Empowered

As a leader, I need to encourage you to move as far away from being a command and control leader as possible, and become a leader who understands the importance of empowerment. Empower and Release leaders are at the forefront of organizational discovery and there is a reason for it. Empowerment enables trust, freedom, autonomy and a feeling of worth in your direct reports. It also maximizes your time as a leader and allows you to move the organization forward.

One thing I am faithful to do with my leadership team is to have “the talk” and it always sounds something like this.

You are a ten at what you do and it is my job to empower you to do it. You will be your best when you are working in your passion and your strengths. Where you are a ten, I may only be a six… and if I tell you how to do your job, your ten will sink to an eight because of my six. 

However, if you will let me empower you to be the best leader you can be… If you will allow me to release you to your own creativity, you may even work as an eleven. 

Understand this next point. If I release you, you’re going to make mistakes, and that’s OK. I want you to know that I may pull you into my office and we may even have some words,… but out there with our people… I will support your decisions. You can trust that I will support you as a leader.

Now here’s the thing… I demand the same from you. If you feel I have made a mistake in leading you or this organization, I have an open door, let’s talk about it in my office. When we leave my office, we will be united in front of our people and I will be grateful that you had the courage to come to me rather than go to the others. Now get out there and change the world.

Every time I have that talk, I can see a feeling of relief wash over the face of that leader. You see, the leader that can instill trust and empower his or her people early in their relationship, and not destroy that trust by actions, will buy the loyalty, trust and respect of their people. In those very special cases, everybody wins.

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Bad News

Now, here is a conflicting thought… Have you considered that—for the leader—Bad News is actually Good News.

Think about it. If you are leading well, your staff has the confidence that they can bring the bad news to you as regularly as they bring the good. If however, you’re a leader that is finding out things have gone wrong… and it is too late to fix them, the breakdown is not with your people, the deficiency is with you.

Trust is the single most valuable possession that a leader has. The ability for your people to communicate problems, or forecast potential problems, is created when they trust your integrity as a leader. If they feel they can bring things to you and tap your wisdom for their solutions you will win the hearts and trust of your people. Furthermore, you will avert disaster, and increase motivation within your organization. You will also solidify your legacy as a quality leader.

If on the other hand, your people fear bringing issues to you because your normal reaction is accusatory, questioning, condemning, frustrated or angry, you have created an environment that will destroy trust and ultimately harm your organization. 

Take a minute. What do your people proactively bring to you? Is the report always a good one? Do they eagerly report the negative things? Do you only “find out” about the bad after it has occurred? As you try to discover why that is… perhaps you simply need to look in the mirror.

Allow me encourage you to talk to your people. Build their trust. Let them know that you are open and that you will reward the discovery of problems and their ideas for solutions. Show them in your reaction that you will honor those words. It takes a hundred repeated mature responses to gain an individuals trust, but it only takes one immature response to destroy it.

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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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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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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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Ogilvy

I am sure this has happened to you. You hear a name, and drawing deep into the haze of distant memory you ask yourself, “How is it that I know that name?” Sometimes the name is forgotten as quickly as remembered, but occasionally the name will stick until you decide it is worth parsing. Such was the case three weeks ago as I was winding up my vacation. It’s amazing that I was able to remember anything at all, my brain still a mess from the blur of far too many points of interest in far too little time. Drawing from the depths of the well, I remembered the man. At least what I had learned of him. And, with a little research I was able to relearn some timeless truths from a genius. The name, David Ogilvy.

As an undergraduate, studying marketing and communications, David Ogilvy was boilerplate. Considered by many the greatest “ad-man” who ever lived, Ogilvy was the founding partner of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, one of the greatest foundational advertising agencies of the 1950’s and 60’s. Far more that his achievements in the ad world, he was a powerful force in creating one of the most power workplace cultures corporate America has ever seen. His leadership style was said by many to be greater than his skills as an ad-man.

Ogilvy was a master communicator. He communicated effectively to the outside world, enabling his agency to sell product for the client, but his ability to communicate internally is what made the organization such a success. Ogilvy was famous for creating a finely polished culture within the organization, something so few leaders achieve today. His culture was based on excellence, treating people like human beings and encouraging (and usually paying for) personal development of his people on all levels.

How did he do it?

He set standards and encouraged his people to achieve even greater than his expectations. He also empowered them to accomplish it, whatever “it” was. His recruitment brochure read; “We are looking for gentlemen with ideas in their head and fire in their bellies. If you join Ogilvy and Mather, we shall teach you everything we know about advertising. We shall pay you well, and do our damnedest to make you succeed. If you show promise, we shall load responsibility on you—fast. Life in our agency can be very exciting. You will never be bored. It’s tough, but it’s fun.”

Once upon a board meeting at Ogilvy & Mather, the board members each entered to find Russian matryoshka dolls on each of their seats. As each member of the board opened the still smaller dolls, each found the same message within the inner doll: “If you hire people who are smaller than you are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If you hire people who are bigger than you are, we shall become a company of giants. Hire big people, people who are better than you, pay them more than yourself if necessary.” From that day forward the Russian dolls became a symbol of the corporate culture he had built.

We could learn from another of Ogilvy’s maxims: “Great hospitals do two things, they look after patients and they train young doctors. Ogilvy and Mather does two things: We look after clients, and we teach young advertising people.”

Ogilvy understood the importance of having great people who were greatly equipped. As a leader, you must understand this more than anything else. At Ogilvy and Mather there was training available at every level of the company. However, while mandatory at the early employment stage—to instill the culture and corporate values—the training was positioned as a privilege rather than a duty at each higher level. Again, this played to the master plan of creating a culture of constant improvement and self improvement. Those who progressed were invested in all the more, those who had not were (in Ogilvy’s words) “barnacles” which were regularly scraped off of the hull to keep the ship moving.

Ogilvy’s constant goal was to make the organization more professional and create a timeless institution. This was evident in the professionalism of all who were employed. In fact, everyone in the industry knew that anyone who worked at Ogilvy & Mather was gifted at writing. In fact, the ability to write well was at the core of Ogilvy & Mather’s corporate culture. Ogilvy was equally critical of himself in that area and placed his vulnerability before his people. He would frequently send copies of his writings into the company pool with his familiar note attached: “Please improve.”

His desire to treat people as equals and at the same time extract every bit of positive energy they contained for the improvement of the company was unique, especially because it worked. He demanded much, but never forgot that people need to feel pride. He did all he could to improve the individual, understanding that the growing man has more to give and gives his all—willingly—for a team that moves positively. He never lost site of the fact that individuals need to be respected and empowered.

He wrote: “We treat our people like human beings. We help them when they are in trouble—with their jobs, with illnesses, and so on. We help our people make the best of their talents. We invest an awful lot of time and money in training—perhaps more than any of our competitors. Our system of management is singularly democratic. We don’t like hierarchical bureaucracy or rigid pecking orders. We abhor ruthlessness. We like our people with gentle manners. We like people who are honest: honest in argument, honest with clients, honest with suppliers, and honest with the company. We admire people who work hard. Objectivity and toughness are admired. Superficiality is not. We despise and detest office politicians, toadies, bullies, and pompous asses. The way up the ladder is open to everyone. We detest favoritism, nepotism, and prejudice. In promoting for top jobs, we are influenced by character as by anything else.”

What more need a leader say.

Leadership by Example

Once again, I was asked to write a short for STAR News, a magazine for Law Enforcement Personnel. Here it is…

Leading by example is nothing new. For thousands of years individuals have looked up to their superiors. When the example of integrity and excellence was present, they were inspired and challenged to be more than they themselves thought they could be. When it was not, the lack of example has led to frustration and even disdain for the superior. This interesting quote comes from Onasander, a Greek philosopher from the first century A.D., and shows that even 2000 years ago men wrestled with these very issues.

“Most men are distressed when placed under the command of ignoble individuals. For no one voluntarily puts up with submitting to a master or a leader who is inferior to himself.” (Onasander, The General 1.17)

My challenge to you is two-fold.

First, be an individual marked by excellence. It changes your environment as well as the people around you. The level of professionalism will rise and you will be responsible for it. Live a life of excellence in everything you do. Remember, Family, Faith, Country and Department. Each need true men and women of excellence to set the tone for tomorrow.

Second, be careful whom you allow to be your example. Our vehicles have backseats filled with individuals who failed this test. Even on the department, be wise. The example you follow sets the path for your future. There are so many quality men and women in our department who do it right! Find one, and learn from them. Excellence is learned, and while you are learning others will learn from you.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, the Psalmist (3000 years ago) states that God has led him into a life of excellence by witnessing the examples that had been set for him. God’s mercy and grace had led him to a life of being an example to others. With that, he is able to confidently say in Psalm 71:7:

“My life is an example to many, because you have been my strength and protection.”

One final note: On this job and in life, everyone is a leader. If you started this article thinking that it only applies to your superiors you are wrong. You are a leader. All of us are. There are many people looking to you for quality decisions and a life of excellence. Read that again: There are many people looking to you for quality decisions and a life of excellence. Don’t let them down. Fulfill the roll.