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.

Hesitation Remorse

The backdrop is the Sahara with the tops of the great pyramids in the distance slightly obscured by the sand and dust-filled sky. The characters are my son Bryan upon a camel named Michael Jackson, my brother Robert upon a second named Oscar, and me upon the third named Casanova. The journey is a desert trek to the great pyramids of Giza.

The lesson: Embrace moments in the unknown.

I had feared the moment and now suffer from hesitation remorse.

When you caravan across the Sahara the camels are necessarily tied to each other, each one with a rope firmly affixed to the saddle of the camel ahead (think of all those Christmas cards with the three wise men silhouetted at the top of a sand dune). This keeps these magnificent (albeit ugly) beasts in line as they have learned in their domestication that they cannot break free.

Toward the end of our journey, we were situated on the crest of a dune with a great view of Giza. I asked the guide, using hand signals and broken English, if he would take a picture of the three of us, shoulder to shoulder, on our camels. “Yes, yes!” came the reply and he quickly began to untie each of our camels from the other. With a switch in hand, he smacked, yelled, and aligned all three camels so that he could step back and frame the scene. It was a beautiful picture, a Facebook favorite. [ See Photo Here ]

Having taken a couple of frames, the guide stepped forward and began to tie Michael Jackson to the saddle of Oscar. Much to my surprise, Casanova (my camel), noticing the guide had turned his back, realized that if he would ever be free from the switch of his taskmaster, that was the moment! In what became a futile attempt at freedom, he bolted!

With a voice that surprised me, sounding not unlike my morning voice, I pathetically whimpered, “Uh…” and quickly realized that I would need to do better than that. I ratcheted it up a notch with a nervous, “I’m leaving, Hello…” When that didn’t work I cried out with conviction, “Hello!” Finally, the guide came running at us, switch in hand, screaming words of Arabic in what sounded like a Jihad moment of anger and subdued Casanova with a few good smacks of the switch and a tug or two of the rope. After a bit of commotion and a few deep breaths, I found myself once again leading the caravan as both Oscar and Michael were tied behind Casanova and the journey to the pyramids played itself out in all its splendor.

Looking back at that moment, I ask myself why I did not immediately cry, “Help!”

After much thought, I have become convinced that some deep inner desire, which I refused to let surface, yearned for the adventure that the circumstance had presented. However, that deep longing for adventure was subdued by my fear.

In fact, I now wish that I had shut my mouth, overcome the fear, and held on tight for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I can see myself bolting across the Sahara, bouncing like a golf ball in a blender on the back of that camel! Our guide would have found me… Eventually! However, on second thought, a camel can go ten days without water! Not good.

I had let my anxiety ruin an unbelievable life experience. I am not saying that the experience–to that point–had not been glorious, it had been. However, what fun it would have been galloping across the Sahara on the back of a camel running for his freedom from a tyrannical taskmaster. I had missed a life moment. One that others would have talked about for a lifetime.

I am typing this later in life and I realize that leadership is very much like that day. Every once in a while, you are going to have the privilege of just holding on. There will be moments that at first seem out of your control, but as you tighten your grip, learn to steer, you will find that you possess the ability to navigate a grand adventure. Let it happen! Be pensive, resolved and keep your wits but do not forget to enjoy the ride. Today, I tell my own leaders that vision is good, but achieving the vision is not where the excitement is. The excitement is in the progressive, sometimes out of control journey of getting there. This admonition reminds me of a bumper sticker that I recently saw on the back of a souped-up, red, 1965 mustang. It read; “Get in, buckle up, hold on, and enjoy the ride!”

As leaders, if we learn to enter the territory of apprehension, unfamiliarity, and fear, it may just lead to our break-out moment. If it does, we will be remembered for that ride into the unknown. However, if we back out when faced with that fear, we will continue in the status quo and that break-out moment will be lost forever.

I will never be able to recreate that moment on the back of Casanova. It is, regrettably, gone forever.

Higher Standards

One current overwhelming reality is that there is no lack of moral failure in our society. We need only think of recent sports figures, politicians and others who have destroyed their lives because a pattern of decreasing moral standards was allowed to continue unabated. Surely these same individuals knew what the consequences would be for their actions. Didn’t they? Yet, they continued until it all fell apart.

Wake Up Call

As gifted men and women, ones who lead and drive dynamic organizations, we must be on guard against declining standards. Unless we consciously set higher and higher moral standards, we will continue to slip the other direction… In other words, there is no middle ground. Lack of progression equals decline.

The same principle applies to organizations as well as individuals. It has been said that the greatest hindrance to tomorrow’s success is today’s. We naturally tend to settle. We cannot allow this to happen. The dynamic organizational leader will reward the success of today, and set new goals for tomorrow.

“You don’t understand, that will burn out my people! We already drive the work ethic pretty heavily.”

Let me say this as delicately as I can; “Stop your excuses.” The reality is that people want progression. They want to be a part. If you are losing them, they either fail to see value or they are not feeling rewarded or recognized for the incremental accomplishments.

A Word of Warning

Driving success means celebrating success. Many leaders set the vision high. Rightly so. However, many of them make a terrible error by setting the celebration for accomplishment at the same level. This is wrong. We need to see the vision as the distant place we want to arrive, but we need to reward and recognize each of the steps in getting there.

Come with me to Paris. I was standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower and told my family to “look up!” I said, “we’re going to climb the stairs to the top!” “What!?!” came the reply. It was drudgery, until I began to count out the steps in increments of fifty. “Fifty… One Hundred… One Fifty…” Soon everyone was calling them out; “Two Hundred!!!” What started as drudgery, became excitement as we celebrated each fiftieth step. “Two Fifty!” Before we knew it, we were at the top! Six hundred and seventy four steps!

Had we waited until we came to the top to celebrate, I would have had to listen to requests to take the elevator the entire way up! Perhaps one of my kids would have broken ranks and headed the other direction. Maybe mutiny at step number Three Ninety Nine. Or, having made it to the top, faced a family who–for their anger–failed to appreciate the spectacular view from the top.

Celebrate each and every landing on your organizational journey, and set the next highest standard when you arrive.

Lesson in Tragedy

(reposted from October 31, 2014)

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.

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.

The photo above is SpaceShipOne as Bryan and I saw her on June 21, 2004 in the Mojave Desert.
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.

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 of these brave leaders.

The Old Man and the Sea

You may or may not know this, but I am a borderline workaholic (some may say there is no border to be seen). I am rarely to bed before midnight and I am always up early to start the day. After a full day of work, I spend the evening with my family, and then once everyone has gone to bed it is back to work. The only thing I let interrupt this evening work time is study or a good book. I read many books, and from time to time I will share something about them with you. I love the classics.

This week’s book was Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. It is a tale of… you guessed it… an old man… and the sea. Really, it is a book about perseverance and struggle. You see, the old man, though his history was one of fishing fame, was ridiculed in his Cuban town because he had not caught in 84 days. He was considered unlucky. He didn’t care, catching fish was all he knew and he used to be the best at it.

How long has it been since you caught a fish?

He was determined, and believed that he would catch the biggest fish ever. HE DID. The fish he catches, he catches with great struggle and pain. In fact the struggle nearly kills him. It drags him to sea for several days of sleepless battle, taking his boat into uncharted waters. He watches as the island of Cuba disappears from view and he fears he shall never return. But, it is acceptable that he should die as long as he catches the fish. He respected the fish, and in that respect desired to kill it.

“The fish is my friend too,” he said aloud. “I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him.” Then he was sorry for the great fish that (like him) had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. “How many people will he feed, he thought”

If you do not see what I see in this paragraph, allow me to comment. If we are to be fishers of men then we must struggle to do so. We may go 84 days without leading another to Christ (I hope not). But, we must keep looking for the big fish. We can catch numerous small ones, and that is good. However, the fish that comes with struggle, although we may be dragged beyond what is familiar and comfortable, when landed has the potential to feed many. We should even be willing to lay down our lives for it. It may in fact mean that we need to ruin their life as well. What I mean is that their life will have to change.

“Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him.”

We all know people, that if we bring them to Jesus, their lives will necessarily change. Certain comforts must go. We can feel sorry for them, but knowing that a life with Jesus is the priority, we determine to allow Jesus to redirect their lives. We kill their “comfortable life” so that they and others will live. It is worth it! There really is no choice in it!

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. Not 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…