Leading In The Real World

Leading, when things are going well can be a great joy.  Those times when you have great stories of success to share with your colleagues and when in general, the plan comes together;  it is a very satisfying and rewarding time.   You,  your team, and your plans are validated!

When things aren’t going so well, when the stories are a bit tougher to tell, when your plans didn’t work, the feeling is anything but joyful – it can be gut wrenching.  The truth is, it’s just no fun to be the leader at those moments.

But being a leader isn’t just about celebrating the good times.   Who wouldn’t want to be in a leadership position if all you did was celebrate the good news and delegate the bad news.

In his exceptional book, “Good to Great,” Jim Collins writes, “Leadership is equally about creating a climate where the truth is heard and the brutal facts confronted.”  Facing the brutal facts is often times extremely painful because they may lead to painful decisions.  Making painful decisions requires fortitude (to put it nicely).   And it requires that you demonstrate that your leadership is more than words, it is decisive action.

Facts, brutal or otherwise, are just that – facts.  It’s not about blame and it’s certainly not about excuses.

When you hit that rough patch, don’t linger on the bad news; confront the reality, make course corrections and move forward…confidently.

Be an idiot – it’s the only way to succeed

I had the great pleasure to hear Carla Bailo, Senior Vice President of Research and Development, Nissan Americas, speak recently.

Listening to her reminded me that great leaders, regardless of whom they may be leading, have some common attributes.   In particular, I’ve noticed that great leaders make a point of learning from everyone they encounter.  They ask a lot of questions…and really listen…learn…and…apply.

In discussing her five year stint in Japan, Ms. Bailo said when you are in such a new environment; it’s your opportunity to “be an idiot.”  You aren’t expected to know anything, so you can safely ask a lot of questions.  In essence a license to be an idiot.

Ms. Bailo is anything but… In fact, as she provided some of the rules by which she lives, in the recent presentation, her wisdom was evident.   Here is my best attempt to recreate a few of them based on my chicken scratch notes.

Optimism finds a solution, negative is useless

Debate leads to the best decision

Promise and deliver – without fail

Fear and resistance are to be overcome

Failure breads success

Challenge the accepted way

Never forget to have fun

Don’t take everything personally, avoid getting a chip on your shoulder

Don’t regret mistakes, fix them

Treat others as you would want to be treated

Be open to criticism and be willing to change and improve

Listen. Listen. Listen.

It’s easy to see why Ms. Bailo is in the position she is – she is a humble, lifelong learner.   I hope to learn and apply some of her wisdom in my life.  Indeed, we should all feel empowered to be an idiot; it’s the only way to avoid really being one.

Blinded by the light

Dr. Orin Gelderloos would remind us (students) in his field biology course to keep the sun to our back when identifying birds in the field.  Looking toward the sun would distort the image and lead us to an improper conclusion.

Facing the sun in business or in life may result in a distorted image as well.

  • Get blinded by your most recent win, and you might start to believe your own hype.
  • Get blinded by the most recent defeat, and you might just believe that you are a failure.

Balance, perspective, and don’t take yourself too seriously.

Ideas and Outcomes

Do you have an idea?  Do you want to make the most of that idea?

Divorce yourself from the “idea” and instead attach yourself to the outcome.  Ideas can be jealously guarded, sometimes to the detriment of the outcome.

But when you are focused on the outcome, your idea becomes malleable…in fact, it should be so malleable that when you are done beating it about with trusted colleagues, it doesn’t even resemble the original idea.

When you really focus on the outcome (whatever that outcome is) you won’t give a tinker’s damn about protecting “your idea,” because your idea becomes far too large for just you.

Take those moments of inspiration, set aside your ego, and see if you don’t come up with something truly remarkable!

Quit

Tired of trying?  Tired of digging deeper…yet again?

Have no more tenacity of purpose, no more sticktoitiveness, no more “one more tries” left in you?

Can’t even consider another class, one more counseling session, one more revised business plan?

The answer is easy – quit.

That’s right, quit.  No more disappointments, no more frustrations, no more trying to find the right formula, the right words, the just-right solution.

Total surrender to the inevitable; mind, body, and spirit.

There is a reason we struggle with quitting and why it doesn’t settle well with us – it may be that “still small voice” reminding us we are not designed for quitting.   It goes against our very nature.

As difficult as “it,” whatever it may be, is…quitting isn’t the answer.  Quitting can be damaging and even damning to our soul.  As Douglas MacArthur said, “Age wrinkles the body.  Quitting wrinkles the soul.”

One more try…till we take our last breath.

 

 

Your New Year Blueprint

Where did the year go?  It is the same sentiment every late December; twelve months have passed and we are left to wonder, did I do all that I should have or could have this past year?

As we consider the new year, and before we start with grandiose dreaming, perhaps a better starting point is to take an inventory of what matters most to us.

For me, faith and family are the most important things in my life.  So if I am considering new career or other personal goals, I should consider these goals through the lens of my primary values.  Sacrificing my faith or my relationship with my wife or that of my adult children to achieve a personal goal, is not a goal worth considering.

By all means, dream big, try something new, and paint the palette of the new year with with outrageous plans.  But do so honoring your values, and I believe you will have a year without regrets.

Choosing Wisely

We have a choice, I think.

Either the events that unfold in our life can teach us, change us, shape us, and make us better than we are…

Or we can (wrongly) assume that we have already arrived at perfection and it’s everyone else that needs to change.

One leads to frustration and regret, the other leads to growth and a life more fulfilled.

Character

Who would have thought this kind of exceptional character from an attorney, a physician, a business owner, a salesman…

Long before we assumed our various titles…

The respectful attorney, was a respectful spouse.

The caring physician, was a caring daughter.

The honest business owner, was an honest employee.

The ethical salesman, was an ethical student.

Our titles don’t create our character, they just amplify it.

Going Deep Can Be Game Changers

I think it was Andy Stanley who advised us to go deep rather than wide. In Stanley’s context he was referring to leadership – put your energy in one area or one individual and really focus on this to make a significant impact.  The opposite, or going wide, is trying to do a little with everyone and everything and the impact isn’t likely to be nearly as profound.

Put another way; focus on everything and you focus on nothing.

I was reminded of this (deep rather than wide idea) when my son shared with me the news that the non-profit where he works (Grace Centers of Hope (GCH)) was informed that they won a contest sponsored by Crain’s Detroit. This contest was for Best-Managed Nonprofit focused on the successful deployment of technology.

I’ll avoid the temptation of telling you how proud I am of my son (well, apparently not completely), whose efforts were integral in developing the technology at GCH that allowed them to win.  But here are a couple of thoughts I had after I heard about the award.

Thought One:  My son put in countless hours working on this – he was focused, hyper focused on this endeavor.   Could he go this “deep” on everything? Nope, that’s impossible.  In fact, much of our time in our jobs is spent going wide.  But the “game changers” are made when we can go deep on an issue…and the truth is the windows of time to go deep are likely limited.  A customer issue that needs to be addressed now, an employee that needs immediate attention, a  rapid change in the market – they don’t wait, you either recognize them and (deeply) address them or you let the opportunity slip away.

Thought Two:  If you are in management – create an atmosphere where new ideas readily incubate and can be discussed without fear of the heavy and judgmental hand of management (i.e., this is no time to be a boss).  Allow employees the latitude to take their skills and passions and go deep when they recognize that window of opportunity is open.  When your employees are free to follow through on their ideas; they benefit, the organization benefits, and the customers benefit.

Congratulations to Grace Centers of Hope and may you continue to foster new ideas as you carry out your mission.

Five years ago I wish I would have…

Most of us have a few regrets in our life, things we wished we would have done.  Sometimes they are big regrets or events that we passed on (usually for lame reasons).  But many times it’s the little regrets that pile up that lead to a life unexamined.

There are some classes at the local university that look interesting.

Maybe next semester…next semester never comes and you miss an experience that could have changed your career and your path in life.

How would you like to meet a new group of people at this event?

No, I have to get up early…lifelong friendships are never forged.

Join us for worship?

No, I’m just too tired…self-pity, rather than soul searching, begins to define your life.

I would like you to meet someone!

I’m pretty introverted and quiet…and a relationship that could have been…never is.

Consider those seemingly small decisions, those “no thanks, not this time” in the context of tomorrow.   What will you be glad you didn’t pass up in November 2012?

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller