have to know what they are doing and why they are being asked to do it. To cultivate and leverage high-performing people, emphasize mission, values, creation, collaboration, and execution, establish clear expectations for behavior, and embrace the credo: “Honor the workforce.”

Make employees comfortable with ambiguity. Purpose can provide clarity in unsettled times. Leaders who find clarity in chaos, practice the virtues of pragmatism, and teach critical thinking skills will make living with uncertainty easier for their people—and themselves.

Turn good intentions into great results. Even in a tough world and a people-sensitive company, it’s a bottom-line fact: the work still has to get done. Leaders of purpose balance creativity with practicality; keep a firm eye on efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability; and strive to instill ownership in every individual worker.

Make it safe to fail (as well as prevail). Reasonable risk, daring to try something radical while keeping a grip on what works and what doesn’t, is critical to every breakthrough success. Leaders of purpose explore the impetus for change—reason, urgency, action—before leaping; respect their people’s resourcefulness; and handle setback with grace.

Develop the next generation. Few senior business leaders will be in their current jobs five or ten years from now. Leaders of purpose prepare their people for a future beyond them by hiring with care, developing capable, competent employees who are able to rise to challenges and seize opportunities; and enabling others to lead.

Prepare yourself. Purposeful organizations need leaders who know themselves first; have the inner compass that points them in the right direction. Many leaders never take the time to do so. Take time to reflect on what you want to do, why you want to do it, and how you will do it.

Baldoni says to define purpose, you want to ask three questions:

What is our vision? Vision emerges from the sense of purpose. It forms the why, but it also embraces the future as in “to become” the best, the most noted, the highest quality, or the most trusted.

What is our mission? Your mission is the what of an organization; what it does.

What are our values? Neither vision or mission mean much if they are not reinforced by strong values. Values shape the culture. Values enforce the behaviors that employees cherish.

Lead with Purpose is an important book on a key concept. As Baldoni says, after identifying their own purpose, putting purpose to work for the organization is the challenge every leader faces. It’s important to remember too, that a leader demonstrates purpose first and foremost through their own behavior. Lead with Purpose was selected a best leadership book of 2011.

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Lead Your Boss Leaders Pocket Guide

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:38 PM
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Managing With a Conscience

We handicap our potential when we think we have to exploit others to get ahead. Succeeding is not a zero-sum game. We don’t look better when everyone else looks worse.

Frank Sonnenberg makes the case in Managing with a Conscience, that the only sustainable way to succeed is the right way—not cutting corners—emphasizing the intangibles like trust, creativity, focus, speed, flexibility, relationships, loyalty, and employee commitment. While not readily measureable, they can make or break leaders and organizations. Sonnenberg believes that leaders who have a jaded view of intangible assets will never make the commitment required to reap their full potential.

Sonnenberg discusses at length, nine critical success factors that need to be built into the organization:
  • Passion that develops commitment to the organization’s mission, values, and goals
  • An innovative and creative environment and mindset that reinvents itself every day
  • Effective, focused and consistent internal communication to set priorities that focus the organization’s efforts and people on the resources that provide the greatest potential return.
  • Devotion to service excellence
  • A learning organization that adapts well to change
  • Responds with speed
  • Maintains a flexible structure by collaborating both internally and externally
  • Emphasizes that personal networking is an efficient and effective way to solicit ideas, access new sources of information, increase business development, and attract new hires
  • Understands that trust is foundational; it is what binds us together and makes work possible.
Sonnenberg hits these issues head-on. Managing with a Conscience is both an analysis and a practical how-to book. He demonstrates how to take management platitudes beyond the letter of the law. Asking the right questions helps to take you beyond mere compliance. People often get cynical about the latest initiative because they are not implemented on a meaningful level—and consequently they never really get the results you’re looking for. Sonnenberg helps you get to the intent. From the employee bill of rights:
Employees have the right to approach management. Management should announce an open-door policy. But announcing is not enough. Employees should feel comfortable approaching management. Ask yourself if you’re in your office long enough to be approached. Are you available at convenient times or only at 7:00 a.m.? Has your administrative assistant done everything to screen you from “outsiders” except put barbed wire outside your office? When a concern was brought to your attention, in confidence, did you divulge any part of the information? Do you just go through the motions of listening? It is up to you to take the initiative and get out of your office to meet with employees. Been seen on a regular basis so people don’t think you’re avoiding them.
Sonnenberg writes, “If your organization isn’t focused, someone is probably undoing something you just completed.” How true. As he notes, when people don’t know or understand the organizational purpose, they end up going in different directions, often competing with each other. And this is true in the social media environment, too. It is not unusual to see social media participants undoing an organization’s values and beliefs because they simply don’t understand them or can’t live them. They create conflicting messages that undermine the purpose of the organization.

“The costs to society,” writes Sonnenberg, “of everyone acting like random molecules bouncing off one another is just too great. We have no time to think about what is important. We judge someone’s worth by what we see on the outside rather than their inner worth. We envy someone who has achieved success without thinking about what they did to earn it.” We can change that, if we begin with our own example first.

This comprehensive book is based on the idea that “what goes around comes around.” If you treat people right, they will treat you right. Sonnenberg believes that when you operate with the highest levels of trust and integrity, it makes you feel good about yourself, the people you work with, and the organization that you represent. It impacts how you view yourself and the way other people view you.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:34 PM
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Power Corrupts Sooner than You Think

Power Corrupts

IN A LETTER to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, Lord Acton observed that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” British Prime Minister William Pitt also observed, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” Power is a tricky thing and we rely on it more than we should.

In a study by Adam Galinsky and others, they found that when people where power primed—temporarily made to feel powerful—they demonstrated a reduced tendency to comprehend how others see, think, and feel as compared with those that were primed with low power. They relied too heavily on their own vantage points and demonstrated less accuracy when assessing the emotions and thoughts of others. The possession of power or even the feeling of power tends to very quickly change how we think. We easily slip into thinking we are something we are not, to become absorbed with ourselves, to think, “It’s all about me.”

Our ego can quickly blind us to reality—self-deception sets in very quickly. We lose self-awareness and therefore our sense of the impact we are having on others. We would do well to remember the Stripes Rule. Denny Strigl, former CEO and president of Verizon Wireless, recalls in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?:

When I became president of Ameritech’s cellular subsidiary, Ameritech Mobile, the chairman of Ameritech told me something that has stayed with me ever since. He said I would be managing an entire company, and as the company’s most senior manager, I should always remember that the “stripes” I have been given are on the coat I wear, not on the person who wears the coat. He cautioned me not to let the job go to my head because when I take the coat off, I will just be a person like any other.

Power, it seems, can easily become a handicap and not a blessing to leading well. But it often comes with the territory. A wise leader might keep Lord Acton’s words front and center.

Very soon after we become aware of our own power, our thoughts begin to turn inward and we lose touch with those we are to serve. Power becomes a barrier reducing our ability to lead properly. Awareness of this fact is the first step toward managing it.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:25 AM
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We Blame the 1%, But Still Call Them Our Leaders

Leading Forum
This is a guest post by Dave Ursillo, author of Lead Without Followers: How to Save Our World by Radically Redefining the Meaning of Leadership. Gen Y author Ursillo shares his personal journey into the meaning of leadership. Ursillo believes that we must choose to be a leader—in life and business—on the inside before we are seen as one on the outside. Therefore, we have to choose to lead without followers first.

Approval ratings have consistently hovered at historic lows for both American political parties for years. Thousands have organized in angered protests on a near monthly basis to express their distrust and impatience with the political and economic elite, spanning stark polarities of social groups like the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party. As his own approval ratings have fallen toward the abysmal ratings of former President George W. Bush—and with the 2012 Presidential Election now looming -- the inspired election of President Obama certainly feels like ancient history.

Clearly, the deep leadership problem that is wreaking havoc throughout our modern world is neither a Republican nor Democrat problem.

The real problem, as I contend in my new book Lead Without Followers: How to Save Our World by Radically Redefining the Meaning of Leadership, is that we have collectively, quietly, even subconsciously lost sight of what it really means to lead—the essential, fundamental, unshakeable human core of what leadership is, amongst and on behalf of others.

My book is a radical redefinition of leadership. By that, I mean to encourage you to rethink the very relation between a leader and followers. At first glance, we would all deduce that if you have no followers, you cannot lead, because you have no one to lead.

A quote that I often hear attributed to John C. Maxwell goes something to the effect of, "If you think you're a leader but no one is following you, you are just a guy going for a walk." This is the highly constrained, indisputable law of today's definition of leadership.

But what about what you do when you're on that walk? Do you come across others? Get presented with an opportunity to do good, do wrong, or resort to indifference? Become a hero or one of many bystanders who did nothing to help? Lend a hand? Offer a smile?

Nobody lives in a bubble. In our lives, we encounter countless dozens, if not hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Each seemingly routine and mundane interaction—even with a complete stranger you'll never see again—is an opportunity to positively, negatively, or neutrally impact his or her life, potentially forever.

To me, simply living in this world and among its peoples gives you the raw opportunity to become a bona fide leader. By simple choice, with some internal exploration, personal growth and everyday practice, you can become a highly influential leader that positively impacts the lives of others, every day—even without followers.

I argue in my book that "leadership" has become a far too limited term that is more accurately used to define the material wealth and career success of individuals among society—those who have succeeded in acquiring high salary, prestigious job title and social status, perceived popularity and power, and masses of followers. On a subconscious level, we socially acknowledge these qualifiers of material success as indicators of an individual's supposed ability to lead.

Of course, making the assumption is matter simple logic: to rise to such a level of success, one has proven his or her intelligence and abilities—important necessities for leadership on business and political levels.

However, today, and especially as popular protests lambast the supposed "1%" of corrupt politicos and evil big bankers, have we quietly grown into investing far too much attention into the things that individuals have acquired—wealth, status, power, followers, etc.—to shallowly qualify them as the best potential leaders for our world?

Leadership today has become a dirty word. "Politician" is even dirtier. And as public rage swirls at the simple, commonplace status quo amongst the national zeitgeist, what it means to be a leader is becoming further convoluted.

If we are truly dedicated to changing what we see as wrong with our world and feel it necessary to inspire a new generation of leaders to help turn things around, we owe it to ourselves to take a good, hard, long look at how we each define leadership in its typically constrictive terms.

Maybe, just maybe, if we place renewed focus and energy into defining leadership more upon what drives us to do good—passion and inspiration, love and selfless giving, vision and dedication, positivity and hope—than the socially-admired material outcomes, we'll more quickly arrive at the solution.

Not everyone can lead as a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. There can only be one President of the United States. But everyone, in as little as being human, can take up the vital mantle of leadership in their every day lives based upon everything that they already have—even without followers.

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Dave Ursillo is a former “politico” insider turned alternative leadership writer, author and speaker. The Rhode Island native teaches men and women how to become “leaders without followers” in any walk of life by discovering a personal and profound sense of inner leadership. At 23, Ursillo abandoned his fast-tracked career path in public service amid a crisis of identity and while battling depression. Opting for the unemployment line during a 100-year recession, Ursillo has built an expansive digital platform through a growing social media presence and as an avid writer, helpful personality and determined world-changer. Ursillo’s experiences from “his past life” span five governmental offices over six years from 2003 to 2009, including the White House Council on Environmental Quality under the Bush Administration in 2008 and as a “body man” to a state gubernatorial candidate in 2009. Since its inception in 2009, DaveUrsillo.com has reached over 70,000 readers from 173 countries. In June 2011, Ursillo and his blog were also seen in a feature story on CBS Sunday Morning about the world of blogging.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:17 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Leading Forum


What Did He Know and When Did He Know It?

Senator Howard Baker’s famous question, "What did the president know and when did he know it?" is about moral responsibility.

Leaders have a moral responsibility to the people they serve. Those relationships are a leader’s stock in trade and are to be valued above our agendas. For it is through the relationships we develop that we are able to accomplish anything at all.

Our actions set the tone for the whole team. They express our values and our priorities. Above all leadership is something we live.

It’s easy to get trapped in the agenda and forget why we are leading in the first place. The agenda is very visible and exciting. Lost in the agenda, we forget who we are and those we serve.

We can be so focused on the goal that we forget the process. We move so fast we can’t hear our own values. We have to slow down so that our values catch up with our behavior. If we don’t, we make poor judgments, we misplace our loyalties, confuse priorities, and forget the well-being of the people we lead and the example we provide. In short, we ask the wrong questions and so we get the wrong answers.

Before we choose to lead and throughout our leadership journey, we need to ask who we are and why we lead? It is that inescapable core that determines our behavior.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:16 PM
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Leading Views: You Can’t Do It Without Love

Leading Views In Up, Down, or Sideways, Mark Sanborn asks:

So how are you doing with love?

One method I use to assess myself in this area is to plug my name into a familiar passage from the Bible—1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It says,
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Replace the word love (and the pronouns that represent it) with your name, and if you’re like me, it will convict you and challenge you.

It is instructive to replace the word “love” with “leadership.” It becomes a definitive statement about what leadership is all about. Try it!

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:20 PM
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Great by Choice

Great by Choice

IT IS A defeatist attitude to think that luck or circumstances primarily make you what you are. Luck, both good and bad happen to us all. We cannot control much of what happens around us, but the choices we make, as Jim Collins and Morten Hansen’s research confirms, determine our success.

In Great by Choice, the authors rightfully assert that we have entered an extended period of uncertainty and turbulent disruption that might well characterize the rest of our lives. The question then is, what is required to perform exceptionally well in such a world?.

For their study, the authors chose a set of major companies that achieved spectacular results over 15 or more years while operating in unstable environments. They call these companies "10Xers" for providing shareholder returns at least 10 times greater than their industry. Then the authors compared those companies—Amgen, Biomet, Intel, Microsoft, Progressive Insurance, Southwest Airlines, Stryker—to similar, but less successful, "control" companies: Genentech, Kirschner, AMD, Apple, Safeco, PSA and United States Surgical.

10X LeadershipThese 10Xers didn’t survive on chaos, they survived in chaos. They achieved spectacular results not because they experienced different circumstances, but because they displayed very different behaviors. 10Xers shared a set of behavioral traitsfanatic discipline, empirical creativity, and productive paranoia—all held together by a central motivating force, Level 5 Ambition—the passion for a cause larger than themselves and infused with the will to do whatever it takes to make good on that cause.

Fanatic Discipline: Extreme consistency of action. Don’t overreact to events.
Empirical Creativity: Bold, creative moves from a sound empirical base.
Productive Paranoia: Highly attuned to threats and changes especially when things are going well. Fear and worry is channeled into preparation, contingency plans, buffers and margins of safety.

10X Leadership Behaviors

20-Mile March: This is the discipline to stay the course in both good times and bad. This means maintaining a lower bound and an upper bound, a hurdle that you jump over and a ceiling that you will not rise above, the ambition to achieve and the self-control to hold back. A 20-Mile March provides a tangible point of focus that keeps you moving forward.

Fire Bullets, then Cannonballs: 10Xers increase their luck by firing lots of bullets instead of a big un-calibrated cannonball. The underlying principle is, be creative, but validate your creative ideas with empirical experience.

Leading above the Death Line: 10Xers build in buffers because the only mistakes you can learn from are the ones you survive. They zoom-in and zoom out to manage risk and recognize luck.

SMaC: Specific, Methodical and Consistent. Tactics change from situation to situation, whereas SMaC practices can last for decades and apply across a wide range of circumstances. “Steve Jobs didn’t so much revolutionize the company as he returned it to the principles he’d used to launch the company from garage to greatness two decades earlier.” There is always the struggle to find the balance between continuity and change. I find too many are wedded to one ditch or the other.

Certainly luck plays a part. The authors found that the difference between the 10X companies and the comparison companies wasn’t the good or bad luck they got, but what they did with it. Key comment regarding luck: “If the ratio of head to tails tends to even out over time, we need to be skilled, strong, prepared, and resilient to endure the bad luck long enough to eventually get good luck.” Mountain climber “Malcom Daly had to be lucky enough to survive the fall, but he also had to be strong, skilled, and resilient before the 44 hours of peril after his two-hundred-foot fall.”

The organizations they studied were paranoid about chance events and complex forces out of their control, but they focused on what they could do, seeing themselves as ultimately responsible for their choices and accountable for their performance—no matter what the sequence of coin flips.

A thought provoking book that, like Collin’s other work, takes us back to basics. In conclusion they ask:

When the moment comes—when we’re afraid, exhausted, or tempted—what choice do we make? Do we abandon our values? Do we give in? Do we accept average performance because that’s what most everyone else accepts? Do we capitulate to the pressure of the moment? Do we give up on our dreams when we’ve been slammed by brutal facts?

In the end, we can control only a tiny sliver of what happens to us. But even so, we are free to choose, free to become great by choice.

Greatness is not primarily a matter of circumstance. Greatness is first and foremost a matter of conscious choice and discipline. The factors that determine whether or not a company becomes truly great, even in a chaotic and uncertain world, lie largely within the hands of its people. It is not mainly a matter of what happens to them but a matter of what they create, what they do, and how well they do it.

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Confusing Principles and Approaches Finding Your Flywheel

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:57 AM
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5 Leadership Lessons: EntreLeadership

5 Leadership Lessons

Dave Ramsey defines EntreLeadership as “the process of leading to cause a venture to grow and prosper.” Entreleaders know how to blend their entrepreneurial passion with servant-like leadership that motivates employees through persuasion instead of intimidation. EntreLeadership is a book about how business works from a practitioner. His advice, on nearly every facet of running a business, is based on solid principles. Here are just a few of his thoughts on leadership:

1  The very things you want from a leader are the very things the people you are leading expect from you. You must intentionally become more of each of these every day to grow yourself and your business. And to the extent you’re not doing that, you’re failing as a leader.

2  You want to know what is holding back your dreams from becoming a reality? Go look in your mirror. The good news is, if you’re the problem, you’re also the solution.

3  How do you begin to foster and live out this spirit of serving your team with strength? Avoid executive perks and ivory towers. Eat lunch with your team in the company lunchroom every day. Get your own coffee sometimes. No reserved parking spots. Look for the little actions you can take that say to your team that while you are in charge, and while you lead from strength, you are all in this together.

4  While persuasional leadership takes longer and takes more restraint at the time, it is much more efficient over the long haul. Positional leadership doesn’t take as long in the exchange, but you have to do it over and over and over and over.

5  Too many people in business have abandoned sight of the fact that their team members are humans, they are people. Too many people in business have become so shallow that they are merely transactional, not relational. The people on your payroll are not units of production, they are people. They have dreams, goals, hurts, and crises. If you trample them or don’t bother to engage them relationally you will forever struggle in your operations.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:25 PM
| Comments (0) | Communication , General Business , Human Resources , Leadership , Management


Leading: Sharing Accountability

Uncertainty necessitates the need for finding more wisdom within our organizations. This can only be accomplished by creating a leadership mindset throughout the entire organization. It is shared accountability. Any leader that thinks that they can do it alone is indulging their own ego.

James Champy and Nitin Nohria cautioned us not to assume that no one else on the premises can match our own ambition, competence, and vision. We have to accept the fact that there are many points of wisdom within our organizations and a wise leader will engage them. Too many leaders are not accustomed to accepting input from junior members no matter how valuable it is. This creates a lack of trust and openness. The currency of leadership is relationships and a wise leader would do well to encourage input from as many sources as possible and especially not from the usual suspects.

Phil Nolan, CEO of Eircom Limited, described it this way in A Time for Leadership, “The concept of distributed leadership will keep you in touch with the environment. If you want to prepare people for this environment, you have to get leadership further down the organization. We generally tend to drive managing down the organization, but not leadership.

“As an organization we have to prepare for acts of leadership further down the organization. I think that that is the hardest thing for us to do as people sitting at the top. It feels like an unnatural act.”

Leadership needs to be the expected norm at all levels.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:08 PM
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Common Purpose Leadership

In Common Purpose, consultant Joel Kurtzman makes the case that excellent leaders build a sense of inclusiveness—a sense of we—within the organization by creating a common purpose. A place where people know what to do and why, and understand what the organization stands for. Based on interviews and first-hand experience, Common Purpose lays out how to achieve and then sustain a culture based on a common purpose. For example:
  • Emphasize One Goal – Gordon Bethune, CEO of Continental Airlines, recognized that his customers valued on-time performance. He set this as the measure of success for the company. In order to underscore this goal, Bethune decided to send every employee a check every time the company was first in on-time arrival. In the different cities, pilots, flight attendants, agents, mechanics, baggage handlers, and everyone else united together to achieve this one goal, while reinforcing the feeling of “one team”.
  • Become Flat, Instead of Hierarchical – In a hierarchical organization information supplied by subordinates is looked at with condescension by individuals at the top. In the case of Enron, Sherron Watkins signaled to Ken Lay, the chairman of the organization, that something was wrong with the company’s partnerships and the way they were kept off the books. Lay ignored the information due to the rationalization that if something was wrong, he, as chairman, would know. Creating different levels of importance in an organization usually works against common purpose.
  • Leaders at All Levels – When a company has a common purpose, all employees have an understanding of what the organization stands for, enabling them to make a decision independently based on that information. Simon Cooper, president and CEO of Ritz-Carlton, calls this “scriptless service”. With such a diverse clientele, employees cannot simply operate by choosing from a limited number of preselected solutions to guest requests. A chambermaid must be empowered to decide on her own volition whether to give a guest extra towels based upon what was used the night before.
  • Lead by Listening – FM Global’s chairman and CEO, Shivan Subramaniam, takes every opportunity to listen to his employees. He eats in the company’s cafeteria and often sits with random groups of FM Global employees. Subramaniam puts himself in the loop of what is going on with the company. It also makes him accessible to his employees, in case they wish to share their ideas.
The easiest way to create a sense of we, says Kurtzman, is unfortunately to create the specter of them. Because it is easy, it is probably the reason you see this dynamic played out in so many organizations of all kinds. While it is a shortcut to common purpose, “it can also be a stepping stone to chaos, doom, and organized opposition.” I would add that within the organization or group, it also leads to arrogance, stagnation and closed minds. In most cases it leads to decline.

Organizations are created to achieve goals that “are beyond the capability of an individual to accomplish alone.” They are a method of “aligning groups of people so they achieve common goals.” This is best accomplished when you encourage people to be leaders at any level within the organization. Simon Cooper, president and CEO of Ritz-Carlton says the best reason to rid an organization of mindless hierarchy is to provide scriptless service: employees deciding on their own how to make guests happy. “They make decisions on their own, on the spot, using their own judgment, and with the sense of confidence that comes from owning their jobs. That’s real leadership.” Taking risks on behalf of the organization. This requires trust at all levels and a different view of real leadership, says Kurtzman.
It is difficult to overstress how important it is for teams of people working together to meet informally from time to time…The point is that you cannot lead a team if you do not know the people you are leading, and the best way to do that is informally.
“The leader is not separate from the group he or she leads. Rather, the leader is the organization’s glue—the force that binds it together, sets its direction, and makes certain that the group functions as one.” Kurtzman notes, “Leadership is not coaching. Coaching focuses on helping people arrive at their own goals. Whereas leadership, especially common purpose leadership, is about helping people arrive at a collective set of goals. It is about coordinating people’s efforts, aims, ambitions, and capabilities.”
Leaders can’t think of themselves as better than their workers, or more favored because they have a higher rank. Becoming CEO is not a coronation, it’s a promotion. And CEOs can’t do everything. The purpose of an organization is to combine the efforts of many people to produce results no one on his or her own could achieve alone. Leaders must understand that. They must live the goals they espouse. They must understand that everyone inside the organization is looking at them — scrutinizing them, really — and also that every action of theirs is being watched and talked about. At FM Global, Shivan Subramaniam, the chairman and CEO, decided against buying a corporate jet despite the prodding of his board. Instead, he decided to abide by the same corporate travel rules that every other executive in the company abides by. He even flies on the redeye if he must. By doing this, he sends a powerful signal throughout the company that while he may be the CEO, he’s also an employee, just like everyone else. People value that. People will do almost anything for a leader like that.
Of course, one size does not fit all. “People are individuals, and those who thrive in one firm might not thrive in another. Chemistry, fit, values, and many other qualities are in the eye of the beholder.”

Kurtzman believes that “organizations will come to resemble constellations of capabilities linked together technologically from centers located around the world….Big companies will comprise smaller pieces, each with unique characteristics, ownership structures, and relationships. Each of these elements, when combined, will create enormous value?” The question is what will keep it all together. Incentives alone won’t do it. “The power of a common purpose will become the factor that differentiates winning organizations from those left behind.”

This means that leaders will have to be “kinder, more caring, and more empathic than leaders of the past.” We have seen this increased focus on respect as many of you write, talk, and practice this on a daily basis.
Common purpose leadership, at its most basic level, is about recognizing people as individuals. Common purpose leadership begins with respect for individuals and their differences, and goes on to celebrate their strengths.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:59 AM
| Comments (0) | Human Resources , Leadership , Management , Motivation , Teamwork


Who's the King?

The lion was completely convinced about his dominance of the animal kingdom. One day he wanted to check whether all the other animals knew he was the undisputed king of the jungle. He was so confident that he decided not to talk to the smaller creatures. Instead he went straight to the bear. “Who is the king of the jungle?” asked the lion. The bear replied, “Of course, no one else but you, sir.” The lion gave a great roar of approval.

He continued his journey and met the tiger. “Who is the king of the jungle?” The tiger quickly responded, “All of us know that you are the king.” The lion gave another roar of pleasure.

elephant and the lion
Next on his list was the elephant. He caught up with the elephant at the edge of a river and asked him the same question, “Who is the king of the jungle?” The elephant trumpeted, lifted his trunk, grabbed the lion, threw him in the air and smashed him into a tree. He fished him out of the tree and pounded him into the ground, lifted him up once more and dumped him into the river. Then he jumped on top of the lion, dragged him through the mud, and finally left him hanging in some bushes. The lion, dirty, beaten, bruised, and battered, struggled to get to his feet. He looked the elephant sadly in the eyes and said, “Look, just because you don’t know the answer, there’s no reason for you to be so mean-spirited about it.”

This story illustrates that even in the face of another point of view, we reshape the feedback until it supports what we want it to mean. We often will do anything to maintain the status quo. The problem is that reality is slipping further and further away. “Some leaders are like the lion,” says Manfred Kets de Vries author of Reflections on Groups and Organizations. “Reality testing isn’t their forte. They are not good at making sense out of feedback. Instead, they create their own reality, wanting to see only what they like to see.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:19 PM
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The Big Vision is Important but People Live in the Details

Most leaders don’t want to be called a tyrant, a control freak, or even a micromanager. To avoid that, it’s easy to jump into the other ditch and be laissez-faire. Leaders have a duty to navigate between these two extremes as the situation dictates.

Typically, we like to present the vision—the values—and leave the details to be sorted out. We like to give the big overarching principle without explaining exactly how it plays out in everyday life. The problem is that everything happens in the details. That’s where people live. That’s where decisions are made, community is built, and your vision and values are realized—or not.

We like to articulate the “promised land” and expect that everyone will catch on. That might work for the most highly visible leaders—those interacting with employees day-in and day-out—because they see you translating those values and goals on a day-to-day basis. But seriously, how many of us are that visible? We’re far too busy!?!

We don’t want to be caught telling people what to do, but we want everyone on the same page. Life doesn’t work like that. People see the same thing and hear the same thing differently. They interpret it differently and thus it plays out in their behavior differently. And that is where the friction starts. That’s where the community breaks down. That’s where the judgment begins.

Organizations, groups and families need more guidance than that. I’m not suggesting that we become control freaks, create even more rules, or become condescending or judgmental, but we need to clarify the vision and values in the details where people live. What do our values look like in everyday life? We need to use examples as they come up to relate everyday behavior to our values. Show where they match-up and where they don’t in a way that leaves room for them to develop good judgment and practical wisdom.

From the beginning—and along the way as needed—we need to spell out, “This is the kind of company we want to be, this is the kind of people we want to be, so that means we don’t do this but we do do that.” Specifically. And we then communicate this over and over again in our rhetoric and actions. People need to know and understand your values if their behavior is to be guided by them. If there is a disconnect between your values and everyone’s clear understanding of them, confusion and misbehavior will define your leadership.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:17 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Management , Teamwork , Vision


4 Lessons from the Toyota Crisis

“Crisis response must start by building a strong culture long before the crisis hits,” say Jeffrey Liker and Tim Ogden, authors of Toyota Under Fire.
Turning crisis into opportunity is all about culture. It’s not about PR strategies, or charismatic leadership, or vision, or any specific action by any individual. It’s not about policies or procedures or risk mitigation processes. It’s about the actions that have been programmed into the individuals and teams that make up a company before the crisis starts.
The accident in August 2009 that took the lives of four people in a runaway Lexus brought national attention to Toyota. Fueled by innuendo and speculation by Congress and some media, it escalated into something it was not. Toyota Under Fire deals with not only the massive recall of 2009-2010, but also Toyota’s response to the oil crisis and recession. Toyota’s response has not been typical, but it does follow the Toyota Way. It is a reflection of their culture. That way includes what is probably Toyota’s “greatest contribution to the world as a model of real continuous improvement” at and by all levels in the organization. Liker and Ogden describe the Toyota Way as:
Face challenges with a clear head and positive energy. Hold fast to your core values and your vision for the company. Always start with the customer. Understand the problems that you face by analyzing the facts, including your own failings, and understanding the root causes. Thoroughly consider alternative solutions, then pick a path, develop a detailed plan, and execute with discipline and energy.
“You do not turn a culture off and on again like a light switch.” Culture—like character—is built over decades of living your values in the real world. And then in a crisis, when you really need it, it is there to carry you through. The authors isolated four lessons for dealing with a crisis:

Lesson 1: Your Crisis Response Started Yesterday. What a company does isn’t likely to change much when a crisis strikes or for any length of time. “They are driven by culture, and culture simply can’t be changed quickly, even in a crisis…. Therefore, the chief questions to ask yourself about how your company will respond in a crisis are not contingency plans and policies, but about your culture and your people. Have you created a culture that rewards transparency and accepts responsibility for mistakes? Have you created a culture that encourages people to take on challenges and strive for improvement? Have you created a culture that values people and invests in their capabilities? Have you created a culture that prioritizes the long term?”

Lesson 2: A Culture of Responsibility Will Always Beat a Culture of Finger-Pointing. Common sense? Yes, but the question is how far do you go in accepting responsibility? What if the factors were beyond your control? The answer illuminates an important nuance in understanding Toyota’s culture of responsibility and problem solving. “There is no value to the Five Whys [belief that you have to ask why at least five times] if you stop when you find a problem that is outside of your control. There will always be factors outside of your control. When you reach a cause that is outside of your control, the next why is to ask why you didn’t take into account forces outside of your control—either by finding an alternative approach or by building in flexibility to adjust to those forces.”

Lesson 3: Even the Best Culture Develops Weaknesses. The greatest threat to a culture of continuous improvement is success. “To survive the weaknesses that inevitably develop, a corporate culture has to have clear and objective standards, codified in such a way that self-correction is possible. Having a culture that recognizes a loss of direction is absolutely critical to long-term survival.”

Lesson 4: Globalizing Culture Means a Constant Balancing Act. The clarity of Toyota’s culture and values is essential to growing the culture in every employee. And there is a balance to strike—balance between centralized and decentralized, local and global—that is not easy. “There is an inherent demand here that especially the people who are at the margins, at the periphery of the organization, be deeply steeped in the culture, and that they are to be trusted to make decisions because they are at the gemba.” One of the root causes of the crisis they identified was centralized decision making. They will now pursue a regionalization strategy which will require trusting the leaders they have trained to maintain the culture.

Toyota Under Fire is an in-depth look at the value of having a strong culture that can serve you when things go south. The discussions explaining the reasoning behind why Toyota does what it does were very helpful. They demonstrate that the most important decisions are the ones made before the crisis. And then when the crisis hits, return to basics. Go deeper and wider.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:21 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , General Business , Leadership , Management , Problem Solving , Teamwork


Can I Lead? Yes. But…

There is a danger in selling leadership to everyone.

Serious practitioners of leadership know that there is a lot of work that goes into being a good leader (dictators of any variety, not so much).

Competence in your chosen context for leadership aside, the life-long inside work of leadership—figuring out what you won’t do before you figure out what you will do—is sometimes gut-wrenching and sometimes the most thrilling feeling you can experience.

Character usually isn’t explicitly stated in the sales pitch. Instead, leadership is quite often seen as a way to be heard, to advance your own agenda and to put yourself out front.

It is no surprise that Alan Webber recently wrote in the Washington Post:
You will be told that you have a responsibility to be leaders. That what the world needs more than ever are leaders. That we suffer from a lack of leadership. That with your education, your values, your ability to apply social media, your global vision, your youthful idealism, you will be the next generation of leaders!

Now. Listen. Very. Carefully.

Pay no attention to any of that. That is what we call hogwash.
Choosing to lead is one of the most rewarding decisions you may ever make. But it’s not about you. Yes, you will bring your unique and much needed gifts to the world, but not for your own sake. Your job is to use your gifts to help others express, make known and fulfill their potential. Influencing others with a purpose, a calling, and with opportunities they never imagined they had.

It’s a mindset of service. It’s a mindset of continual learning. It’s a mindset of growth.

The single biggest truth of leadership is that we build who we are by building up others.

That doesn’t come naturally to us, but it’s your calling, if you would be a leader.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:15 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Leadership Development


Leadership is about Creating Conversations

Poet and Fortune 500 consultant David Whyte said that “The core act of leadership must be the act of making conversations real.” Conversations—sometimes difficult conversations—are what build relationships. Conversations that provide the opportunity for possibility. Conversations about choice.

Leaders create the opportunity for conversation. By bringing people together for conversation they increase engagement, commitment and accountability. Leaders ask people to share their own genius and assume personal leadership. At that point the ability to listen becomes paramount.

Accountability isn’t only at the top. It lies with all of us. All of us are responsible. Possible futures are not the work of one person. They are made possible by the conversations and resulting accountability of a community of leaders.

Leadership is about creating conversations.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:18 PM
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What's Holding You Back? A Call for Gutsy Leadership

Robert Herbold, former COO of Microsoft, says that lack of courage is what destroys companies. In example after example, what is holding companies back is consistent, courageous leadership. In What’s Holding You Back? he writes that we need gutsy leaders that “make sure that their organization has a simple, understandable, clear game plan for the future,” a culture that is “curious, even paranoid about the future, to keep people always looking for new ways to help the company grow and prosper,” they “make sure decision making is crisp and accountability is clear.”
Management that doesn’t confront problems and make the necessary tough decisions to change, typically ends up with a culture focused on pride in the past and the protection of old procedures.
I think we are seeing too much of this core issue and what we end up with is operational complexity and lack of innovation and forward momentum. Herbold says that this is usually due to one or more of the following reasons:

Avoid conflict
Strive for certainty
Avoid a career risk
Lack of self-confidence
Lack of a sense of urgency
Protect their turf

Herbold details ten principles that you should review regularly to help you provide gutsy, courageous leadership. The most important principle and the one underlying the rest is the first principle: Devise a Demanding Game Plan to Confront Reality. This is accomplished by putting three things in place: “a clear vision with impact, aggressive strategies to achieve that vision, and a defined way of measuring success.”

Echoing Max De Pree, Herbold writes, “The core job of a leader in any organization is to quickly and accurately assess the current situation and any vulnerabilities and opportunities the organization may have.” He adds, “The leader must then lay out a demanding game plan…and stand ready to modify that plan at any moment, given new learning.”

The process of creating aggressive strategies to achieve that vision should be “very interactive and fact driven, and it can become an engaging and exciting venture for the organization.” Finally, appropriate measure should be defined to tell everyone whether or not the vision has been achieved.

What’s Holding You Back? is valuable for reminding us of basic principles that are easily overlooked as we get caught up in the daily minutia.

Another part of defining reality that I think is significant enough to mention, is understanding our impact on those around us. It’s not uncommon to find that we hold others back because of remarks we make and as a result we lose the full potential of what they bring to the table. In a section titled, “Creativity and Six Sigma don’t Mix,” Herbold writes:
Innovation is not an orderly process. People who are good at it tend to go through many ideas before coming up with one that works. It’s also a very fragile process. A manager can stifle innovation without even knowing it through his or her unspoken communications. People who are charged with innovation are constantly observing how their management is acting and reacting. Unfortunately, they often interpret their management’s behavior and casual comments as specific instructions or constraints that need to be followed.
As we need to consistently ask, “What’s holding me back?” we also need to ask, “How am I holding others back?”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:50 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


Leading As One: Generating Collective Behavior

To be successful in the world we’re entering, we will need a new set of mental models. While these new models should not exclude the possibility of commanding and controlling, they need to encompass a much wider range of possibilities.
—Thomas Malone, The Future of Work
The challenge facing any leader is turning individual action into collective power. In short, getting people to act as one.

As One by Mehrdad Baghai and James Quigley, is the result of a two year research project conducted by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, to understand this common leadership challenge and to answer the question, “What leads to effective collaborations in a wide range of fields?” Not just working together, but working as one.

As we talk about leadership it is easy to confuse ends and means and seek collaboration for collaborations sake. The authors note that collaboration "is a means to an end, not an end in itself, and that because the purposes might be different you might need different styles" of collaboration for different situations. Thus we find successful leadership comes in many different shapes and sizes.

They believe real leadership is about productivity, people and purpose—or As One Leadership—“leadership that results in a cohesive group of people working together effectively toward a common goal or purpose.” Initially the task is identifying which people need to be involved (the Who) and what purpose they need to satisfy (the What) and then How do we need to collaborate to get the results we seek.

As One

What emerged from the As One Flagship Project was the identification of eight models or archetypes of As One behavior. Arranged around two axes: a vertical axis that describes how power is exercised in an organization from emergent to directive and a horizontal axis that conveys the nature of individual’s tasks and outlines how work is organized from highly scripted and uniform to highly creative.

As OneNot surprisingly, these archetypes reflect both top-down and bottom-up styles. The analysis is very balanced. In the descriptions that follow, you can see that different kinds of organizations or situations with different kinds of objectives call for different kinds of leadership. It is enlightening to identify your type of organization and the related leadership approach. The book presents case studies of each type, an explanation of the key characteristics, and a discussion of what you can do to be better at that type.

The Deloitte Center for Collective Leadership was launched in January to advance the study of the As One Collective Leadership discipline and As One behavior. Through research, data collection, and analysis, this center will help define and increase knowledge in the exciting and dynamic field of collective leadership. If you are wondering what your model is, they have created an online As One Classifier tool to figure out which archetype is closest to your current situation.


The four main archetypes are:

Landlord & Tenants: The Landlord & Tenants pairing is based on landlords’ top-down driven strategy and power: they control access to highly valuable or scarce resources. Landlords decide how to generate the most value for themselves and dictate the terms of participation for the tenants. Tenants voluntarily decide to join landlords, and it’s usually in their best interests to do so. However, once they do, landlords define the rules of participation. Landlords maintain their power by ensuring the best tenants are rewarded, so that, over time, as the number of tenants grows, the landlords’ power increases.

Community Organizer & Volunteers: The Community Organizer & Volunteers pairing is based on volunteers’ bottom-up, autonomous, independent, decision-making ability and their desire to voice their opinions. Community Organizers ignite volunteers’ interest through compelling storytelling and opportunities for volunteers to join in. They may have little direct power over the volunteers, but they can tap into volunteers’ interests by gaining their trust, promoting a strong brand, and understanding their motivations. Volunteers themselves are drawn together by a rallying cry, or out of a sense of enlightened self-interest; they gain their power through a strength-in-numbers approach.

Conductor & Orchestra: The Conductor & Orchestra pairing is based on highly scripted and clearly defined roles that focus on precision and efficiency in execution as defined by the conductor. The orchestra members, who have similar backgrounds, need to be fully trained to comply with the requirements of the job, and, therefore, must be carefully selected to ensure they fit the strict culture and scripted tasks. Belonging to the orchestra provides members with the best way to make a living while focusing on tasks at which they excel.

Producer & Creative Team: The Producer & Creative Team pairing is typically about producers providing their creative team with the freedom to do their best work and reach their natural potential. This pairing is led by legendary, charismatic producers who bring together a team of highly inventive and skilled independent individuals to achieve the producers’ objective. Producers guide the vision and overall progress, while the creative team develops ideas through frequent meetings and interactions using an open culture of collaboration. Dissent is used to push creative boundaries. To maintain longevity in their industry, producers and creative teams need to continuously produce new and innovative ideas.

The four hybrid archetypes combine the characteristics of the adjacent pairings and occupy the spaces between the axes.

General & Soldiers: The General & Soldiers pairing has a command-and-control-type culture combined with a multi-level hierarchy organized around the general’s clear and compelling mission. Soldiers’ activities focus on clearly defined and scripted tasks. They are motivated by advancing up the hierarchy through well-defined roles at all levels. Soldiers undergo extensive training to understand the army and its culture, and to learn specific skills. They are committed to the mission, the overall institution, and each other, while the general provides strong top-down authoritarian direction to motivate and direct them.

Architect & Builders: The Architect & Builders pairing focuses on the creative collaboration between groups of diverse builders that have been recruited by visionary architects to bring a seemingly impossible dream to life. Their visions are so innovative and ambitious that they can’t be achieved simply by using conventional means, so builders often need to reinvent and rethink ways to achieve them. Builders strive to meet ambitious deadlines and milestones mapped to deliberate workcycles. As each milestone is completed, the builders become one step closer to bringing the architect’s dream to reality. The Architect & Builders hero story is based on the development of the world’s cheapest car, the Tata Nano.

Captain & Sports Team: The Captain & Sports Team pairing operates with minimal hierarchy and acts like a single cohesive and dynamic organism, adapting to new strategies and challenges with great agility as they appear. Members of the sports team have a strong shared identity. They have extensive and networked communication channels, and carry out the same highly scripted, repeatable tasks. There is strong camaraderie and trust among the sports team – the collective good outweighs the needs of the individual – while captains are there, on the field as part of the team, to motivate and encourage.

Senator & Citizens: The Senator & Citizens pairing is based on a strong sense of responsibility to abide by the values or constitution of the community, which have been outlined by the senators. Sovereignty is held by both senators and citizens, and the citizens thrive on the values of democracy, freedom of expression, and autonomy. Since citizens are autonomous, the community structure is flexible. There is no set framework or direction organizing the citizens. Instead, much of their direction is emergent as they gather ideas and collaborate with other citizens. Senators are the guiding intelligence for the citizens and oversee decision making for the community.

There is no one size fits all archetype and each archetype is more nuanced than described. Putting As One into practice consists of three steps: First, a diagnostic to assess the who and to do what and then determine the how or what archetype is being used. Second, determine the type of intervention to strengthen the archetype being used or to create a new approach and third to adopt the approach across the organization and applying different archetypes in different situations even in the same organization.

It is an interesting study that begins to create a broader understanding of what it takes to lead at all levels as opposed to the common polarizing either/or discussions of command and control versus collaborative leadership. It also helps to dispel the myth that top-down leadership is synonymous with command and control.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:11 AM
| Comments (0) | Human Resources , Leadership , Leadership Development


Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization


PETER SENGE, founder of the Society of Organizational Learning and senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, once observed, “Most managers do not reflect carefully on their actions.” Most managers are too busy “running” to reflect.

While reflection seems to have no place in a competitive business environment, it is where meaning is created, behaviors are regulated, values are refined, assumptions are challenged, intuition is accessed, and where we learn about who we are.

Some of the greatest barriers to getting the results we want lie within us. Growth happens when we stop repeating our habitual patterns and behaviors and begin to see things in a new way and in the process, discover the power to create the results we want. That makes Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization, one of the most important books you’ll read this year.

Author Daniel Patrick Forrester states, “Stepping away from the problem—and structuring time to think and reflect—just may prove the most powerful differentiator that allows your organization to remain relevant and survive…. The best decisions, insights, ideas, and outcomes result when we take sufficient time to think and reflect….Only by carving out think time and reflection can we actually understand, in an entirely different context, the actions we take.”

He defines think time as “the purposeful elevation of chunks of our work time, forged within densely packed schedules. It forces the consideration of core significant and pending decisions, outside of cursory overviews and immediate response…. Reflection is the deliberate act of stepping back from daily habits and routines (without looming and immediate deadline pressures), either alone or within small and sequestered groups. It’s where meaning is derived through reconsideration of fundamental assumptions, the efficacy of past decisions and the consequences including the downside of future actions. It’s where space is given for the ‘totally unexpected’ to emerge.”

Even if we can agree on the value of think time, we still regard it as a luxury. There’s just no time. But what emerges from Forrester’s research is the fact that we can’t afford not to. It is at the core of what allows a business to thrive. It’s what we don’t know that has a disproportionate impact on us personally and organizationally. We don’t really see the reality we face. Reflection in effect expands our perspectives and thus reveals to us more options and that gets to the heart of what leadership is all about. The point is to make the unseen seen so we can act on it.

Forrester interviewed Sarah Sewall who worked with General Petraeus and others to rewrite the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Sewall noted, “We are now in a world of increasing specialization, where people get narrower and narrower in their viewpoints in order to become more expert and ‘useful.’ My view is that people become more myopic in how they can think about problems and solutions. We wind up shuttered in our ability to think about possibilities.” This tendency is best counteracted by think time and reflection; being able to back away and incorporate more and varied thinking.

Forrester asks, “What is the last document or strategy you can point to as a ‘product of reflection’ built with all parts of the organization and senior-level involvement? If you can’t cite one, it may indicate a culture that values immediacy and the short term over reflection and scalable problem-solving.”

Recognizing the need for reflection and actually doing it are two different things. Reflection is a discipline. General Petraeus told Forrester that “he forces bursts of reflection into his day, where he pauses to read, think, and then moves to the next iteration—recognizing that thoughtful insights are not born through real-time analysis.”

Forrester suggests that we set time aside for a meeting with oneself. “It isn’t hard to book a meeting with yourself, when you are off-limits to everything but your thoughts.” He notes too, “The power of reflection lies not in how much time we allocate to it. The power of reflection lies in how we choose to use that time and what structure we bring to the fleeting disjointed moments we are afforded.”

While some situations required his immediate action, Forrester describes how Lincoln “developed ways to force time to think (if even only for a few minutes) before acting. Even Lincoln had to resist the “instantaneous nature of the telegraph.”

Some organizations he has studied have adopted a no internal e-mail Friday policy and other ways to temporarily disconnect from technology. Although these ideas may not work for you, the point is made so that you might consider the impact these technologies are having on the productivity and well-being of your staff. There is always one more e-mail and it will control you if you let it.

“When overworked people declare that they ‘just don’t have time to think,’ leaders have a choice: They settle for the status quo and declare that it’s the best way the world works today, or they can insist that reflection is a strategic business enabler,” says Forrester. As an organization, you can either educate for it, make it an expectation—a cultural norm—or treat it as a “do it on your own time” activity and pay the price. Leaders need to understand and demonstrate by example that reflection—taking time to consider—is not wasted time.

Reflection is the first step in coming to understand how we are connected to our outcomes. Until we see the relationship between the two, we cannot make deep, lasting change and bring thoughtful behaviors to bear on the situations we find ourselves in. Our thinking creates our reality. If we do not reflect on our thinking we stand to miss our connection to the whole.

Consider offers a way to break the pattern of continuous partial attention that seems to be our default position in this technological age. It helps to disrupt the habitual thinking that drowns out the reflective, critical thinking we need to become fully present and effective. Consider isn’t a fad. It is the bedrock of successful leadership and living.

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Upcoming: I asked some leading minds about the discipline of reflection. So, for the rest of the week, I’ll share their thoughts on this important topic. Look for valuable insights from John Kotter, Mark Sanborn, Brian Orchard, Marshall Goldsmith, John Baldoni, Tom Asacker, James Strock, and Jeremy Hunter.

* * *

* * *

More in this Series:
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 4
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 3
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 2
  Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 1

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:57 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (6) | Human Resources , Leadership , Learning , Personal Development , Thinking


Ronald Reagan on Leadership

Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, was born one hundred years ago today, February 6. In nearly every poll he is regarded, with Washington and Lincoln, as one of the three best presidents America has ever had. This is due in large part because he governed with focused self-confidence and he never considered his position to place him above those he led.

In her memoir, Personal History, the late Katharine Graham, former publisher of the Washington Post, tells a story about a dinner at her home attended by the Reagans and others in November 1988. When the Reagans arrived they were surrounded by well-wishing friends. Graham remembers that after someone knocked against a glass and spilled a drink, “I was dumbstruck,” she recalls, “at seeing the president of the United States down on his hands and knees in the middle of the crowd, picking up the ice.” Reagan possessed a servant quality that resonated with millions of people in America and abroad.

On Vision:
  • To grasp and hold a vision, that is the very essence of successful leadership - not only on the movie set where I learned it, but everywhere. (Remarks at a Luncheon Hosted by Artists and Cultural Leaders in Moscow, May 31, 1988)
On Communication:
  • Most often it’s not how handsomely or eloquently you say something, but the fact that your words mean something. (An American Life)
  • I won a nickname, "The Great Communicator." But I never thought it was my style or the words I used that made a difference: it was the content. I wasn't a great communicator, but I communicated great things, and they didn't spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation—from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries. They called it the Reagan revolution. Well, I'll accept that, but for me it always seemed more like the great rediscovery, a rediscovery of our values and our common sense. (Farewell Address January 11, 1989)
On Negotiation:
  • I don't take too seriously the statement of positions in advance of negotiations. Everyone wants to preserve their position at their highest price before negotiations, and for them to do otherwise is to give away something they might not have to give away once the negotiations start. (Question-and-Answer Session, February 23, 1983)
  • You’re unlikely to get all you want; you’ll probably get more of what you want if you don’t issue ultimatums and leave your adversary room to maneuver; you shouldn’t back your adversary into a corner, embarrass him, or humiliate him; and sometimes, the easiest way to get things done is for the top people to do them alone and in private. (An American Life)
On Mistakes:
  • Now, what should happen when you make a mistake is this: You take your knocks, you learn your lessons, and then you move on. That's the healthiest way to deal with a problem. (Speech about Iran Contra, March 4, 1987)
On Leadership:
  • The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things. He is the one that gets the people to do the greatest things. (Interview with Mike Wallace, 60 Minutes, December 14, 1975)
  • Our people look to us for leadership and nobody can provide it if we don’t. But we won’t be very effective leaders unless we can rise above the specific but secondary concerns that preoccupy our respective bureaucracies and give our governments a strong push in the right direction. (An American Life)
  • Somebody once said that life begins when you begin to serve. Maybe if there’s a feeling that you can be of service then you feel you have to do it. (Interview with Mike Wallace, 60 Minutes, December 14, 1975)
  • If no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else? (First inaugural address as governor of California, January 5, 1967)
On Compromise:
  • The minute you begin saying, ‘This is good or bad politically,’ you start compromising principle. The only consideration I want to hear is whether it is good or bad for the people.” (An American Life)
On Courage:
  • Don’t be afraid to see what you see. (Farewell Address January 11, 1989)
On Management:
  • I don’t believe a chief executive should supervise every detail of what goes on in his organization. The chief executive should set broad policy and general ground rules, tell people what he or she wants them to do, then let them do it. He should make himself (or herself) available, so that the members of his team can come to him if there is a problem. If there is, you can work on it together and, if necessary, fine-tune the policies. But I don’t think a chief executive should peer constantly over the shoulders of the people who are in charge of a project and tell them every few minutes what to do. (An American Life)
  • Set clear goals and appoint good people to help you achieve them. As long as they are doing what you have in mind, don’t interfere, but if somebody drops the ball, intervene and make a change. (An American Life)
  • Much has been said about my management style, a style that's worked successfully for me during 8 years as Governor of California and for most of my Presidency. The way I work is to identify the problem, find the right individuals to do the job, and then let them go to it. I've found this invariably brings out the best in people. They seem to rise to their full capability, and in the long run you get more done. (Speech about Iran Contra, March 4, 1987)
On Counsel:
  • I told the cabinet members that I didn't want them to speak up only on the matters that affected their own departments. They were all my advisors, I said, and I wanted to hear everything that each of them had to say about whatever topic we were considering, whether it involved their department or not, including any reservations they might have about a proposal; this gave me the opportunity to get opinions from a variety of perspectives, not only from the people who might be supporting a certain project or program. (An American Life)

Reagan believed that it is important for a leader to rise above secondary concerns to remain consistent and focused. His most important task was keeping his staff focused despite daily distractions. One of his aides recalled: "It was striking how often we on the staff would become highly agitated by the latest news bulletins. Reagan saw the same events as nothing more than a bump in the road; things would get better tomorrow. His horizons were just not the same as ours."

James Strock sums it up well in his book, Reagan on Leadership: “As with all leaders of consequence, Reagan’s ability to lead others was an outgrowth of his ability to govern himself.”

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Of Related Interest:
  Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:15 PM
| Comments (0) | Leaders , Leadership


Insist on Heroes. And be One.

Making a difference requires a different kind of thinking. Making a difference means doing something different. To not be taken for granted means that you have to do things that are not expected—to step out of your comfort zone. Do more. Experience more. Serve more. A leader’s legacy doesn’t come easily. While a leader may be focused on tomorrow, that future will be based on what they do today.

Some years ago, documentary filmmaker Ken Burns offered some advice for those starting out in life. The message applies to anyone who would lead and is worth reflecting on:

Do something that will last and be beautiful. It doesn’t have to be a bridge—or a symphony or book or a business. It could be the look in the eye of a child you raise or in a simple garden you tend. But be on guard: do something that will last and be beautiful.

As you pursue your goals in life, that is your future, pursue your past. Let it be your guide. Insist on having a past and then you will have a future.

Do not descend too deeply into specialism in your work. Educate all your parts. You will be healthier. Replace cynicism with its old-fashioned antidote, skepticism.

Don't confuse success with excellence. The poet Robert Penn Warren once told me that "careerism is death."

Travel. Do not get stuck in one place. Visit Yellowstone or Yosemite or even Appomattox, where our country really came together. Whatever you do, walk over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Listen to jazz music, the only art form Americans have ever invented, and a painless way, Wynton Marsalis reminds us, “of understanding ourselves.”

Give up addictions and habits. Try brushing your teeth tonight with the other hand. Try even remembering what I just asked you.

Insist on heroes. And be one

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:58 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


Bill Cohen’s Eight Universal Laws of Heroic Leadership

Heroic Leadership
Bill Cohen says “Heroic leadership is special. It requires leading a group with absolute integrity while raising individual performance to a personal best and building a team spirit of sacrifice for the common good,” and adds, “heroic leadership requires tough standards.”

Cohen correctly states in Heroic Leadership, that “we cannot lead on automatic.” It takes “considerable thought, intention, and action.” He believes that good leadership must be grounded in the following eight principles of heroic leadership:
  1. Maintain Absolute Integrity   Leadership is a trust. Keep your word; do the harder right instead of the easier wrong; be principled.
  2. Know Your Stuff   “People don’t follow leaders because they are good at office politics; they follow them because they are good at what they do.” Learn from every experience. It’s what you know and how you use it.
  3. Declare Your Expectations   What exactly does “successful” look like? How will you know when you are there? You need to decide on where you’re going and then declare it, and promote it in everything you do. Get feedback and adjust your strategy as needed.
  4. Show Uncommon Commitment   Army Brigadier General Edward Markham explained, “A leader must take a bulldog approach to accomplish the mission.” When a leader does this, others do the same.
  5. Expect Positive Results   Winners expect to win. Visualize success. Vincent Lombardi once said, “We never lose, but sometimes the clock runs out on us.” “You can expect positive results and still not get exactly what you want,” says Cohen, “but, research demonstrates that those who “think positive” achieve more and get better results than those that don’t.”
  6. Take Care of Your People   “Take care of your men and they will take care of you,” says Brigadier General Philip Bolte. Thomas Noel told Cohen, “You are what your people are, no more, and no less.” Cohen adds, “If you are the leader, you’ve got to learn to give the needs of those you lead greater weight than you give your personal needs.”
  7. Put Duty before Self   Sometimes the mission must come first, sometimes the people, but both must always come before self. Harry Walters, former Veterans Administration Administrator, looks at it this way, “To me, duty before self means inclusion with no secrets. Why should there be any secrets, when the leader puts his own interests last? If you don’t put duty before self, you can’t create a team environment.”
  8. Get Out in Front   You have to be “up front” where the action is. General Harry Aderholt said, “There’s no secret about leadership. You’ve got to know your people, live with them, and be seen always out front.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:54 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


Political Leadership and Compromise

On Election Day our minds turn to political leadership. Men and women are elected with the expectation that they will honor commitments they have made to the voters. This often leads politicians to take a short-term view of almost everything. At the same time, plagued by reality, a politician (or any leader for that matter) may find that they have to change direction or offer compromise. This leads to the “disconnect” we frequently have with political leaders. The problem facing politicians is that reality doesn’t sell. (And of course, we play a hand in that.) So frequently, what gets them into office is not the approach that will get the job done. It is a dilemma all leaders face. It’s a dilemma that requires a certain degree of wisdom.

Prudent flexibility, adaptability and compromise are necessary qualities for leadership. Yet we often hold in high esteem leaders who don’t back down more than those that compromise their position. No one wants to be viewed as weak. But a leader that will not change or even listen to the need for change can cause irreparable damage. It’s easy to get lulled into a sense of our own permanence. We must remember that leadership is temporary. It is a sacred trust that we hold for only a short time. The skill is in understanding what one can be flexible about and what one should not. We should never compromise principles, but approaches (even the proper understanding of how those principles are applied) may need to be adapted. Values and approaches are distinct from universal laws and principles and are derived from them. The former may change; the latter never does.

The fact too remains, that we may be wrong, our perceptions might be faulty and our assumptions may be without foundation. When faced with the facts, we need to be able to change direction and chart a new course without losing site of the ultimate goals. Stefan Stern recently wrote in an excellent post on knowing when to shift your position, “If you are heading full speed ahead for the rocks it is time to change direction….Good leaders adapt to changed circumstances, and admit it when they have made a mistake.”

In the introduction to Profiles in Leadership—an excellent collection of essays on leadership—biographer Walter Isaacson shares a historical perspective on compromise:
The greatest challenge of leadership is to know when to be flexible and pragmatic, on the one hand, and when it is, instead, a moment to stand firm on principle and clarity of vision. Even the best leaders get this wrong sometimes. I learned this when writing a biography of Franklin. His instinct was to try to balance the conflicting values that were at issue during moments of tough debate and to find common ground. At the Constitutional Convention he was, at eighty-one, the elder statesman. During that hot summer of 1787 the rivalry between the big and little states almost tore the convention apart over whether the legislative branch should be proportioned by population or with equal votes per state. Finally, Franklin rose to make a motion on behalf of a compromise that would have a House proportioned by population and a Senate with equal votes per state. “When the table is to be made, and the edges of the planks do not fit, the artist takes little from both, and makes a good joint,” he said. “In like manner here, both sides must part with some of their demands.” His point was crucial for understanding the art of true political leadership: Compromisers may not make great heroes, but they do make great democracies.

The toughest part of political leadership is knowing when to compromise versus when it is necessary to stand firm on principle. There is no easy formula for figuring that out, and Franklin got it wrong at times. At the Constitutional Convention he went along with a compromise that soon haunted him, permitting the continuation of slavery. But he was wise enough to try to rectify such mistakes. After the convention he became the president of a society for the abolition of slavery. He realized that humility required tolerance for other people’s values, which at times required compromise of one’s own; however, it was important to be uncompromising in opposing those who refused to show tolerance for others.
This is also made apparent in another essay—from the same book—by Professor Alan Brinkley on how Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt dealt with the Great Depression. He writes that in 1928 Hoover was one of the most admired people in America largely due to his extraordinary management and unchallenged brilliance. “People that interacted with him routinely referred to him as the ‘great man.’”

FDR on the other hand was not as well regarded and was mostly known for his connections and family background. “In the end, however,” writes Brinkley, “Herbert Hoover left the white house thoroughly discredited, repudiated, even hated, while Franklin Roosevelt was revered by much of the world when he died in office.”

The difference was flexibility. Hoover was “A victim of his convictions, convictions that seemed to him close to absolute….Hoover’s unshakable principles shackled him time and again in his effort to deal with the Depression.” On the other hand, the quality that separated Roosevelt “most decisively from Hoover, was his pragmatic, experimental nature.”

The contrast between Hoover and Roosevelt, Brinkley concludes, “suggests that leadership cannot succeed through ideals and strong convictions alone. The world is a complicated and ever-changing place, and a great leader must be capable of adapting to change and understanding the diversity of the ideas and principles that shape history.” Roosevelt was more successful in guiding the United States through the two greatest crises of the twentieth century, “in part because his values were appropriate to his time but also because he understood that values must reflect the realities of his age.”

Of Related Interest:
  Confusing Principles and Approaches

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:21 AM
| Comments (0) | Ethics , Government , Leaders , Leadership


Do You Argue With Reality?

Do You Argue With Reality?

CHRIS THURMAN wrote in The Lies We Believe, “The number one cause of our unhappiness are the lies we believe in life.” Too often, we operate apart from reality. Given a choice between reality and our version of it, we are inclined to choose the latter. It is a central tendency of human beings. The result is drama, not peace.

Instead of getting the results we want,” says Cy Wakeman, “we end up with reasons, stories, and excuses for why things didn’t work out—leading to more drama, disengagement, judgment, and ineffective leadership.

In Reality-Based Leadership, Wakeman presents a much-needed wake-up call. We can ditch the drama by getting in touch with what is. Quit making up stories. Quit arguing with reality. Ditching the stories that are causing us stress. “We all tell ourselves stories and live with the resulting drama.” It sounds like:

“I shouldn’t have to do this—it’s not part of my job description.
“Our department is always having to clean up after others’ mistakes.”
“The boss just doesn’t get it.”
“Management only care about the bottom line.”

“You are arguing with reality whenever you judge your situation in terms of right and wrong instead of fearlessly confronting what is.” You need to respond to the facts, not the story you create about the facts. This is easier said than done. Interwoven in our stories are our egos, insecurities, and identities. (At one point Wakeman suggests we ask, “Who am I as a manager or as an employee when I believe this story?”) We like our stories. They make us look better. They place the blame somewhere south of us. If other people are always coming up short in our stories, then it’s all about us. But letting go of our stories is not always easy as we have a lot invested in them.

Too often our criticism is about setting us apart from others and not about helping them. It says a lot more about us than it does those it is directed towards.

Wakeman says, “When you are judging you are not leading.” In her analysis of the case study about Steve and a team he dreaded working with, she concludes, “his biggest obstacle is his belief that they are a negative group. What if he just dropped that whole story and simply responded to reality directly? The phone rings? Answer it. The team ask a question? Answer it, or teach them where to find the answer. The team share what worked in the past? Listen and lead them into the future. The team requests some time with the leader? Engage with them—lead! When Steve began to lead the team rather than judge and criticize, the team began to change for the better.” She adds, “When you focus your energy on what you are able to give And create rather than what you receive, you are truly serving.”

Do you see any applications in what you and involved in? Wakeman insightfully writes: “What is missing from a situation is that which you are not giving.

Operating out of a judging mindset of “I know” or “I am right” effectively shuts down the potential to learn or accomplish anything. Moving on based in reality requires setting the story aside and asking, “If I set the story aside, what would I do to help?”

The minute you start judging is the very minute you quit leading, serving and adding value. When you’re in judgment, you are dealing with your story—not with reality. Wakeman suggests that when you get off-track:

  1. Do a reality check. Get back to the facts of the situation by editing out anything that you can’t absolutely know to be true. “What is the next right action I can take that would add the most value to the situation?” Direct your energy on that action.
  2. Get clear about motives. Seek to be successful rather than right. Is it about you?
  3. Be the change. Practice those virtues that you have determined to be lacking in others.
  4. See others through a lens of love and respect—not anger and fear. When faced with those whose personalities are different from ours, or whose behaviors have reached a stress-induced inappropriateness, work to see through those behaviors and identify their needs or goals. Ask yourself, “What are they striving for?” Then ask, “How can I help them achieve it?”
  5. Invoke a clearer, higher perspective. When you sense that conflict is getting personal, be prepared to return to a professional perspective by asking your team to clarify the overreaching goal of their work together. “Given our goal, what do you think is the best way to move forward?”

What stories are you telling yourself that cause you to operate in your own world? While it may be cognitively economical, it is costing you far more in every other area.

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Reality-Based Leaders Manifesto 5 Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:54 PM
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The Reality-Based Leader’s Manifesto

Reality-Based Leaders Manifesto

“If you believe that leadership is tougher today than it was in the past, you’re not alone,” writes Cy Wakeman, author of Reality-Based Leadership. “We are living and working in dramatic and demanding times, but that is not our biggest problem. The source of our pain is the absence of great leadership that is based in reality. …The future belongs to the leader who is able to change the way people think and perceive their circumstances, the leader who engages hearts and minds.” To that end, she offers the Reality-Based Leader’s Manifesto:

  1. Refuse to argue with reality
  2. Greet change with a simple “Good to know”; defense is an act of war
  3. Depersonalize feedback—whatever the source
  4. Let go of our need for love, approval, and appreciation at work so we can focus on the goals of our organization and not on satisfying our egos
  5. Are very careful about what we think we know for sure
  6. Ask ourselves, “What is the next right thing I can do to add the most value?”
  7. Ask others, “How can I help?” instead of judging and blaming
  8. Work to find the opportunity in every challenge
  9. Work harder at being happy than at being right
  10. Work with the willing
  11. Lead first, manage second
  12. Value action over opinion

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Argue With Reality 5 Reality-Based Rules of the Workplace

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:07 PM
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Ten Truths about Leadership

In the last 30 years James Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the highly regarded leadership classic The Leadership Challenge, have studied leaders all over the world. They understand leadership.

The question they get time and time again is “What’s new in leadership?” They answer that while the context of leadership as changed dramatically, “the content of leadership has not changed much at all. The fundamental behaviors, actions, and practices of leaders have remained essentially the same since we first began researching and writing about leadership over three decades ago. Much has changed, but there’s a whole lot more that’s stayed the same.” That is probably the fundamental truth of leadership development. With that understanding, we can develop leaders in all contexts and weed out fact from fiction.

Based on thirty years of research—more than one million responses to their leadership assessment—Kouzes and Posner have gathered together in The Truth about Leadership, the ten truths that have stood the test of time and they hold true both globally and cross-generationally. They devote a chapter to each of these ten concepts:

Truth #1   You Make a Difference. Before you lead you have to believe that you can have a positive impact on others. When you believe you can make a difference, you position yourself to hear the call to lead.

Truth #2   Credibility Is the Foundation of Leadership. If people don’t believe in you, they won’t willingly follow you. You must do what you say you are going to do. This means being so clear about your beliefs that you can live them every day.

Truth #3   Values Drive Commitment. You need to know what you believe in because you can only fully commit to the organization or cause when there is a good fit between what you value and the organization values. This is true too, for the people you lead.

Truth #4   Focusing on the Future Sets Leaders Apart. You have to be forward looking; it’s the quality that most differentiates leaders from individual contributors. You need to spend time reflecting on the future. Big dreams that resonate with others inspire and energize.

Truth #5   You Can’t Do It Alone. Leadership is a team sport, and you need to engage others in the cause. You need to enable others to be even better than they already are.

Truth #6   Trust Rules. To enlist others, you need trust. Build mutual trust; you must trust others too.

Truth #7   Challenge Is the Crucible of Greatness. Great achievements don’t happen when you keep things the same. Change invariably involves challenge, and challenge tests you. It introduces you to yourself. It brings you face-to-face with your level of commitment, your grittiness, and your values. It reveals your mindset about change.

Truth #8   You Either Lead by Example or You Don’t Lead at All. You have to go first as a leader. That’s what it takes to get others to follow your lead.

Truth #9   The Best Leaders Are the Best Learners. Learning is the master skill of leadership. Leaders are constant improvement fanatics.

Truth #10   Leadership Is an Affair of the Heart. Leaders love what they’re doing and those they lead. Leaders make others feel great themselves and are gracious in showing their appreciation.

These truths should form the basis of any leadership development program. Even more, they are the motivation behind the right kinds of behaviors that go into the formation of good and sustainable leadership.
There are no shortages of problems and opportunities…. Leadership is not about telling others they ought to solve these problems. It’s about seeing a problem and accepting personal responsibility for doing something about it. And it’s about holding yourself accountable for the actions that you take. The next time you see a problem and say “Why doesn’t someone do something about this?” take a look in the mirror and say instead, “I’ll be the someone to do something about it.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:09 AM
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5 Leadership Lessons: Joseph Nye on Leadership

5 Leadership Lessons

Joseph S. Nye is University Distinguished Service Professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. In The Powers to Lead, he relates leadership and power. He expands further on his concept of soft power—co-opting people rather than coercing them—and hard power—influence involving pressure or threats—but he shows how effective leadership in the real world requires a mixture of both.

Hard and soft power are related because they are both aspects of the ability to achieve one’s purpose by affecting the behavior of others. They sometimes reinforce each other and sometimes they interfere with each other. The use of either one or the other depends on context. The ability to know which to use when is what he calls smart power. We need to know our context.

He says, “Soft power is not good per se, and it is not always better than hard power. Nobody likes to feel manipulated, even by soft power. Like any form of power, it can be wielded for good or bad purposes, and these often vary with the eye of the beholder.”

Here are five leadership lessons from The Powers to Lead:

1  Almost anyone can become a leader. Leadership can be learned. It depends on nature and nurture. Leadership can exist at any level, with or without formal authority. Most people are both leader and followers. They “lead from the middle."

2  Smart leaders need both soft and hard power skills: co-optive and command styles. Both transformational and transactional objectives and styles can be useful. One is not automatically better than the other. Leaders depend on and are partly shaped by followers. Some degree of soft power is necessary. Presence/magnetism is inherent in some personalities more than others, but “charisma” is largely bestowed by followers.

3  Appropriate style depends on the context. There are “autocratic situations” and “democratic situations,” normal and crisis conditions, and routine and novel crises. Good diagnosis of the need for change (or not) is essential for contextual intelligence.

4  Leadership for crisis conditions requires advance preparation, emotional maturity, and the ability to distinguish the roles of operational, analytical, and political work. The appropriate mix of styles and skills varies with the stage of the crisis.

5  The information revolution and democratization are causing a long-term secular shift in the context of postmodern organizations—a shift along the continuum from command to co-optive style. Network organizations require a more consultative style. While sometimes stereotyped as a feminine style, both men and women face this change and need to adapt to it. A consultative style is more costly in terms of time, but it provides more information, creates buy-in, and empowers followers.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:35 PM
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John Wooden: It Takes a lot of Strength on the Inside to be Gentle on the Outside

I first met John Wooden (October 14, 1910 – June 4, 2010) in the early eighties when working on a presentation product for his pyramid of success. He truly was a legendary teacher who based his life on sound principles. As with nearly everyone he came into contact with, he had a positive influence. Not surprisingly, his Dad, Joshua Wooden, took the time to lay a firm foundation for him. Upon his graduation from Centerton Grade School, his Dad gave him a card with seven suggestions to follow:
  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Help others.
  3. Make each day your masterpiece
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Good Book.
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter for a rainy day.
  7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings each day.
In his book, The Essential Wooden, John Wooden tells a story of his Dad’s leadership to illustrate the point that it takes a lot of strength on the inside to be gentle on the outside. It’s a good lesson for all of us:
Scattered around the farmland where I grew up in Centerton, Indiana, were gravel pits. The county would pay local farmers to take a team of mules or horses into a pit and haul out loads of gravel for use on Morgan County roads. Some of the pits were deeper than others, and it would be tough for a team to pull a wagon filled with gravel out through the wet sand and up a steep incline.

One steamy summer day a young farmer—20 years old or so—was trying to get his team of horses to pull a fully loaded wagon out of the pit. He was whipping and cursing those two beautiful plow horses that were frothing at the mouth, stomping, and pulling back from him.

Dad watched for a while and then went over and said to the farmer, “Let me take ‘em for you.” I think the farmer was relieved to hand over the reins.

First Dad started talking to the horses, almost whispering to them, and stroking their noses with a soft touch. Then he walked between them, holding their bridles and bits while he continued talking—very calmly and gently—as they settled down.

Gradually he stepped out in front of them and gave a little whistle to start them moving forward while he guided the reins. Within moments, those two big plow horses pulled the wagon out of the gravel pit as easy as could be. As if they were happy to do it.

No whip, no temper tantrum, no screaming and swearing by Dad. I’ve never forgotten what I saw him do and how he did it.

Over the years I’ve seen a lot of leaders act like that angry farmer who lost control and resorted to force and intimidation. Their results were often the same, that is, no results.

So much more can usually be accomplished with Dad’s calm, confident, and steady approach. For many of us, however, the temptation, our first instinct, is to act like the farmer—to use force rather than to apply strength in a measured and even gentle manner. Unfortunately, in my early years the former—force—was close in some respects to my own approach as a leader.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:50 PM
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Why is the Essence of Leadership So Hard to Grasp?

Leadership Illusion
Why is the essence of leadership so hard to grasp? In The Leadership Illusion, authors Tony Hall and Karen Janman attribute it to the way in which we view leaders. We tend to over-emphasize character and underplay context. This gets to the heart of the leadership illusion: seeing leaders and leadership in one dimension. We ignore the context. When we evaluate the causes of the success or failure of leaders, we tend to “focus predominantly on the individual (sometimes the context), but very rarely both at the same time. The need to see someone as “fabulously successful or woefully inadequate” is strong. This causes us to underestimate the importance of context and connections when thinking about leaders and leadership. Leadership is not a solo performance.

The leadership illusion also influences how we predict leaders and train for leadership. When examining what makes for successful leadership we search for personal attributes and tend to ignore their context and connections. This caused Harvard professor Richard Chait to refer to some leadership researchers as organizational meteorologists. “His view being that we have as much a chance of predicting whether it will rain or shine three weeks hence as we have of reliably finding ourselves a suitable leader.” They write, “There are some aspects, some attributes, of an individual that make them successful as a leader. But we need to evaluate the person and the context in order to be clearer about whether what we perceive is real or illusory.”

Additionally, leaders should not be developed not in a vacuum but in the context within which they are to lead and in an environment that is fully supportive of that. “It doesn’t matter how effective a development technique may be in improving individual skills, if the organizational context is not supportive or consistent with the skills you have developed, the learning is likely to have little impact….There are far too many organizations that invest significant time and money in developing their people, but forget to develop or change the organization in tandem.” Do we develop strengths or weaknesses? “Our view is that you work on the skills and abilities that you need in order to perform effectively in your context….the end result being that development may encompass both strengths and weaknesses, as long as they are relevant to performance.”

The demand placed on us by living in such a connected world, has lead Hall and Janman to the concept of network leadership. Relationships matter. Developing the right kind of social capital is an increasingly important function for effective leaders. What kind of social capital to develop is context dependent.

Network leaders “bridge and they bond. They exhibit a balanced form of leadership that mixes the old with the new; combine radical approaches with received wisdom; and develop both breadth and depth of relationships.”
Leaders are not independent entities. Leaders do not exist by themselves in organizational space, but are spatially extended (through their networks). In this way the concept “individual leader” loses its meaning. … The network thus becomes an irreducible element of physical description.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:00 AM
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Serve to Lead: Make Your Life a Masterpiece of Service

Serve To Lead
Everyone can be great because everyone can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve…. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
–Martin Luther King. Jr.
Serve to Lead
“Everyone can lead because everyone can serve,” says James Strock. “When service is the basis of leadership, everyone can be a leader.” What’s more, “We’re in a new era, with new rules, new ways to serve—and much greater accountability.”

In a new edition, Serve to Lead 2.0 puts the focus of leadership where it should be. Too often, people think of leadership as being about the leader. A leader who serves has greater influence. Service—not control—leads to trust and increased influence.

In an excellent chapter on management, Strock helps to place management and leadership in perspective and explains some of the nuances of tough love and accountability. “Management is encompassed within leadership.” As leaders, we must develop management skills.
“Ultimately, management is a key to extraordinary service. Individual performance has the limitations of an individual. You may be a virtuoso. Yet, if you are determined to express your individuality in a more expansive way, you must develop management skills and engage others in a larger enterprise.

To achieve ever deeper relationships with greater numbers of customers and other stakeholders, you must master management. Day in and day out, that means you must serve those with whom you work, enabling them to serve ever more effectively.
Filled with examples and quotes, Serve to Lead 2.0 is well thought out and one of the best books you’ll read on how to think about service and how to get your leadership to be one of service.

Strock urges us to make our life a masterpiece of service. It begins by asking the question—who am I serving—throughout our life, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Importantly, it is not a question that we should apply to only one area of our life. It should be an approach we take in all areas of our life—our time, our money, our relationships, and thoughts.

As an ongoing practice, he suggests we continually ask ourselves four questions:

Who am I serving?
How can I best serve?
Am I making my unique contribution?
Am I getting better every day?

Service isn’t easy. It doesn’t always get noticed, but it is what leading is all about. If that is hard to swallow, you need to ask yourself, why do I want to lead?
How many people are trapped in their everyday habits: part numb, part frightened, part indifferent? To have a better life we must keep choosing how we’re living.
–Albert Einstein

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Servant Leadership in Action Frances Hesselbein

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:42 PM
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Are You Living Out Your Why?

Reduced to a list of techniques, leadership is uninspiring. Leadership that is uninspiring is stagnant. Eventually it will need to be replaced because all involved are just going through the motions—doing time—atrophying. The leader is superfluous.

Techniques help us to manage the function of leadership, but they are not the essence of leadership. Techniques don’t connect with people, passion does. Passion inspires because it comes from inside of us. Our passion is who we are. It’s authentic because, like leadership, it is something we live. It is our why.

Inspiring leaders keep the why front and center by living it. You can not fake passion for long. Eventually it is undermined by the comments we make, the look on our face, and the way we treat others.
When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson
Watching someone live out a why is compelling. It makes people want to follow, connect and be engaged. It forms the basis of trust and the moral authority that is the spark of the leader/follower relationship.

Leaders go first. John Adair wrote, “Gandhi and Mandela had acquired the right to demand what they had already given.” Their authority came from their example.

A leader inspires best by example. And as John Baldoni once wrote in his book on leading by example, “It all starts with character.” Are you living out your why?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:08 AM
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Mark Twain on Leadership

Mark Twain
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) died of a heart attack one-hundred years ago today, at his home in Redding, Connecticut. He left behind a wide range of comments regarding leadership ideas and principles.

It could be said that he believed in Management By Wandering Around. In his autobiography he wrote, "In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing." Firsthand knowledge is a competitive advantage.
  • A statesman gains little by the arbitrary exercise of ironclad authority upon all occasions that offer, for this wounds the just pride of his subordinates, and thus tends to undermine his strength. A little concession, now and then, where it can do no harm is the wiser policy. (From A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court)
  • The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.
  • The miracle, or the power, that elevates the few is to be found in their perseverance under the promptings of a brave, determined spirit.
On Encouragement:
  • I can live for two months on a good compliment.
On Success:
  • Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.
  • Success is a journey, not a destination. It requires constant effort, vigilance and re-evaluation.
  • The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.
  • Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions.
On Courage:
  • Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear. Except a creature be part coward it is not a compliment to say it is brave. (From The Tragedy of Pudd'nhead Wilson)
  • It is curious that physical courage should be so common in the world and moral courage so rare.
On Vision:
  • You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.
  • Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.
On Execution:
  • The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
  • Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
On Ethics:
  • Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.
  • I am different from [George] Washington; I have a higher, grander standard of principle. Washington could not lie. I can lie, but I won't.
On Communication:
  • The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
  • It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.
  • If you have nothing to say, say nothing.
Twain was not a successful businessman. After emerging from bankruptcy in 1901, Twain advised, "To succeed in business, avoid my example." He was however, a witty and shrewd moralist and critic of human nature. A century after he wrote his last words, Twain still remains relevant.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:07 AM
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Does Your Leadership Have “White Space?”

Does Your Leadership Have White Space

IIN THE VISUAL ARTS, white space is that area that is left blank or perhaps more accurately, open. It should not be thought of as unused space because it is actually an important part of the design itself. It is an “active” void. It adds to or enhances what the artist is trying to communicate. It clears away the clutter and allows the message to be heard.

white space
Effective use of white space in graphic design
As leaders, we need to be secure enough to create white space in our leadership; to create not emptiness, but an active void. A place where those we lead can jump in and participate. It’s about making room for others to express themselves. Too often, leaders feel the need to be omnipresent; directing everything that happens. This stifles those they lead and stunts their growth.

Wendy Richmond is a visual artist, author, educator and a contributor to Communication Arts. In a recent column she discusses the need for white space in teaching art. She provides a wonderful example of the value of white space as applied in teaching and leadership:

In my teaching, I use the idea of white space as a metaphor. When I develop a syllabus, I also design the activities for which I will not be present. On the first day of class, I tell my students, “By the end of this course, I hope to be the least important person in this room.” I believe that in addition to providing the content, my role is to create an environment that contains an active void. I need to disappear enough for my students to jump in and fill the learning environment with their own excitement and discovery. Again, as in my artwork, it takes confidence to leave that space empty.

I have a friend who teaches memoir writing. In every session, each student reads a short piece of his own writing. In the first two classes, my friend makes notes as she listens, and then delivers a constructive critique. In the next class, she institutes a change. After each reading, instead of delivering her critique first, she waits for the participation of the other students. Inevitably, there is silence; an awkward void where there is no response.

Initially, my friend found it hard to remain quiet. She feels that it is her job to keep the class engaged, to be imparting knowledge. In other words, as she told me, she had to make sure they are getting their money’s worth. It required confidence to not fill the silence with her critique. She had to trust that this emptiness was essential; it allowed the students to develop their own responses. When her students began to talk, there was a new energy that continued not only during the coffee breaks, but between classes as well.

Creating white space in your leadership requires balance. Leadership is an art. White space doesn’t reflect a lack of leadership or structure as it might seem. On the contrary, strong leadership is what makes it possible. A leader has to shape that space in an ongoing way to ensure that they are allowing room for people to develop themselves, contribute and lead. The question is: do you as a leader have the confidence to do that?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:08 AM
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Are Leaders Destined to Disappoint?

Historian David Greenberg wrote in the Atlantic, “Americans have fallen, starry-eyed, for leaders who speak of a future unencumbered by history’s weight.” Intellectually we must know that this isn’t possible, yet is it too much to expect real change, fundamental change—a break from the past? It’s unsettling to think that we are only slaves to our past. Are we demanding too much?

Greenberg continues, “Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, FDR’s New Deal, JFK’s New Frontier, even George H. W. Bush’s New World Order—all began with the promise of the new. Of course, after the flush of a campaign, both voters and presidents have invariably discovered that history imposes constraints.” And we are left disappointed.

Of course, this dynamic affects not only political leaders, but leaders everywhere. One always has to deal with what is (past and present) and the real level of desire (the crisis)—for transformational change to occur. Leadership is a creative act. A leader seeking transformational change needs to have three basic elements in place:

clearly defined goals (the how),
strong values with which to measure those goals (the why), and
an environment that is urgent to change (an opportunity).

Expectations create opportunities for leaders. The motivation from which springs the leader’s initiative is most often influenced by certain expectations on the part of the potential followers. Rosalynn Carter once said, “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don't necessarily want to go, but ought to be.” This suggests that a leader’s responsibility is to do more than just serve up our wants. As Insead’s dean J. Frank Brown said, “Leaders must learn to listen and question before they act.”

We get the wrong kind of leaders when we place all of the responsibility of our expectations on their shoulders. In that environment we will always find individuals that are all too happy to pander to us and promise what they can never deliver in return for a title—placeholder leaders. Leadership is a shared responsibility.

A great leader must elevate their followers and give them power and responsibility to act or they can never really lead them. Greenberg writes, “Twenty-five years ago, the political scientist Theodore Lowi published a book called The Personal President. It argued that the increasingly large responsibilities placed on the president since Franklin Roosevelt’s time—of regulation, social provision, and economic management, to say nothing of the leadership of the free world—have exploded into impossible expectations. Every postwar chief executive, Lowi noted—and the observation still holds—has begun his presidency with high approval ratings and left office with the public chastened of its early optimism, if not disillusioned altogether.”

He concludes, “It is easy to propose that we lower our expectations for our new presidents—even, or perhaps especially, for presidents who come bearing lofty promises of transformation. But we can’t correct the problem, Lowi’s diagnosis suggested, simply by resolving to demand less from our chief executives or by vowing to learn from the past. The problem is rooted in nothing less than the presidency’s assumption of immense powers, and of a central role in our imagination. Candidates have no better path to victory than by inspiring us with dreams of a new political era, and presidents have no choice but to attempt “too much.” In doing so, however, they can only disappoint us.”

Perhaps we aren’t demanding too much of our leaders, we are instead, demanding too little of ourselves. Can we separate ourselves from our “history” and act creatively for real change? Maybe we need a little less heroic leader and a little more heroic follower?

It requires leadership at all levels.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:16 PM
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Getting Naked

Patrick Lencioni has penned another solid business fable, Getting Naked and it's about vulnerability. The kind of vulnerability that comes from being completely open and honest with no sense of pretense or cover. He calls it getting naked. The story grows out of his experience in his consulting practice, The Table Group. They found that by being completely transparent and vulnerable with clients, they built levels of trust and loyalty that blew them away.

Getting naked is not easy to do. It goes against the grain. It’s not comfortable. It involves shedding the three fears that sabotage client loyalty:

Fear of Losing the Business - No service provider wants to lose clients or revenue. Interestingly, it is his very notion that prevents many service providers from having the difficult conversations that actually build greater loyalty and trust. Clients want to know that their service providers are more interested in helping them succeed in business than protecting their revenue source. To Overcome: Give Away the Business, Consult Instead of Sell, Tell the Kind Truth, Enter the Danger

Fear of Being Embarrassed - This fear is rooted in pride. No one likes to publicly make mistakes, endure scrutiny or be embarrassed. Naked service providers are willing to ask questions and make suggestions even if those questions and suggestions turn out to be laughably wrong. Clients trust naked service providers because they know that they will not hold back their ideas, hide their mistakes, or edit themselves to save face. To Overcome: Ask Dumb Questions, Make Dumb Suggestions, Celebrate your Mistakes

Fear of Being Inferior - Similar to the previous fear, this one is rooted in ego. Fear of being inferior is not about being intellectually wrong, it is about preserving social standing with the client. Naked service providers are able to overcome the need to feel important in the eyes of their client and basically do whatever a client needs to help the client improve. To Overcome: Honor the Client’s Work, Make Everything about the Client, Do the Dirty Work, Take a Bullet

Getting Naked Model

Why don't all service providers do this? Lencioni says, “On the surface the approach may sound soft or commonplace, but actually putting it into action can be downright scary. Getting naked is not for the faint-of-heart and those who employ this approach need to be prepared for the potential costs. Naked service providers leave themselves exposed to criticism and rejection, and may lose some business. However, once they prepare themselves for those situations, they find that they actually receive less criticism and are much better able to attract and retain clients. What is more, when they do lose a potential client due to their naked approach, they have no regrets because they realize that the relationship wouldn't have been a productive one anyway.

“Not everyone is fit to be a naked service provider. It requires levels of self-esteem, humility and courage that not all consultants are interested in having. However, anyone who is willing to set their ego and fear aside can practice the approach successfully. And they will benefit both in terms of the success of their business as well as experiencing growth in their personal lives.”

Although this book is aimed at service providers it has wider applications and provides a general lesson for all leaders in any situation: We go a lot further if we demonstrate that we are more concerned about helping the people we lead, than we are in protecting ourselves. Stop trying so hard to be impressive. Just see where you can help. Great service makes a great impression.

Of Related Interest:
  Case in Point :: BusinessWeek: The Power of Saying "We Blew It" by Patrick Lencioni
  Getting Naked Resources

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:02 PM
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Leaders Make Connections

The Financial Times ran an excellent analysis on February 3rd by Edward Luce concerning the very tight inner circle—just four people—that Mr. Obama relies on for advice. In America: A Fearsome Foursome, Luce advocates a broader circle of advisers and notes, “To be successful, presidents need to separate the stream of advice they get on policy from the stream of advice they get on politics.” Intellectually we know that we need to get their advice and information from a wide variety of sources. In practice, however, it doesn’t always happen. We like to talk to those with whom we are comfortable with and share our views. It’s very reassuring. But dangerous.

Dangerous because it clouds our vision and makes us less agile. More importantly, seeking the opinions of others helps to make them feel a part of a larger purpose, connected to the leader and a part of a community. This points to a basic function of leadership: to make connections.

LBJ 02 1968
The point is made well in a follow-up letter to Luce’s article, published in the Financial Times, from Francis Bator, Harvard Kennedy School emeritus professor. Before coming to Harvard in 1967, he was for three years deputy national security advisor to President Lyndon B. Johnson. He shared the following story with FT readers:
Treasury Secretary Henry Fowler, shrewd, effective, a superb negotiator, but somewhat shy of Lyndon Johnson, would occasionally feel in need of a presidential laying on of hands even when he had no serious presidential business. After one such occasion - it had ended with Fowler, sitting on the edge of the Oval Office loveseat, reading in monotone from his own memo on the floor in front of him, while the president was plucking yellow news tickers from the ticker machine at the opposite end of the Oval – LBJ turned on me, angrily: “What on earth did you bring him in here for, wasting my time ...” and so forth, but then stopped himself mid-sentence. “No, I’m wrong. Make me see him when he asks even if he has no real business! While you staff fellows are safe in the White House, these cabinet fellows are out there every day being shot at, on the Hill, in the papers, on TV. They are my field generals. Never forget that. They’ll be useless to me if they don’t feel connected to me. Always treat them with dignity.
A leader’s position is in the middle; to share and connect. In a world bent on differentiation, leaders must make connections.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:00 AM
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Managers Can (and Should) Be Leaders

Mintzberg Managing

IT HAS BECOME commonplace to regard managers as inferior to leaders. Leaders are out front getting things done and managers are … what are they doing? This is, in part, due to our proclivity to label people as one or the other.

Henry Mintzberg is the antidote to that kind of unproductive thinking. He writes in a book simply titled Managing: “we should be seeing managers as leaders and leadership as management practiced well.” While I have maintained that there is value in separating the functions of managers and leaders for the better understanding of both, in practice, they shouldn’t be two different people.

Mintzberg believes that managing is a practice that is learned on the job through apprenticeship, mentorship, and direct experience. He has good cause to assert that we should be more concerned about “macroleading;” people that manage by remote control; too far above it all. “We are now overlead and undermanaged, he writes.” By obsessing over the glories of leadership, we lose our grasp on the realities of management. And our leadership is all the worse for it. “The more we obsess about leadership, the less we seem to get.”

Managing is a valuable read. Mintzberg always makes you stop and think. He’s at his best when he’s leveling the playing field. As we’ve stressed on this blog before, leadership isn’t evolving. Leadership (and management) are a fundamental human activity. How they are practiced may change depending on the context, but their essence remains unchanged. Much of what we have to learn and relearn are fundamental principles regarding how people get along and work together.
Managers deal with different issues as time moves forward, but not with different managing. The job does not change. We buy new gasoline all the time and new shirts from time to time; that does not mean that car engines and buttons have been changing. Despite the great fuss we make about change, the fact is that the basic aspects of human behavior—and what could be more basic than managing and leading?—remain rather stable.
Mintzberg has distilled management thought into a general model of managing—what do managers do? They operate on three plains of activity, from the conceptual to the concrete: They act through information. They work through people. They manage action directly. And they need to operate on all three planes. “Too much leading can result in a job free of content…and detached from its internal roots.” A blending of all three planes into a dynamic balance is required and is best learned on the job. “No simulation I have ever seen in a classroom … comes remotely close to replicating the job itself,” says Mintzberg.

He playfully addresses the conundrums of managing like: How to keep informed when managing by its own nature removes the manager from the very things being managed? How to delegate when they are better informed than the people to whom they have to delegate? How to maintain a sufficient level of confidence without crossing over into arrogance? How to bring order to the work of others when the work of managing is itself disorderly? And how do you do all these things at once?

Managers are flawed. “If you want to uncover someone’s flaws, marry them or else work for them. Their flaws will quickly become apparent. So will something else: that you can usually live with these flaws. Managers and marriages do succeed. The world, as a consequence, continues to unfold in its inimitably imperfect way.” [He adds in the notes: “Not always. Politicians seem to become particularly adept at hiding flaws during elections until they become fatal in office.”] We are successful to the extent that our weaknesses are not fatal relative to the situation we are in. Commitment is the key; commitment “to the job, the people, and the purpose, to be sure, but also to the organization, and beyond that, in a responsible way, to related communities in society.”

He concludes, “To be a successful manager, let alone—dare I say—a great leader, maybe you don’t have to be wonderful so much as more or less emotionally healthy and clearheaded.”
No institution can possibly survive if it needs geniuses or supermen to manage it. It must be organized in such a way as to be able to get along under a leadership composed of average human beings.”
That’s good news!

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Lead Your Boss

Lead Your Boss

A CAN-DO PERSON himself, Theodore Roosevelt once advised, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Lead Your Boss
Roosevelt’s admonition is easier said than done. Most of us are not in a position to implement sweeping change by the wave of our hand. And some of us are in a counterproductive culture where sticking your head up is a good way to get it knocked off. But we can learn to do what we can, with what we have, from where we are.

It means that we must learn the art of leading from the middle—from among rather than from in front. And if we are honest, in most contexts, we find ourselves leading from the middle. (CEOs included) We are trying to influence the people around us, above us and below us. So learning to appropriately and effectively lead in this way, will impact our success in most areas of life.

John Baldoni has written a primer on leading from the middle with Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up. What I appreciate about his writing is that it is down-to-earth, nuts-and-bolts, and easy to connect with. He is aware of the fact that it is not easy and can be fraught with peril. He writes,

Those who lead from the middle are those who think big picture and can do what it takes to get things done so their bosses and their teams succeed….Those who succeed at leading from the middle also are artful and adept managers.

Not so easy to do, but it is possible when you rethink and reframe what you want to accomplish and how you want to do it. That is, you are not acting for yourself, but you are acting for the good of the organization. This requires initiative, persuasion, influence, and persistence and no small amount of passion.

Baldoni says that leading up begins with answering three questions:

1. What does the leader need?
2. What does the team need?
3. What can I do to help the leader and the team succeed?

As he suggests, this is a selfless act that speaks to the heart of leadership. It requires people who can think for themselves and take the initiative to make things happen. Answering the three questions, taking the initiative and making it happen is the trick and is the focus of the rest of the book.

Lead Your Boss walks you through every critical step of leading up. It provides instruction for overcoming those inevitable obstacles and you’ll find tips and strategies for:

  • Thinking like a boss, without stealing the boss’s spotlight, and establishing trust with peers.
  • Turning ideas into action by thinking critically (and strategically), reframing opportunities, and challenging conventions.
  • Let others create the how by giving the team direction, setting clear expectations for behavior and performance, and then stepping back and letting team members get things done.
  • Breaking down the doors, beginning with mastering the principles and means of influence and then balancing the need to look out with the need to lead up.
  • Working the system with attention to managing the details, determining priorities, and using organizational politics to everyone’s advantage.
  • Demonstrating resilience by acknowledging failure, knowing when to give in without giving up, exerting and exuding strength, and excelling at turning setbacks into comebacks.
  • Preparing others to lead by recognizing achievement, investing in talent (and differentiating talent from skill), and making leadership personal.
  • Leading with passion… Yes, character and conviction matter!

Leading up is not a solitary job. “Leading up requires the ability to develop the talents of others; this is important for two reasons,” writes Baldoni. “One, you need to demonstrate that you know how to lead others; and two, putting others into leadership positions gives you the time you need to think and act strategically, that is, to lead your boss and your team more effectively.”

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Below is a two and a half minute video that provides a good overview of the book by author John Baldoni:

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:26 PM
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Changing Generational Expectations on Leadership

Earlier this year La Piana Consulting issued a report as a part of their NonprofitNext Initiative, that explores the key trends shaping the future of the social sector. They identify five trends: Demographic Shifts Redefine Participation, Technological Advances Abound, Networks Enable Work to Be Organized in New Ways, Interest in Civic Engagement and Volunteerism Is Rising, and Sector Boundaries Are Blurring.

The report states, “In this changing environment, transformation is not optional. The future will demand a collective rethinking of what it means to be an organization, how individuals define their work and how best to both compete and partner across many permeable boundaries.”

Looking at the first trend, Demographic Shifts Redefine Participation, we see that as younger generations begin to dominate the workforce, they bring with them different values, expectations and the place of technology in achieving results. This of course, changes how they define participation.

La Piana Consulting rightly asserts that, “The challenge is not so much the wholesale changing of the guard that was feared, but the need to figure out how the generations can work together effectively now and in the future…. There are significant distinctions in how younger generations value, approach and leverage engagement, transparency, technology, professional development and work-life balance. These differences will have to be negotiated.”

More foundationally, it changes how we approach leadership, the organizational culture and structure. How will working across generations change the way you do work?

Church consultant Cynthia Ware, wrote on her blog The Digital Sanctuary, that this means more team participation and leadership “sharing.” This almost always gets interpreted as leaderless or a kind of a feel-good, rudderless “hot-tub” leadership that is not heavy on results. Top-down leadership is not necessarily bad leadership, but is often executed poorly. It is most often associated with command and control, which is something else. Authority comes with responsibility, but is most effective when used sparingly.

Ware eloquently clarifies the issue:
“Top down” leadership is not always controlling - yet it is usually perceived as such - which is reflected in the trend. In fact, headship, if functioning correctly, releases rather than restricts, empowers rather than dominates, etc.

I always think of the Exodus model (Ex 18:21-27) and spreading leadership out only means “multiplying” it, not eliminating it. It’s easy for people to jump to the concept of “leaderless” when dealing with the new paradigms since in internet terms were talking about decentralization here, but leaders are more necessary than ever - those who use their leadership to influence to disciple & release others.
For each generation—old and new—this will require learning a new perspective on what it means to share leadership. It’s healthy. If leaders stop learning they stop leading.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:35 AM
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The Seven Deadly Sins of Leadership

Drucker on Leadership
Peter Drucker never wrote a book about leadership, but his thoughts about it are sprinkled throughout his 40 books and hundreds of articles. Bill Cohen has extracted these ideas and presented them in Drucker on Leadership.

To Drucker, leadership was a calling and he set very high ethical standards for those that chose to lead. Character traps like losing sight of why you are leading, selfishness and the abuse of power often derails leaders. Drucker hoped, writes Cohen, “that by making these traps explicit he could help leaders avoid falling into them.” Cohen gathered Drucker’s thoughts about these shortcomings together and categorized them as the seven deadly sins of leadership:

The Leadership Sin of Pride. “The sin of pride is usually considered the most serious of the seven deadly sins.” Being proud of one’s accomplishments is one thing. “The problem comes when leaders believe themselves so special that ordinary rules no longer apply. Generalized pride—as opposed to being proud of specific things—is the most serious leadership sin because it can easily lead to the other six.”

The Leadership Sin of Lust. “There is unfortunately a feeling among some leaders that they have ‘arrived’ and are ‘entitled’; sex is seen as some sort of fringe leadership benefit….In any workplace, it creates jealousies, feelings of favoritism, and lack of trust, damaging people and relationships and more….Drucker thought that leaders did not pay enough attention to avoiding this particular deadly sin, and thought that leaders could do a better job of avoiding problems that affected their ability to lead.”

The Leadership Sin of Greed. “The sin of greed is a sin of excess. It frequently starts with power. Leaders have power, and unfortunately having power has a tendency to lead to corruption if the leader isn’t careful. This may start with the acceptance of small favors and grow into accumulating vacations, bribes, or worse.”

The Leadership Sin of Sloth. “For the leader, the sin of sloth is associated with an unwillingness to act. More often, it is an unwillingness to do work the leader considers beneath the dignity of the office.”

The Leadership Sin of Wrath. “This sin has to do with uncontrolled anger. There is a time for anger in leadership when it serves a definite and useful purpose….Drucker taught leaders to analyse their environment and to determine what actions that had already occurred, meant for the future before taking action. Using anger as a single response to all leadership challenges precludes doing this analysis.”

The Leadership Sin of Envy. “With the sin of envy, the leader is envious of what is enjoyed by someone else.” This may cause a leader to “attempt to destroy another’s reputation, or in other ways attempt to feel better by lowering the status of another.”

The Leadership Sin of Gluttony. Of all the deadly sins, gluttony is the one that most frustrated Drucker. We typically associate gluttony with food, but it applies to excessive consumption of any kind. “Drucker did not win many friends among high executives with his injunction about too high salaries….It’s easy to rationalize—and a status issue. However, there was no question in Drucker’s mind but that executive hypercompensation was an accurate example of the sin of gluttony and was to be avoided for good leadership.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:35 PM
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Eisenhower: No Born Leaders

The one quality that can be developed by studious reflection and practice is leadership.
—Letter to his son, John S. D. Eisenhower,
June 19, 1943
In contrast to George S. Patton Jr., who felt himself born to lead men into desperate battle and who believed that all great leaders are leaders by virtue of their destiny, Dwight Eisenhower thought that leadership could be acquired, learned through “studious reflection and practice.” When his son, a West Point Cadet, expressed disappointment at having been promoted to ordinary cadet sergeant rather than given the distinction of promotion to color sergeant, Ike replied that it did “not indicate that you are lacking in the qualities of leadership” and explained that these qualities could be acquired.

Eisenhower Wallpaper
He went on to demystify leadership, telling his son that it was nothing more than the ability to “get people working together, not only because you tell them to do so and enforce your orders but because they instinctively want to do it for you…. You do not need to be a glad-hander nor a salesman, but your men must trust you and instinctively wish you to win your approbation and to avoid things that call upon you for correction.”

Adapted from Eisenhower on Leadership by Alan Axelrod.

Of Related Interest:
  Looking For Leaders
  Dwight D. Eisenhower Wallpaper: "Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it."

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:52 AM
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What is the Real Work of Leading?

I would hope by now you have had a chance to read through Fast Company co-founder Alan Webber’s Rules of Thumb. He has compiled 52 practical and wise fundamentals of life well lived and work well done.

For a taste, consider Rule #41: If you want to be a real leader, first get real about leadership. Getting real about leadership involves four things: how leaders are, what leaders do, how leaders act, and what leaders leave behind them.

How Leaders Are. Leaders are both confident and modest, they’re authentic and they are good listeners. He quotes Ron Heifetz, “Too many leaders die with their mouths open.” He adds, “Leaders who need to talk all the time create companies where people simply stop listening.”

What Leaders Do. Leaders are coaches. They attract and grow talent. They lead by example. Maintaining high standards themselves, they challenge people to do their best work. “After a real leader has moved on, the people who worked for him or her always say, ‘I learned more and did more than I ever thought I could.’”

How Leaders Act. Real leaders guide. They don’t dictate. “Real leaders create an agenda, offer criteria, and describe a strategy to take the company ahead.” And they learn from their mistakes.

What Leaders Leave Behind. Leaders leave behind “a passion for the business, a love of the company, and the commitment to leave it healthier and stronger than he or she found it.” They leave a team of great leaders. They articulate sound values and instill them into the culture of the business. And perhaps most importantly, they make more leaders. “The real leader is the one who makes more leaders at all levels of the organization. Leaders practice leadership to cultivate more leaders.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:59 PM
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The Application of Love Leadership

I wanted to share with you an excerpt from John Hope Bryant’s book Love Leadership. The subtitle – The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World – says it all. Bryant is the founder of Operation HOPE, a non-profit provider of economic tools and services that has as its long range objective to literally “drive itself out of business.”

Bryant says we have “lost our story line;” too focused on the me instead of the we, we have become indifferent. He describes the opportunity to lead he found, this way:
In inner cities today, you’ll often find a liquor store right next to a check casher, next to a pawn shop, next to a rent-to-own store, next to a payday lender. If misery loves company, then this is a pile-on. There’s simply a super-abundance of predatory businesses, and many people have lost hope. They are poor in spirit: they’re not skeptical—they’re cynical; they have low self-esteem and negative role models; their get-up-and-go has got up and went. So they go to the check-cashing service to forfeit their today, and go to the payday lender to forfeit their tomorrow. And because they don’t believe they’ll have a tomorrow, they go to the liquor store to forget about their yesterday.

In these communities, poor people spend roughly $10 billion each year on what I call ghettoized financial services—high-interest and high-fee check cashing, payday loans, refund anticipation loans, title lending, rent-to-own, and the like. I know of one individual who got a payday loan for $800; by the time he finished pay it off six years later, after rolling this payday loan over countless times, he had paid $15,000 in interest on that $800 loan. These businesses are in many cases short-term-oriented, purely transactional business models that add little value, and even deteriorate the customer base they purport to serve.

These businesses are ultimately led by one thing: fear. People are afraid to lift themselves up, to lead themselves out of their situation, to think for themselves. Bad capitalism preys mercilessly on these fears.

Throughout my journey from the inner city to my work as a social entrepreneur, I have had a front dash row seat for witnessing how fear destroys a community. But I would learn that there is another way to live and to do business. It would take almost 30 years for me to understand that the antidote to fear is love.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:34 PM
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What Is Your Platform?

Pat Williams
Pat Williams is the Senior Vice President of the Orlando Magic, the NBA team he co-founded in 1987. In What Are You Living For? he lists four reasons for living our lives: to build character, for what we believe in, raising another generation, and our influence. He writes, “Through our influence, the very best part of us lives on even after we physically die.”

He lists seven practical ways you can invest your life in the lives of others:
  1. Be careful what you say.
  2. Be aware that others are watching your example.
  3. Use your accomplishments and your influence to inspire the next generation.
  4. Take advantage of every “moment of influence.”
  5. When you make a mistake admit it.
  6. Be generous with your time and resources.
  7. Make all of your decisions on the basis of ethics and integrity, not personal advantage.
There are people in your life that need your influence. We all have a platform to “speak-up” from and make a difference in someone’s life.
Dale Murphy (Major League Baseball All-Star and founder of I Won't Cheat Foundation) is a sports celebrity who seeks to leverage his achievements on the playing field into a positive influence on the lives of others, especially young people. People in the sports world who are conscious of their influence often speak of their “platform.” In the literal sense, a platform is an elevated stage from which a person can speak and be heard by the crowd below. A sports celebrity has a platform of fame, which he or she can use to influence fans, young people and society at large.

You may not have the platform of a sports star. But there are people who look up to you, watch your life and listen to your words. Like it or not, my friend, you have a platform and you are responsible for your influence. How are you using your platform?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:50 AM
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IBM's Robert Sampson on Values-Based Leadership

Robert Sampson, general manager of Global Public Sector at IBM, delivered a speech to the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, on the power of values to change the world. He says, “Technologies, no matter how game-changing they are, come and go. What really matters in industry and in government is individual character.”

Sampson relates the story of an IBM computer scientist named Arun Hampapur who was driven to enhance the value derived from surveillance systems, to illustrate the value of creating a culture in which people seek to innovate not just for the sake of innovation, but to apply themselves to the kind of innovation that changes society:
Arun Hampapur began studying the video surveillance systems in New York and Chicago. As Arun saw it, these systems had an inherent problem: They could ingest data, but they could not react to real-world incidents in a timely way. You could only respond to a criminal event once it already happened. That wasn’t good enough for Arun.

Arun and his team came up with algorithms that could identify patterns of suspicious behavior and then instigate a real-time alert. In New York City, for example, Arun’s team defined nine patterns of criminal behavior. A guy standing around in the subway on a 90-degree day wearing a trench coat and carrying two duffle bags, for example, constituted one pattern. A white, windowless van circling the block ten times constituted another. And so on.

Who told Arun to develop this digital surveillance system? Nobody. He thought it up on his own.

We haven’t yet calculated the revenue that IBM and its business partners will derive from this solution. But as for the contribution that Arun Hampapur has made to the well-being of millions of people he will never know—here is truly something of value. It’s the value that comes from having values, from believing in the kind of innovation that matters in the lives of individuals and of nations. I’d like to leave you with four leadership principles based on these values:
  • Be grounded in a set of values you believe in. If you are committed to every client’s success, you have to communicate that belief in every interaction with your employees and clients. And reward the people who look past organizational silos or who rethink existing technologies to come up with smart solutions.
  • Keep your leadership and management roles in balance. You have days where you’ve got to tell people what to do. You might have to kick them in the fanny. But you also have days where you’ve got to lift them up. The hardest days are when you do both.
  • Think huge. Wild and crazy ideas matter. What’s holding you back on executing them? Organizational obstacles? You can deal with them. Skills? You can acquire them. Remember that you are in the ICAF because you already have demonstrated your desire to think huge, to act on your need to make the world a better place.
  • Determine your legacy. If an organization thrives only when you run it, you have not made any intrinsic change. Leave something of yourself behind. Share what you know. Become a mentor.
The world is ready for a smarter planet. It is begging for strong, smart, value-driven leadership.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:16 AM
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A Leader Builds Community

It’s easy to lead the people who think you can do no wrong. It’s easy too, to get taken in by their flattery. But a leader is responsible for everyone they lead – their core supporters and those at the fringe that may have their doubts. A leader builds community. A leader is inclusive.

In Driving Results Through Social Networks, Cross and Thomas report that “high performers tend to occupy network positions that bridge otherwise disconnected clusters of people.” As a result they can seize the opportunities found in the “white space” between subgroups.

A diversity of voices is essential to a leader. It is not uncommon to find that your most crucial collaborators are not commonly categorized as the high performers and regarded as "in-sync" with you. Instead, we have all seen that these highly valuable people, often found on the fringes, play an important role in making the high performers successful. A leader must be able to motivate these potential partners to join with them as well.

Jagdish Sheth, a chaired professor of marketing at Emory’s Goizueta Business School notes, “One big mistake is when the new leader rewards the people who supported him on the way up, while phasing out the people who did not. Instead, a CEO must realize that he or she is the leader of the company, not a clique, just as the president of the U.S. leads the nation, not just the Democrats or the Republicans.”

Where there is leadership, there is a sense of community.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:00 AM
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The 14 Questions Every Board Member Needs to Ask

Owning Up
The question of who’s running the organization is a critical one in this economic environment. Many boards are being asked to do what they were never prepared to do. The challenges and pressures are immense. In a critically important book for directors—Owning Up—world-renowned adviser Ram Charan says the economic downturn is a wake-up call to corporate boards. “Boards need to own up to their own accountability for the performance of the corporation.”

Increasingly, "governance now means leadership, not just over-the-shoulder monitoring and passive approvals. Boards must fiercely guard their companies against the threats of rapid decline and sudden demise, while at the same time helping management seize the opportunities that tumultuous change presents but are hard to see in the daily fray of running the business. The board that does both turns governance into a competitive advantage." And all of this without micromanaging. It’s quite a balancing act. [Charan: “Asking questions of an operating nature is not in itself micromanaging, as long as the questions lead to insights about issues like strategy, performance, major investment decisions, key personnel, the choice of goals, or risk assessment.” Why and how is key.]

Charan offers fourteen questions that “get to the heart of the unique issues that boards are facing now.” I think the questions are as insightful and provide as much food for thought as the answers they might evoke:

Question 1: Is the Composition of the Board Right for the Challenge?
Question 2: How Are We Addressing the Risks that Could Put Our Company over the Cliff?
Question 3: Are We Prepared to Do Our Job Well When a Crisis Erupts?
Question 4: Are We Well Enough Prepared to Name Our Next CEO?
Question 5: How Well Does the Board Own the Strategy?
Question 6: How Can We Get the Information We Need to Govern Well?
Question 7: How Can Our Board Get CEO Compensation Right?
Question 8: Why Do We Need a Lead Director Anyway?
Question 9: Is Our governance committee Best of Breed?
Question 10: How Do We Get the Most Value out of Our Limited Time?
Question 11: How Can Executive Sessions Improve the Ownership Function of the Board?
Question 12: How Can Our Board Self-Evaluation Improve Our Functioning and Our Output?
Question 13: How Do We Stop from Micromanaging?
Question 14: How Well Prepared Are We to Work with Activist Shareholders and Their Proxies?

In good times, not enough consideration has been given to question one. Does the board have enough depth of knowledge or experience to ensure the organization stays on track? “Directors as a group must have the specific skills and perspectives needed to carry out their responsibilities.” And these skills must evolve with the times. “If the composition of the board is not appropriate, it is the failure if the [governance] committee. The board must empower the committee to actively shape the board composition.” Bad directors drive out good directors. It’s time for a check-up. Charan’s questions help boards do just that.

Additionally, while squarely aimed at directors, Charan’s questions serve a wider audience of leader’s as well. The questions speak to any leader of the need to “own up” to the responsibilities found in their own context? Are we up to the challenge in the area we have chosen to lead? Are we dealing with the issues? Are we trying to identify the issues early and get ahead of them? Are we learning so that we are better able to perform? Are we aware of our impact? All of these questions speak to the need for personal accountability. Addressing Charan’s questions is the way forward.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:03 AM
| Comments (0) | General Business , Leadership , Management


Three Questions Every Leader Should Ask

Custom-Built Leadership
Robin Ryde explains in Custom-Built Leadership that there are three questions that will bring clarity to your leadership mandate. They will provide “a personal manifesto for how you will lead. They open up and provide entry to a place where your priorities, personal preferences and ambitions can be properly examined.”

How Long Have I Got? This is a question not just about tenure, but the legacy you wish to leave. This will help you to determine your priorities. Your time frame will determine your pace and help you to determine what skills and resources will be of the greatest value to you.

How Grand Is My Plan? This question has to do with your ambition and encompasses three key considerations: your appetite for taking on varying degrees of ambition, your freedom to operate, and your inheritance (it’s rare that we inherit positions of leadership as a clean slate). Timing will certainly affect your level of ambition.

How Broadly Will I Lead? As a leader you will certainly operate within a system. The question is how far will you travel into the domains that affect your issues that stand outside your formal locus of influence.

Ryde pragmatically discusses each of these questions and candidly describes the rewards and pitfalls of the kinds of decisions we make. This book is an important read for anyone taking on a new leadership task or looking to recalibrate the task they are currently in.

Ryde writes, “A long-term leadership strategy requires a very different approach to a short-term campaign. Leadership on a grand scale calls upon a different set of skills to a business-as-usual plan. Leaders who wish to influence a broad range of people and institutions need to develop different qualities to those with a narrower engagement plan.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:56 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


Ten Leadership Skills You Need For An Uncertain World

Leaders Make the Future
Uncertainty is a part of life. Uncertainty is a call for leadership. Creating clarity from uncertainty is a leader’s stock in trade. Unquestionably some periods of time are more demanding than others. Times like these call on leaders to take a broader view of who and why they are leading and the impact they are having on the world around them. While this is very demanding for any leader, it is also more meaningful.

In Leaders Make the Future, futurist Bob Johansen reports that volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity will only get worse in the future. “Solvable problems will still abound, but top leaders will deal mostly with dilemmas which have no solutions, yet leaders will have to make decisions anyway.”

Johansen emphasizes ten leadership skills that will help leaders to cope and thrive in the volatile decade ahead. “We need not passively accept the future. Leaders can and must make a better future.” Although it’s “hard to even think about the future if you are overwhelmed by the present … looking to distant possibilities can provide new insight for the present.” The ten skills he lays out move from the instinctual to the complex and build on each other. Here is a summary of Johansen’s work for you to think on:

1. Maker Instinct: The ability to exploit your inner drive to build and grow things, as well as connect with others in the making. Future leaders will need both a can-do and a can-make spirit. The maker instinct is what separates the leaders from the powerless.

2. Clarity: The ability to see through messes and contradictions to a future that others cannot see. Leaders are very clear about what they are making, but very flexible about how it gets made. How can you as a leader, create and communicate with clarity in confusing times – without being simplistic?

3. Dilemma Flipping: The ability to turn dilemmas – which, unlike problems, cannot be solved – into advantages and opportunities. We must be able to nurture the ability to engage with hopelessness, learn how to wade through it to the other side, and flip it in a more positive direction. Think Roger Martin’s concept of the “opposable mind.” How can you remake a situation with no solution?

4. Immersive Learning Ability: The ability to immerse yourself in unfamiliar environments; to learn from them in a first-person way. Immersive learning requires active attention, the ability to listen and filter, and to see patterns while staying centered – even when overwhelmed with stimuli. Leaders can’t absorb everything, so they must filter out extraneous information and learn how to recognize patterns as they are emerging.

5. Bio-Empathy: The ability to see things from nature’s point of view; to understand, respect, and learn from nature’s patterns. It is big-picture thinking that respects all the multiple interrelated parts and nonlinear relationships, as well as cycles of change.

6. Constructive Depolarizing: The ability to calm tense situations where differences dominate and communication has broken down – and bring people from divergent cultures toward constructive engagement. The next decade will be characterized by diversity and polarization. The temptation is to pick sides, but that is rarely a good strategy.

7. Quiet Transparency: The ability to be open and authentic about what matters to you – without advertising yourself. This begins with humility. Leaders who advertise themselves and take credit for their own performances will become targets. Are you self-promoting?

8. Rapid Prototyping: The ability to create quick early versions of innovations, with the expectation that later success will require early failures. Fail early, fail often, and fail cheaply. Accept failures as important ingredients to success and learn from them.

9. Smart Mob Organizing: The ability to create, engage with, and nurture purposeful business or social change networks through intelligent use of electronic and other media. Leaders are what they can organize. Can you organize smart mobs using a range of media?

10. Commons Creating: The ability to seed, nurture, and grow shared assets that can benefit other players – and sometimes allow competition at a higher level. Can you create commons within which both cooperation and competition may occur?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:30 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , General Business , Leadership , Management


How to Hit the Ground Running

Hit the Ground Running
Stakes are high. Whether you are just starting out, trying something new or just starting each day with the understanding that you need to be putting your best foot forward, you need to know how to get up to speed, make the right decisions, and produce the right results fast. You need to hit the ground running.

If you could sit and learn from some of America’s best CEOs, you could discover the right steps to take to insure your success while avoiding many of the pitfalls that come from learning from one’s own experience. In Hit the Ground Running, Jason Jennings has made that possible. He has selected ten CEOs that created more economic value for their companies than all of the other CEOs of America’s top one thousand companies during the study period. They made the decisions that allowed them to achieve great results on issues we can all relate to by adhering to, sometimes counter-intuitive principles. From interviews and observation, Jennings has compiled these principles into ten lessons from each of these CEOs that if applied, will help you to hit the ground running.

Rule 1: Don’t Deceive Yourself—You Will Reap What You Sow   Let the Golden Rule guide every decision. Richard Smucker says, “In matters of style, swim with the current but in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

Rule 2: Gain Belief   Leaders gain belief by being authentic and humble, getting rid of regal trappings, proving their worthiness, asking others for belief, and surrounding themselves with others who are also trusted. "I need everyone to respect and support one another and work with each other. Everything else is B.S." says Fred Eppinger of the Hanover Group.

Rule 3: Ask for Help   Howard Lance CEO of Harris Corporation “has a keen sense of humor and doesn’t have a problem generating a laugh even at his own expense.” He says, “Sometimes you have to take the veneer and let people see you for who you really are and share a chuckle or two.” To “hit the ground running" requires that you admit that you don’t have all the answers and engaged the assistance of others when assuming new duties.

Rule 4: Find, Keep, and Grow the Right People   Ronald Sargent’s strategy at Staples is to promote from within, move people around, identify rising stars, make everyone an owner, communicate with your workers and make diversity your priority. Promoting from within “creates a career culture that encourages people to stay longer and stretch their skills.”

Rule 5: See Through the Fog   Pat Hassey, CEO of Allegheny Technologies told Jennings, “It’s the job of the CEO to see through the fog and to be a destination expert. People want to know where the company is headed, what their future holds, the opportunities that exist for them, and what their role is going to be. And they don’t want to wait forever to find those things out.” (See page 97 for Hassey’s well thought out Team Rules that all team members have to agree to part of a Hassey-led team.)

Rule 6: Drive a Stake in the Ground   Jennings writes, "Driving stakes into the ground allows a leader to provide a clear vision about what the company is, where it’s headed, and how it’s going to get there so it can hit the ground running. But it isn’t for the faint of heart. Once you’ve driven a stake in the ground you have to talk about it and promote it relentlessly.” Mike McCallister, CEO of Humana says, “The problem with most businesses is that instead of driving a stake in the ground, they stick a toe in the water and when it gets hard or boring they start thinking about it too much, begin questioning their decision and pull their toe out, changing things, and starting all over again.”

Rule 7: Simplify Everything   "Oversimplify everything! Sit down and ask, `If I could start with a blank sheet of paper today and create the best answer, what would I do?'" says Jeff Lorberbaum, CEO of Mohawk Industries.

Rule 8: Be Accountable   “Setting a personal example of accountability is where many leaders fall short,” writes Jennings. “Instead of starting by being accountable themselves, they use the threat of accountability as a tool to drive others.”

Rule 9: Cultivate a Fierce Sense of Urgency   Keith Rattie, CEO of Questar says, “You must have a sense of urgency—if one doesn’t exist, the CEO’s job is to create one. The mind-set needs to be ‘We’re not as good as we know we have to be.’” Rattie adds that it will be time for him to leave when he loses the “sense of urgency and the belief that we have to be better tomorrow than we are today… it’ll be time to get somebody else in the chair who will bring a new pair of eyes and fresh thinking to the job.”

Rule 10: Be a Fish Out of Water   The CEOs interviewed don’t fit the typical picture of what a CEO should be. They have been described as “humble, authentic, accessible, highly ethical, compassionate listeners and truly, believable committed to doing the right thing for all stakeholders.”

Jennings skillfully weaves the thoughts from these business leaders into coherent and practical lessons. You will find all kinds of great advice in this book, much of it delivered in an almost off-the-cuff manner that belies its value. But it makes this insightful and crisply written book great reading.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:09 PM
| Comments (0) | General Business , Leadership , Management

More Useful Quotes from Hit the Ground Running by Jason Jennings

These quotes are from Hit the Ground Running: A Manual for New Leaders by Jason Jennings

Ronald Sargent CEO of Staples warns, “I think a leader has to do something big, new, and different within the first one hundred days and make sure that it’s properly communicated to everyone. If people don’t know what’s going on they’ll assume nothing is going on.”

“The three most important observations I made early on in my career,” says Pat Hassey of ATI, “were that most people are loyal and want to do a good job and be successful, that offering a sincere thank you goes a long way, and that a soft response is always better than a harsh one.” Hassey also remarked, “I promised I’d never let myself get into a position where I’d stop growing. Everybody has a question, an idea, and an opinion, and if you take the time to listen, you’ll end up with a better business. There’s no such thing as a dumb question or idea.”

Mike McCallister, CEO of Humana: "We try to treat all of our people like they are adults, which sounds like straightforward common sense, but it's amazing how many businesses don't."

Goodrich CEO Marshall Larson: “The one thing I did know is that if all leaders in the company thought like me and acted like me, we’d end up with groupthink and make on hell of a big mistake someday and march off the side of the cliff like lemmings.”

Goodrich CEO Marshall Larson: "Any CEO who thinks he can pull all the strings that make things happen is kidding himself.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:08 PM
| Comments (0) | General Business , Leadership , Management


Strategic Presence: The Power that Fuels Leadership

Tony Jeary, author of Strategic Acceleration: Succeed at the Speed of Life, is a coach to some of the world's top CEOs. In his book he brings together practical ideas to help you get out of your own way. A critical aspect of getting things done through others is presence – your presence. To influence others you need to know how they perceive you and adjust your communication with them accordingly. Here, Tony discusses what he calls strategic presence:
Strategic Acceleration

The goal of leadership is to produce superior results on purpose and that makes leadership a results contest. The challenge of leadership is to persuade and motivate those they lead to produce the results they want. When people voluntarily and enthusiastically do what their leaders ask them to do and the desired results are achieved, leaders are considered to be effective and successful! The question is how do leaders really get others to voluntarily and enthusiastically produce the desired results? There are many parts to this puzzle, but there is none greater than a condition I describe as Strategic Presence.

Here is a great story that illustrates Strategic Presence and also illuminates its effect. A student from a foreign country was enrolled in the middle of a school year. During the first day of class, the other kids in the class were doing what kids do. There was a lot of giggling and staring and posturing for the new arrival. The new student was dressed in a way that did not meet the expectations of a few of the other children and eventually one of them (the class clown) began to make jokes about the new student's appearance.

As the scene was progressing toward chaos, the teacher was about to intervene when a girl stood up and told everyone to stop picking on their new classmate. The girl reminded them that it was scary to be new in a school and they needed to be kind to the student and make them feel welcome She reminded them they should treat this new person as they would want to be treated if they were in a new country and a new school. After class, the teacher called the girl aside and said, "That was a very brave thing you did. Why did you do that?" The girl replied, "Because that is what my Mom and Dad would expect me to do!"

This story powerfully illustrates the essence and the effect of what I call Strategic Presence. The girl had merely done what she knew her parents would want her to do. Her parents had succeeded in creating a positive presence in her mind, which gave her the willingness and courage to do what she did. Most importantly, the presence of her parents was so authentic that they did not have to be physically present to inspire their daughter's good behavior.

Leaders create impressions that exist in the mind of every person they lead. It is a presence that defines the perceptions people have of their leaders and what they believe about them. It is this overall persona that I am referring to when I use the term Strategic Presence and there are two types: Positive and Negative. Leaders are constantly creating and presenting images of influence that produce both.

The most important fact about Strategic Presence is that it produces two possible reactions in others. It either produces voluntary cooperation or it produces various forms of resistance. If leaders generate positive Strategic Presence, people will be more likely to support what they want, most of the time. However, if perceptions of leadership are negative people will substitute resistance for cooperation. The possibilities of how people will respond to Strategic Presence are limited to cooperation or resistance. There is not much middle ground between them. As someone once said, "you are either for us against us!" It is easy to see why creating an authentic, positive strategic presence is critical for the execution of a vision.

Creating positive Strategic Presence is not a strategy of manipulation. The positive strategic presence leaders project must be authentic. Failing the test of authenticity means the very image leadership hopes to establish will be perceived as deceptive and disingenuous, or worse. People are very perceptive and they will see through efforts to project a phony persona for the purposes of manipulating their behavior. So, why shouldn't a leader's strategic presence just be allowed to be what it is?" That is a great question and the answer is simple. Many leaders are misunderstood and create perceptions that really don't match their intent. So, understanding how Strategic Presence is created will minimize the possibility of being misunderstood.

So, how is strategic presence is created? What are the things about leadership that speaks the loudest about it? What creates the perceptions that combine to produce Strategic Presence? There are two components that contribute to strategic presence: values and behavior.

Our values are established by what we believe to be right, wrong, true, false, acceptable, unacceptable, appropriate and inappropriate. Let's face it, we have all developed deep, strong opinions about many things as we live our lives. Our opinions spring forth from your values and your values influence what we actually do.

Our values and beliefs impact 5 categories of that drive our behavior, and it is our behavior that creates Strategic Presence. The five categories that drive behavior are:
  1. Work ethic
  2. Integrity
  3. Judgment
  4. Courage
  5. Willingness to help others
So, if you want to be a great leader, you need to have great values and your values must be demonstrated in the action you take. This is the essence of Strategic Presence and it is truly the power that fuels leadership.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:54 PM
| Comments (0) | Communication , Leadership , Motivation , Personal Development


Attributes of a Boeing Leader

When Ginger Barnes spoke to employees at a leadership development program at the Boeing Leadership Center, she said, “Leadership is all about leaders teaching leaders and about relationships. We can execute the daylights out of anything, so ‘finds a way’ and ‘delivers results’ have always been strong traits. Where we need to improve is in the areas of ‘charts the course,’ ‘sets high expectations’ and ‘inspires others.’” That probably true just about anywhere you go. To strengthen the culture of leadership and accountability within the company, Boeing defined its expectations for leaders as:

A Boeing Leader:Boeing
  • Charts the course
  • Sets high expectations
  • Inspires others
  • Finds a way
  • Lives the Boeing values
  • Delivers results

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:30 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


Jean-Marie Dru On Leadership

Leadership Nuggets

I do not believe much in natural leadership. The majority of chief executives I know were not necessarily destined for that path. They have been molded by the events they have lived through and the people they have met.

The concept of leadership thus evolves into a much narrower question: How can you make sure you will be in the right place at the right time?

To people wishing to enter the advertising business, I always explain that the first quality they will need is tenacity. Mere talent is not much use in the face of the countless obstacles that will get in the way of the best performance. Success is born of determination rather than just ambition. Ambition relates to strategy, whereas determination is linked to execution.

Adapted from How Disruption Brought Order by Jean-Marie Dru

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:08 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership


The Age of the Empty Suit

In Peggy Noonan’s weekend column in the Wall Street Journal, she