Zebras and Wildebeests

Zebra and wildebeest migration Masai Mara, Sep...Image via Wikipedia

Ah, to be on a dream team! It's what we all dream about, huh? A bunch of people each skilled in his or her own specialty areas, pulling together, accomplishing way more than the added total of each working separately. Companies talk teams all the time, but very few provide the environment for teams to survive, much less thrive. They reward individual performance and undermine the very concept of unity and shared vision.

Unity of purpose is the very backbone of a high performing team. We sometimes think of unity as "sameness." It's actually just the opposite; it's about diversity. And that's where the strength...the backbone...comes in. Ralph W. Sockman, in "The Treasure Chest," said, "There are  parts of a ship, which, taken by themselves, would sink. The engine would sink. The propeller would sink. But when the parts of a ship are built together, they float."

What about you and your team?

  • Do you value and leverage the strengths of your individual team members? Or do you resent that not everyone is as creative? Or as detail oriented?
  • Do members of your team set aside their own interests for the good of the whole? Or are you a group of individual contributors, each vying for the recognition and visibility that belongs to the team?
  • Do you all find joy in each other's successes? Or do you forget sometimes that nobody can achieve the team goal unless everyone achieves the team goal?

While dream teams have all of the talent they need to accomplish a task, not any one member has all of the talent. High performing teams learn how to take advantage of each person's stengths and avoid unreasonable exposure to each person's weaknesses. Members of a dream team talk openly about their strengths and weaknesses. A weakness is not considered bad. The team just adjusts to it and moves on.

In Kenya, both zebras and wildebeests migrate from Masai Mara to Serengeti. Now here's the interesting part. The two massive herds travel together because the zebras have good eyesight, but a poor sense of smell. The wildebeests have bad eyesight, but a good sense of smell. By traveling together, both herds are less vulnerable to predators. Like high performing teams, they're more likely to survive AND thrive.

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Sitting in the Catbird Seat

WLA nyhistorical Cat and bird squeaky toy late...Image via Wikipedia

In his inaugural address, Gov. Terry Branstad told us that Iowa is at the "catbird seat of history." On Jan. 23, on Meet the Press, CNBC's Erin Burnett referred to some political figures "sitting in the catbird seat." It's obviously the place to be. What's that phrase mean for you as a leader? What does sitting in the catbird seat look like for you?

Catbirds, along with their cousins -- the mockingbirds -- are known as the mimic thrushes. The catbird is named for its ability to mimic the sound of a cat's meow. And here's where the "sitting" part comes in. They seek out the highest perches in trees to sing and show off. They're "sitting pretty," as the American phrase goes.

To mimic the sound of one of your most common enemies...that's pretty bold! Like asking for trouble. At the same time, the catbird is smart about where and how it's bold. It will stand alone, take a stand, be bold. But it's strategic in where and how it spreads its message.  

How does this relate to your role as a leader? Where and when do you need to be more bold? Maybe it would almost feel like being reckless in some way. And where and how can you do that in such a way that you're "sitting pretty?" You have the advantage; others can't help but hear what you're sharing. Your positioning is impeccable.

The first mention of Govenor Branstad's phrase showed up in James Thurber's 55 Short Stories from New Yorker, in November 1942:

"She must be a Dodger fan. Red Barber announces the Dodger games over the radio and he uses those expressions...'sitting in the catbird seat' means sitting pretty, like a batter with three balls and no strikes on him." That's the kind of balance we're all looking for, regardless of whom we're leading!

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Cast Down Your Bucket

A metal bucket. Image taken on 2007-04-12 in L...Image via Wikipedia

When someone recommends a new approach, or comes up with an idea that seems really far out, what do you do? Most leaders drop that idea onto the "sieve" in their brains that analyzes new data and a couple of things can happen.

  1. The idea might fall right on through because it doesn't line up with perspectives and philosophies that have formed their "screen" over the years. It doesn't catch. It's dismissed out of hand. 
  2. Sometimes though, because the idea is so unusual in contrast to what's already seen as ok, do-able, or right, it's grabbed up. It's weighed rather than tossed.

The story is told of Booker T. Washington's 1895 Cotton States Exposition address, where one of his illustrations alluded to this need for intentionally weighing an idea that at first blush might seem outlandish.

"A ship lost at sea for many days suddenly sighted a friendly vessel. From the mast of the unfortunate vessel was seen a signal, 'Water, water; we die of thirst!' The answer from the friendly vessel at once came back, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' A second time the signal, 'Water, water; send us water!' ran up the distressed vessel, and was answered, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' And a third and fourth signal for water were answered, 'Cast down your bucket where you are.' The captain of the distressed vessel, at last heeding the injunction, cast down his bucket, and it came up full of fresh, sparkling water from the mouth of the Amazon River."

It's especially hardest when we're stressed and our options seem limited to be open to new ways of seeing things. It's easier to let what might be a perfect solution fall through the cracks because it doesn't align with our hardwired options.

When was the last time you caught yourself grabbing hold of a new idea that you first wanted to dismiss? Did it end up becoming your new norm?

P.B. Medawar said, "The human mind treats a new idea the way the body treats a strange protein; it rejects it." Grab ideas and at least weigh them before tossing them aside. "Cast down your bucket where you are."

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Give Me Five!

Fingers of the left hand.Image via Wikipedia

Americans are sick of partisan politics. Since the November elections, "compromise" is the word of the day.

Not everyone is willing to reason together of course, not if it means giving in on anything they feel strongly about. In fact, it is like some people would rather see nothing happen -- see progress stall -- than reach across the aisle, find common ground and collaborate on a decision. The fact that there's even an aisle at all is problematic!

It is not just politicians. We've all seen results suffer in organizations because leaders didn't know how -- or didn't want to -- dialogue, and then, when necessary, reach consensus.

I was talking with an IT executive the other day and he was telling me about a team-based decision making tool their "scrum" teams use. (Scrum teams. Now there's another intriguing concept. But I digress...) The decision making technique is called Fist-to-Five and it comes in really handy when there is not total agreement on how to move forward with a project. Those times when it's important to canvass all team members' opinions in order to refine the decision and ensure buy-in on everyone's part. When it's not ok to say nothing and then complain later.

Here's how it works: When there's disagreement -- perhaps partisanship -- about a decision within a project team, a cross functional team, a leadership group, a staff committee, even a family, you let people vote using their hands and display fingers to represent their degree of support.

  • Fist: a no vote -- "I need to talk more about this and would require some changes before I could agree."
  • 1 Finger: "I still need to discuss certain issues and suggest some changes."
  • 2 Fingers: "I'm pretty comfortable but want to talk about some minor issues."
  • 3 Fingers: "I'm not in total agreement but feel comfortable enough to go with this decision."
  • 4 Fingers: "I think it's a good idea/decision and will work for it."
  • 5 Fingers: "It's a great idea and I will be one of the leaders in implementing it."

A team is ready to move forward with a decision once they've addressed the concerns of anyone displaying fewer than three fingers.

"Moving forward, making progress." Like "compromise", our hope for tomorrow.

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Leading in a VUCA World

A Radiant FutureImage by Gilderic via Flickr

We've come to expect a business environment -- a world in fact -- that is constantly changing. We get that.

Well, hold on. Because change is just the tip of the iceberg, at least according to futurists such as Dr. Bob Johansen, author of Leaders Make the Future: Ten New Leadership Skills for an Uncertain World. Remember when a generation was considered to be 25 years? Now it's six years.

The difference today between a 13-year old and a 19-year old is significant: a whole new "generation." That's rapid change!

Futurists like Johansen have begun to describe our world as a VUCA world. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. The term started in the late 1990's in the military and is now used everywhere.

Leaders in this kind of environment have to be at their best on a personal level, self-aware, optimistic, focused amidst distractions, cool, calm and collected under pressure. We used to talk about seizing opportunities. Those windows of opportunity open and close very quickly in a VUCA world and leaders have to be "in the zone" to seize them.

A VUCA world sounds frightening and threatening. But the positive flip side of VUCA is vision, understanding, clarity and agility. Effective leaders in a VUCA world train their brains to:

  • "See the play before it happens." That's vision.
  • Understand themselves first and then others, building empathy.
  • Sense a situation clearly and simply by paying attention to how they pay attention.
  • Be prepared to take action based on alternative realities and unprecedented challenges.

One of the biggest take-aways for me as I think about operating and leading in a VUCA world is the difference between dilemmas and problems. We love to problem solve. However, many problems today are on a gigantic or global scale and are unsolvable. They're dilemmas and can be improved, but not solved. If a situation is a dilemma and we try to frame it as a problem to solve, we're in trouble.

Are you facing any dilemmas in your VUCA world that you've been trying to problem-solve? How's that working for you?

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When "Nice" Isn't Nice

smileImage via Wikipedia

"But he's such a nice guy."

I know you've heard someone say that recently about someone they work with. You've undoubtedly said it too.

What preceded that "But...?" I bet it was something about that person's passive aggressive behavior. Our culture is full of this kind of behavior -- in both our personal and professional lives.

Imagine it. Ed promised that he'd be on time for your team's weekly meeting, even though he's been late the last three meetings for various reasons. You guessed it! Ed showed up fifteen minutes late. Again.

Rather than being apologetic, he explains to the team that he "couldn't help it" because Billy had the flu and had to be dropped off at a different daycare. He lamented, "I'm sorry but hey, the kid is only 4. I couldn't just leave him at home."

The team is disappointed and ticked. You can tell by their body language and you can read it on their faces. Does anyone say anything however? No. After all, a 4-year-old can't be left home alone. You can't argue with that. And Ed is "such a nice guy."

Bingo. An example of classic passive-aggressive behavior. Things (...like meeting ground rules) are sabotaged by the passive-aggressive and it is somehow never his or her fault. They express their true, negative feelings, but in a passive, indirect -- and often hurtful -- way.

A really good passive-aggressive is very "slippery," according to Dr. Tony Fiore. They're slippery with excuses, justifications or alternative reasons for why things go awry. At first glance, they may appear to be caring and considerate, but their actions may turn out otherwise.

Sometimes the behavior isn't overt. Instead it shows up in their words. Sarcasm is often a tool of a passive-aggressive person.

Recognize these?

  • Talking behind the back of a co-worker instead of talking directly to them about concerns.
  • Using labels like on the surface appear playful, but they carry an edge. There's a subtle hidden message in the name calling...and everyone knows it.
  • Exaggerating and whining about someone's faults, but acting nice to their face.

One thing that makes dealing with passive-aggressives so tough is that you're often left wondering, "Is Ellen really devious and underhanded? Or is just my imagination? Is it me, and not Ellen?"

What can you do if you have a passive-aggressive on your team? Two tips:

  • Look for patterns of behavior. Being late for one meeting isn't passive aggression. Being late for four in a row and none were her fault...hmmm.
  • Deal with it directly and respectfully. Explain what you've observed, what you're starting to think, and ask for their reaction.

"Nice" isn't nice if it drives honesty and the truth underground and keeps healthy dialogue from happening. Think twice before using the label "nice" about someone. Make sure "nice" means nice.

Shut Up and Listen

Various ear piercingsImage via Wikipedia

Listening means you've got to stop talking.

It never ceases to amaze me how few leaders really listen. I mean really listen. I had lunch with a guy the other day who's been in a leadership role -- a CEO -- for over a decade now. If he consumes as much of the air time with his employees as he did with me over a sixty-minute lunch -- and I bet he does! -- his organization can't be performing at its best.

Robert Sutton, a professor in Stanford's department of managment science and engineering, wrote "The No Asshole Rule" back in 2007. He's followed that up with Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to be the Best...and Learn from the Rest. In an interview in INC. magazine in October, Sutton was asked about the right balance between talking and listening.

He said, "On one hand, there is the blabbermouth theory of leadership. In Western cultures, the person who talks the most is viewed as having the highest status...But most bosses ought to shut up and listen more."

Do you have a listening problem? Sure, you know about paraphrasing, not interrupting, listening for underlying meaning. But do you do them? Or, like most of us, are you a selective listener? You listen intently to some, neutrally to others and not at all to yet others. Now think:

  • Who do you listen to? Who don't you listen to?
  • What factors determine the difference?
    • Smarts?
    • Age?
    • Gender?
    • Level?
    • Like you/not like you?

I challenge you to challenge yourself to practice listening to those you don't usually listen to. Listen for content. Separate the content from the person. Work hard to see and hear, and thus acknowledge the other person's humanity and their need to be heard.

Remember, listening doesn't mean you accept what's been said or even that you accept who said it. It just means that you've stopped talking and you're listening.

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Know What You Don't Know

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"Fifty-one percent of being smart is knowing what you are dumb about."

Ann Landers said that last century. Socrates said something similar many centuries ago: "First, know thyself."

Studies show a strong correlation between knowing yourself -- self-knowledge -- and success in life and work.

  • The best indicator of a high performance appraisal is being able to see yourself as others see you.
  • The best indicator of a low one is overrating your skills.

Know yourself. Know what:

  • You're good at.
  • You're average and bad at.
  • You're untested in.
  • You overdo or overuse.

If you know these things, you can compensate for them. Hire someone. Outsource the work. Delegate it. Ask for help. Don't know these things about yourself? That's a blind spot. And a blind spot is about the worst thing you can have. You'll venture into areas that should make you cautious and humble, and instead you could go in overly confident.

Disaster could loom.

Learning what you don't know about how others see you is one of the most important steps you can take in your career, regardless of your age or position. What can you do?

  1. Ask for feedback on an ongoing basis from a number of sources. Rely on feedback obtained from a confidential source, like an electronic 360-degree survey of peers, direct reports and bosses.
  2. Focus on competency results by comparing you relative to you, not you to everyone else. Your goal is to know yourself better. Ask: What surprises me in this feedback? Why might people say this about me? What experiences shaped my pattern of scores? What do I need to do differently?
  3. Work with a development partner who can objectively help you interpret your feedback and uncover your blind spots. Debrief efforts you make to behave differently in those areas where you discovered blind spots.

Knowing ourselves better is a lifelong process. I recently heard the story of two executives talking about a personality test they had just completed. It was one of those 30-item surveys that puts you in a box. "I'm red," explained the first executive. "What color are you?" Without missing a beat, the second executive replied, "I'm plaid."

Well, if you're plaid, what's important is knowing you're plaid!

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It's About the Passion

Heart CandleImage by Bob.Fornal via Flickr

Reggie Leach said, "Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fire." We can relate to finding the passion for ourselves to be successful. But what about finding that passion within others, especially those we hire to help us make our team or organization success?

When interviewing, I'd rather find someone who's passionate -- on fire -- than someone with a lot of experience in numerous industries with all of the right initials behind their name. Give me individuals who are on fire, not because I lit their fires via incentives or praise but because they came that way.

How do you know you're talking to a candidate who's on fire -- or will set themselves on fire -- once they're on board? Watch for:

  • Lots of energy. Wide-open enthusiasm when talking about the potential they see in the position. You can almost see sparks of excitement around them. It's a beautiful thing.
  • Non-verbals and body language that says, "I'm intrigued and excited about this position. Tell me more." Leaning forward in their seat, looking you in the eye, taking notes.
  • Showing up ready. They've done their research about you, your organization and the open position. They've come with lots of questions -- but not just any questions. Questions that get to the heart of what it'd be like to join you in your passion. And you can tell they can hardly wait to hear your answers.

 It's like they want to know:

  • Is this something that I'll look forward to doing, come Monday mornings, and not tire of the rest of the week?
  • Is this a role that will sometimes make me lose all sense of time?
  • Is this a position that's so intriguing that i just have to take the chance and do it?
  • Will this job make my heart sing?

Remember the passion of Christopher Reeve? He said, "So many of our dreams seem impossible, then improbable, then inevitable." I want to hire big dreamers. But not just any big dreamers. Big dreamers who set big fires!

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Make It Easy to Move the Piano

Steinway Welte-Mignon reproducing piano (1919)Image via Wikipedia

Sam Ewing said, "Hard work spotlights the character of people. Some turn up their sleeves, some turn up their noses and some don't turn up at all." Of course, those who "turn up their sleeves" receive most of the rewards in life. They produce. They get things done. They work hard. As managers, we know we can consistently count on them and are more willing to cut them some slack when they're in a bind.

In the workplace, there's really no substitute for getting things done. It's the bottom-line of organizational life. Don't we wish that everyone on our team consistently met production goals, project deadlines and job responsibilities?

Sure. But what if they don't?

Once not getting things done surfaces as an issue, it's awfully easy to begin to look for reasons, and to begin to find other problems -- either real or imagined. Next thing you know we've villainized the person and feel like giving up on them. We don't have to let that happen.

Here are three things a manager can do to make it easier for others to work hard and produce results:

  1. Identify mission-critical priorities. Help the under performer find the three to five things that most need to get done to achieve their goals. This provides focus, and focus helps achieve results.
  2. Set measurable goals. Make them clear and specific so there is no doubt on anyone's part what "results" and "success" will look like.
  3. Set mini-deadlines. Ensure that progress is being made, unlike a rocking horse which keeps moving but doesn't get anywhere.

It's been said, "Too many people are ready to carry the stool when the piano needs to be moved." Don't let someone get by with only picking up the stool. Make moving the piano easier.

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Knowing Isn't Doing

Somewhere Only We KnowImage by P.J.M. *extremely slow on flickr :( sorry* via Flickr

How many books have you read giving you the knowledge you need to do something, but you haven't done it? How many seminars have you attended, giving you the skills you need to make a change in your behavior, but you haven't changed? Knowing isn't doing.

I bet, as a leader, you know the importance of praising positive performance. And even though you notice instances when praise is warranted, you don't always do it. Knowing isn't doing.

In your personal life, you know how important it is -- if you want to lose weight or just be healthy -- to not snack after dinner. Yet, how often do you find yourself at the refrigerator at 9 p.m., searching for a little something to satisfy your sweet tooth? Knowing isn't doing.

Think about John Lancaster. In 1601, John Lancaster figured out on his first East India Company trading voyage from London to the East Indies that if he regularly gave his sailors lemon juice, he could keep them from dying of scurvy. Do you think his news was eagerly embraced by other trading company captains and scurvy was then eliminated? No. It was centuries before knowing became doing, and lemons and limes made scurvy a scourge of the past.

Or, think about Ethna Reid, founder of the Exemplary Center for Reading Instruction (ECRI) in Salt Lake. Her decades of research have proven what the best teachers do in their classrooms that raise students' performance scores 2 or 3 grade levels in a year. We know, but do we do? No. Low-performing schools all over the country still struggle to improve student test scores.

Good ideas (knowing) aren't necessarily adopted (done).

Q. What's one thing you know you need to do, or need to do differently? As a leader? With your team? For your organization?

Q. What's it going to take to actually follow through and start doing? Whose support do you need? Who do you need to tell about your decision to take action? How will you hold yourself accountable to continue the "doing" when the going gets tough?

Walter Bagehot said, "One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea." I'm not sure I totally agree with that. I think we love ideas; we love the "knowing." It's the "doing" that we hate, the changing. I challenge you to pick one thing that you know and do it until it becomes your new norm.

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Find Balance; Be Busy

Charge Bikes, SomersetImage by Into Somerset via Flickr

Do your employees have work/life balance? Do you? With all the downsizing and rightsizing going on, people are busier than ever at work, putting in longer hours, carrying more stress. Being busy may not be the problem though.

Research on well-being shows that the best adjusted people are generally the busiest people, on- and off-work. These are individuals who are not one-dimensional. They're not so consumed and focused on what's happening at work that when they leave work, they're too exhausted to do more than crash and cocoon. They have found a way to force the issue of balance in their lives.

As an employer, one of the most valuable benefits you can provide your associates is assistance in regaining much needed space and sanity and, yes, balance, in their lives. You can do this by:

  • modeling this practice yourself as a leader. Talk about your passions outside work. Bring in pictures of yourself skydiving. Keep your golf trophy on your credenza. Demonstrate that it's okay -- and important -- to totally disengage from work once in a while and do something you enjoy. Set the right tone for living with balance by way of your consistent behaviors.
  • encouraging others at work to add things to their off-work life. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best adjusted people force themselves to structure off-work activities just as much as on-work activities. They schedule them, structuring them into their lives. Times to exercise. Community, religious or sports activities. Coffee with friends. Things they enjoy doing, but without time set aside for them, work and life's busiest crowds them out.
  • providing perks that are especially considerate of employees' busy lives, like flexible hours, telecommuting, and parent friendly assistance. Such perks don't have to be costly. McGraw Wentworth, a provider of group benefits, offers on-site pickup and return of clothes that need laundering. Think of the off-work hours saved with that benefit! Hours that can be spent playing with the kids, reading, biking.

E.B. White said, "I arise each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savor the world. That makes it hard to plan the day."

 Finding that balance between "saving and savoring" -- between work and non-work -- is hard, but vital. So, get busy.

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Low Man on the Totem Pole

Ketchikan, Alaska. Native American totem poleImage via Wikipedia

Have you ever referred to the newest member of your work team as the "low man on the totem pole?" Meaning that he or she is at the "bottom" in terms of value to the team and the experience and perspective they can provide. It's a common analogy in our culture. But it's way wrong, a common misperception.

First of all, consider that Native Americans didn't think of it in that way. They likely put the most important person or symbol at the bottom, at eye level. Would it have made sense to put the most important person twenty or thirty feet off the ground, where no one could see him? Yet in our culture, we have this sense that higher is better. When we carve out organizational charts, we put what we consider the "most important people" at the top, right?

Think about our supermarkets today. What's the most valuable shelf space? The eye-level shelf. That's where the high-margin items go. Marketing experts charge big bucks to help retailers figure that stuff out.

Secondly, that newest person on the team brings a valuable perspective that others on the team have lost, or are in the process of losing. That new member has objective eyes. They can see things that others no longer notice:

  • the unspoken norms, such as safety violations, that have become "undiscussable"
  • sloppy maintenance of company property and landscaping ("Weeds? What weeds?")
  • practices that at first made sense, but now serve no purpose

Diversity is prevalent, whether it's among the faces on a totem pole, or within the boxes on an org chart. That diversity is a challenge and a godsend. Mahatma Gandhi suggested that one of the greatest challenges of our day is finding unity amongst diversity. Instead of focusing on how "high" or how new people are, we need to focus instead on finding unity of purpose. It's through unity of purpose that we can come together synergistically to accomplish great tasks -- tasks where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Astronaut Michael Collins understood the mistake in seeing some positions as lower on the totem pole than others. He said about his role on Apollo II, the first expedition to the moon, "I know that I would be a liar or a fool if I said that I have the best of the three Apollo II seats, but I can say with truth and equanimity that I am perfectly satisfied with the one I have. This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two." Collins was pilot, while it was Armstrong and Aldrin who got to actually land on the moon. How 'bout that for a demonstration of unity of purpose?

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Be Unreasonable

Driving The VolvoImage by PhotoDu.de via Flickr

Sitting behind the steering wheel of a car seems to warp our thinking and thus, our behavior. Remember George Carlin's reflection, "Have you ever noticed? Anybody going slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac." What is it about driving that seems to suck all of the good sense out of us?

Take this scenario: you're driving down Interstate 80 in Central Iowa and you see an orange sign with a merge left symbol: "Road Construction. Five Miles Ahead." What do you do? Given the thinking of some drivers at this point, the reasonable thing to do is to start moving over into the left lane. So they do.

Three miles later, an orange sign appears: "Right lane closed two miles ahead." What do you do? Lots of drivers at this point definitely think the reasonable thing to do is to immediately move over into the left lane...now! So they do.

It must seem reasonable. But does it make sense? And what if, instead of being reasonable, they chose to be "unreasonable"?

You're at that second orange sign. Want to raise the ire of hundreds of fellow travelers? Just stay in the right lane and drive two more uninterrupted miles to the merge point. Now, you can expect a struggle to merge left at this point, and maybe even a few raised middle fingers. Because you've been "unreasonable" and somehow they think you've broken a law and are getting by with it!  That never sits well with the masses.

What's going on here? It doesn't make sense to start queuing-up two miles before you have to, leaving one whole lane devoid of traffic. And yet, because of some sort of herding instinct, people do just that, engaging in behavior that  to them seems reasonable. It must also seem reasonable -- and justified -- to punish others who've simply shown good sense.

I was in Minnesota a few weeks ago and notice that to counteract this herding tendency, the state's department of transportation actually posts signs several miles out from construction sites that say, "Use both lanes during backups." In other words, "Resist the urge to be reasonable. Don't merge now. Keep driving. DRIVE! DRIVE! DRIVE!"

I wonder if this phenomenon ever shows up in the workplace? As a leader in your organization, do you ever jump on board whatever is the popular position, at the first sign of a confrontation up ahead, rather than staying the course for a little while contemplating various courses of action and really considering whether being "reasonable" is what makes the most sense here? 

  • Not "what have we done before"?
  • Not "what do we assume our customers will expect of us"?
  • Not "what will keep our employees from being mad at us, and giving us the proverbial finger"?

"Reasonable people," said George Bernard Shaw, "adapt themselves to the world; the unreasonable ones persist in trying to adapt the world to themselves. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable."

Be a true leader. Prepare to be unreasonable. And next time, keep driving!

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Work is What We Make It

Sungai Buloh's Gardening masters.Image via Wikipedia

Why do some people love to work in their gardens and others hate to garden? It's not about gardening, is it? The act of gardening -- in and of itself -- has no meaning. Each of us, when we think about the hobby of gardening, give that activity meaning. 

Same thing with work. On any work team, there are team members who enjoy the work and others who dread showing up each day. Same work, different reactions.

Do you think you could come to see your work -- your job, your position, you role -- differently? As a joy. Satisfying. Fun and fulfilling. Or are you like the old TV character, Dobie Gillis, who said, "I don't have anything against work. I just figure, why deprive somebody who really loves it?"

Do you know someone who has turned a routine, mundane procedure they have to do every day into an enjoyable event? We've all heard stories, or experienced for ourselves, what it's like to be on a flight with an attendant who sees his or her job as more than just handing out peanuts.

"Good morning, ladies and gentlemen! Welcome aboard flight 458, direct from Miami to Philadelphia....Now that I have your attention, my name is Andrea and I'll be your first flight attendant today. Actually, we are en route to Denver so if you were not planning to go there, now would be a good time to get off the plane...In the event that we mistakenly land in a body of water, a decision must be made. You can either pray and swim like crazy or use your seat as a flotation device...We will be serving breakfast in flight this morning. On the menu I have eggs benedict and fruit crepes...not really, but they sound good to me. However, the flight attendants will be offering a choice of an omelette or cold cereal."

Andrea has connected meaning to her work. She's a comic-lite. She makes the chore of air travel a little more pleasurable. She makes people chuckle. And I bet she's laughing inside along with them.

  • If we can't do the same, we spend our eight to 10 hours every day at work in quiet desperation.
  • If we can, we keep ourselves recharged, fulfilled and satisfied.

What we do is not as important as how we see what we do. Check out Dave and Wendy Ulrich's newest book, The Why of Work. There's an article about their book in this month's Psychology Today. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "If you are called to be a street sweeper, sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts in heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

Notice that King didn't say, "If you're a street sweeper and don't like it, get out! Now! Find something to do that you like better." He didn't say you couldn't do that, but he did say to do well whatever it is that you're called to do at that moment. It's that "bloom where you're planted concept."

Remember the old-time comedian George Burns? He had the right attitude. He said, "Fall in love with what you are doing for a living. To be able to get out of bed and do what you love to do for the rest of the day is beyond words. I'd rather be a failure in something that I love than be successful in something that I hate."

Notice that Burns didn't say, "If you hate what you're doing, change jobs. Now! Find something to do that you like better." He said find meaning in what you're doing for a living right now. Whether that's sweeping streets, attending to air travelers or gardening. Work is what we make it.

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Where you stand depends on where you sit

Civil Rights March on Washington, D.C. closeup...Image via Wikipedia

In Congress, the Democrats sit on one side and the Republicans sit on the other. Is it any wonder that the parties don't get along? Or that they lack the resolve and unity of purpose to find common solutions to our nation's huge problems?

Without a doubt, as Joe Reeder, a Washington lawyer and former assistant secretary of the Army, describes in his article, Break Up the Parties, "this segmented seating arrangement shelters our representatives from opposing points of view, reduces the need for common courtesy, reinforces the worst tendencies of a two-party system, and undermines efforts at cooperation."

Being physically and emotionally separated by party intensifies the partisan rancor that's innately alive.

What if, instead of being seated by party, representatives were seated alphabetically? You know, like you and I were seated in grade school. So the first half of fifth grade, I got to sit between Betty Oman and Bobbie Richards and the second half, Sarah Peters and Tony Quinlin. Is it any wonder that I still remember what all four brought for their lunches and if they had cats or dogs as pets. I got to know them. Intimately. And how they thought about things and what they dreamed about. And I learned how to get along with them, sitting two feet from them for eight hours a day, for four or five months at a stretch.

Is it just me, or is this a no-brainer? Mix up the members of Congress! If not alphabetically, then by birth date, or state, or by drawing names out of a hat.

But not by party.

Having assigned seating in grade school obviously doesn't eliminate all the squabbling, but letting kids sit only with kids they like certainly would not allow for learning civility, respect for differences, collaboration and compromise.

We know that without communication, trust and mutual respect, relationships won't be very strong. And without strong relationships, there won't be a spirit of unity toward a common purpose. And without a strong sense of unity, you won't have a strong team, organization, community or country. What if something as simple as a neutral seating chart for Congress eventually led to civility and bipartisan action?

One-on-one relationships are the key. Whether in grade school, corporate America or Congress. As Joan Baez said, "The easiest kind of relationship for me is with ten thousand people. The hardest is with one."

One person relating with another, like Betty Oman and Bobbie Richards. And Bruce Braley and Steve King.

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Lighten Up or Tighten Up

329 BalloonsImage by mortimer? via Flickr

We gotta be productive. That's a given. But how we show up - the state of mind we're in, in order to be productive and the approach we assume - well, that is different for different people.

For example, in the March 2010 issue of Inc., several entrepreneurial leaders shared their productivity secrets. Seth Priebatsch, CEO of SCVNGR, a Boston-based start-up that helps organizations engage people through location-based smartphone games, admits his approach is "Expand my day!" In addition to fully-packed workdays, he comes into the office on weekends, meets with people late at night or early in the morning, reads technical manuals and watches video tutorials late at night - even the last half-hour before sleep. And that works for him. He's very productive. And happy.

So is Krissi Barr, founder of Barr Corporate Success, a business consulting firm in Cincinnati. She said, "If I think something is going to take me an hour, I give myself 40 minutes. By shrinking your mental deadlines, you work faster and with greater focus." That's what I call "tightening up" - pushing harder - with a focused drive. And that works for her. She's productive and happy with her approach.

Question #1. Does that sound like the mode you take on when you need to be productive?

That heads-down, hunkering-hard approach doesn't mesh with other entrepreneurs' styles, however.

Like Scott Lang, CEO of Silver Spring Networks, a California-based developer of smart energy grids. For him, being productive is "being agile." He leaves large blocks of time - up to 50 percent - open in his calendar every day. That wiggle room allows him to be light on his feet, reacting in the moment to opportunities that he may otherwise miss, he thinks, if his calendar was packed too tightly.

Or Jason Fried, co-founder of 37signals, a Chicago-based software firm, and author of Rework. He thinks of himself as "wildly ambitious and unapologetically lazy." He thinks laziness is the best return on investmetn out there. The opposite of driven, his focus is today. In the now. He, along with his team of 15 colleagues who have millions of users - and millions in profits - don't spend time worrying about what could, might, or may happen. They spend their time on what matters now.

Question #2. Do Scott's and Jason's styles sound more like the mode you settle into when you want to be productive?

Both styles - lightening up and tightening up - work. And there are lots of variations in-between. The secret is figuring out your own approach and then refining it every day.

Now, back to work.

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Building a Culture of Well-Being

Cover of "First, Break All the Rules: Wha...Cover via Amazon

You can count on the Gallup Organization to do good work. They gave us "First, Break All the Rules" and StrengthsFinder. Now, with "Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements," they've once again come up with valuable insights into worker engagement and productivity.

Gallup researchers Tom Rath and Jim Harter studied people in 150 countries - from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe - to explain how people experience their days and evaluate their days overall. In other words, what makes people feel truly satisfied overall? Experience a sense of well-being? They analyzed hundreds of Gallup's global surveys involving millions of respondents. I mean, these guys were thorough.

A couple of key insights emerged. Here they are. Think about what these insights mean to you as a leader and to your role as culture-builder where you work.

#1. Five core dimensions are universal elements of well-being. Achieving nirvana in one or two at the exclusion of the others doesn't work. They require a holistic perspective in order for people to achieve well-being. Take a look. Is your work culture "well-being-friendly"?

Career Well-Being: Feeling appreciated as a person and not just as an employee, respecting management, looking forward to going to work each day, enjoying the company of co-workers, feeling pride in the organization you work for

Social Well-Being: Having good relationships at work, friends, a support system for weathering tough times

Financial Well-Being: In control of finances, frugal but not pinching pennies, aware of costs and in control of expenditures

Physical Well-Being: Lots of energy, healthy eating, getting sufficient rest as well as regular rigorous exercise

Community Well-Being: Being actively and productively engaged in the community and neighborhood groups, being part of meaningful activities like Crime Stoppers, homeowner association, PTA, Red Cross, et cetera.

#2. The secret to a happy life is rooted in interactions with co-workers and the boss. Remember the saying, "People don't quit a company; they quit a bad manager?" Gallup's latest research supports that.

Good managers know what their employees care about, see them as individuals, know what's going on in their lives and are interested in their career development.

Good managers see their employees as unique individuals, know their strengths, celebrate their successes and are clear about expectations so their employees know what they're supposed to be doing on a daily basis.

Good managers understand the importance of socializing at work. Productive employees are engaged employees and they likely have a best friend at work with whom they chat and interact.

Intrigued? Each copy of the book has a unique ID code for Gallup's online "The Well-Being Finder," a program designed to help you track and improve your own well-being, as well as gain insight into supporting a culture that supports the five elements. Check it out.  

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Gaining Perspective Through Adventures

Image of a Bösendorfer piano, taken in the Gut...Image via Wikipedia

Leading is an adventure. Especially in this fast-paced, rapidly-changing world. Regardless of the industry or the marketplace in which you play, few leadership competencies are more critical than perspective:

  • Being able to think globally.
  • Seeing issues and challenges from the broadest possible view.
  • Posing future scenarios with ease.

Where does perspective come from?

It's not about graduating top of the class necessarily or coming up with 50 ways to build a better mouse trap. It comes from living a life as an adventure:

  • enjoying a breadth of diverse interests
  • looking for unique opportunities to experience new cultures, tastes, sensations -- in new and unusual places
  • being curious about how things work, how they connect, and "what ifs"
  • enjoying Qs more than As, and absolutely loving "maybes"

Live life that way -- every day -- and as a leader, you'll have a huge repertoire to draw from when you need a new idea or a strategy for a situation you've never faced before.

Remember's history fascination and admiration of the "Renaissance Man?" It was perspective that fascinated us -- their breadth of knowledge and interests and pursuits.

Develop perspective. Start today, wherever you are on that continuum between "narrow and parochial" and "curious and global." Resist the temptation to "lean in" and select on your iPad or smart phone only those topics and apps that currently interest you. Do what the burgeoning hi-tech industry calls "lay back" by broadening your data stream to include intriguing new topics and options that you've never explored before.

Try these tips and tricks and techniques to enhance perspective.
  • Read international publications and autobiographies of people you've never heard of. Pick a country and study it. Read the Wall Street Journal and Inc. and jot down three interesting things that parallel what's going on with you. Learn to connect what's out there, with what' s in here.
  • Pick something to dabble in that you've not paid much attention to before -- the opera, MTV, learn to play the piano, romance novels, be a Big Brother/Big Sister, learn to juggle. What new connections surface for you? Your brain is gaining perspective without you even working at it.
  • Volunteer for a task force or a cross-functional team at work that requires you to learn other functions, businesses or nationalities, helping you see connections to a broader world and from a number of diverse viewpoints.
And finally, see life as an adventure. It is. But you have to acknowledge that fact and show up that way in order to broaden your perspective and enhance your leadership. Enjoy the ride.
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Knowing You Don't Know

The Lost Hindu Temple in the Jungle MistImage by Stuck in Customs via Flickr

Knowledge is power, they say, and when we don't know, we tend to feel powerless and afraid. And yet, being able to embrace and accept a certain level of unknowing is a good thing.

Like the old Hasidic rabbi who crossed the village square every morning on his way to the temple to pray. One morning, a large Cossack soldier, who happened to be in a vile mood, accosted him, saying, "Hey, Rebby, where are you going?"

And the rabbi said, "I don't know."

This infuriated the Cossack. "What do you mean, you don't know? Every morning for 25 years you have crossed the village square and gone to the temple to pray. Don't fool with me. Who are you, telling me you don't know?"

He grabbed the old rabbi by the coat and dragged him off to jail. Just as he was about to push him into a cell, the rabbi turned to him, saying, "You see, I didn't know."

Leaders can fall into the trap of seeing their role as the one who should know it all -- and then worse yet, think they do! We are so used to instant gratification, faster computers and microwaved food. We want instant weather, stock quotes, public-opinion polls and interest rates on our Blackberries and iPhones. We find it hard to let things go unknown or unfinished for very long. We want to know immediately what's going to happen next, don't we?

But in the end, the most important things many times show themselves slowly, and in their own time.

Edward Gibbon conceived his history of the rise and fall of the Roman Empire while listening to a choir of monks at vespers. Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg was nagged by the problem of how nuclear reactions produce the heat of the sun -- until it came to him one day unbidden as he was driving around Boston in his red Camaro. The idea for the microwave oven came to Percy Spencer one day when a chocolate bar melted in his pocket as he stood in front of a magnetron, the microwave tube used to power radar.

Sometimes our greatest insights come when we don't know, and know that we don't know...but we're open to the prospect of the "knowing" showing up unexpectedly. Like Archimedes who allegedly discovered the law of gravity while taking a bath. Who would have known?

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Are You Boring?

Gertrude SteinGertrude Stein via last.fm

Gertrude Stein claimed, "No one real is boring." She's right. The most interesting people I know are the ones who are genuinely who they are -- no phoniness, no pretense, no trying to impress. They're congruent.

Think of someone you know like that. They're true to who they are, unwilling to compromise their integrity and self-respect in order to satisfy the expectations of others or win their approval. You can count on them to say what they mean and do what they say.

Being real -- congruent -- is especially critical if you're in a leadership role. Not everyone may like your personality or agree with your decisions, but by golly, if you're authentic, they'll admit they like the fact that:

  • you'll be straight with them,
  • they'll know where you stand, and
  • you'll stay true to your convictions.

Impressing others isn't important to you; being true to yourself is.

Rosa Parks' intentions and words and actions were congruent on that December evening in 1955 when she was returning home on the bus at the end of a long workday. "I was sitting in the front seat of the colored section," as she tells it, "and the white people were sitting in the white section. More white people got on, and they filled up all the seats in the white section. When that happened, we black people were supposed to give up our seats to the whites. But I didn't move. The white driver said, 'Let me have those seats.' I didn't get up." Her one act of congruence became a defining moment in American history and made her a role model for the civil rights movement.

As leaders, if we suppress our authenticity we lose touch with the very source of our vitality and initiative.

  • We lack courage.
  • We lose hope.
  • We take ourselves too seriously.
  • We resist taking things on faith.
  • And thus, everyone loses.

Want to be more real? Ponder:

  • What triggers your desire to diminish or inflate your self-worth, to be something you're not?
  • When and with whom are you completely yourself? Why only them?
  • What would be the benefits of stepping fully into your authentic self and bringing your unique gifts into the world of work and home?

Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) said, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." ...and because, as Gertrude Stein says, you'll never be boring!

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Rituals Rock

* Beschreibung: moderner, industrieller Schutz...Image via Wikipedia

Remember your first day on your current job? What did you do? Did you sit in a room by yourself and read procedure manuals or don a safety hat and goggles and hop on the back of a forklift to tour the company's two-block-square warehouse?

Studies show that how a new employee is introduced and assimilated into a new culture is one of the key reasons why over 55 percent of them don't stick around for more than two years.

New employees walk through your company's door their first day on the job with certain impressions and expectations they got during the hiring process while you were "courting" them. After a few days on the job, will those impressions hold true? Maybe even improve? Or, will the employees be starting to think, "What have I done, coming here?"

I'll never forget my first week on the job at Meredith Corp. Every day that week Meredith employees would pass me in the hallways, recognize me as a new employee, and say something like, "You're new. Welcome! You're going to love it here!" And I did. Employees weren't set up to say that -- they said it because they did -- love it.

If you're looking for a way to on-board new hires in a powerful way so they'll stick around and voluntarily engage other new hires in a welcoming way, establish a ritual or two. A ritual engages new employees in activities that convey the organization's character while creating an instant bond. Taking part in that activity -- whatever it is -- is sort of a rite of passage. As a result of participating in the ritual, they now feel like they "belong."

In the March, 2010 issue of Inc., Leigh Buchanan gives examples of company rituals:

  • Gentle Giant moving company in MA initiates new hires with a run up the steps at Harvard Stadium -- alongside Larry O'Toole, the CEO.
  • New employees at Foot Levelers eat popcorn, watch the movie Rudy,and cry together and then talk with CEO Kent Greenawalt about how Rudy's character traits and practices play out in their culture.
  • CXtec new hires are paired with a veteran staff member early on in their tenure and they spend a morning together serving donuts and coffee from a cart to everyone in the Syracuse, NY offices.

As a result of these simple rituals, now these new hires "belong." And when they belong, they're much more likely to "love it there!" And stay. And be innovative and productive and a good ambassador for the company. And that rocks.

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The Paradox: Ego & Humility

Cover of "Good to Great: Why Some Compani...Cover via Amazon

Humility. The quintessential character trait. Right?

Remember when Jim Collins, in his book "Good to Great," said that two-thirds of the companies he studied didn't make the leap from good to great because they were weighed down by the "presence of gargantuan personal ego that contributed to the demise or continued mediocrity of the company?"

Extreme personal humility was one of the two unique traits his "Level 5" leaders had.

We recognize the names of many who fit in that two-thirds group: Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling (Enron), Bernie Ebbers (WorldCom) and Carly Fiorina (HP). The list goes on and on.  And that's only the business world. What about Tiger Woods and John Edwards? Any "gargantuan personal ego" at work in their cases? You think?

What is it about ego that allows leaders to get to good, but without humility, does not allow them to move to great? Doesn't it seem like ego is something we've got to have if we want to succeed, but having it often interferes with the success we're after?

Columnist Linda Campbell (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) said in her Feb. 7 editorial, "When ego trumps self-awareness" in the Des Moines Sunday Register, that "Presidents and Oval Office aspirers are egotists. The tame and insecure don't have the self-assurance to convince themselves or others they can lead the free world's most powerful nation...But self-awareness and good judgment are crucial in successful national leaders."

That's the paradox, huh?

In their book, Egonomics, David Marcum and Steven Smith say, "Ego is a free radical." I love that analogy. Our bodies need free radicals to be healthy, to fight viruses and bacteria. But when free radicals go amok, they can kill us, attacking our good cells and vital tissue. That's exactly what ego does to leaders' character when their egos run amok.

In my workshops, I talk about a concept called, "crucial moments." Crucial moments are those points in time when the next action we take will either take us down a good path; a path we will feel good about having taken because it leads to what we ultimately really want. Or our next action takes us off-course, down a path we might later regret.

Everyone of us faces scores of these crucial moments every day. Many of these moments are of small significance. But occasionally, the next step we take -- the next choice we make --  can lead to a life-changing outcome. It did with the leaders mentioned above. It can with you and me. And we often don't know at the time the significance of that one "next step."

There's the rub, huh?

Think of your daily crucial moments. What role does your ego play in those choices? Like the tag line for the CHARACTER COUNTS! in Iowa program: "Everywhere, all of the time."

Our ego -- like our character of humility -- is always there, always available, always at risk. Every moment counts!

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Make Assets Your Adrenaline

Woody AllenWoody Allen via last.fm

Woody Allen, the quintessential pessimist, said, "More than any time in history mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness, the other to total extinction. Let us pray that we have the wisdom to choose correctly." When we hear that, we laugh. It's kind 'a funny to look at the world briefly through the eyes of someone who has such a distorted view of reality.

But as leaders, we're limiting ourselves and our colleagues if we walk around with a warped sense of what's possible...even if it's not as warped as Woody's!

Think about it. Do you focus:

  • More on what's right than what's wrong?
  • More on strengths than weaknesses?
  • More on opportunities than problems?
  • More on what can be done instead of what can't?

If you honestly answered no to most of those questions, you need a slight shift in how you see things, in how you think. Shift to "ABT."

There's this way of thinking called "Asset-Based Thinking." Do it and it equips you with a special way of viewing everyday life that yields greater returns on what you're investing in attention and effort. It changes the way you respond in the privacy of your own thoughts -- in every conversation, interaction and circumstance. Sounds pretty powerful, huh? It's a concrete, cognitive process aimed at identifying the strengths, talents, synergies and possibilities that are immediately available in yourself, other people and any situation.

Children follow Asset-Based Thinking instinctively. We can re-capture what came naturally to us if we choose to. Here's what kids do:

  1. They set their sights on what they need/want.
  2. They move past fear.
  3. They start from exactly where they are with gusto and self-abandon.
  4. They practice as if no one is judging.
  5. They build on what they already know how to do -- add, shape, edit, expand.
  6. When they experience victory, they celebrate!
  7. Then they set their sights on what they want next.
Check it out! It's amazing what difference a slight shift in focus from deficit-based thinking to asset-based thinking can make. Focusing on what's working -- our assets -- changes the way we see everything, which changes the way we live, which changes the influence we have on those around us. Rather than letting stress drain our energy, we can let our assets provide the rush to "leap out of bed with our vision turned on."
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Five Whys to Leadership Challenges

Why notImage by Pete Reed via Flickr

It seems like every time I turned around the last couple of weeks, someone was talking about the Five Whys technique - online, in print, in person.

Why? I took it as a sign that I was supposed to blog about it.

You've undoubtedly heard of Five Whys: the problem-solving technique developed by Toyota after World War II to improve its manufacturing process. Its goal: determine a root cause of a defect or problem. It's used a lot within Kaizen, Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma.

My take? Leaders can also tap into this tool to improve their day-to-day problem solving. It's a great tool for anyone, any time there's a problem.

A common, easy to understand example looks like this:

  1. My car will not start. (the problem)
  2. Why? The battery is dead. (first why)
  3. Why? The alternator is not functioning. (second why)
  4. Why? The alternator belt has broken. (third why)
  5. Why? The alternator was well beyond its useful service life and has never been replaced. (fourth why)
  6. Why? I have not been maintaining my car according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

What does use of Five Whys look like real life, real time, for leaders? A terrific example is how Jeff Bezos used Five Whys in-the-moment after a safety incident during his annual walk-through at the Amazon.com fulfillment center. The story goes:

When Bezos heard about an associate injuring a finger on the line, Bezos walked to a white board and asked:

  • Why did the associate damage his thumb?
    •  Because his thumb got caught in the conveyor.
  • Why did his thumb get caught in the conveyor?
    •  Because he was chasing his bag, which was on a running conveyor.
  • Why did he chase his bag?
    •  Because he placed his bag on the conveyor, but it then turned-on by surprise.
  • Why was his bag on the conveyor?
    •  Because he used the conveyor as a table.

Likely root cause of the associate's injured thumb? He needed a table, didn't have one, so he used the conveyor as a table. Solution to the problem: provide tables along the line.

The technique certainly has its shortcomings. And valuable tips for overcoming them. But the benefits of this simple technique holds lots of promise for leaders for quick and easy problem solving. By using Five Whys on your own or with your work group, you'll:

  • focus on root causes of problems rather than on blaming and finger pointing
  • avoid assumptions and logic traps, and drill down through layers of abstraction to root causes
  • keep your eye on the problem rather than on its symptoms
  • quickly move to solving the problem rather than getting bogged down in over-analyzing it

How can you use the Five Whys today to become a better problem-solver, a more deliberate thinker, and a leader -- like Jeff Bezos -- who models a sense of urgency and a get-it-done attitude?

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You're the Manager. So Manage.

* Mission: STS-41-B * Film Type: 70mm * Title:...Image via Wikipedia

We've all been taught that the way to engage employees' souls at work is to hire bright people, put them in the right roles and then get out of their way. Especially younger workers; they hate having someone hovering over them, checking up, providing guidance they don't think they need.

Micromanaging is a bad thing. Right? But let me ask this: are we sometimes afraid to be accused of micromanaging when really all we're wanting to do is manage? Manage the function we've been given responsibility for, in the best way we know how?

Picture this: Stephanie, your administrative assistant, tends to do things at the very last minute. Not because she's lazy or forgets. She's not trying to make life difficult for you. Doing things last minute is just how she's wired. Which is not good or bad. It's just different from how you're wired.

So far, Steph hasn't been late on any tasks or projects. She's met every deadline. But you are convinced it's only a matter of time. (There are always variables we don't have control over...even Steph!)

For example, she was supposed to have the room set up and AV technology in place by 10:00 a.m. for the annual all-employee meeting. She finished right at 10:00 as the last employees were taking their seats. (Yes, she made the deadline. Meanwhile, you're in the wings, envisioning the worst -- like a sound system that's not going to be compatible with the laptop!)

  • Is it micromanaging to insist that Steph give herself a time buffer to allow for "just-in-case" scenarios?
  • Is it Steph's problem that you're seen as a Nervous Nelly, still living by the Boy Scout oath about being prepared even though you took off the uniform for the last time 30 years ago?
  • In situations like this, whose preference takes precedence?

If you're a manager, and you care about such things as:

  • Doing a quality job, not just "getting 'er done."
  • Providing excellent customer service for internal, as well as external, customers.
  • Creating a culture of clear expectations and consistent accountability, and
  • Nurturing a set of disciplines on which team trust and respect depend... 

...then it's perfectly ok to set expectations for Steph that might challenge her innate personality of "flying by the seat of her pants."

  1. Be fair in what you're asking for.
  2. Be very clear and specific in your expectations.
  3. Explain why it's important, not just for your comfort level, but for the good of the whole: for Steph, for the team, and for the organization.
  4. Don't expect instant perfection; allow for missteps; provide coaching as needed.

You're the manager, and your standards and comfort level -- if realistic, fair, and relevant -- are legit. That's not micromanaging. So don't be afraid to manage!

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This is Your Brain on E-Mail

Digsby Chat WindowImage by Jeff Hester via Flickr

If the medium is the message, what does that say about new survey results that found nearly 60 percent of respondents check their e-mail when they're answering the call of nature?

- Michelle Masterson, Channel Web

Are you part of that 60 percent?

Does this description of the average corporate worker from John Freeman sound like you?

"The average corporate worker now receives upwards of 200 e-mails per day. The flood of messages is ceaseless and follows us everywhere. We check e-mail in transit; we check it in the bath. We check it before bed and upon waking up. We check it even midconversation, blithely assuming no one will notice. We no longer make our own to-do list. E-mail does."

John Freeman, in his newly released book, The Tyranny of Email, says it's only going to get worse...and he's worried. He wrote his book in an attempt to slow things down for a moment so we can look at the enormous shift in space and time that e-mail has effected, how e-mail has changed our lives, our cultures and our workplaces, as well as our psychological well-being.

He's right when he says that at one time only doctors, plumbers and maybe volunteer firefighters were constantly on call. Not now. Now, if you're on e-mail, you're on call in a sense, 24/7. Think about it. Has anyone ever sent you an e-mail and when you didn't respond in an hour or so they sent you another e-mail asking you if you got the first e-mail?

How 'bout you? Have you done that? Yep, I thought so.

He equates our keyboards with a "messaging conveyor belt - with no break time." He uses the analogy of our connection to our cell phones, instant messaging, Facebook, text messages and all the other networking channels as "an ambulance trying to cross a busy intersection at rush hour."

Why is he worried about this phenomenon? Because the sheer volume is overwhelming and stressful. And because e-mail is so sterile. It's devoid of the richness of a face-to-face conversation and even that of a phone call. It's static. Disembodied. It has none of the hand gestures, verbal tones, inflections or facial expressions that we rely on to encode and decode the most important messages of our lives - with family, friends, and co-workers.

Three of his best suggestions?

  • Don't send any more e-mails than you really need to. Eighty percent of corporate e-mail problems, he says, are caused by 1 percent of workers. Don't be part of that 1 percent.
  • Don't check e-mail first thing in the morning or late at night. Take back your life. Check e-mail twice a day. Yes, you CAN do this!
  • Send good e-mails. Use subject lines. Then stop, if they convey your message. Keep e-mails short.

Put down that Blackberry for a moment. Think about it. What can you do to make e-mail a tool but not a tyrant?

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The "Romance" of Interviewing

The July 24, 2006 issue of Fortune, featuring ...Image via Wikipedia

What if there were an even better way to figure out which candidate was most likely to succeed in your open position? Is there a better way than behavior-based interviewing, which about half of the Fortune 500 employers use?

There is.

At least there is according to Malcolm Gladwell, author of  "The Tipping Point," "Blink" and "Outliers." Behavior-based interviewing, you know, is based on the premise that what a person has done in the past is the most reliable predictor of how they are likely to perform in the future. So, using behavior-based interviewing, you might ask an applicant, "Sometimes things come up that get in the way of achieving our goals. Tell me about a time when your plans or schedule were seriously interrupted. What did you do?"

Sounds like a really good question, right? Now you're going to learn whether this person can adapt and stay focused on the goal! Not so, according to Gladwell's latest book, "What the Dog Saw." Supposedly, the problem with behavior-based interviewing is that it's too obvious what the interviewee is supposed to say. The interviewee can simply spin his example to fit what he knows the interviewer is looking for.

Gladwell tells of Justin Menkes, an human resources consultant from Pasadena who asks: "What if those questions were rephrased so the answers weren't obvious?" For example: "At your weekly team meetings, your boss unexpectedly begins aggressively critiquing your performance on a current project. What do you do?"

Wow! He's right. Suddenly I have to fess up. My focus is no longer on trying to figure out the "right" answer. Instead, it shifts to seeing myself in that situation and describing what I'd most likely do - without being able to anticipate how my response might land on the interviewer's ears.

This interviewing approach is known as structured interviewing. According to Gladwell, in studies by industrial psychologists, it's been shown to be the only kind of interviewing that has any success at all in predicting performance in the workplace.

  • The format is rigid
  • The questions are scripted
  • The applicants are rated on a series of pre-determined scales

Hmmmm...so if it's such a reliable predictor of success, why aren't half of the Fortune 500 using structured interviewing rather than behavior-based interviewing? According to Menkes, structured interviewing just doesn't "feel right." For most of us, hiring someone is "essentially a romantic process." Kind 'a like dating. "We are looking for someone with whom we have a certain chemistry, even if the coupling that results ends in tears, and the pursuer and the pursued turn out to have nothing in common. We want the unlimited promise of a love affair. The structured interview, by contrast, seems to offer only the dry logic and practicality of an arranged marriage."

What do you think? You've undoubtedly interviewed applicants a some point in your career. Would you be willing to give up the subjectivity and chemistry we often base our hiring decisions on? Gladwell and Menkes say you should,..let go of the "romance."

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Think Like a Ginkgo

Living fossilImage via Wikipedia

Great leaders share attributes with the great Ginkgo, the oldest tree in the world. Ginkgo trees have been around more than 200 million years, undoubtedly providing shade for the dinosaurs at some point. These trees can reach 50'-80' in height, with a spread of 30'-40'. Their uniquely fan-shaped leaves start out green but morph into a golden fall foliage. They are elegant, beautiful trees.

Where's the closest Ginkgo tree to your home? Find it. Pay attention to it, season by season, year by year. Learn from it.

Like a great leader, the Ginkgo is tenacious, a survivor. They hold on when they need to hold on.

  • They adapt well to an urban environment, tolerating pollution and confined soil spaces. They rarely suffer disease problems and few insects attack them.
  • Some live to be 2,500 years old. Darwin called them "a living fossil."
  • In Hiroshima, Japan, four Ginkgo trees growing between 1-2 kilometers from the 1945 atom bomb explosion were among the few living things in the area to survive the blast. Though almost all other plants and animals in the area were destroyed, the Ginkgoes, though charred, survived and were soon healthy again. Those trees are alive to this day. In Russia, a Ginkgo was the only plant to survive the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl.

Like a great leader, the Ginkgo is also flexible, adaptable and unique. They let go when they need to let go.

  • It is said that the Ginkgo's trunk is always warmer to the touch than the temperature around it. Even in the depths of winter, most other trees feel cold to the touch, but not the Ginkgo.
  • Though they are huge trees, they can be grown as Japanese bonsai; they can be kept artificially small and tended for centuries.
  • A Ginkgo's leaves usually change to a golden color all at once in the fall, hold for a short time and then all fall from the tree together, creating brilliant showers of sparkling yellow leaves, and then a lovely soft golden carpet.

In what respects are you like the mighty, elegant and resilient Ginkgo? Do YOU exemplify the dichotomy of tenacity and flexibility?

It's interesting to note that the Ginkgo does not grow in the wild. It grows only in places where caretakers and gardeners have recognized the special excellence of this plant and have honored the connection it offers us to a history beyond memory. Hmmm...I wonder what that says about nurturing the legacy of great leaders?

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Is Being Negative Always Negative?

Cover of "Six Thinking Hats"Cover of Six Thinking Hats

Ever heard of Six Thinking Hats? I used to teach a workshop, based on Dr. Edward de Bono's groundbreaking work on effective thinking, processing and decision making. This program used the concept of six different colored hats to represent six different ways to think about -- and work through -- an important and controversial problem.

Why do I bring this up? There's so much out there these days about PMA -- "Positive Mental Attitude." You'd think it was at least a misdemeanor to think a negative thought. In Jon Gordon's current best-selling business fable, The Energy Bus, one of the strategies he suggests is:

"Engage and energize your employees on a daily basis, filling the void with positive energy so negativity can't breed."

Don't get me wrong. I don't believe in breeding negativity. I'm all for the power of being positive and seeing the glass as half-full. But...uhhh...what about the other half of the glass? If it's half full, it's also half empty. The problem with focusing on the positive is that it often leads us to ignore the negative -- which makes tough problems even tougher to solve.

So, back to the Six Thinking Hats approach. In the workshop, we'd always look at a problem from a "yellow hat perspective" of benefits and optimism and possibilities. Then, without fail, we'd set aside our yellow hats and put on our black hats and look for all of the cautions and concerns and potential road mines inherent in the same problem.

Only by acknowledging all of the negatives could we turn them into positives. We gave positives and negatives equal billing, challenging ourselves to think of every possible one, in turn -- yellow first, then black -- before moving on to decide what to do about them. We accentuated the positives, without short shrifting the possible threats and negative situations.

What do you think? Is there a time and place, and a necessity, for bringing the negative into the workplace?

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Stay on Top. Stay out Front.

A very large collections call center in Lakela...Image via Wikipedia

You've heard it said that business leaders need to, "work on the business, not in the business."

Do you agree?

Getting mired down in the details can be deadly -- for the leader and the business. Details are like quicksand. They suck you in and there is no bottom. There's always one more email to answer, one more invoice to approve, one more meeting to attend.

But juggling details and courting customers are not the same thing.

Nurturing customer relationships and learning from those who matter most is good.

Think about it. In most organizations, the further leaders are from the customer, the more prestige they have, the bigger the bonuses they get, and the bigger the titles they carry. Likewise -- generally -- the more contact you have with customers, the lower your status.

What's with that?

Bank teller. Call center representative. Receptionist. Grocery bagger. Where they are, is where the business "is" -- the frontline.

  • It's said that Richard Branson was pushing a trolley down the aisle of one of Virgin Airline's jumbo jets, serving drinks to passengers. Later, he commented to the flight crew how difficult it was not to keep bumping into things and how the trolley blocking the aisle was a pain to the customers. It opened up the conversation that led to the decision to move the trolley service in upper class to more of a "waitress-like service."
  • There's the story of CEO Jan Carlzon. He turned around the SAS airline, spending the first couple of weeks in his new job flying as a passenger, hanging around in terminal lounges, listening to customers, and experiencing exactly what they were experiencing. He took notes in a notebook that he carried with him everywhere. When he later stepped into the boardroom to tell the board of his turnaround strategy, it was based on what was in that notebook...the time he'd spent talking and listening to customers.

That's not being immersed in details. That's rubbing shoulders with those who pay the bills and determine a company's destiny.

Want to stay on top? How about staying out of the details and outfront with your customers.

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What's Love Got To Do With It?

In "LoVe" Germany..HappY ValenTine's...Image by Thai Jasmine via Flickr

Steve Farber, author of The Radical Leap and The Radical Edge was in town this week, talking with business leaders about his newest book, Greater Than Yourself. This is one passionate guy!

In fact, for Steve, passion is at the very epicenter of leadership.  One of his key principles is "cultivate love." Love for what you're doing, what you're leading. If you're passionate about what you're doing, you're more likely to "generate energy," Steve says, and "inspire audacity." And if that passion is authentic and a reflection of who you really are at work, great things happen. People jump on-board and help make your vision a reality. 

I remember Jim Autry, executive at Meredith Corp., in the 1980s saying, "if you're in management and don't like people, get out of management."

Rudy Giuliani said of leadership, if you don't love people, do something else."

Herb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines said, "I would far rather have a business led by love than by fear."

"Be madly in love with all the people you are leading," said Ken Blanchard, co-author of  The One Minute Manager.

What's your take on this? Is being that passionate about what you're doing and caring that much about who you're leading realistic? And necessary? Farber says if you're not fully and passionately throwing yourself into the role of leader, then you're a "poser." A pretend-to-be leader. What's your take on how many posers there are out there, versus passionate leaders?

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Just Say, "Wait!"

Head of Odysseus from a sculptural group repre...Image via Wikipedia

It's a beautiful, sunny Saturday in early April. Your taxes are due in one week. You haven't begun to figure them. They're going to be pretty complicated this year because of a career relocation, a new baby and a portfolio that tanked. How do you spend your Saturday?

  • On your Harley, exploring the back roads surrounding your new rural home.
  • In your spare bedroom, at your desk, sorting through bills, checking pay stubs and doing calculations on Tax Pro.

Your simple answer to this simple question might be a simple predictor of your overall performance in life, much more so than your I.Q. It's about self-control. The ability to delay gratification.

Not convinced? Check out The New Yorker article entitled, "Don't! The Secret of Self-Control," by Jonah Lehrer. It tells the story of Walter Mischel's famous marshmallow studies at Stanford University in the sixties. Four-year-olds were invited into a small room with a table and a chair and a marshmallow and given an option by a researcher:

 "Either eat one marshmallow right away or, if you can wait while I step out for a few minutes, you can  have two marshmallows when I return."

Then the researcher left the room.

Seventy percent of the kids ate the marshmallow -- some right away, some resisted the treat for a minute or two. About 30 percent, however, delayed gratification until the researcher returned some 15 minutes later. These kids wrestled with the same temptation but found a way to resist.

That's not the end of the story. The 70 percent -- the "low delayers" -- when followed later in life, were more likely to have behavioral problems, lower S.A.T. scores, fewer friendships, trouble paying attention, et cetera.

What determined the "high delayers'" self-control? Mischels' conclusion, based on hundreds of hours of observation, was that the crucial skill was the "strategic allocation of attention." Instead of getting obsessed with the marshmallow -- the "hot stimulus" -- the patient children distracted themselves by covering their eyes, pretending to play hide-and-seek, or singing songs from "Sesame Street." Their desire wasn't defeated -- it was set aside and momentarily forgotten. The key for them was to avoid thinking about the marshmallow in the first place.

Ever heard of "metacognition?" It's the skill of thinking about thinking. It's what allows people to outsmart their shortcomings, like over-eating or procrastinating. It's like when Odysseus had himself tied to the ship's mast because he knew that he wouldn't be able to resist the Sirens' song, so he made it impossible to give in.

See, will power isn't about will at all...it's about learning how to control our attention and thoughts rather than letting a hot stimulus take over. Learn that and you can tackle an addiction, save more money for retirement, perform at a higher level at work, and -- even-- get your taxes done before midnight on April 15.

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Leading as Acting

Stage Door (desaturated)Image by slimmer_jimmer via Flickr

Lesley Stahl said recently on MSNBC that President Barack Obama needs to learn to be the actor that President Ronald Reagan was. And she didn't mean when Reagan was a movie star. She meant when he was president.

A president -- or really a leader at any level, of any group -- is always "on stage."

  • If you're a "team lead," your team members are always watching you for tell-tale signs that you're worried about something, or hiding something, or that you like one person better than others.
  • If you're a C-level leader, employees in your company and people in your community are making assumptions every time you open your mouth about what's behind your words.

Your presence "on stage" is always a factor to be conscious of when you're a leader.

What do you do as a leader/actor to convey the total message you want to convey? Remember, everything you do and say is a reflection of you and your message:

  • What you look like
  • How you carry yourself
  • How organized you appear to be
  • How prepared you are to say something, whether it's spur-of-the-moment or a standing meeting

Whether you're new to a leadership role, or you've been a leader for decades, it's important to always be vigilant about the impression you're making. It's a matter of survival for political leaders, but it's no less an issue for corporate and non-profit and public sector leaders.

  • If you're a new leader, join the local Toastmasters Club. Get some basic training in comfortably thinking on your feet and coming off polished and self-assured. All in a low-risk environment.
  • Find a trusted confidant or two to give you feedback about how you're coming across at work. This has to be someone who is not afraid to tell you the truth, someone who cares about you as a person, and wants the best for you and your career.
  • Hire a coach to help you with specific aspects of your demeanor or style that seem to convey something you're not meaning to convey.

If we're leaders, we're always on stage. Just recognizing this and accepting it as true sets us up to close gaps between the message we're wanting to convey and the message that's getting through.   

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You Don't Know MY Boss!

I was executive coach for a guy a while back who hated his boss. Despised him. He was so emotional about the situation that it had started to affect his performance and other relationships he had at work.

Ever been there? What did you do? How did you handle the tension and stress that's often associated with a relationship that's so important and yet so broken?

Most of us -- sometime in our careers -- end up working for someone whose values or style or goals clash with ours. I've had dozens of bosses over the years. Working for a few of those was like tolerating fingernails on a blackboard every day we were in the office at the same time. It's critical to know how to not only survive but to learn from experiences like that -- and not to let it derail our careers.

Here are some of the things I did to continue to be productive and to make the situation as tolerable as possible -- for both my boss and me. (Because let's face it: when the chemistry between two people is toxic, both know it.)

1. Manage the relationship. Take responsibility for making it work between you. Don't fall into the trap of feeling like a victim. Focus on meeting the responsibilities associated with your role. Make sure you are meeting expectations and getting the results you're supposed to be getting. Focusing on doing your job to the best of your ability gives you less time for focusing on why you dislike your boss so much. And that's a good thing.

2. Try to see the boss as a person with strengths and weaknesses, just like you. Objectify the situation. Identify the things that trouble you the most and for each one, develop a strategy for dealing with those things. In confidence, seek the help of someone else if needed . Ideally, this should not be a coworker. (It's important, as employees, to give bosses our support and loyalty, unless there are ethical or integrity issues involved.) Ask the advice of a mentor or of someone in HR.

3.Think about what role you might have played in the relationship going sour. Are there things you could have done differently early on that would have made a difference? So what can you learn from this situation? And what will you do next time when you see the first signs of trouble?

You don't ever have to invite your boss to your home, but you do have to deal with this person as your boss. Remember, bosses come and go. This too shall pass. Either he/she will move on or you will. Learn everything you can from this situation -- about yourself, about "managing up," about the dynamics of relationship building. Your career will continue past this boss and you want to be the better for it.

Go on a Low-Info Diet

The 4-Hour WorkweekImage via Wikipedia

Tim Ferriss, author of the bestselling The 4-Hour Workweek, suggests that -- like those in the fast-growing subculture he calls the New Rich -- we need to learn to ignore or redirect all information and interruptions that are "irrelevant, unimportant, or unactionable."

And he says that most information we are bombarded with daily comes from these three categories. Time-consuming, negative and irrelevant to what we're working on now, and outside our scope of influence.

Think about that. Herbert Simon, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, said "...a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention..." Can you argue with that? More is not always better. The challenge is discerning what deserves your precious attention.

A while back someone told me about a survival skill they'd adopted called "shucking." I've adopted it and love it. It's a way to handle the wave upon wave of fast-breaking, headline-making, attention-consuming information. Shucking is a two-part skill. The first is throwing away what you don't need; the second, deflecting stuff before it hits you.

  • Grab that pile of six-month-old business journals. Shuck it. Might there be some useful articles in the stack? Maybe. But you'll get new ones this month and next. And the longer those old ones sit there, the more you worry about reading them. Those anxious thoughts junk up your mind.
  • Compress your Internet files. That's shucking.
  • Shovel out your office. Shuck what you aren't using now and won't need in the very near future.
  • Shuck time-wasting phone calls and association memberships that you've outgrown.

Ferriss suggests developing the habit of asking yourself this question. "Will I definitely use this information for something immediate and important?" And if you answer "no" to either "immediate" or "important," he suggests that you don't consume it. Shuck it. It's useless if it's not applied to something important OR if you are going to forget it before you have a chance to apply it. (Like all those great ideas in that pile of journals.)

Since reading The 4-Hour Work Week, I've consciously avoided saving articles, researching sites and looking for books that might be helpful for future clients or projects. My files, my office, my mind is less cluttered. And when I need certain information, it's always there. Practice shucking. That low-info diet will help you lose what you don't need anyway.

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Acting Paradoxically for Success

Let's say you have to deliver a tough message about layoffs. Can you deliver that message in a compassionate way?

Let's say that you feel strongly about a certain issue. But can you jump on board and loyally implement another plan even if it opposes your view?

Can you both lead and follow equally well? Do you confront people when they don't perform but still be  approachable and easy to talk with? Layoffs

Learning to shift gears readily like this is critical to being a good leader. (Especially today, when the landscape can change in a matter of seconds!) If you're a leader today, you have to be able to think and act in seemingly contrary ways at the same time, or when moving from one task to another.

One of the biggest leadership challenges for me is re-thinking the value of being "consistent," being who I am, deep down, all the time, following one set of beliefs. When called on to act paradoxically, what I do is push out my borders a bit and expand my normal range of beliefs, behaviors and style, using two extremes at once: I'm loud and soft, strong and flexible, persistent and adaptable.

How does paradox show up for you? How do you have to shift gears at work? What kinds of quick and difficult transitions do you have to make in the course of a typical day?

Write down the five toughest for you? How do these discontinuities make you feel and what might you do in that moment that gets you into trouble as a leader? Now decide what you'll do next time such a paradox shows up that will keep you out of trouble and lead you to success.

"She Made Me Mad"

A smiley by Pumbaa, drawn using a text editor.Image via Wikipedia

"She made me mad!" Ever said that? Of course you have. We all have. As if she -- whoever SHE is -- crawled inside our heads, flipped a bunch of levers, and cranked up the dial labeled, "anger."

Others don't make us mad. Or happy. Or anxious. WE pull our own levers and turn our own dials.

In fact, one of the biggest stumbling blocks we all face -- whether as leaders at work or in our personal lives -- is our propensity to believe we know exactly what's going on around us. What we see is what everyone else must be seeing, right? So, our truth is also their truth -- and our emotions must match their emotions, right? No so.

Put 50 people in a room. Stage an incident. You'll get 50 different stories about exactly what happened there. More importantly, you'll get a plethora of different emotions, based on what the various stories are about. Scary stories might create the emotion "fear." Funny stories might create "joy." Et cetera.

Remember Shakespeare's admonition, "Nothing in this world is good or bad, but thinking makes it so."


With apologies to Shakespeare, "Nothing in this world is good or bad, but 'storytelling' makes it so." If you want to change your feelings, (bad feelings like anger, frustration and sadness or good feelings like delight, happiness or curiosity) examine the story you're telling yourself.

Stories are assumptions. Remember the old adage you learned somewhere along the way: "If you assume, you make an "ass of  u and me." Storytelling...making assumptions...is especially troublesome when you're in a leadership role. I like Will Roger's thoughts on the subject: "It isn't what we don't know that gets us into trouble; it's what we know that isn't so." If I didn't know better, that concept could make me mad.

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Achieve Your Goals by "Kedging"

A sailing ship tied to shore, circa 1900-1920Image via Wikipedia

We all get stuck sometimes. There's something we have our sights set on, we want it really, really badly, and for whatever reason -- we're stalled out. We can't get the traction we need to move forward with our goal. Maybe it's bringing a new product to market. Maybe it's getting a key position filled. Maybe it's learning a new skill that will make a huge difference in our bottom line.

Desperate measures are needed. We must persevere.

What do you do to get unstuck in a situation like that?

  • Modify (i.e., lower) your original goal?
  • Wait for an epiphany?
  • Hire a consultant or a coach or a skilled pair-of-hands?

Have you ever tried "kedging?" Never heard of it? Neither had I. Until I was reading Crowley and Lodge's book, Younger Next Year. They explain it this way:

    Sailing ships in ancient times -- before the invention of the outboard motor -- often got becalmed and the crew had to just sit there in a funk. Which was all right some of the time, but not always. Sometimes there were enemy ships, a hostile shore looming closer, or the sailors just got bored out of their minds and started to squabble. The captain might decide to use kedging to get unstuck. He'd take a light anchor (called a kedging), load it into a longboat, and send a small crew rowing out a half mile or so in the direction the ship was wanting to sail. The longboat crew popped the anchor over the side of the longboat, making sure it was "set" on the bottom, and then everyone back on the big boat pulled like demons on the line attached to the anchor, literally hauling the ship to the anchor. Then they'd do the whole business again, until they got where they wanted to go...or until the wind picked up again. Sounds like a lot of work, but maybe well worth it if your ship was in dire straits.

I can think of instances when I used kedging to move projects or initiatives forward, not realizing what I was doing had a name. I just knew that I was desperate to make something happen.

For example, one time I called on scores of stakeholders --- one at a time -- over the course of months, spending countless hours in the process, in order to get enough agreement to make a much-needed major purchase. We were stuck; desperate needs sometimes demand desperate measures.

What about you? Now that you know what "kedging" is, how have you used it -- to avoid the enemy, the rocks, or poor morale -- in order to achieve a goal that your organization's very livelihood depended on?

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Who me? Defensive!

Groucho MarxGroucho Marx via last.fm

You're in a meeting and a team member points out an error you made in a recent report. Instantly, you feel your face flushing. Your stomach knots up. Your mind starts to race. What you do next - and say next - says a lot about:

  • how you see yourself
  • how open you are to learning and improving
  • how others will ultimately see you

Get defensive when someone is critical or trying to give you feedback, and it's like shooting yourself in the foot. Get upset with messengers delivering messages - whether they're flattering or not - and soon the messages will dry up.

  • People will give you less and less feedback. Pretty soon you're operating with a self-perception that's flawed because it's not aligned with how others see you.
  • Then your blind spots start to multiply. Eventually you'll get in trouble because you're operating with pieces of important information missing.

Most people don't enjoy giving even truthful and helpful feedback to a defensive person. It's not easy or fun. So they just don't.

If you know you're guilty of being defensive, change all that. (And hey, we all can be defensive at times, depending on how invested we are in whatever is at stake.)

When someone says something that makes you bristle, instantly think to yourself,

  • "Wow, if there's even an element of truth in what they're saying, I need to know it. I could be making a problem for myself, and others, and this could be a way out. What am I doing to get this feedback? What can I learn from this feedback."

Be curious. Sincerely curious. Like a scientist might be with a science experiment. If you can switch from:

  • being defensive to being curious
  • focusing on your own feelings to focusing on the other person's perspective,

a calmness will settle over you. The racing thoughts will slow down. The strong emotions will subside. Your ears will open up and you'll be able to listen for any nuggets of truth in what's being said.

It all starts with your frame of mind. Is your mindset open or closed? Don't be like Groucho Marx who supposedly said, "People say I don't take criticism very well, but I say, 'What the hell do they know?' "

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