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Replace your Resolutions with a Plan

January 23, 2012 12 comments

Leadership Leap ChallengeI’m not a fan of New Year resolutions. Why? Three reasons:

  1. I stink at them.
  2. I feel compelled to think them up on the last day of the year, in a post-holiday coma, with no clear plan of how I’m actually going to accomplish them. (Is it any wonder that 88% of New Year resolutions fail?)
  3. They promise hope but deliver guilt.

So we’re 23 days into 2012—how are you doing on your New Year resolutions? Odds are you’ve slipped up a little here and there. That’s assuming you haven’t tossed the whole idea after temptation tackled your willpower in a moment of weakness and beat you back into submission.

The good news is you can start all over today (if you want to). Today is the first day of the Chinese New Year. Don’t worry though, if you need more time, you could wait until April and celebrate the Hindu New Year. After that, you’ve got Rosh Hashanah in September or even Hijri New Year in November.

You see, what you know as January 1st is actually an arbitrary date that was set by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582. That’s the year he introduced the Gregorian calendar to correct astronomical inaccuracies in the Julian calendar the Romans used. It took over 300 years for most of the world to adopt the Gregorian Calendar, but today we don’t give it a second thought.

The truth is, every day is the start of a new year.

That’s what gave me the idea for The Leap Challenge. If January 1st is essentially a random start date, then why not take January to recover from the holidays and get used to writing 2012 on everything. Starting February 1st, we could take an entire month to set ourselves up for success—refining our vision, gathering support, developing a plan, and preparing to execute it. Then on Leap Day, February 29—arguably the most astronomically arbitrary date in our calendar—we could take the leap on accomplishing not just a resolution but one of our biggest dreams.

If you’re interested, then join us for The Leap Challenge and trade in your hasty resolutions for a fighting chance at accomplishing one of your biggest dreams.

How do you feel about New Year resolutions?

The Servant Dictator

September 26, 2011 8 comments
servant leader

Cincinnatus

600 years before the Roman Empire ruled from the moors of Britain to the sands of Egypt, it’s predecessor, the Roman Republic, was almost destroyed. In 458 B.C. The neighboring Aequians attacked Rome—and the army sent to defend the fledgling city-state quickly found itself surrounded.

The city panicked. The Senate decided to appoint a strong leader with absolute power—a dictator—for a 6-month term. They chose Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus—a disgraced, bankrupted ex-politician who was forced to work his own farm west of the city.

Cincinnatus accepted the dictatorship and sprang into action. In a single day he raised, outfitted, and organized an army consisting of every able-bodied man in the city. He marched the army out of the city, rescued the besieged Romans, and defeated the Aequians at the Battle of Mons Algidus. Then, after returning to Rome in triumph, he did the most unexpected thing.

He resigned as dictator and returned to his farm.

Think of all Cincinnatus could have done with absolute power. Exacting revenge on his opponents in the Senate. Advancing this political agendas and causes. Regaining his social and economic status. But Cincinnatus saw his position as a service, not an opportunity.

All too often Servant Leadership is associated with being meek, democratic, or soft. Cincinnatus, the Servant Dictator, the reluctant—but ruthless—warrior, shatters all such notions. Servant Leadership is deeper than a style or approach—it’s a belief, a different way of looking at the whole concept of authority.

What does “servant leadership” mean to you?

How to Prepare for Poor Communication

August 23, 2011 1 comment

Leader Development

Last week I visited the Pea Ridge National Military Park where 26,000 soldiers fought to decide the fate of Missouri during the Civil War. The park is the most intact Civil War Battlefield in the country—if you’re ever in the area, it’s well worth a visit.

I’ve toured quite a few battlefields and I’m amazed at how many times poor communication is cited as one of the contributing factors to a defeat. Pea Ridge is no exception.

Usually, I respond with a renewed appreciation for the importance of good communication, but last week I gleaned a new insight from this reoccurring theme.

I realized that poor communication is inevitable—in spite of all of the books, blogs, and classes. Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in the power of communicating well as a leader. I’m just saying that even when you’ve done everything you can, misinterpretations, misunderstandings, and missed messages will still plague your projects.

So, if some degree of poor communication is unavoidable, how do you prepare for it? Here are five ways to create a team that can operate effectively in the fog of war:

1. Start with Clarity. The inevitability of poor communication is no excuse for poor communication on your part. Just as in a game of telephone—where you know your original message will be mangled along the way—your best bet is to start with clear and simple statements. Do everything in your power to help others understand; make it difficult for them to go astray.

2. Train your People. The purpose of training is to give people the skills they need to act independently with confidence. As part of your training, practice performing in an environment where communication is garbled or non-existent. If your people learn to perform in an environment of simulated ambiguity, they’ll be much better prepared for the real world.

3. Foster Initiative. It isn’t enough to give people confidence in their own abilities, you must also give them permission to use them. You must encourage and reward their choice to act on their own. Only then will your people be effective in situations where orders are unclear and rapid decisions are required.

4. Encourage Positive Assumptions. In organizations where people are well-trained and initiative is cultivated, people know what to expect from their counterparts. Encouraging your team to assume positive intent with each other can serve to quickly mitigate any negative emotions ignited by unclear or incomplete communications.

5. Decentralize your Execution. Finally, after issuing clear guidance, equipping your people, encouraging initiative and reinforcing positive intent, you can release central control of operations and delegate decision-making down to the lowest level. This creates an agile and responsive organization that can quickly outmaneuver the competition to gain the advantage.

How do you prepare for poor communication?

Shooting for the Moon

May 25, 2011 1 comment

leadership vision

I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth. 

John F. Kennedy

50 years ago today, John F. Kennedy charged congress—and the nation—with the most ambitious goal of the 20th century: putting a human being on the moon. This idea galvanized the nation for years to come. Many still look to the accomplishment of this goal on July 20, 1969 as one of America’s greatest achievements.

How did this simple statement drive such a monumental effort? I believe it met—and exceeded—all the criteria of a SMART goal:

1. Specific: He completely avoided ambiguity. When speaking of the future we tend to use vage speech. Kennedy left no wiggle room. He even included bringing the person home (that’s the tough part).

2. Measurable: The Space Race had been in full swing since the Soviets launched Sputnik four years earlier. The US needed a quantifiable goal—a way to judge and determine success.

3. Ambitious: You’ve got to stretch yourself, inspire yourself, push the envelope of what you think is possible. This is where purpose and passion are forged. Landing someone on the moon still fires the limits of our imagination.

4. Realistic: Counter to the previous criterium, your goal must remain in the realm of possible, albeit on the edge. Putting someone on the moon in the 1960’s would be difficult, but doable.

5. Timeline: “…before this decade is out…” Setting a time limit is crucial. it focuses and intensifies your work, giving you something to drive toward. Otherwise there’s no urgency.

What are you shooting for—what’s your moon?

Musing on Memorial Day

May 31, 2010 2 comments

Leader's LegacyFederal holidays are funny. They’re always set up with a specific purpose in mind, but people tend to do whatever they want with them. And I think that’s just fine. Honestly, I’m in that boat most of the time.

Take Memorial Day for example. Originally conceived to honor the Union soldiers of the Civil War, today it commemorates all U.S. soldiers who died while in military service. However, when I see Memorial Day Weekend approaching, I’m thankful for the respite from work, the chance to spend time with family, and the start of summer.

Part of the reason I don’t feel guilty enjoying the time off is that memorial day isn’t an annual occurrence for me. It happens every few weeks. I’m regularly humbled by the memories of family members, classmates, and others I’ve served with who lost their life in service to our country.

I don’t often visit graveyards on the last Monday in May. Instead, I usually spend the time enjoying the life and freedom that these people died to protect. That’s the way my friends would have wanted it.

They affect me on a profound level that has little to do with what’s gone on in the past or how I’m spending this weekend. The truth is they spent their life–all of it in the end–on something worthwhile, something bigger than themselves. They left personal legacies, stories that speak to those of us who still remain. And one day, we will all join them.

So the question I must ask is this: Am I living a life that will provide a worthwhile legacy? What example am I leaving behind? How am I treating my wife? my children? my friends? my coworkers? What am I providing, building, or protecting? How am I investing my gifts?

What are you doing today to provide a powerful legacy?

Leading like Michelangelo

February 17, 2010 12 comments

leadership potential mentoring

I was in my mid-twenties when Michelangelo’s Pietà first captivated me. There in Vatican City, nestled in the heart of Rome, I walked into St. Peter’s Basilica and there it was. It drew me in slowly, then proceeded to mesmerize my soul with every exquisite detail. The folds of fabric, the veins on his feet and forearm, every muscle, tendon, and feature.

I’ve never seen a stone look so alive.

I came to the Vatican that day to experience the vastness of St. Peter’s and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. I wasn’t prepared for what this masterpiece would do to me. I  stood there for an hour drinking in its beauty as the crowds rose and fell around me.

Michelangelo said, “carving is easy, you just have to go down to the skin and stop.” He saw sculpting more as liberating than creating. When he looked at a stone, he could see the figures already living inside; his job was just to set them free.

That’s our job as leaders. We need to steer our eyes to see the masterpiece that’s already living in the people we’re leading. Our job is just to set the masterpiece free. Not only does this attitude serve your people, it serves your organization as well. If you want your company, team or community to become the best it can be, then make sure your people are becoming the best they can be.

Michelangelo liberated many magnificent sculptures, but as a leader you can liberate living masterpieces.

In whom will you look for a masterpiece today?

The Story of One Good Turn

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Scout Oath Leadership RockwellIn 1909, an American businessman became disoriented in a dense London fog. As he stood under a street light trying to find his way, a boy emerged out of the mist and asked if he could be of help.

“You certainly can,” replied the American. He shared the business he was trying to find and the boy promptly offered to lead him to the address himself. When they arrived at his destination, the businessman reached into his pocket for a tip – but the boy stopped him.

“No thank you, sir. I am a Scout. I won’t take anything for helping.”

“A Scout? And what might that be?” asked the man.

The boy told the American about himself and the movement that Lord Baden-Powell had begun a few years earlier. The businessman was so intrigued that he asked for directions to the British Scouting Office. There he learned more about the organization Baden-Powell founded to train boys in outdoor skills, mental acuity, and leadership.

That American businessman was Chicago publisher William D. Boyce and he was so impressed with Baden-Powell’s Boy Scouts, that he brought the idea home with him. On February 8, 1910 – exactly 100 years ago today – Boyce founded the Boy Scouts of America.

What ever happened to the boy who came to Boyce’s aid in the London fog? No one knows. He neither asked for money nor gave his name, but his good turn that day brought scouting to America.

Since its inception over 110 million Americans have been Boy Scouts and over 2 million have earned their Eagle Scout rank. Some notable Eagle Scouts include Neil Armstrong, Michael Bloomberg, Ross Perot, and Steven Spielberg.

To this day, some of my fondest childhood memories are from Boy Scout campouts and earning my Eagle was one of the highlights of my young life. It was as a young Scout that I had my first opportunities to follow, to serve, and to lead…

…all because a hundred years ago some unknown kid helped out a stranger.

The slogan of the Boy Scouts is “Do a Good Turn Daily.” What will your good turn be today?