Issue Number 44: Leaders Admit Mistakes – Part 2

In the first part of "Leaders Admit Mistakes" published in the previous newsletter I explained the importance of defining mistakes as Thomas Edison did - by considering them learning opportunities. His famous answer to a question about the many mistakes he made was, "I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work." There are a lot of common-sense reasons to admit your mistakes beyond merely being an example to others. One of them is that no matter how hard you try to hide your own mistakes, you are almost doomed to fail. Other people are going to find out about your mistakes – you can count on it. They will spread the word, and pretty soon everyone will be hiding their mistakes as well. You will not only lose credibility when you try to hold people accountable, you will also lose access to information that can help you make decisions that can prevent minor issues from developing into major problems. I have often included an apology when I admit a mistake. It does not have to be a big deal. It can be something as simple as: “Sorry, I screwed this up. Here is how I...

Issue Number 43: Leaders Admit Mistakes – Part 1

I am not young enough to know all the answers. I have made plenty of mistakes and almost, but not quite, relished the opportunity to admit them. It has allowed me to let others know by example that I did not expect them to be perfect, but I did expect them to admit when they made a mistake, learn from it and move on. The more aggressive members of your organization may consider someone’s willingness to admit mistakes as weakness, or try to use admitted mistakes as weapons. They'll use it as an opportunity to look down their noses at you, like our friend in the photo. If you allow them to win the day, you are in trouble. People will not admit their mistakes if they have to defend themselves for doing so. Allowing people to revisit old mistakes and reopen old issues keeps you and your organization mired in the past while your competition is moving ahead. One healthy way of looking at mistakes is to redefine them. Thomas Edison’s philosophy provides a great example. Edison was an American inventor, scientist and businessman who, with his team, invented the phonograph, the motion picture camera and the light bulb,...

Issue Number 42: Leadership and The Presentation Skills Expert

I once attended a training session on presentation skills that was to be delivered by a person reputed to be an outstanding teacher. There were about 150 students in attendance and I sat in the back of the room with the other faculty members, looking forward to seeing a genius at work. We were a bit disappointed when he finally arrived. He was a rather short, older man who seemed about ready to crumble. He was introduced to somewhat confused applause, shuffled his way to the podium and began to speak haltingly in a voice barely above a whisper, looking at the floor and pausing for increasingly longer periods of time. The students were clearly uncomfortable and kept turning to look at us for guidance, but we were as stumped as they were. After a few more minutes of mumbling he stopped talking and just stared at the floor. At first he had looked like he could use a V8, but now he looked like he was about half past dead. After what seemed like forever he suddenly stood up straight, looked directly at one of the students, smiled mischievously and asked in a voice we all envied: “Is that...

Issue Number 41: Leadership: How to Create a Winning Vision – Part 2

There are three steps to creating a winning vision. In the previous newsletter I shared the first step. Today we will move to the second step. As you may recall, the first step is to follow the advice of the first-century Roman historian, Tacitus: “I have often regretted my speech, but never my silence.” Ask your customers what they want from you now, and what they think they will want from you five or ten years from now – and then actually listen to their answers. Do not tell them what you think they will need – let them tell you. It will also give you a chance to identify those who are just guided by the latest breeze, like a weather vane, and don't have the more global perspective that leaders need. The second step is to ask people in your organization where they think they, and the organization, should be going. They are closest to the trenches and can give you an invaluable perspective on what works and what does not work. You will have to weed out the self-serving responses and the worn-down axes people have been grinding, and they will have to believe what they tell...

Issue Number 40: Leadership: How to Create a Winning Vision – Part 1

Some leaders like to play it safe - to keep doing what has always worked. The problem is the world is always changing. We are reminded of this as the seasons change, especially in the Spring as we witness new growth all around us. If we are going to succeed, we have to anticipate the direction and speed of the changes. We need to create a motivating vision that enables us and our organizations to keep pace, or we will fall behind. There are three steps in create a winning vision. In this newsletter I will share the first step, and in the next newsletter, steps two and three. The first step is to follow the advice of the first-century Roman historian, Tacitus: “I have often regretted my speech, but never my silence.” Ask your customers what they want from you now, and what they think they will want from you five or ten years from now – and then actually listen to their answers. Do not tell them what you think they will need – let them tell you. I was asked to help an organization of CEOs in the service industry run their companies more effectively so they...

Issue Number 39: Leadership and The Great One

Wayne Douglas Gretzky was born on January 26, 1961 in Brantford, Ontario. His father, Walter, taught Wayne and his brothers and friends to skate on a hockey rink he named the “Wally Coliseum,” which he constructed in his back yard. Wayne began skating when was less than three years old, and by the time he was six he was playing on a team of ten-year-olds. He joined the Indianapolis Racers at the age of 17. After retiring from hockey twenty years later, Wayne became Executive Director of the Canadian national men’s hockey team and part owner, and eventually head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes. His nickname was simply “The Great One.” He is generally considered to be the greatest hockey player of all time. Upon his retirement he held forty regular-season records, fifteen playoff records, and six all-star records. He is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season, which he did an amazing four times. His jersey number, 99, has been retired by all teams in the National Hockey League. At six feet and 185 pounds, he was not bigger, faster, or stronger than his opponents, but he had something extra. He had the ability,...

Issue Number 38: Great Leaders Choose Their Conversations Carefully

Choosing conversations carefully may sound easy, but it requires intention and discipline. It means putting aside your needs and realizing everything you say and do makes a lasting impression. This is especially challenging when you are stressed, or when you are focused on task, like the Green Heron in this picture. Sometimes you are so busy you can forget the importance of nurturing trust in every moment. Here are three examples of how the conversations you choose can have the same effect on task and dramatically different effects on trust. The Scene: The hero (played brilliantly by you) is in your office scrambling madly to meet a deadline. Bill, your direct report, has worked hard to downselect eight alternative strategies to two. He knocks on your door and says: “I’ve narrowed it down to two choices, A and B. Do you have a moment?” The last thing you need right now is an interruption, and the first two thoughts that come to your mind are: “I don’t care – you decide!” and “It’s your job to decide these things – not mine!” You have a choice about the conversation you will have with Bill. The key to making the right...

Issue Number 37: Leadership and the Rule of Gerald

I paid my way through college by working in the Postal Service. There were perhaps a dozen of us college students driving trucks and sorting mail, and for the most part we got along very well with the career Postal Service employees. There was one person who occasionally served as a substitute supervisor who just did not like us, or anyone else for that matter. On the few occasions when he was in charge, he was either on the prowl for someone doing something wrong so he could chew them out, or sitting on his desk as if it were a perch and glaring at us. Let’s call him Gerald since that is not his name. Gerald was in charge one day and all of us were being especially careful. We were on break when the telephone rang on his desk. Nobody wanted to answer the phone because it was an outside line, and that meant there was a call from a probably unhappy customer. We college students, knowing less about the Postal Service than anyone else and being less able to help customers, stayed particularly far away from it. Gerald looked straight at me and said: “Taylor – answer...

Issue Number 36: Leadership: Leadership and the Rule of Reciprocation

One of the best leaders I have ever known was Ed Knowles. Ed was an avuncular figure who reminded me of Franklin Roosevelt. One day he told me he wanted me to run the next client meeting. This was a great opportunity for a junior employee, but when I mentioned it to a colleague he said, "I feel sorry for you. If you don't do a good job in front of this client, your career here is over!" Over the next few days I became increasingly concerned, and finally told Ed I was worried that I might not be ready, and didn't want to embarrass either of us. I can still hear his response. He said that if I did my best and it went well, I would receive the credit, and if it didn't go well, he would take the blame. Ed demonstrated what another of my favorite writers, Dr. Robert Cialdini, author of "Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion" calls “the rule of reciprocation.” Ed gave us something of immense value first – his trust – and we gave him something of value in return – our loyalty. I am...

Issue Number 35: Leadership and Motivating Visions

Motivating visions are not confined to the business world. A church in suburban Indiana wanted visitors to feel more welcome, so they included becoming a “friendly congregation” as one of the elements of their corporate vision statement and set about trying to make that happen. No matter how hard they tried, though, nothing seemed to work. Visitors still reported that church members seemed “too stuffy.” The members seemed more interested in showing off the church building with its beautiful windows and less interested in meeting visitors on a personal level. A small group of church members decided to focus instead on creating a motivating vision: to become a “caring congregation.” They realized care of members of the congregation was unevenly distributed. If the Pastor’s wife was ill, everyone knew it and paid attention to her, but if the quiet person in the last pew became ill, nothing happened. The church established a Board of Deacons to provide care for the entire congregation, and the results were amazing. Those who received care volunteered to help others, the church newsletter was filled with thank you notes and, slowly and steadily, the church became what they strove to be – a caring congregation....

Issue Number 34: Leadership Moments and Marshall Goldsmith

Most leadership moments are little ones – a conversation with a colleague or a response to an email message. They are available to all of us, regardless of our positions. You will probably have at least fifty leadership moments today. Leadership moments represent opportunities to demonstrate your ability to lead and to share your leadership philosophy. You cannot simply create a relationship of trust with each member of your team and assume it will remain in place. You can, however, use these moments to nurture an atmosphere of trust by looking for opportunities to demonstrate you can be trusted and you trust others. One of my favorite writers is Marshall Goldsmith, author of What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. Dr. Goldsmith describes a powerful way to use a leadership moment. He offers a method of effectively achieving individual and corporate alignment by asking six questions of each of your direct reports. One of those questions is “Any questions for me?” Asking that question allows your direct reports to let you know not only how you can help them, but also that you trust them to ask questions that will help you do a better job. Brilliant! -- Join...

Issue Number 33: Leadership and Nurturing Trust

Trust is foundational – you can accomplish wonders with it and very little without it. A reputation for trustworthiness and your willingness to trust others are worth more than just about anything else, and like many things of value, they are fragile. And like many fragile things, they require a great deal of care. Some leaders cite the importance of “building” or “establishing” trust. I consider it much more important to nurture trust – to keep it alive through constant attention. You nurture trust by recognizing that everything you say and everything you do either contributes to or erodes trust, and by acting in accord with that recognition. Imagine the amount of time our friend on the motorcycle has spent nurturing trust with his smaller companion. In The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey and Rebecca Merrill describe trust as a balance of character and competence. Consider adding to the balance a willingness to take a risk – to allow yourself to be vulnerable by trusting others, to question why anyone would trust you and to become the kind of person you would trust. This means working with people where they are. Some of them have healthy egos, have achieved a...

Use Number 32: Leadership and Deeply Dumb Ideas

As you come to know the people in your organization or on your team, you will be able to understand both what and how they think, but only if you make the effort. Investing your time wisely in this endeavor allows you to understand reach other because you are communicating on the same frequency. If you learn to speak their language, you prepare the ground for conversations that can lead to mutual accountability instead of hostility. More often than I care to admit, I have an idea which, although it initially sounds reasonable, upon closer inspection proves to be deeply dumb. It might not rank with the Puffy Shirt, but might be a close call. When I ask people what they think of it, some will say the equivalent of: “You have my support for anything you want to do.” While I appreciate their confidence and value their support, responses like that do not move us forward. I will often press them to tell me what they really think, and when they do, we typically have a much fuller and deeper conversation. It might result in my modifying the idea or dropping it completely, but in nearly every case it...

Issue Number 31: Leadership: A To-Do List and a To-Be List

Do you create to-do lists? If you do something that is not on your to-do list, do you add it to the list and cross it out? Welcome to the club. To-do lists are a handy tool for capturing the tasks you have to perform and measuring your progress as you complete them. They can help you feel good about yourself at the end of the day, but they do not help you build your foundation as a leader. You build your foundation by creating a to-be list. The to-be list consists of the principles that describe the kind of leader you want to be. My to-be list consists of three principles: 1. Look for people doing something right, not wrong. 2. Look for more leaders, not more followers. 3. Look for substance over style. Developing a set of principles is not an easy task. Mike Campbell, a character in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, is asked to describe how he went bankrupt: “Gradually, then suddenly.” is his response. Your principles may not come into the world fully formed, but they will come, perhaps gradually, then suddenly. Consider the principles I have followed and build upon them to create...

Issue Number 30: Leadership: Looking for Substance Over Style

Doc Severinson, former bandleader for the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, has both substance and a lot of style. A few years ago I was telling a friend about my opportunity to spend some time with Doc, and she told me an interesting story about the difference between substance and style in her life. She had recently participated in a “360” evaluation, which involves being reviewed by your peers, your bosses and your direct reports. She received good reviews from her peers and bosses, but poor reviews from her direct reports. They described her as “cold” and “uncaring.” They reported that even when they had done a particularly good job, she did not seem to appreciate it. Her boss decided to enroll her in a course to help her learn to express gratitude for the work other people were doing. She took the course and tried her best to apply what she learned, but it did not work. She felt awkward, her staff felt embarrassed for her, and it only made matters worse. Her boss called her into his office. “This is not working because you don’t believe in it,” he said, “You are following the style you learned in...

Issue Number 29: Leadership: Finding What You’re Looking For

My principles are based on my life experiences and those of people I have known. They are captured in the notion that, whether in life or in leadership, you are going to find what you are looking for. If you are looking for people who are working hard or hardly working, you are going to find them. If you are looking for people who are trying to get ahead or just trying to get by, you are going to find them. If you are people who want to be noticed or to stay under the radar, you are going to find them. And many of them are looking at you for clues. If you micro-manage, so will they. If you empower, so will they. If you demonstrate honesty, integrity, deception or disloyalty, so will they. You communicate through your words and actions what it takes to succeed. Everything you say and do sends a message, so make sure it is the message you want to send. I don’t waste my time looking only for things that will make me successful. I take a broader view and look for things that will make all of us successful, and I encourage you...

Issue Number 28: Leadership: Footprints in the Snow

There are a lot of footprints in the snow when it comes to advice on leadership. Many people have written and spoken eloquently about it. The techniques I have used are based on a lifetime of learning, and the practical experience of an ordinary person leading a large organization to an unparalleled record of success. They apply to large and small organizations, businesses run for fun, where success is celebrated with balloons, or for profit, where success is celebrated with bonuses. They also apply to people who are leading an organization of thousands or a team of five. I am speaking from experience. The Washington DC Chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMIWDC) is the largest PMI Chapter in the world. It is approximately the size of the World Bank, with over 11,000 members as of this writing. The position of President and CEO, which I was proud to hold, came with an interesting set of challenges. • The first challenge was the sheer size of the organization. While the employees of the World Bank are paid to work, the 11,000 members of our organization pay us to work for them. Practically speaking, each of our members is also a...

Issue Number 27: Leadership: Making Differences Work for You

Each of us is different, one from the other. We always have been and we always will be. So why do we continue to use our differences to build walls instead of bridges? It takes the same amount of effort to build a bridge as it does to build a wall, but once a wall is built it takes a lot more effort to go over it. Racial, ethnic, generational and educational differences have received a good deal of well-deserved attention. One of the differences which has not received as much attention, and which cuts across all of the others, is cognitive differences, often referred to as cognitive diversity. These two flamingoes may look alike to you, but they clearly differ on the interpretation of a key epistemological construct. According to Scott Page, author of The Difference, cognitive diversity describes differences in the way people see, categorize, understand, and go about improving the world. Cognitive diversity is not as easily recognizable as other kinds of diversity, which makes working with someone who sees the world in a way that differs from yours much more challenging. It can be hard work. It can stretch you both mentally and emotionally. You may...

Issue Number 26: Leadership and The Chevrolet

While I love taking pictures of classic old cars (check out the Chevy), I do have to spend some time earning a living. One of my favorite jobs was leading the economics program at the International Programs Center. When I joined the faculty I faced the challenge of finding guest lecturers for our courses. Being new, I had to find my own guest lecturers, and that took a lot of time. Most of them had full-time jobs and were volunteering their time to teach a class session, so you often had to beg and plead. The first time I was able to talk someone into being a guest lecturer, I did what you would have done – I sat in on the class session and took notes, looking for points I thought were especially appropriate for the course. Then I spoke with the students after the class session to learn what they thought. The next day I told the lecturer I was going to send a thank-you message and, stumbling upon a technique I have used ever since, asked: “Who would you like me to include on the distribution list?” Armed with my class notes so I could be specific,...

Issue Number 25: Leadership and Duke Ellington

Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington (1899 – 1974) was an American composer, pianist and orchestra leader. The son of a White House butler, he dropped out of high school to pursue a career in music and became perhaps the most important composer in the history of jazz. His music stretched beyond jazz to blues, gospel, popular and classical. His career spanned fifty years and included not only leading his orchestra, but also composing an enormous songbook, writing movie scores, and making several world tours. He is generally considered to have raised jazz to the level of classical music. Duke Ellington called his music "American Music." His orchestra included some of best musicians of the time, and many of them stayed with him for decades. One of the things that made Ellington such a great leader was that he often composed music specifically for the style and skills of his musicians, such as "Jeep's Blues" for Johnny Hodges (alto saxophone), “Concerto for Cootie" for Cootie Williams (trumpet), and "The Mooche" for Tricky Sam Nanton (trombone) and Bubber Miley (trumpet and cornet). He also recorded songs written by his bandsmen, such as “Caravan” and “Perdido” by Juan Tizol (trombone). During a time when...

Issue Number 24: Leadership: Humor as a Shared Experience

If, like me, you smiled when you saw this sculpture of Rock, Paper, Scissors, we may may share a similar sense of humor. Not everyone does. Once, and only once, I went on a blind date. We decided to see a then-new movie called “Airplane” starring Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty, and featuring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Leslie Nielson, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Stack and a host of other people. The movie contained classic scenes like June Billingsley, Beaver Cleaver’s mother, talking “jive,” and classic lines like “Don’t call me Shirley,” that are still being referenced in today’s comedy shows. It cost about $3 million to make and has earned over $83 million. Millions of people, like me, laughed all the way through the movie. My date did not. I am not sure if she lacked the humor chip or just didn’t like the movie or her companion, but we did not live happily ever after. She didn’t exactly leap desperately from my speeding car as we neared her home, but it was close. Think about the friends you had years ago who are still in your life. One of the reasons those relationships have endured over the years is likely a shared...

Issue Number 23: Leadership: Play to Their Strengths – The Orangutan or the Goat

Being aware of your own strengths is the first step to recognizing the strengths of others. Playing to their strengths is not just a good way to get along with people, it is critical to properly delegating work. It can take a great deal of thought and time to match the right task to the right person, but some people just rush through it. Some assign a task to a person because he is strong and brave and not at the meeting. Others assign work to the first available person. I have heard of one person who assigned work alphabetically. None of these work very well. Let's say you have a task that requires quick thinking, good balance, and a willingness to accept risk. You could delegate that task to someone who has those strengths (an orangutan in our imaginary organization), or you could delegate it to someone whose availability is his only skill set (yep - the goat). If you take the time to play to the strengths of others, you will be able to delegate far more effectively. You will match the right task to the right person, know which combination of people will make the best team,...

Issue Number 22: The Best Leaders Admit Their Mistakes

Admitting your mistakes is risky, but it is a great example of professional, principled behavior. The key is to avoid personalizing both success and failure. If you believe you succeed because you are superior to others, it follows that you fail because you are inferior to others. Each success you have and each mistake you make provides evidence of your self-worth. Who wants to live like that? One of the biggest mistakes you can make is being afraid to make a mistake. You want to maintain a record of accomplishment. You don't want to give any ammunition to those who may not have your best interests in mind. And you want to set an example for others. It is a sticky situation. The liberating truth is - all of us make mistakes, so join the fun! My mother, perhaps like yours, never read a book on raising children, but she could have written a great one. I remember her explaining to me many times when I misbehaved (many, many times), that I was not being punished because I was a bad boy, but because I did something wrong. She always emphasized that I was a good boy who made a...

Issue Number 21: Leadership and the Power of Reflection

When a leader is replaced, realignments can occur quickly and can result in dramatic changes in corporate culture. A friend once worked in an organization in which the leader was a gregarious fellow who exuded both confidence and compassion. Morale in the organization was high and productivity even higher. People were considerate of each other and their customers. Hundreds of people attended his retirement party. His successor was the polar opposite. He kept to himself and was constantly on the lookout for plots and enemies. He was impatient, confrontational and deceptive. In a remarkably short time people began to follow his example. They became more guarded, more argumentative and less willing to work together. Predictably, morale and productivity deteriorated and, since this attitude was reflected in the way they treated customers, customer complaints increased. This is the result of the power of reflection. We often think it is in our best interests to reflect the habits, attitudes and mannerisms of our leaders. As a leader, you can use that to your advantage, but don't forget it is not a one-way street. People take themselves everywhere they go. In the words of author and diarist Anais Nin: “We don’t see things...

Issue Number 20: Lois and Leadership

Consider Lois. She was extremely introverted and extremely judgmental. She had been spoiled as a child, learning to get her way by complaining. She rarely had to make personal sacrifices and never learned to play well with others. When Lois entered the working world, the subtleties of interpersonal relationships simply eluded her, and her lack of “people skills” combined with her inner conflicts made it difficult for her to work with, and especially for, other people. She was always looking for ways to sneak up on and attack people. She was a known as "The Shark" to both friend and foe. When Lois was promoted to a leadership position, she was miserable. She complained about the additional work she had to do, she complained about the people to whom she was delegating work, and she complained about the people who were always complaining. When people offered to help, she even complained about that. Her life was full of frustration, which she carried with her everywhere she went. Looking a lot like the lion shown above, she would go from zero to rage in an instant, often directing her rage at innocent bystanders. In her view of the world, people resented...

Issue Number 19: Leadership and Looking for People Doing Something Right

Some leaders lead by exception. They focus on finding people doing something wrong and use those people as examples of how NOT to do things. When they find those people, you can hear the roar all the way down the hall. They claim by focusing their efforts on identifying the errors people make, they are encouraging them to be more careful. In my experience, looking for people doing something wrong instead of right encourages them to play defense, avoid taking creative risks, and live just below the radar. It is not likely those leaders are going home each night elated by the fact they caught ten people making mistakes. It is more likely they are worried about the ones they missed. If you are spending your days looking for mistakes and your evenings worrying about the ones you missed, you are filling yourself with a constant stream of negative energy, and that is the kind of energy you will be sharing with others. Why would you want to do that to yourself? I have tried to help people who are doing something wrong, but I have focused on people who are doing something right. It has not only been a...

Issue Number 18: More Leaders or More Followers?

Leaders are everywhere. All you need is the patience and skill to find them. Few of us are leaders in all situations, but nearly all of us are situational leaders. Great leaders look for more leaders because they want to share responsibility and authority throughout the team. They have confidence in their ability and are willing to take the risk that in enabling someone else to lead. They are aware that they are also creating potential competitors, but like the person who owns this boat, they have no worries. The seemingly easy way to discourage challenges to your leadership is to create as many followers as you can. From what I have seen, that actually makes your life more difficult. So how do you manage the risk in looking for more leaders? You let them know that, while you appreciate their expertise and the contributions they make, you are the leader among leaders. Through your example you demonstrate that with more leaders working together in the same direction you are all more likely to succeed. You position yourself as the person who can help them achieve what they want and they will support you, if only for their own self-interest....

Issue Number 17: Leadership and the King of the Beasts

Consider a man we’ll call Rob since that is not his name. Rob was a decent person – friendly and outgoing. Unfortunately Rob was also a poster boy for the expression “If you want to know what someone is really like, give him a little power.” Rob was promoted to a position in which he had a little bit of power. He began by seeking, and appreciating, advice. As time went on, though, Rob changed. He was secretly intimidated by his direct reports, and thought the best way to secure his leadership was to look for followers -- and to act like his version of the King of the Beasts. Within six months he was telling the same people who offered to help him: “I am the boss – you are not qualified to advise me.” When asked to share his leadership philosophy, he said: “Leadership is a lot of people doing what I say.” Rob thought of the world as a battlefield and his staff as his troops. That meant disagreement was disloyalty and offering advice was insubordination. What do you think happened? The best and brightest began disengaging. At first they disengaged mentally – they stopped trying. Then...

Issue Number 16: Leadership – Stop, Look and Listen

How do you find the time to learn about others, especialIy if you have locked yourself into a task-focused way of leading? Just follow the example of this young seamstress and the guidance you learned as a child when crossing the street – stop, look and listen. The first step is to stop what you are doing long enough to focus on others. In today’s world, multitasking has become the norm. We text while driving, email while talking on the phone, and work on pieces of several projects at the same time. Multitasking can be efficient and even diverting, but it often involves sacrificing focus. If you really want to get to know others, you need to pay attention to them. Stopping what you are doing for a moment allows you to consider what the best use of your time is, and whether you are staying in your own lane. You do not have to stop for hours at a time – just for the occasional moment. Get out of your office and walk around. Remove yourself from the problems occupying your mind and step outside yourself. Begin, or continue, a conversation with someone about a topic that has nothing...

Issue Number 15: Leadership and Speaking Their Language

As a leader you are often expected to come up with immediate solutions to pressing problems. It often seems nobody has time for you to bounce ideas off other people. Do it anyway. It will help you go far in the bridge building business. Bouncing ideas off others can help clarify your thinking, but use caution. If you keep asking the same people, you may want to ask yourself why you are limiting your options. If it is because they all speak your language, perhaps you need to learn another one. I make it a point not to go to the same people each time. I am especially interested in learning the opinions of the quieter people. They are often sources of well-considered opinions, and engaging them in casual one-on-one conversations encourages them to eventually share their opinions in meetings, to everyone’s benefit. Asking people to share their opinions also helps everyone feel like part of the team, and it helps you learn not only what others think but how they think. You can learn what people think by simply asking for their opinion. Some people stop right there. They take the answer back to their cave and add it...

Issue Number 14: Leadership and the Great Escape

Sometimes, in the course of leading others, you have to compromise among virtues. You may have to act like everything is fine when you would rather curl up in a ball. You may have to pretend not to be worried, tired, or concerned when things are not going well. But there is one thing you simply cannot do – you cannot compromise your integrity. You cannot be a little honest or mostly fair. As soon as you lie, cheat, or act dishonestly, you have broken trust, and you may never regain it. Worse yet, you can safely assume the person whose trust you have broken will tell other people, and your damaged reputation will precede you, follow you and envelop you. Lying, cheating, or acting dishonestly will do even more damage to you than to others, because it diminishes you as a human being. This applies to all of us, regardless of our position, circumstances, or station in life. While at the National Zoo I saw one of the Orangutans climbing on a set of cable about forty feet above the ground. It seemed like he could have escaped whenever he wanted, but he didn't. That reminded me of a...

Issue Number 13: Leadership and Frank Sinatra

Ed Walters, who worked as a pit boss in Las Vegas tells a great story about Don Rickles, the famously warm-hearted insult comedian, and Frank Sinatra. It was fairly early in Rickles’ career and he was on stage in one of the smaller rooms at the Sahara Lounge when Frank Sinatra and his entourage came in. Sinatra had a reputation for either loving you or not wanting to have anything to do with you. As soon as Rickles spotted Sinatra he began insulting him. The audience grew quiet. Nobody was sure how Sinatra would react. The pit bosses moved to the back of the room in case there was trouble. Rickles threw a few more jabs at Sinatra and then turned around to nervously ask his backup band: “Is he smiling?” Sinatra started laughing and everyone relaxed. The kind of humor you allow in the workplace has a powerful effect on others. Since you are the leader, people will ask themselves the same question Don Rickles asked. If you are smiling or laughing, you send the message that you are enjoying it – and condoning it. Through your behavior you determine what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. It...

Issue Number 12: Leadership and Team Meetings

Something as simple as the way you conduct team meetings sends a powerful message and provides an opportunity to nurture trust at both the individual and corporate level. Consider a person we will call “Crane.” Crane was a leader who said all the right things, but betrayed his true nature in meetings. He viewed team meetings as opportunities to advance his personal agenda. He would hold private “strategy sessions” with a small group of people to plan how they would handle agenda items so he could have his way. Later, as the meeting unfolded, each person in the strategy session would play his or her part, and dissenting opinions would be politely, or not so politely, dismissed. Team members did not need a sign proclaiming Crane's aggressiveness, and it was not long before they learned what was happening. The net effect was that Crane divided the team and drove a wedge between those who attended the strategy sessions and the other team members, which reduced the meetings to playlets. Even those in the strategy sessions began privately referring to the meetings as “kabuki” and became as disengaged as their colleagues. Crane was not capable of allowing himself to trust the...

Issue Number 11: Leadership and Staying in Your Own Lane

Remember when you were a teenager and somebody’s dad (hopefully not yours) was always trying to act “cool?” He would try to copy your teenage body language and use your teenage vocabulary, and it was so sad! Remember how it made you feel? You wanted parents to act like parents – to stay in their own lane. The same thing applies in elephant herds and organizations. When you are promoted to a position of leadership, you are no longer just “one of the guys.” It is tempting to continue acting like one of the guys – that is your comfort zone – but you do not belong there anymore. Your staff members want you to act like a leader and if you don’t, it can not only make them uncomfortable, it can erode your authority, and it can leave a mark. It is also important to draw clear boundaries between the work you are doing and the work others are doing. If you weave into their lane by offering too much guidance or interfering too often, you will establish a pattern that can backfire. You may be trying to help and your motive may be pure, but you cannot assume...

Issue Number 10: Leadership and Mirror Neurons

In addition to the anecdotal evidence that organizations reflect the example of their leaders, there may now be scientific evidence to explain how this works. Neuroscientists have found that “mirror neurons,” which are distributed throughout our brains, enable us to learn by observing. They are also used to detect and mimic someone’s emotions, and in so doing, create a shared experience. A mirror neuron “fires” both when a person acts and when he or she observes an action performed by someone else. The neuron "mirrors" the behavior of the other person, just as though the observer were performing the act. It can also result in shared actions. That may be what is happening to these lions. As I watched them, one of them noticed something interesting and the others began mirroring the first lion's posture, until all of them were posing alike. Some scientists consider mirror neurons one of the most important recent findings in neuroscience. Understanding the role of mirror neurons may be important in understanding the actions of others, developing empathy and learning new skills. Most people want to align themselves with the leader. Some do this by copying his or her behavior. They might dress like the...

Issue Number 9: Leadership and Calm Confidence

How do you project an image of calm confidence if you are feeling neither calm nor confident? The words of Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford motor company, who revolutionized American industry through the introduction of assembly lines and mass production, have rung true for me: “Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.” Try this. Select an activity you enjoy and think about how you feel while you are engaged in that activity. We usually enjoy doing things in which we are skilled, and demonstrating that skill gives us a sense of confidence. That confidence in turn provides us with a sense of calm, because we know in spite of challenges we might encounter, we are likely to succeed. Now pick a situation in which you do not feel confident. Examine what is preventing you from believing you can succeed in that situation, and what you need to do the remove that obstacle. Ask yourself: “What is the worst thing that can happen?” Do not pick end-of-the-world scenarios. Be reasonable. If you are afraid of public speaking because you might be asked a question you cannot answer, prepare a list of possible questions...

Issue Number 8: Leadership and Flexibility

There are often many ways to solve a problem, and the approach you take can send a very clear message. If you insist on doing things your way, the message you send is you think you know more than everyone else, and you do not need their suggestions. They will understand that and stop suggesting, leaving you to solve everything. By being flexible, you encourage people to contribute suggestions and you show respect for their ideas and for them as individuals. The key is to emphasize results over process. And if you happen to be a flamingo, you can be exceptionally flexible while standing on skinny legs and webbed feet. This goes hand-in-hand with your recognition of and appreciation for collateral damage. You may know a better way to do something. You may even know the best way. If you are an exceptional leader, however, you also know people prefer to do things their own way, and there may be a price to pay for having someone do things your way instead of their way. You have to operate within a reasonable set of boundaries, to be sure, but it is important to consider the consequences of insisting on people...

Issue Number 7: Leadership and Vulnerability

One of the best ways to nurture trust is to ask for help when you need it. Admitting you do not know how to do something does not make you weaker, it makes you more human, more approachable, and ultimately more respected. Some leaders try to have all the answers all the time. They turn their backs on those who try to help them, and they eventually find themselves all alone in a corner. They subscribe to a kind of “perfect leader” act that is as unreasonable as it is unattainable. They become so consumed playing the part they don’t realize they are getting in their own way. The antidote – allow yourself the freedom to be occasionally vulnerable. You will find both great freedom and great power in being occasionally vulnerable. You have your own strengths and weaknesses, so admit you cannot know or do everything. You have to be selective, however, both in subject and in frequency. If you are the CEO, for example, I do not recommend you tell people you have no idea what the strategic direction of the organization should be, and you would like someone to handle it for you. Use your common sense...

Issue Number 6: Leadership and The Bike

Jason was five years old and he wanted more than anything in the whole wide world to be able to ride a two-wheeler. A two-wheeler, those of you who are of a certain age will recall, is what we used to call a bicycle. The natural progression in mastering the two-wheeler began with the tricycle, moved to the two-wheeler with two small training wheels attached to the rear wheel, and finally graduated to the two-wheeler, sleek and fast and unadorned by training wheels. All the big kids rode two-wheelers, and Jason envied the way they dashed around, gliding effortlessly up and down the street drawing circles and figure eights. It seemed the essence of cool to his tiny little brain. Jason was stuck at the training wheel stage. There was a critical step between the training wheel stage and the two-wheeler stage. Your father or an older brother would take the training wheels off and you would ride the bike while he held on to the back and ran alongside, keeping it steady while you learned to balance it. As these sessions continued, he would let go for a few seconds at a time, keeping his hand an inch or...

Issue Number 5: Benjamin Franklin’s Leadership Moment

When the American Constitution was being signed at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin remarked that he had often wondered whether the rays of the sun painted in the chair of the president of the convention signified a sunrise or sunset for the new country. According to James Madison, Franklin expressed his satisfaction that “now at length I have the happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting Sun.” Benjamin Franklin had a gift for seeing what others missed and for creating opportunities where others saw only obstacles. On one occasion Franklin used a leadership moment to turn an adversary into a lifelong friend. When he was seeking a second term as clerk in the Pennsylvania Legislature, he was opposed by a wealthy member who supported another candidate for the position. Franklin won the job, but knew he had created an adversary. Knowing the wealthy man took great pride in his library, Franklin wrote him a note asking to borrow a rare, valuable book. Although the man did not like Franklin, he was obliged by social convention to loan him the book. Franklin read it and returned it a week later with a note...

Issue Number 4: Bring the Leadership Vision Down to Earth

A vision statement can range from powerful to useless. In many organizations the latter is often the case. It is usually crafted by a committee whose members agonize over each word, spending hours honing and polishing until it fairly gleams. It is then printed in an obscure font on faux-old paper and hung in the lobby where visitors read it and employees ignore it. What a tragic waste of time, effort and wall space. When you create a vision for your organization, you need to make sure it actually motivates. Corporate vision statements rarely do. They are often too lofty and too far removed from our everyday work -- kind of like the moon. Imagine what your organization could accomplish when you create a vision that actually motivates people. Instead of just putting in their time, people would feel they are part of a team headed in the right direction toward a worthy goal. That sense of team, of belonging to a group engaged in a worthwhile pursuit, can be a powerful tool you can use to lift people higher and help them achieve more than they ever thought they could. Successful organizations have what I call a “motivating vision.”...

Issue Number 3: Leadership and the March of Time

The docents at Montpelier, Virginia, the home of President James Madison and his wife Dolly, share a fascinating story about Madison. One of the most brilliant men of his time, he is said to have read over 400 books in one year in preparation for designing our Constitution. Most of us have probably not read 400 books in our entire lives. Our world has changed in ways that go far beyond our reading habits. Although the fundamentals of leadership have remained the same for eons, the demands upon leaders have evolved. In my father’s generation, leaders were expected to give orders and workers were expected to obey them. It was a simple zero-sum world – you did what you were told to do or you were fired. In my generation, self-actualization on the job was thought to be an attainable goal. Work did not have to be drudgery; it could actually be fulfilling. Leaders were expected to take their workers’ views into consideration, in style if not in spirit. Today, people expect their jobs to be challenging, interesting and engaging. The leaders of successful organizations know this, and they know how to keep their employees challenged, interested, and engaged. They...

Issue Number 2: Leadership and the Peacock

I have some good news and some better news for all of you in positions of leadership. The good news is you set the example through everything you say and everything you do. The better news is there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot force people to change – they have to decide how they want to live their lives. Some want to be peacocks, always showing off in front of others. Some prefer staying in the background, content to be part of the team. By being your best self, however, you have the opportunity to demonstrate how you want people in the organization to behave and how you want to create a climate for success. Here is how it works. If you want others to keep their commitments, keep yours. If you want them to treat each other respectfully, treat them respectfully. If you want them to face challenges without whining, face your challenges without whining. If, on the other hand, you want them to run around with their hair on fire every time there is a problem, or complain they have too much work to do, or blame someone else for their mistakes … well,...

Issue Number 1: Lead One Person At a Time

You may want to treat everyone fairly, but fair does not always mean equal. Each person is an individual, and you are bound to fail if you treat them all the same way. One size does not fit all. One size fits one. That is why you need to lead one person at a time. In my experience, the best preparation for leading one person at a time is to get to know the people in your organization – their strengths, their weaknesses, their preferred methods of communication and how they make decisions. The better you know the people working with you, the more easily you can make the best use of their talents. I can almost hear you saying you do not have time to get to know other people. If you do not have enough time to get to know the people who will determine, in large measure, your success, you are not using your time wisely. How do you find the time to learn about others, especialIy if you have locked yourself into a task-focused way of leading? Don't waste your time trying to be all things to all people, flapping your leadership wings like our friend...

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