Yearly Archives: 2013

A Frank (Sinatra) Lesson for Leaders

 |  Leadership

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Today’s post is an updated repeat of an earlier post. I think it will become an annual tradition on this, the anniversary of the birth of Frank Sinatra (Dec 12, 1915).

I’m a huge fan of Frank Sinatra. I’ve been listening to his music for years. I love the songs. I love the voice. Most of all I love the attitude. Many years ago when I was sitting at a job I knew was taking me nowhere I dreamt up my transition, my steps into a new way of living life. I was listening to Sinatra, Live at The Sands. I remember reading about his now famous gatherings on stage in the wee small hours of the night with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis. They never called themselves “The Rat Pack.” They called themselves “The Summit” and their times together their “Summit meetings.”

As I reflect on those performances I see two important characteristics that are relevant 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.

We all have a “Summit,” a place where our high performance intersects with extraordinary personal fulfillment. We have a right and a responsibility to find that Summit, reach for it, get there and stay there. As leaders we want to be leading from our Summit and creating conditions for those around us to find and reach their own Summits in their work. If we or they aren’t living and working at the Summit, you can be sure that neither you or they are fully engaged. We owe it to ourselves and to those around us to find and reach our Summit. It might require some modest adjustments to the status quo. It might require radical change.

Whichever the case may be, we have to own our reality and go for it. As I’ve said in earlier posts. In all things we have to go to the edge, push farther, and repeat. What about you? Where is your “Summit?”

Happy Birthday, Frank! And thanks for the inspiration!

Nelson Mandela – A Lesson in Living and Leading

 |  Leadership

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I’m a little late in offering a reflection about Nelson Mandela. I have needed the time for there is much to reflect upon. Like Lincoln and Gandhi, Mandela is a man for all time. His life offers lessons in a number of domains. He was politically astute to be sure. The way he endured horrendous treatment and years of captivity are a case study in emotional self-management and resilience. The ease with which he set down his past and lead his people and his country through a tenuous transition to full democracy reveals to me a deep spirituality of non-attachment and love for others that is worthy of praise and emulation.

Because of these truths about Nelson Mandela, I want to reflect on his life more than his passing. To try to capture the totality of his life in a blog post would be arrogant and foolish. With your indulgence, I will try to express a couple thoughts that regular folks like you and me might try to emulate in our work as leaders. There are three things that Madiba (his clan name) did as a leader to which we would do well to pay attention.

He communicated with clarity of purpose. He had a vision – a dream if you will – for his people and his country. In the face of many who wanted retribution or revenge, he adhered to his vision and kept communicating over and over again the way forward that would mean real freedom for all the people of South Africa.

He created an atmosphere of inclusion.  He intentionally designed a way forward for South Africa that asked people to lay down their desires for revenge and retaliation and to take up the work of reconciliation. At the memorial service for Nelson Mandela held in South Africa today, President Obama remarked, ““It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailer as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.”

He encouraged people to be their best selves and not give in to hatred or fear. He was quick to smile and reach out his hand. By his presence and by his example, he challenged people to better themselves and engage the world to make it better. And like the prophets of old his challenge was balanced with a message of hope. He believed that external freedom is pointless if we cannot be free inside.

I was fortunate enough to see Nelson Mandela when he came to the US on a speaking tour in 1990 and then visit South Africa for work in the early 2000s. His words, like his life and accomplishments as leader of South Africa, were inspiring to me. His life will remain a lesson in living and leading for those who want.  In his remarks today, President Obama said that we would not see the likes of Nelson Mandela again. I hope that’s not the case. That would make Mr. Mandela quite sad. If we communicate with clarity, create an atmosphere of inclusion, and call our people to be their best (and give them what they need to do that) we are on the right path.

“Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika”

Leadership is Not All “Get er done.”

 |  Coaching, Leadership

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“Don’t just stand there! Do something!” We’ve all heard this or said this to someone at some time in our lives. It’s a sign of our need to “do.” We have a preference for action. As a species we are homo completus. We like to get stuff done, tick, the box. We are doers. This provides us a sense of accomplishment. As leaders this can be a double-edged sword. We need to get things done. We have to drive the business forward. And, leadership is not all “get er done.”

We need to pay as much attention to who we are as what we do. We could stand a bit more homo reflectus energy. We could all benefit from being a bit more reflective and intentional when it comes to how we are living and how we are leading. Imagine if instead of leading by default, we gave some thought each day to what it would look like for us to lead ‘by design.’

Everything, including our lives, produces what it is designed to. What have you designed this year? Is your design now a default? Does what used to work for you no longer ‘get er done.’?

As the year winds down I normally give the leaders I coach some questions to spark their reflection on the year past. This year there are only two.

What have you done this year that you are proud of?

What have you done this year that you’re not so proud of?

“Don’t just do something!  Stand (or sit) there.” And consider those questions for a while. I’ll check back soon with a couple more questions to get you thinking about next year, about leading (and living) ‘by design.’

People talk. About your leadership. All. The. Time.

 |  Coaching, Leadership

People talk. The perceptions that drive the conversations about you in your team and organization are a reflection of your brand identity with people. Your brand is your legacy, the story people tell about us when we aren’t around or when we’re gone. You’re not immune; we all leave a legacy, a reflection of our ‘unique leadership brand.’ We leave a legacy at the end of a meeting or conversation, at the end of a career within a team or organization, and at the end of our lives.

The primary question for leaders is whether our legacy will be by default or by design. It is a daily, almost minute-by-minute choice. If you can’t say what your legacy is right now, it’s happening by default. You might want to do something about that. Remember, people talk.

Executive Coaching: Don’t Be a Firefighter; Be an Explorer.

 |  Coaching, Leadership

Leaders at every level – from CEO to frontline people manager – show up to coaching with issues they want to discuss. Whether you’re a leader who coaches or an external executive coach, you always have two options. You can cover the items they bring. Or, you can help them to see under, inside, and around those issues to uncover the patterns they’ve created, helped to create, or consent to that contribute to the issues they bring arising over and over again.

In other words, you can use your time as a coach as a firefighter helping your client put out fires; or, you can use your time as an explorer helping your client to look for the patterns that make things work the way they work. Everything produces what it is designed to produce. Powerful executive coaching explores the design underlying the production of results. It’s also more impactful and much, much more fun.

Own Your Reality and Lead

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

Micah True, also known as Caballo Blanco was an ultra-runner made “famous” in Christopher McDougall’s best-selling book, “Born to Run”. When Micah took people running with him in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, before the run he’d have them put up their right hands and repeat this oath:

“If I get hurt, lost, or die, it’s my own damn fault. Amen”

I was reminded of this a couple weeks back as I toed the starting line for the Born to Run 50K. We all had to swear the oath just before the starting gun. I reflected on the oath for more than a few miles (I had the time). Micah’s oath is not just for trail runners. It’s for leaders.

We own our reality. Our experience is determined (most of the time) by our choices. This is true in life and it’s true at work. As leaders we do not get to play victim. We do not get to say, “If only…, then I could…” We have to know what result we want and what experience we want and make the choices that will create our desired experience and deliver our desired results. If we don’t have what we want, it’s our own damn fault. If my people aren’t engaged, I own that. If my people aren’t performing, I own that. If my relationships with my boss, my peers, or my employees are strained or stressed, I own that.

We have a choice. Every day. Embrace the question. What will you do to change your experience and get the results you want? You can’t change anyone else. If you change how you engage the moment you’re in and the people you’re engaged with, you begin to change your reality. If you don’t, well, at least you know whose fault it is.

3 Spring Cleaning Tips for Leaders

 |  Leadership

Spring is a time for renewal and rejuvenation. For many of us, it invites a ritual known as “spring cleaning.” To lead others effectively, we need to undertake some spring cleaning as well. Some of our spring cleaning focus is external; some of it is internal. Spring cleaning is a chance for us to address the external and internal factors impacting our ability to lead positive change. Here are three spring cleaning tips for leaders. The easiest one is first.

  1. Clean Your Space

    The first spring cleaning tip involves getting your space cleared out. If you’re like me, things can pile up. From time to time it’s necessary and quite helpful to reduce the clutter and create a clean space around me. This makes my office like a clean sheet of paper. A clean workspace is more conducive to concentration and creativity (at least for me). To help with the first tip, you may need to look at the second one.

  2. Clean Your Calendar

    Giving yourself some space is a great first step. Real spring cleaning involves getting rid of some things that are stealing your time. Every leader I’ve ever worked with spends between 25-50% of their time doing the work of someone 1-2 levels below them in the org chart. Stop it! Look at your calendar for the next two weeks. How many meetings are you attending that you’re not sure what the meeting is for or why you’re going? Look at your desk or your inbox. How many tasks are you working on that could be/should be on someone else’s plate?It’s time for a workload garage sale. This week, look to give a bunch of stuff away. Assign a proxy to handle at least 25% of the meetings you’ve got on your calendar. Delegate at least 25% of the tasks you’ve taken on. Give yourself the time to tackle the tasks that only you can accomplish. Give the other stuff to others. When you think you’ve delegated as much as you can, look for some more. If the thought of delegating makes you stressful, have a look at Tip #3.

  3. Clean Your Mind

    The pace we work at and the complexity we try to manage contribute to create stress. Unless we have a regular outlet, stress accumulates until it causes a breakdown. When that happens we act out. Some people explode at others. Some people implode. Neither is a good thing. As leaders we are called to positively impact others in order to get them to engage and perform at a high level. If we are stressed, our impact may have the opposite effect.

When we are stressed we are more easily emotionally hijacked. We get upset more easily. The cleaner or clearer our mind, the more quickly we can recover from a hijacked state. The third spring cleaning tip is to clean your mind. Building our capacity to recover quickly from an emotional hijacking means practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches our brains to notice the present moment without becoming reactive to it. Here’s how we develop mindfulness:

  • Find a quiet place (Close your door. Silence your phone.)
  • Set a timer for 30 minutes. (You may have to build to this. Start with 10, then 20, then 30.)
  • Sit comfortably in your chair with both feet on the floor.
  • Focus on your breathing. Don’t judge it. You’re just breathing.
  • Acknowledge whatever comes into your mind then let it go and refocus on your breathing.

If you think you don’t have time to do this, have another look at Tip #2. You’re wrong. You do have time. Find it. Make a commitment to yourself to practice this for 8 weeks. You’ll notice a difference. Cleaning your space and your calendar will help too. Spring cleaning is a chance to own your reality and lead by design. Happy cleaning!

6 Vital Skills for Strategic Thinking

 |  Change Leadership, Leadership

(NOTE: This post is an excerpt from a longer White Paper on Strategic Thinking. If you’d like a copy of the White Paper, private message me with your email. Cheers, Greg)

Lead Change

Leaders change things. At least we’re supposed to. We’re supposed to drive the business from A to B, move people from groups to teams, and develop ourselves from leading by default to leading by design. In a nutshell, our job as leaders is to recognize and overcome stasis when we must. We must encourage ec-stasis – transformation of the status quo so that the business and our team can achieve success. To lead change we need to be able to think strategically.

Static Thinking

The problem before us is that strategic thinking is not something that comes naturally to many or most of us. For most of us, our thinking tends to be focused on the near term. We think about the tasks before us today or those that need to be completed in a week, a month, or perhaps a quarter. There is also the reality that, without discipline our thinking and decision-making is reactive and influenced by our capacity (or lack thereof) for emotional self-management. Another factor in our inability to think strategically is the fact that as we age we lose our sense of curiosity. We become knowers instead of learners.

These tendencies, a short-term focus, reactivity, and a lack of curiosity combine to thwart our desire to think and act strategically. The implication is that we experience a gap between strategic thinking and strategic doing (intelligent action) and we develop a pattern of thinking and doing that is counterproductive to driving successful change. We race from A to B downloading old solutions onto current situations. We develop the “ready, fire, aim” mindset and our thinking and doing become more and more operational or tactical as we do what is most expedient in the near term and soothes the heightened emotional state we are in due to our reactivity. A serious consequence of this pattern is that we become static, fixed in time and space. The longer this pattern goes on the wider the gap between strategic thinking (when it occurs) and strategic action can become. So if it is not natural for us, how do we develop our capacity to think and act more strategically?

Strategic Thinking

Strategic thinking requires a shift in mind set, development of a strategic thinking skill set, and for many of us (at least for a time), utilization of a strategic thinking and doing tool set. When we decide to think and act strategically we are choosing to transform the status quo, to intentionally disrupt the system – we are encouraging ec-stasis.

Transformative leaders who excel at strategic thinking do six things well:

  1. Be Present. Respond rather than react. Develop the emotional intelligence to give yourself time to engage in critical thinking.
  2. Be Observant. See trends and indentify opportunities to work across boundaries to create value. Look for industry and business information that could change the game. Look to expand your network to see farther and wider than you could on your own.
  3. Be Creative. Reframe situations and problems. Look to discover the problems under the problems. Look for the patterns under events.
  4. Be Innovative. Encourage a learner mindset. Question assumptions. Consider multiple scenarios and invite multiple perspectives when exploring possible courses of action.
  5. Be Strategic. Set goals. Align people around clearly defined, achievable actions that disrupt the status quo.
  6. Be Purposeful. Develop plans. Have a preference for action. Decide. Plan. Execute.

The feedback from leaders who work to develop this mindset and skill set has been consistent. Focusing on developing these skills helps leaders grow their capacity for self-management; they become more proactive and less reactive. They become more intentionally curious. They begin to lead in a way that positively disrupts the status quo and creates the possibility for ec-stasis.

Leading change is not easy. If we are going to lead change successfully, we have to begin thinking strategically. To think strategically will require us to change ourselves. Change begins when we decide to develop ourselves. Change occurs when we discipline ourselves to practice a new mindset and skill set every day. The first step to more strategic thinking and doing is to become strategic regarding our own development as leaders. Once on the path, it becomes a matter of daily review and revision. In this regard our strategy for our own development is the same as our strategy for our business and our people; it’s dynamic and evolving.