Peoplemover

Growing up in Southern California, I have very fond memories of the many summers spent at Disneyland. One of the old school rides, that is still there today, is called the Peoplemover. Its job was to move people on a slow paced journey around the second-floor observation areas of all the rides in Tomorrowland.

These memories remind me that at the end of the day, leaders have much the same responsibility as the Peoplemover at Disneyland. In fact, leaders are peoplemovers and our future is Tomorrowland. We have the responsibility to bring people to higher levels of personal skill-set and introduce them to the future of what they can be, and how their role fits into the big picture of what the organization can be with them as a vital part of the whole.

So let’s make this practical…
There are many ways that a leader must move their people to proficiency, but I want to discuss four of them with you here.

The First: Moving your direct reports from Low Awareness to High Awareness. What is the big picture for your organization? How do they fit into the big picture? How aware are they of the importance of their role. As the leader, you need far more than mindless drones in your organizations and if that is how they are currently operating you’ve no one to blame but yourself.

The Second: Moving your people from Rigidity to Flexibility. As the most valuable assets in your organization, your people need to be flexible. Mid-level managers or direct reports that are inflexible serve as a hard stop for the forward momentum of your organization. Building flexibility allows quick change and retargeting during shifts that would otherwise cripple your momentum.

The Third: You need to move your people from Adequacy to Expertise. Inside many of your best people is a creative monster itching to break free but you allow them to continue in the status quo without challenging them to think or act differently. What new seasons of growth are you missing because the environment that you have created is not conducive to ongoing learning and growth?

And Finally: You need to move your people from Isolation to the Dynamics of Team and the feeling of worth found in an organizational family. Forcing, or even allowing, your people to work isolated from the team is detrimental. Iron sharpens Iron and ideas incubate as organizational relationships are built. Not to mention the attitudes, health, and longevity of your people will be greatly increased. And that, is always a benefit to the organization.

Be a peoplemover.

Oh, and next time you are at Disneyland, make sure you ride the ride, it’s not a roller coaster, but it is a unique way to see Tomorrowland.

Here’s a quick video I shot in the Concierge Lounge at the Renaissance Hotel in Long Beach California.

Perspective Makes the Difference

Success is as much about hard work as it is about perspective. Hard work without a bigger perspective or vision can be wasteful. It can also defeat your people. As a Church Planter you need to remember that your words are viewed very heavily by those who follow your leadership. They are watching you as an example of how to live their own lives. Furthermore, how you represent yourself and your reality can either propel or dismantle your future success as a church planter.

I recently attended—one week apart—two different church plants in which the church planters had two very different perspectives. One had a church plant that was moderately growing and doing well, the other was on the brink of failure. But before I convey my experience, let me share an apocryphal story with you.

Sometime during the last century, two salesmen were sent by a British shoe manufacturer to Africa to investigate and report back on market potential. The first salesman reported back, “There is no potential here – nobody wears shoes.” The second salesman reported back, “There is massive potential here – nobody wears shoes.”

What a difference perspective makes. Now, back to our two church planters.

The successful one took the stage to do announcements and was super excited. He actually pointed out the empty chairs in the room and challenged his people to make sure those were filled in the coming weeks. He spoke of his adventure in church planting as a roller coaster ride for Jesus and his energy was apparent.

The second church planter (I actually visited him the previous week) came to the stage early in the service and made a comment about several families that were not there because of vacation, and talked about how hard church planting was. He was obviously speaking through a sense of disappointment. I don’t want to overstate, but I could almost—literally—see a cloud over his head.

Let me ask you – who would you follow? No one wants to follow a defeated leader with a pessimistic perspective.

As a church planter let me recommend that even on the worst of days you take the stage with the excitement of a man purchased by the blood of an omnipotent Savior and let your people experience that passion through you. Let them see a man who assaults the difficulties of church planting with an energy that is relentless and contagious. Let them find inspiration in the way you handle yourself in their presence.

Here is a quick video that I put together for this blog. Please share it if you like it.

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.

Leader Video

Church Planter Video

Simple Solutions within the Complex

Last year I posted several Leadership Minutes about Proficiency and Competence in which I spoke of a leader’s need to work to the point where one knows their craft so well that their proficiency is based in the subconscious, that is, that they are unconsciously competent (a UC). You can review those videos online or at curtis.net [ Video 1 ] [ Video 2 ]

That being said, I recently heard a story that ties into this same idea of so deeply knowing what you do that the answers come quickly and easily, at time bewildering your direct reports. Simple answers come to the proficient leader that is always practicing, studying, and thinking about her craft.

The story was widely circulated in the early 2000s. It appeared online and in emails in many different versions. It goes something like this.

A philosophy professor gave an unusual test to his class. As they watched him, he lifted his chair onto his desk and wrote on the board: “Prove to me that this chair does not exist.” The class went to work, composing long complex explanations related to perception, existentialism, epistemology and the like. However, there was one student who took less than thirty seconds to answer and handed in his paper before many of the students even began to write. This obviously attracting surprised glances from his classmates as well as his professor. The following week the class received their grades for the test. The student who took less than thirty seconds to answer the test received the only “A” grade in the class. His answer was simply, “What chair?”

 
The story is one of a multitude of similar urban myths which poke fun of high-minded academia, in which an apparently very difficult or impossible question is destroyed by a terse comprehensive answer.

As a leader, proficiency in your craft comes only with long term, repeated exposure to the decisions, the systems and the circumstances with which you deal. The highly proficient leader can see the simple, encompassing answer within the complex. For the committed leader, proficiency — that is being an unconscious competent — is attainable if he or she is willing to put in the time.

I made a quick video related to this post. You can view it HERE. If you like it, please share it.

Major “Down in Flames” Fail

One hasty decision can lead to some really poor actions, and those actions can have consequences that will change the course of your life.

On August 17, 2015, the headline popped onto my screen: Firefighter loses $78,096 job for shoplifting $7.98 in items. The AP was reporting that a New Jersey firefighter with a serious case of the munchies shoplifted a breakfast sandwich, coffee, Gatorade and a bag of sunflower seeds.

I doubt he was able to keep the seeds, but in the off chance that he was, I hope he ate them slowly. They turned out to be the most expensive sunflower seeds in the history of mankind.

Considering munchie-man was hired in 2011 and the average tenure of a career firefighter is 26.5 years, he still had a potential of 21 to 22 years on the job. Then, calculating his salary with a modest two percent cost of living increase each year, he just threw away $2,174,580.25 not including any pension. Furthermore, considering there are approximately 9,600 sunflower seeds in a measured pound, and the most common consumer bag of seeds weighs in at two ounces, then his bag had approximately 1,200 seeds. Therefore, at a cost of $2,174,580.25, each seed came in at roughly $1,812.15.

I hope they were extra salty.

Perhaps they were those flavored ones. You know, Hot & Spicy, Barbecue, or maybe even the Jalepeño Hot Salsa… you get the picture.

We can laugh about this, but the truth behind it is tragic; that one bad decision, made in haste, can be detrimental to the future. For the leader, it is worse. A costly mistake carelessly made can not only ruin your future but destroy the livelihood of your subordinates.

In the heat of what you do, there will be moments when you are pressed to “decide quickly.” Proceed cautiously, gather as much pertinent data as you can in the time allotted, and seek council if there is time. Then, and only then, having done all that you can to explore the possibilities and (perhaps more importantly) the ramifications, make the call.

If you do it right, you may be able to relax and buy some seeds and Gatorade for the team!

Innovate or Die

Innovation continues and that is a very good thing. I love innovation. The only thing I love more is innovation that is Entrepreneurially Disruptive! (think how Uber disrupts the Taxi monopoly). Each and every one of us looks forward to new advances. However, we hate change. This makes little or no sense.

Could it be that we trumpet change as “innovation” when it is change that we like, but strip the word from our vocabulary when it is change that we don’t?

I think so.

Leadership.

You need to ruminate on this fact. As a leader, your direct reports will herald change as innovation as long as it means their routine does not need to change, their comfort isn’t threatened, or their skillsets are not put to the test. As a leader, you will need to mitigate that with full disclosure and instruction, training sufficient to ease the worries, and the full revelation as to why this new change will make things better—not only for you—but for them as well.

I laugh sometimes at the pushback we get as we implement new system changes. Knowing that there are rough waters ahead, but new productivity and efficiency await past the rapids. Change eventually makes everyone’s life more efficient, but there will always be those who chose to stay with the old ways and suffer hours of frustration because they refuse to take the hour or two to learn.

I love the picture above. Many of our direct reports chose to lay in the path of danger to use the current systems… I’ll take the GoPro.

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.