Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Memorial Day Lesson

 |  Leadership

As we celebrate Memorial Day here in the US, I want to thank my dad for inspiring today’s post and for informing the message I’ve tried to pass on to my children and to the young people and business leaders I’ve worked with over the years.

Fiercely patriotic, I think my father always regretted that he missed World War II by a year. He joined the Marines right after high school in 1946 and spent two years on an aircraft carrier peacekeeping in the Mediterranean. This was an experience that shaped who he was. “Once a Marine, always a Marine,” was an oft-repeated phrase in our house. This was more than a saying; it was a way of life. To my father it was a way of life that he modeled for us that included lessons on responsibility and service.

“Do the right thing” was a consistent message from my father. We learned – sometimes the hard way – right from wrong. He made sure of it. It took a while to sink in but eventually it became clear to me that when we do the right thing, we act in service. It’s the only possibility. Responsibility and service go hand in hand. When we serve others we are being responsible and vice versa.

Whether you’re a parent, a business leader, or both, I think that embracing this lesson from my dad and making it your own will serve you well. We need more responsible people in our organizations, our schools, and our communities. Responsible people do the right thing even when no one is looking. Obedient people do so only with an external authority figure watching them. It is much better to teach responsibility than to expect obedience. The obedient follow; the responsible lead.

Thanks, Dad. And thanks to the many responsible men and women who served their country in uniform and made the ultimate sacrifice. We will try to be worthy of your service and sacrifice.

I’ll be on holiday next week. See you in two.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

If you have kids then you know that they have this need for instant gratification. They want something. They want their way. They want it now. In our house we would respond to the tantrum, the rant, the whine, the pleading by saying, “You know what Mick Jagger says. You can’t always get what you want.”

In life and at work, we get into a rhythm and we want things to go the way we want. Guess what? Mick’s lesson applies to us as well. As we plan for the future and as we imagine our career we don’t always get what we want. In an environment typified by constant change and ever-increasing complexity this becomes truer every day.

Being too old or self-conscious to throw a tantrum, rant, whine, or plead to the universe, what are we to do? How can we respond to the curves that get thrown our way? It’s not so simple as “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” And, it’s not so difficult as quantum mechanics either.

We need a way to deal with change that keeps us from firing before we aim and making a challenging situation even worse. Here’s how to AIM:

Step Zero. Breathe. You’d be surprised how beneficial two to five minutes of focused breathing can be in calming our minds. Self-soothing is something we teach our kids to do and is a foundation of emotional intelligence: self-regulation.

Step One. Attend. Be present. Pay attention to the world around you. What opportunities can you exploit today? What risks are right in front of you and need to be avoided?

Step Two. Imagine. Get creative. Don’t jump from reactivity to action. Consider all the possibilities in front of you. What are the ways you might exploit the opportunities you see? What are the ways you might avoid the risks in your path? What are the implications for each option you see?

Step Three. Move. Don’t take too long to get calm, focused, and clear about what needs to happen. Develop a plan of attack and go after it.

After all, while you can’t always get what you want, you just might find, that when you breathe, and AIM, you get what you need.

Don’t Empower. Lead.

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

In our work we hear the word ‘empowerment’ a lot. I have to confess I’m not a big fan of this word. It is over-used and perpetuates a hierarchical, “I have power and if you’re good I’ll share some with you” view of leadership. In a business environment typified by constant and fast-paced change, we need to empower less and lead more. We need leadership that creates the conditions in which people will engage and maximize their contribution – willingly.

How do we do this? We knock down barriers for people. We listen when they come to us with their challenges. We attend to the reality they present and diagnose the situation with them. We determine with them whose responsibility it is to take on the challenge and resolve the situation. If we need to take it on, we do. If the responsibility lay with them, we give them the tools they will need either through coaching or instruction. Through this we create the conditions for success – theirs, the team’s and the organization’s.

When we empower our people we remind them that we have the power. When we lead people we remind them that they have the power. Leadership is an invitation to others to step into their own leadership. It is more about “en-courage-ment” than em-power-ment. I’ll bet that as the pace of change quickens and things become more complex, our organizations would benefit from a few more courageous leaders who face change and lead through it. What do you think?

Change Leadership

I had an exchange with a leader a while back in which he stated, “I can’t wait until things get back to normal around here.” I asked him what he meant. He said, “Well, once we get done with all this ‘change stuff’ and get back to our jobs.” If there was ever a coaching moment, this was it! I asked him to consider that what he was experiencing was, in fact, the “new normal.” He didn’t like that. Then I asked him to consider what he and his colleagues would need to do or stop doing if this was in fact their new normal. He didn’t like that either. Then I asked him to evaluate whether they (himself included) could make the personal and collective shifts necessary to lead in this new normal. A look of intense worry came over his face. “We clearly have some work to do,” he said.

It is settled law that the “Status Quo” is dead. In the 21st century business environment, change is like the weather; it just is. And the other shoe is that the pace of change is increasing. The next ten years will make the last 50 look like we’ve been standing still.

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. However, I would like to pose a question: What is the implication of this reality on how we lead and conduct business in the 21st century? I believe successful change is vitally dependent upon strong leadership. Strong leadership doesn’t wait for a crisis to require change. Strong leadership creates a resilient organization with a foundation and capacity to handle any contingency that arises. This will require us to think about both change and leadership differently.

How will we build organizations that are resilient, that not only tolerate change, but thrive in it? How will we build organizations with strong and shared leadership that leads through change without missing a step? A change mindset and strong leadership skill set will be the key differentiators for organizational success in the years ahead. We clearly have some work to do.