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Posts Tagged ‘leading groups’

5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders

November 14, 2011 18 comments

VeteransI was stunned to learn that the unemployment rate among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is up to 12.1%. That’s more than 3% higher than the national average. The more I looked into it, the more misconceptions I discovered employers had about military experience.

A few weeks ago, Mark Norton, my friend and coworker at McKinney Rogers, asked me a great question. He was preparing a speech to a group of Japanese businessmen in Tokyo and asked me which aspects of military leadership I thought were most applicable to business leaders.

I came up with four things on the spot that I learned in the Army that I’ve seen lacking in the corporate and non-profit worlds. I’ve since added one more. Here they are:

1. Develop Junior Leaders. Junior officers and NCOs win today’s battles. Developing their judgment and empowering them to take initiative enables decentralized execution—which gives organizations the agility needed to operate in highly complex, rapidly changing environments (sound familiar?).

2. Leverage “Commanders Intent.” As Ike said, “Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.” Understanding the leader’s intent—her purpose, key outcomes, and defined endstate—empowers individuals and teams to adapt, improvise, and succeed.

3. Task Organize. Missions and teams are not all created equal. Form specific teams to achieve specific outcomes. Establish universal standards and train people to operate globally in different multifunctional teams.

4. Use your Operators as Trainers. In the military, training falls under operations—not HR. Operators understand what skills the field needs, and they’re the natural choice to teach those skills. Human Resources tracks and records individual progress, but never delivers or resources training.

5. Focus on “Mission first, People always.” The forced choice between making your numbers or caring for your direct reports is a false dichotomy. Taking care of your people is taking care of business. Likewise, taking care of business is taking care of people.

Don’t assume that a veteran’s experience is void of business relevance. There are exceptions of course, but the vast majority of veterans have learned to get results by working hard, thinking creatively, and taking care of people.

I don’t know about you, but I’d take someone like that on my team any day.

What other aspects of military leadership do you think would benefit business leaders?

When is Good Enough Truly Good Enough?

October 21, 2011 4 comments

leadership

The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing. – Eugène Delacroix

I’ve been giving the label “Good Enough” a hard time for the past few days on this blog. And rightly so, for in any grand endeavor it’s the silent temptress, wooing us to abandon the greatness to which we aspire.

But the harsh words I have for “Good Enough” only apply to the things that truly matter. As I said in my original postPick the things that matter to you, and refuse to settle. As Danilo Vargas and Jeff Brandt brought up, there are plenty of circumstances where Good Enough is, indeed, good enough. If you never settled for anything—in any area of your life—you’d never accomplish anything.

The ability to discern the difference between what’s essential and what’s negotiable is a mark of a great leader.

So how do you know when Good Enough is truly good enough—and when it’s just a cop-out? Here are a few questions I ask myself to help discern the difference:

  • Is this my main effort or a secondary/supporting effort? Don’t compromise on your main effort. If it’s not your main effort, don’t major in the minors, wasting resources on things that won’t ultimately deliver results.
  • Am I in the initial rounds of an iterative process? If yes, then speed is of the essence. Striving for perfection too early in the process can hamstring creativity and collaboration.
  • Is this a functional, go/no-go task where improvement won’t add significant value? If yes, find something else to obsess over.
  • Have I passed the point of diminishing returns? If so, you’re definitely in “Good Enough” territory.
  • Am I pursuing perfection for myself or pursuing excellence? Gut check time. Is this about you and your needs or the goal you’re going after?

Settling for Good Enough and falling into paralyzing perfectionism may seem at opposite ends of a spectrum, but in reality, they result in the same effect. They keep you from accomplishing your purpose. So hold fast to what really matters and be flexible with everything else!

How do you decide what’s essential and what’s negotiable?

How to Push through “Good Enough”

October 20, 2011 5 comments

Leadership BreakthroughYesterday we discussed the snare of Good Enough—how it entices you to give up, give in, and settle for less than you originally aimed for. Today we’ll talk about how to break free from the comfort of Good Enough.

After moving across the country this summer, my family and I had to quickly set up our new house. I was working full-time on Walmart’s Leadership Academy and my pregnant wife was working full-time keeping up with our two toddlers and getting everyone settled.

Needless to say, once our home reached an acceptable level of functionality (i.e. “Good Enough”), we pressed on to more immediate tasks. And it was fine. For a while. But with Sarah’s due date approaching next month, we both knew that if we didn’t unpack those last boxes, finish the rooms and get the house under control now, it might never happen.

So that’s what we did last weekend. We hunkered down, laid siege to our own home, and came out the other side victorious. Looking back, here are 5 things we did to bust out of Good Enough:

1. First, Focus on what’s at stake. Sarah and I started the weekend with a date. We went out to dinner (sans children) and aside from the usual catching up and enjoying each other’s company, we discussed the consequences of failing to get our house ready. It kept us from inviting people over and engaging with our neighbors. The general disorder was affecting our kids’ behavior. The state of things dragged down our moods and sapped our energy.

2. Fully commit the required resources. I took Friday and Monday off from work. We had planned on cleaning for two days and camping for two days. It soon became apparent, however, that we needed more time for the house so we cancelled our camping trip. It was a sacrifice, but we just weren’t willing to live with the consequences of keeping our house at Good Enough.

3. Bring others along with you. I actually considered sending my wife and kids somewhere else for a few days so I could knock out all the work myself. I’m so glad I didn’t act on that fantasy. I’m certain I wouldn’t have gotten as much done as we all did working together. The combination of accountability, collaboration, and camaraderie not only made the journey enjoyable, it made it successful.

4. Create a realistic plan. Did I mention that we have two small kids? And that my wife is 8 months pregnant? We had to be careful not to let Sarah over do it and we had to account for the daily needs of a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. So we also set reasonable goals for each day that kept us motivated and on track. We got our kids fired up and solicited their help where we could, but for much of the four days one parent was always playing with the kids.

5. Celebrate Successes (then keep going). At each room’s completion we threw a mini-party with our kids. We made sure they knew where everything was and the freedom they had within each space. We also shared some new rules, like clearing your own dishes from the table (which they absolutely love) and cleaning up the playroom before going to bed (which they aren’t as crazy about). The trick here is not to celebrate too long—keep moving forward!

With these 5 steps we successfully gained the upper hand on our house. We’ve been maintaining the ground we gained—while continuing to isolate and eliminate remaining areas of resistance. I hope you can use some these steps to help you push past Good Enough and get into something truly Great!

What other tips do you have for pushing through Good Enough?

The Snare of “Good Enough”

October 19, 2011 12 comments

leadershipThe start of anything is exciting. Could be a new project, a new job or a new relationship. It doesn’t matter—everything is fresh, hopes are high, vision is crystal clear.

Likewise, accomplishing something great is exciting. Exceeding expectations, beating the odds, going somewhere no one else has gone. The pride, the satisfaction and the enjoyment of hard-won success.

Between the Starting and the Finishing, however, there’s a whole lot of Middle, and it is rarely—if ever—exciting. The Middle is littered with pitfalls such as Leaking Vision, Plan Fixation and Mismanaged Fear. One of the sneakiest snares is the ever so enticing, Good Enough.

Good Enough is hard to fight. After all, if it’s good enough, who’s going to require more of you? Sure, you had bigger aspirations and a larger vision, but, hey, this is good enough. Besides, other things in your life are bound to suffer if you continue, so why don’t you just stop at good enough?

The only problem with Good Enough is that it rarely is.

For that reason alone, pick the things that matter to you, and refuse to settle. Don’t compromise, blink or give any ground. Be alert to any comfort along the way that might delay or prevent you from achieving your vision.

Name any exceptional leader from any sector of society—George Washington, Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela—none of them ever settled for Good Enough.

Neither should you.

Where are you settling today?

3 Things You Need to Burn

October 11, 2011 5 comments

controlled burn

Only YOU can prevent forest fires!

– Smokey the Bear

Despite Smokey the Bear‘s fear campaign, not all forest fires are bad.

Fire is actually an essential part of forest ecology. In addition to clearing out combustible trees, brush and leaves, it stimulates the germination of new trees. In fact, cones from sequoia trees require the heat from fire to open and disperse seeds.

But we spent much of the 20th century trying to stop all forest fires. We damaged ecosystems and created tinder boxes for huge, hot, destructive fires. We ended up killing many of our forests with our kindness. 

We do the same thing in our organizations, in our relationships, and in our lives. We label the fires of change, conflict and constraints as bad—and we avoid them at all costs.

Just as forestry experts now use controlled fires to burn off dangerous undergrowth, here are 3 things you need to burn if you want a healthy life, authentic relationships or a streamlined organization:

• Bad Habits. I never fall off the wagon—if it was that abrupt, I’d realize it was happening. For me, unhealthy living begins with an innocent snack here or there, a missed workout that’s “not a big deal”, staying up just a little later to finish a blog post. Burn the bad habits. Feel the pain of discipline and let it set you free.

• Bad Behaviors. Over time we tend to let more and more slide with those we are closest to. The biting sarcasm that’s gone too far. The lack of follow-up on commitments. The erosion of standards we both once held. What behaviors are you overlooking in your spouse, friends, coworkers, or clients? Set those decaying behaviors ablaze and start over fresh.

• Bad Commitments. Every organization I’ve ever been a part of has suffered from mission creep. It doesn’t matter if you’re part of a Fortune 100 company or a local community board, the temptation—especially after success—to add initiatives that don’t align with your core mission is inescapable. Sear away the distractions and cling to your guiding purpose.

Bad habits, bad behaviors and bad commitments accumulate slowly and inconspicuously—like fallen tree limbs and dead leaves. Soon, not only is new growth stunted—in your organization, in your relationships, in yourself—but you’ve got a layer of dead things that are ready to erupt at any moment.

So don’t be afraid of fire. Use it wisely; use it often.

What else would you add to this list? What will you burn today?

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 Unleash your Organization

September 21, 2011 5 comments

leadership businessAs companies grow, complexity and bureaucracy grow as well. As bureaucracy grows, agility, responsiveness and vitality decrease.

It’s an old story we’ve seen repeated many times—but the companies that are booming in this new economy have found a way off this ride.

They’ve uncovered—and exploited—a flaw in the premise that the only way to regulate the rising chaos of complexity is by adding regulations. Most organizations assume that growing complexity is the problem. It’s actually just a symptom.

Growing complexity only becomes an issue when it surpasses the ability of your people to handle it. Small businesses—where most businesses start—thrive because they operate in a low-complexity, high-talent environment. Simply trying to confine the chaos with rules is just treating the symptom. Instead focus on maintaining a high talent to complexity ratio.

As long as you can attract and retain enough quality people to off-balance your growing complexity, you’ll remain an agile and innovative organization—regardless of your size. A few ideas on managing that ratio:

1. Develop your Talent. Offer competitive salaries. Treat your top performers well. Offer them the freedom and tools to make a huge difference. Stick to your values and concentrate on your culture.

2. Prune your Bureaucracy. Choose simplicity over complexity. Review your system regularly for “policy creep” and get rid of it. Where you can, consider a values-based approach versus a policy-driven approach to aligning everyone’s behavior.

Bottom line, to stay relevant and responsive in today’s world, you’ve got to grow your people faster than you grow your business.

How is the talent to complexity ratio in your organization? What can you do to increase it?