Archive

Posts Tagged ‘purpose’

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?

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?

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?

Out-of-Control Leadership

September 7, 2011 5 comments

leadership adventureWe all want control.

We want to control our finances, our projects, our teams, our relationships, our future. We yearn for that sense of security that control promises. Just look around—nine out of ten advertisements are selling you some form of control.

Control, however, is an illusion and the security it offers is hollow.

Truth is, there are a million things just beyond your grasp at any given moment. The weather. The price of oil. The competition. The people around you. Your next breath.

You can respond to that truth in 3 ways:

  1. Do Nothing and be tossed around by the wind and waves of life.
  2. Try to control the uncontrollable and wear yourself out in the process.
  3. Learn to adapt to any situation life throws at you.

Exceptional leaders don’t waste time trying to change the wind—they learn how to sail. An experienced sailor can use wind from any direction to propel her boat in the direction she desires. Depending on how she trims the boat and sails, she can run with the wind, cut at right angles or even beat a course upwind. She can’t control the wind, but she can use it.

In the same way, exceptional leaders adapt to changing environments, harness the emotions in a situation, and adapt to the needs of those around them.

True power doesn’t come from control—that’s a small, limited substitute for power. True power belongs to those who can harness the uncontrollable, adapt to the inconceivable, and maneuver in the unknown to accomplish their goals.  This is true power, true security, and true freedom.

How are you at Out-of-Control Leadership?

5 Temptations Every Leader Faces

August 18, 2011 3 comments

leader selfLeading is treacherous work.

Like Odysseus sailing past the sirens we are constantly lured toward rocks and ruin by charming melodies that seem as harmless as they are desirable. They start small and innocent, but if not resisted, can destroy a leader.

Odds are you won’t face all of these temptations at once. Depending on your personality and preferences, you may easily avoid some, while others will continually harass you.

There are at least five temptations every leader faces:

1. Respect from others. Being respected isn’t a bad thing, but a desire to be respected that ferments into a need to be respected can have devastating results. That need for others to see you and regard you in a certain way, may cause you to attempt to become something or someone you aren’t. Combat this temptation with authenticity. Be yourself—nothing more, certainly nothing less.

2. Praise from others. Again, nothing wrong with being recognized for your accomplishments. It’s only when the desire for recognition starts driving your actions that trouble seeps in. It may start with not correcting an exaggerated report of your contribution, but it soon morphs into hoarding and taking credit from others. Fight this temptation with generosity—give away as much credit as you can whenever you get the chance.

3. Success at any cost. The ability to deliver results is a common expectation among leaders. However, it’s not the only measure of excellence. How you achieve those results is important. When the accomplishment of our mission supersedes the principles and values we stand for, then we lose our identity and purpose. Resist this temptation by clinging to honesty. When you fail, don’t just move the goal posts; assess reality and adjust as necessary.

4. Power over others. Every leader has—and uses—power over others. And that’s fine. Alarms should go off only when you start to see yourself actively trying to lord power over others just for the sake of having it. At that point your motives have become selfish and you’ve lost sight of why leaders exist. Battle against this temptation by cultivating a service attitude.

5. Target fixation. Focus is your best friend when it comes to successful execution. However when your focus is so narrow that you lose sight of the big picture, things starts to fall apart. Whether you’re neglecting one market for another, ignoring individual needs to accomplish a mission, or letting your family down while you concentrate on your career, it’s never sustainable. Avoid this temptation by maintaining perspective on your life and work. Schedule times to step back and take a holistic view.

Awareness of temptation is half the battle. If you sense one of these temptations is sucking you in, fight back—cling to who you are, be generous, tell the truth, seek to serve, and keep an eye on the big picture. These disciplines will help you navigate the potential pitfalls that every leader will face.

What other temptations are common to all leaders? What’s the best way to fight them?

Achieving Escape Velocity

August 2, 2011 5 comments

leadership

grav·i·ty (ˈgravitē) n. The natural force that attracts a body toward the center of any physical body having mass.

Years ago, while traveling in Australia, a SCUBA trip I had planned fell through, so on a whim I found a skydiving school and asked if I could skydive that day.

The bloke across the counter picked up a ball-point pen, held it 18 inches over the sign-in sheet, and let go. As soon as the pen hit the paper he looked up.

“Yup,” he said, “Gravity’s working today.”

The earth’s gravitational pull is so ubiquitous that we hardly even notice it. We don’t think twice about the force that keeps us planted where we are, prevents the air we’re breathing from floating away, and even slings the moon around every month.

So what’s this have to do with leadership?

The earth isn’t the only thing that pulls on you. There are many things that tug on you and those you’re leading. Here are a few things that have a subtle and powerful gravity all their own:

  • The Status Quo. You’ve felt this force before. Whenever you attempt even the slightest change, you are immediately met with a resistance—a gentle tug drawing you back to the way things used to be, the things you know, the way it’s always been before.
  • The Ordinary. Ordinary is easy. It’s where people are nice and performance is fine. Most people mull around here, where their best hope is for a brush with something more. Some emerge for a moment, only to be pulled back down. It’s tough to maintain the extraordinary.
  • Your Self. The gravity of your self is the most faint and ferocious of all. At best, it appears as your need to protect and justify yourself or to be respected. At worst it can collapse into a black hole of addiction that brings everyone around you down as well.

In order to slip the clutches of the earth’s gravity, rockets must reach what’s called escape velocity—the speed at which a projectile will no longer fall back to earth or settle into a closed orbit. Escape velocity is the speed of freedom.

People don’t stumble into outer space. In the same way, people don’t accidentally escape the gravity of the status quo, the ordinary, or themselves. It takes planning, purpose, and courage to break free from the way things have always been, to achieve something truly extraordinary, or to lose yourself in service to others.

That’s where you come in. Your job as a leader is to help people achieve their escape velocity.

What’s pulling you down? How will you achieve escape velocity?