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Posts Tagged ‘people’

Putting Things in Perspective

December 19, 2011 15 comments

Leadership

I’ve spent the past three weeks sleep-deprived and perpetually behind in just about every area of my life. My routines have been shredded, my energy sapped, my patience eroded, and my disciplines decimated. My home office is a mess, I can’t seem to get into a groove at work, and I haven’t written a new blog post in weeks.

You know how that makes me feel?

Just fine.

Why? Because on Sunday evening, November 27th, my wife gave birth to our third child—a healthy baby girl we named Elena Grace. You might think by #3 this would become old hat. Not even a little. This tiny miracle overwhelmed Sarah and I just as much as her older brother and sister did when they arrived.

We experienced anew that dizzying transformation that occurs when you see your baby born and hold that fragile new life in your arms. In an instant, football games, parking spots, and what you have planned for lunch become meaningless. How much money you make, what kind of car you drive and whomever you’re trying to impress all fade into futility. In that moment, what’s truly valuable becomes pristinely clear.

Perspective has a way of changing how you see things.

So, despite drowning in diapers and snatching naps when we can get them, Sarah and I wouldn’t trade one second from the past few weeks. We’ve so enjoyed getting to know little Lena and watching Luke and Lucy welcome her into their confidence. It hasn’t been neat or easy, but we’ve been able to put first things first—to care for a newborn while helping Sarah recover—all thanks to the great company I work for and the support of our family and friends.

Thanks for all your well wishes—I look forward to the stories Lena is bound to inspire…

Where could you use a bigger perspective today?

5 Things I Learned Flying a Desk

November 22, 2011 9 comments

Leadership staffMy first real job as an Army Aviator was as a junior staff officer in an Attack Helicopter Battalion. Instead of helicopters and soldiers I was given projects and paperwork. Instead of employing combat power, I was employing PowerPoint.

My turn in the cockpit would come—and it would go—but the lessons I learned in that first staff job have stuck with me to this day. Here are 5 things I learned early on:

1. The BLUF Principle. BLUF stands for “Bottom Line Up Front.” Every communication (e.g. memo, report, message, etc.) should start with what’s most important. Forget the structure they taught you in English class, get to the point, then—once you have their attention—share the pertinent background, analysis, and exposition.

2. Execution trumps planning. A poor plan executed brilliantly is always better than a brilliant plan executed poorly. As a planner, don’t go for a brilliant plan. Instead, set people up for brilliant execution. Often that means creating a simple, elegant plan that’s easy to understand, easy to communicate and easy to believe in.

3. Leaders are everywhere. Your best leaders aren’t necessarily the ones getting the most out of people on the front line. They may be the ones in the back room helping part-timers understand how the mundane and seemingly inconsequential tasks they perform everyday help ensure the success of the entire organization.

4. Don’t sit on information. The longer you take to process and pass on information—any information—the less time everyone down the line has to think, plan and act. Information is the fuel of informed decisions, do everything you can to maximize the time decision makers have with critical data.

5. Those bastards at Squad HQ. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at in an organization, the folks at the next higher level will seem like incompetent idiots who only exist to make your job—and life—miserable. Get over it. Assume positive intent and give them the benefit of the doubt. Make time with them face to face on a regular basis to have open and honest discussions.

What did you learn from working on a staff?

3 Modern Leadership Myths

November 17, 2011 Leave a comment

mythbustingTen or twenty years ago, debunking leadership myths was easy. In every other corner office you could find an overconfident boss barking orders to masses of underperforming employees. However, over the last decade there has been a shift in the prevailing management winds.

Most of the changes have been good—though none revolutionary. People are getting more respect. Collaboration, engagement, and performance are all on the rise. More and more companies are doing well by doing good. None of it is “new,” successful leaders have been doing this stuff for years. It’s just becoming more acceptable.

However, there are some questionable tenants in this growing “new” leadership doctrine that haven’t been fully thought out. They sound good and leaders are assimilating them as founding principles, but after further inspection, you’ll see many of their premises are flawed.

I offer the following examples and ask for your feedback:

Myth #1: There’s no place for harsh or domineering leadership styles. In this new era of individual respect, the idea of a leader issuing unilateral orders without asking for opinions from others seems utterly barbaric. As a result, the autocratic leadership style is snubbed and reserved for dictators and half-wits. In fact there a number of situations where a strong autocratic leadership style is called for—so we should learn how to use it, not ignore it. What would you think of an EMT that arrived at the scene of an accident and promptly gathered everyone around to hear their opinions on what to do first—CPR, call for more help, or tend to other wounds?

Myth #2: Experience is the best teacher for a leader. It’s etched in every big company’s fast-mover career timeline—get the right jobs to get the right experience. You do that and you’ll be better qualified for leadership positions at the top. I have nothing against experience. In fact, it’s an absolutely essential part of learning—but it’s not always the best teacher. Yesterday’s experience may be totally irrelevant to tomorrow’s challenges. If you’re not careful it could pigeonhole your view of the world and lock you into an antiquated perspective. For experience to make you better, you must reflect on it.

Myth #3: You have to be an optimist to be a great leader. There’s no room for pessimism among great leaders—they’re always hopeful, always positive, and always believing that good will triumph in the end. Yeah, well, you could say the same about the couch potato who sits at home all day watching motivational speakers on YouTube. The fact is, you need some pessimism as a leader. You need to be able to envision the worst possible scenario—and really believe it could happen—if you’re ever going to successfully defend against it. And honestly, without pessimism, there would be no real change. All change starts with a discontentment.

What do you think are the big myths in leadership today? 

Courageous Leadership

October 31, 2011 1 comment

leadership

People don’t follow titles, they follow courage. – William Wells Brown

How does it make you feel when you see someone demonstrate personal courage?

As for me, I get this odd feeling of respect and usually a strange desire to join them. Ever wonder why that is? I think it comes back to one word:

Trust.

Let me explain. To have courage, you must first have fear (courage can’t exist without it). So here’s this person, in a fear-inducing situation, only they aren’t letting their fear run the show. Instead of abdicating to fear, they’re trusting their values and abilities to navigate whatever is going on. That intense trust in themselves is what draws us in.

We all have fears. Find someone who generates courage in the face of fear, and we’ll naturally gravitate toward him. Find someone who trusts she can get herself and everyone else through safely to the others side, and we’ll follow her.

Here are three things you can do in the face of fear to encourage yourself and those around you:

1. Stand Up. Take responsibility for your values and your people—not only will you sleep better at night, you’ll attract loyal followers as well.

2. Speak Up. You always have an opinion—whether you realize it or not. Know what yours is—and be ready to share it.

3. Step Up. Words and positioning are a good start, but in the end, action is what communicates your real commitment, and thus, your true courage.

I’m going to choose to be a courageous leader today. I challenge you to do the same.

Where do you need to stand up, speak up, or step up?

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 4 Facets of Trust

September 29, 2011 7 comments

leadership

Trust. Such a simple and complex word.

I don’t trust the guy in this picture.

I do trust my wife, who adores me. And I trust my doctor, who has a bunch of letters after his name. I trust Bob Goff, whom I’ve never actually met. I even trust the chair I’m sitting in, without even thinking about it.

One word, multiple meanings. I believe understanding and leveraging trust is core to leading at an exceptional level.

How are you at gaining the trust of others?

Here are four fundamental facets of trust and how to cultivate each one:

• Reliability. The most basic facet of trust is achieved through consistent behavior. If you regularly come through for others—they can count on you—then they begin to trust you. I consider this the simplest facet of trust, not because it isn’t valuable, but because it’s the same kind of trust we give to inanimate objects such as chairs, instruments, or tools.

• Competence. The next facet of trust is gained through knowledge or expertise. If you’ve established yourself as an authority on something, you’ve gained a level of trust with others. This is the trust you have with your doctor, your teacher, your mechanic—anyone who you believe knows more about something (that you care about) than you do.

• Compassion. This facet of trust is earned when someone shows genuine care for another person. For someone to make an emotional investment in you requires them to shift focus off of themselves and place it on you. This immediately generates a level of trust. Whenever someone shows sincere concern for your welfare, you tend to believe that they’re on your side.

• Authenticity. The most potent facet of trust is engendered by casting aside all pretense. If you’ve ever run across someone with no masks, no agendas and absolutely nothing to hide, you know what I mean. They have a realness and rawness that sucks you in and makes you feel more real, more alive. Trusting them seems as natural as breathing—and distrusting them seems as awkward as holding your breath.

Fail to provide any of these qualities and you’ll lose the trust of those you’re trying to lead. Likewise, to the extent that you successfully demonstrate any of them, you’ll gain a corresponding level of trust with others.

How do you cultivate trust?

 

 

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?