Monthly Archives: May 2012

For Memorial Day

 |  Thinking Out Loud


Some of my most enduring memories from childhood revolve around Memorial Day. Part of this has to do with the fact that it marks the start of summer; and summer was a joyous and carefree time. More so, I remember how we marked Memorial Day when I was young.

Every year our town held a Memorial Day Parade. There were veterans from both world wars (I’m that old.), and Korea and active duty military as well. There were floats and cars with local dignitaries and the marching band from the high school, and so on. And one of the big reasons I remember the parade so well is that every cub scout and girl scout troop in town marched as well. There we were in our little scout uniforms, marching down Broad Street stopping every now and then for a salute and a moment of silence.

It was exciting. And, it was a lesson. We were being taught that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are part of a story that is ongoing and includes tales of duty, honor, and sacrifice. We are reminded that as we head off to the picnic and play in the pool or at the beach, that we do so because others who heard and lived our story, stepped up when the call came and gave themselves over to protect an idea, a way of life that celebrates that we are free and bound together at the same time.

So, fly the flag. Take a moment. Re-member.

Leadership is Inconvenient. Deal With It.

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

I recently had to deliver some very difficult feedback to someone. The gap between the person’s intention and the reality of how their behavior was impacting the goals of the enterprise and the people around him was enormous. After a conversation with key stakeholders, it fell on me to deliver the feedback. Have I mentioned before that leadership is inconvenient?

We all shy away from giving feedback, especially hard feedback. It triggers our threat response. It might go badly. The person might get upset. The person might want to give us some feedback. And so on. Feedback feels like a confrontation. The intense emotional triggers we experience around delivering hard feedback lead us to delay it, do it badly, or avoid it all together. We create elaborate ways to work around the person, the situation, the problem in order to save ourselves from having to give tough feedback. In the end, we have to take a deep breath and just do it. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

When I was early in my training as a psychologist, I worried about saying something to a patient that might make things worse. I told this to my mentor. He told me something that helped me a great deal. He said, “Greg, most people who come to see a therapist are in a pretty bad place. You can’t make it much worse than it probably is. What’s the worst that can happen?” That advice freed me to engage my patients in a more impactful way.

That advice is also true when we are debating if, how, and when to give someone feedback. Since most of us wait (too long) to give feedback, the situation has probably reached the point where your feedback isn’t going to make it worse. If we think about the possible reactions to our feedback and have an idea of how we’d handle each reaction, we are freed up to have the conversation. In most situations, the person is open to the feedback and will work with you to make a change. Sometimes, they aren’t open or can’t change. Either way, you have to trust you’ll know what to do.

Leadership has to build a feedback loop into the process if we are going to be successful. If we don’t give people feedback in a timely manner, we forfeit the right to say that they are “a problem.” They’ve actually become a symptom of a problem. The fact that you’re avoiding giving them feedback is the problem! Have I mentioned before that leadership is inconvenient?

Step Up to Your Summit!

 |  Leadership

Today is the anniversary of the passing of Frank Sinatra. Full disclosure, I’m a huge fan. I’ve been listening to his music for years. I love the songs. I love the voice. Most of all I love the attitude. In the early 60s Frank had an idea to make a film in Las Vegas so he and his friends could hang out and “play” when not shooting. Those performances at The Sands Hotel by Frank, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, and Joey Bishop were billed as “The Summit.” In fact, they never called themselves “The Rat Pack.” They called themselves “The Summit” and their times together, including those on stage at The Sands, their “summit meetings.”

Remembering those performances I see two important lessons for all of us. One, these men were extremely good at what they were doing. Their level of performance was high. Second, they appeared to gain extraordinary fulfillment from what they were doing. I think the audience was just lucky to be in the room, but they weren’t very necessary to the proceedings.

The message today is simple. We all have a “summit,” a place where high fulfillment and high performance intersect. The trick is to find where that is and get there. Anything less is a waste of raw material. They say that if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. I don’t know about that; even doing what we love requires some work. But if we love what we do, we are willing to dig in and work hard because the experience and the result are both incredibly satisfying.

So today, make yourself a drink, toast Frank and yourself, and step up to your summit! You owe to yourself and to the rest of us. What are you waiting for? As Frank sang, “The best is yet to come!”

Lead By Design

 |  Leadership

At a recent workshop, I listened as the facilitator was talking about the need for us to slow down and breathe in order to think and act with greater awareness. The problem was that he was speaking very rapidly and moving very quickly around the room. His behavior was contradicting his words, which negated the power of the message and diminished the potential impact.

At another meeting I listened as someone made an impassioned plea for the need for greater civility and a sense of connectedness in the workplace. At the break, I listened as she proceeded to tell a story in which she totally threw another individual (not present at the meeting) under the bus, perhaps damaging that person’s relationships with those listening to the story. Again, the contradiction between the nice words spoken earlier in the meeting and the behavior on the break, detracted from an important message and may have damaged her own brand more than the person about whom she was talking.

In both of these cases, the message was weakened by contradictory behavior caused by, I think, a lack of self-awareness. It’s a lack of self-awareness that weakens our impact as leaders. We may have a great vision and strategy, a great plan, or a great message; but, our lack of self-awareness will ensure we will find a way to unconsciously sabotage ourselves time and again. Until we engage in self-reflection that leads to a deeper awareness of who we are and what impact we want to have, we are risking that our bad habits and counterproductive words and actions will lead to unintended consequences.

And that is the key point. Our leadership must be intentional. Every decision. Every conversation. We need to be intentional in all our interactions; for everything we say and do as leaders is watched, listened to, and has an impact. That impact will either be by design or by default. To ensure we have the impact we want, we need to lead by design.