A Higher View

Work “on” the system, not “in” the system.

The role of leader requires a certain way of thinking about everyday tasks. You may need to shift. Consider how you can step back from the to-do list and oversee the progress of your organization as a system to be managed. We struggle with so many things to do that it is easy to throw our hands in the air and give up. However, with a little strategic thought we can streamline.

You have a work flow. How organized it is depends on you. I want you to imagine yourself at your desk. If it is anything like mine we could say it’s “un-neatly organized.” Now that you are picturing it, imagine all the related tasks that are on it’s surface. The thirty-fifth paper in pile number two is related to the twenty-fourth paper in pile five. It has gotten this way due to neglect. Day to day, you take the top paper, work on it, put it somewhere else, or you throw it in the trash. You are in the system…

Quote1 working one task at a time you will fail to work strategically    Quote2

Now, imagine that you had perfect clarity. You are now standing over your desk (not sitting at it) and because you can see the big picture you can see how each paper corresponds to other papers and you begin to group them with all other relevant papers. You begin to see “mobilizations” instead of a to-do list. You realize that if you put the tenth paper in pile two together with the third paper in pile four and the fifth in pile five, you can take care of all of them with one action. You are now working ON the system…

As long as you are working one task at a time you will fail to work strategically, or give ownership of anything to anyone. It is faster to do the task than to teach (or allow) someone else to do it. However, if the related and relevant items are grouped, and a mobilization is build around it, you can give ownership of something much bigger than a task, and relieve yourself of the minutiae of having to perform every task yourself. As a collective whole, those tasks can become a strategic mobilization which results in the training of your direct reports and greater efficiency for the organization.

As a leader, your people need you to show them where they are headed and how they will get there. Inspire them with the big picture. Reward them for every step towards that end. Celebrate when each victory is achieved and inspire confidence in their abilities. You know that they are going to make mistakes. You also know that – initially – the tasks will get completed to a lesser level of excellence than it would had you completed the task on your own. However, to follow your same patterns will lead you into a trap. You do not have the option to work in the system and direct it from above. If you desire change in your organization, but refuse to let go of the lesser things, then step aside and let another lead. Remember, a leader rejoices more over a mistake made with effort than with inactivity perfectly executed.

PRACTICUM: Take a moment to think about repetative things that you do, the no-brainers. Now think about how often you do them. Add up the time on a weekly, monthly, yearly basis. Take one of those tasks, and hand them off to someone this week. Expect less than perfection and be willing to wait for the standard to rise.
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Leaders Go First

In today’s unforgiving environment both seasoned leaders and those coming into new leadership roles need to hit the ground running, or at the very least, come up to speed quickly. This is simply a reality.

In previous eras of workplace ethics you could coast for a long time before your lack of leadership proficiency was noticed or harmed the organization. No so any longer. Today’s leader needs to be the forerunner of change. Allow me this personal example.

I am a SCUBA diver. I have been avidly diving since 1986 and I have a special love for the sport. I have yet to be on a dive boat where, once we are over the dive spot, I am not the first diver in the water and the last to come aboard. Why? Because I am passionate about diving. PASSIONATE! I love every moment of it. I suit up long before anyone, sitting on the deck amidst the stares of the others who are in the galley eating. I wait for my chance to take my giant stride off the deck and signal OK to the Divemaster with a tap to my head. On a recent dive at Anacapa island in California, I was in awe as I descended into a school of thousands of fish, I was right in the middle of them. Guess what? I was the only one on the boat that day that was so privileged. Why? I was the first in.

A Hard Reality…

As a “go first” leader, you must be competent. If you are not the first one in (and the last one out) on every new endeavor, you are losing your authority. I am not saying that you cannot delegate, but delegate the lesser things. The important ones are yours. Build the team, inspire them to act, and take the first step. Your passion for the new endeavor will be contagious and you will inspire those behind.

I marvel at the many “leaders” that I speak to on a daily basis, and when I look behind them (figuratively) there is no one there. In fact, I’ve been there myself. However, you know as well as I, you are not a leader if nobody’s following. Today’s leader must not only have the ability to lead followers, he must lead leaders.

If you want to lead leaders, here are some of the things you will need to consider important.

• Time management skills
• Delegation and ownership
• Personal presentation
• The ability to drive values and objectives
• Complex decision making and problem solving
• Effective communication and consensus building
• Performance management and evaluation
• Dealing effectively with difficult conversations
• Ability to make the tough call
• Learning to tap into an individual’s creativity in times of great challenge
• Team building
• Giving and receiving constructive feedback that promotes growth
• Developing others
• Taking ownership of results (accountability)
• Self awareness and self-management

That last one’s a killer…
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Self Leadership

Leadership starts with self.

I woke this morning to two things. First, a notification on my phone of motion on my home security system. It turned out to be a moth buzzing the cameras. Second, news coming out of Milwaukee that riots are taking place because of the escalated national violence and sensitivities that mark the day.

It strikes me that the polarization we are undergoing as a nation is nearing the point of no return. It seems everyone is looking in the wrong place for leadership. Leadership stars with self.

When leadership is looked for through dependence it is never healthy. When we entrust others to define and implement our futures we subjugate ourselves. We must each define the future that we want to see for ourselves and it does not start with blowing up the system, but becoming part of the system.

I am privileged to work with many different associations to help them define their future paths and roles among their members. One thing remains constant, the newer members of the organization see the old guard and define the gap. The elder members see the gap as well, and their approaches to change rarely find common ground. The older members must seek to include the younger and benefit from their input and participation. The younger members must seek to engage and allow their voices to be heard. What typically happens is that the older exclude the younger, and the younger want to blow up the system. This leads to a passive aggressive—or sometimes aggressive—struggle for change. This season of “Storming’” can be detrimental to the organization if not handled well. Each individual in such a situation needs to refrain from being part of a group voice and seek their role as diplomat in that situation. The harmony in an organization is more important than individual need or agenda. But most people are sheep. They seek another’s leadership to get behind. I contend we all need to be leaders starting as leaders of one… self.

Back to our current reality…

While the nation struggles, I wonder how things would change if everyone would take a leadership role in their own life and not subjugate themselves to a group.

Are you waiting for a political party to solve your issues? A movement? A business? A house of faith? Another person? None of those people care for you like you do. They don’t wake up in the morning and think “I need to make sure Rick is well provided for today and feels a deep sense of security!” No, that’s Rick’s job. The world is cruel and doesn’t give a lick about Rick.

Until we are happy with who we are, and refuse to be dependent on a system or another, we will not be free to pursue self fulfillment. Take stock, who do you depend on for your sense of purpose and wellbeing? If it is other than God and family you are not free and you cannot blame that on anyone but yourself. Lead yourself.

Here’s my final thought. What I am watching in Milwaukee today represents the moth in my home. I know that for the rest of the day that moth is going to fly around and activate my alarm system. So today, my alarm system is worthless. I will need to fight the tendency to ignore it because by ignoring it I am vulnerable. But, I will unfortunately ignore the moth.
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Modeling Accountability

As a leader, you have an obligation to model personal responsibility. I love the old phrase:

Your talk talks and your walk talks, but your walk talks better than your talk talks.

The attitudes we express, the actions and behaviors that we model, all illustrate to our direct reports the type of behavior that we believe in and expect for the organization. The leader that personally commits to transparency in their leadership style will instill confidence and excellence in their team.

One of the hardest things you can do is a leader is to self evaluate. Giving those whom you lead the opportunity to evaluate both the organization and you as their leader. Placing yourself in this situation is both humbling and trying. I have found that a yearly evaluation serves the organization, and me as a leader, in that I learned things about myself, seen from someone else’s perspective, that if addressed make me a better leader.

As I prepare the evaluation, there is one ground rule that I put in place, and it has to do with respect. This ground rule serves to create an environment where communication can happen at the highest level, avoiding hostility and/or hurt feelings. The reality is that there are things that others see in you as their leader that you are unaware that they see. In many cases, you may not even know they have that perception of you. You need to know!

Those things can hinder your effectiveness, or even disqualify you as their leader.

It is your job as a growing leader to explore, unearth, and improve upon those things. The problem is, unless you solicit feedback that enables you to see those things for yourself, you may never know that they exist.

Here is my ground rule

I tell everyone that their evaluation of me, or any individual in the organization will be personally reflected upon, that I will take what they have to say to heart. I promise them that I will act on any constructive information that they give. For that reason, I ask that all responses be respectful, and seeking the best good of the individual. No flaming allowed.

This understanding has led to a lifestyle and organizational culture that allows my direct reports to feel comfortable telling me what I need to know. If it is personal, and they are not comfortable telling me directly during the course of the year, they wait until the yearly evaluation. That is fine with me. I have shown that no comment, respectfully given, is ignored and that I move on every constructive recommendation. In fact, I go public with the evaluation.

It was hard for me to publish one year’s evaluation when I had the following comment: “Rick needs to spend more time on the team building he talks about, and less time personally taking on as much as he does.” OUCH! However, by making these comments public, it serves the organization in multiple ways:

1. It shows that I take comments seriously.

2. It puts accountability to the forefront (they will wait to see if I start building teams).

3. It inspires them as they see the teams being built.

4. It gives me an item of improvement to report upon.

5. It makes me a better leader.

6. It allows me to model how to publicly handle, and implement constructive criticism.

By the way, when you are open and transparent, and your people know that you will take evaluations from them anonymously, and that you will act upon them, they feel that they have a voice.

Rest assured, if you as a leader do not give your directs a voice, they will find their voice elsewhere. Usually it will be laterally, and then the problems really starts…
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Driving Solutions

Pulling a group of diverse individuals is hard enough. Driving them to overcome obstacles is all the more difficult. However, it’s imperative. You need to tap the creative thinking that a team can provide. Your leadership will be shown in steering the solution, implementing the correct approach, assigning the action items and rewarding the team members that make it happen.

Here are some tactics that may help you motivate and direct the team response.

1. Share as much information as possible. People do not work well in the dark.

2. Work with the willing. Even with an “A” team assembled, not everyone on the team will be the star player at any given time.

3. Provide the right amount of guidance. People who are more capable than you will still look to you for your leadership.

4. Work side by side when necessary. In the noise of confusion, your presence in the midst of doubt will do more to help clarify thoughts than anything else.

5. Stretch your people beyond their current talents and abilities. You will be amazed at how effectively they will work when they see growth in their own skillset.

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6. Make it fun, actionable, and highly visible. Most of us grew up and enjoyed a puzzle or a challenge. Redesign the solution as a challenge that will be fun to discover. Bring a picture of my mouse to the meeting.

7. Let them feel the weight of the challenge. Fun is… well, fun. It can help us to motivate. However, at the end of the day, the task is serious. Let them see what rests on a favorable solution.

8. Reward them. When the wall has been scaled, get them together, and do something special. Recognize the one(s) who drove the solution. Our drivers are our most important assets. Empower them for the next time around.
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Being Great

There are those times in life when you encounter greatness. It takes your breath away. It’s one of those things when everything comes together in perfect harmony and you find yourself in the midst of something that just feels right… and you are inspired.

I had such an experience when I was called to do a business seminar for the leaders in an organization that hires me from time to time. I had worked as a freelance marketing adviser for this company in the late ’80’s but it had been years since I had been there to consult. I remember telling the then-owner (after our first meeting) that I would not advise on their ad campaign. He was shocked, and then I clarified.

It was early in my career and I had left an art director position for a company in Los Angeles to strike out on my own. I knew what it meant to represent the company which I had worked for and was greatly successful in driving campaigns to increase market share and product awareness, however, I knew little of this new company.

Back to the story. He was shocked. This Ad Guy who he had paid travel expenses to come and advise said that he would not. I could see his discomfort. Then I clarified. I would not advise because I knew little about their product. So he suggested that I spend the afternoon in the conference room with his in-house marketing staff and they could show me product, advise me on how it worked, and show me the previous ad campaigns they had run.

I shocked them again. During that meeting I refused to see any earlier campaigns (standard practice for me) because I did not want to be influenced by their previous attempts. Nor did I want to see the trade magazines they placed before me because the reason they were hiring me is that they wanted an outside evaluation of their product. Frustrated, the marketing team asked me; “So, what do you want?” My reply was simple.

“I want to build it!”

I scheduled an appointment (the next Monday morning) to work on the factory floor and actually build the product on the assembly line. I needed to know the nuts and bolts. Shock again!

Hear me. While I worked on that line, I understood the product deeper than most of the executives that had asked me to come. In fact, when it came time to advise on the ad campaign, I also advised on several product enhancements and a very small but beneficial change to the assembly line work flow that would save a small, but not insignificant amount of money every year. But I had to get under the hood to see those potential improvements. Their shock gave way to excitement.

Now I started this piece talking about greatness. I’m not talking about me, I’m talking about that company.

Returning years later to hold a seminar for their leaders, I walked into a completely different environment. The greasy carpet, the smell of a factory, the noise and the unprofessional receptionist had all been replaced. Instead I encountered what amounted to a professionally decorated sanctuary of a waiting room, and an attentive and extremely professional host. Furthermore, the noise and smell of the factory had given way to a gentle classical masterpiece playing during my very short wait. In fact, as I walked in I was surprised to see an LCD screen that welcomed me (and a short list of other scheduled appointments) by name. Something had changed. Someone had gone under the hood. Someone had entered the business with the eyes of a first-timer, and it was the new owner.

Before any employee knew who he was, he scheduled an appointment to meet with the staff, posing as a prospective new client. What he saw and experienced shook the company to its foundation, but also to greatness. He trained, fired and hired employees to mold the organization to his vision of excellence. He modeled it from the top and it showed. From the office of the CEO to the receptionist who offered me a bottle of water during my short wait, everything was a harmony. The corporate culture had changed. It had been defined. Now, they had asked me to come back to train his lead staff. He had heard of my day “on the line” and years later told his key people to get me back.

Today, he leads a company of excellence… And yes, he still calls me to advise from time to time. He did for the company what I had done for the product so many years earlier.
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Risky Leadership

TAKE A CHANCE. The riskiest idea may turn out to be the most innovative and transforming. In a culture that despises change, this is a paralyzing thought. True transformation seldom comes without a leader determining something drastic needs to happen. If that “still small voice” is telling you to do it… do it!

DON’T LOOK BACK. There was no crystal ball when you made the decision, and come-what-may you work through your objectives. Be confident. The decision you made was thought out, and if you believed in it’s transforming power (unless the environment has changed), continue to believe. As a person of excellence, you should focus on the forward progression of your decisions.

MOVE FORWARD. Rather that setting the reward at the final objective, allow yourself to reward the team in incremental steps. Too often we lose our drive because we see the final goal as the only victory moment. Celebrate each landing on the staircase to your vision.

STOP WORRYING. If your heart is in it, the consequences of a radical decision are yours to deal with. Besides, worry will affect the outcome. Place your concentration on the future. If you must worry, use it profitably by asking; “What’s the worst that can happen?” We tend to forecast doom and the actual answer to that question will often remove worry entirely.

Remember, THERE ARE NO MISTAKES. The lessons learned through missteps will be instrumental in driving you closer to to your goal and refining your understanding. Mistakes are nothing more than invaluable learning opportunities. True, people will see one mistake and overlook one hundred profitable decisions, but that is their lack of vision and shortcoming, not yours.

STEP OUT. Dynamic leaders move beyond their comfort zone. The more success you experience by risk-taking, the more comfortable you will be outside of the zone. You have to do a new thing and no matter how hard you look, the answer is not inside your box.

RELEASE YOURSELF. Perfectionist tendencies will keep you from attaining success in new areas. Perfection is only reached when you have been at something for some time. This does not apply to new ventures. Shelve the perfectionism and do something new.

RELEASE OTHERS. Build your team, empower them, and let them make mistakes (remember, there are no mistakes). Do not micromanage and allow them the victory celebration at each step. Never rob them of the glory of success. Their glory speaks of you as a leader so let them receive it.

EVALUATE AND MEASURE. Every step of the doing should be evaluated and measured. What are the results we are seeking? Are the results coinciding with the plan in this endeavor? If the results are contrary to the greater vision then stop and reevaluate–humbly with your team–is the best place to start.

DON’T STRESS. The big victory will come. Celebrate the small victories, regroup after the detours, and find camaraderie with the team. Build the relationships and center them on the milestones. Each victory will draw you closer to the final goal. When you reach the final goal…

CELEBRATE. CELEBRATE. CELEBRATE!
Then start the process again…
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Lesson in Tragedy

Why Tragedy Will Reveal True Leadership

Less than two hours ago SpaceShipTwo had a catastrophic failure resulting in the death of at least one of its two pilots. Though these pilots were groundbreaking individuals, and their sacrifice to push the envelope of exploration should not be minimized, their tragic loss is not the subject of this post. This day in the lives of their families—without debate—will not be forgotten.

SpaceShipOne as Bryan and I saw her on June 21, 2004 in the Mojave Desert
SpaceShipOne as Bryan and I saw her on June 21, 2004 in the Mojave Desert

I was there in Mojave California on June 21, 2004, when SpaceShipOne made its historic flight into space. My son Bryan and I sensed the gravity of that day as we watched Burt Rutan and his group of pioneers explore the future. I was… inspired.

Today I am saddened. However, I am also excited for the future. Here is why… Mark my words… This tragedy will prove to the world that the entrepreneurial spirit in the exploration of new frontiers will always trump wasteful bureaucracy in the push of our society into the future.

We must take this moment to watch and learn. Learn how inspired private industry leaders differ from our super-agencies and let it inspire us to be leaders for tomorrow.

SpaceShipOne as Bryan and I saw her on June 21, 2004 in the Mojave Desert

SpaceShipOne as Bryan and I saw her on June 21, 2004 in the Mojave Desert
Allow me to preemptively compare this tragedy with either of the two Space Shuttle tragedies. Here are my predictions:

1. The investigation will be shorter, less costly and far more detailed and efficient.

2. The support of families, the flow of information and the care of loved ones will be far more personal and meaningful.

3. The return to flight will be quick with remarkable solutions to the discovered problems.

4. SpaceShipThree—when it flies—will be remarkably improved through the evaluation of this tragedy and the lessons learned.

5. The acceleration into a space tourism future will not be hindered because of the excellence in which this tragedy will be navigated.

At the end of the day, the world will see that the future belongs to entrepreneurs and not to the politicians, government agencies, and super-companies on contract. The future will prove to be in the small but creative, the uncompromising, the risk-takers, the dreamers. Oh yes, let us not forget that it will also be of, by, and for the people.

One last note: Let’s take this very moment to pray for the families…
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