One day a pride of ostriches were sitting around with their heads in the sand. (yes, I know that ostriches don’t actually bury their head in the sand but it works for this story) One brave ostrich pulled his head out of the sand long enough to see a convocation of eagles flying overhead. He was amazed by the site, large birds flying, soaring, and going where ever they liked.
The ostrich thought to himself wouldn’t it be amazing to be able to fly like those eagles. So he did what we would all do, he looked for a flying school on Google. Soon enough he located a nearby flying school and convinced his fellow ostriches to join him in learning how to fly.
It was a challenging course and it took several days to master the art of flying. But the ostriches loved it, they flew and they flew, up and down, back and forth, it was just as amazing as they had thought it would be.
After several days they received their certificate indicating that they were certified to fly. They had a big celebration and slapped each other on their backs and then they all walked home.
Yes, they walked home.
The ostriches made the all too common mistake of believing that the goal of education is knowledge. The goal of education goes beyond knowledge; the true goal of education is action.
Success requires more than simply knowing what to do; success requires that you actually do it.
You can’t just prepare for success and then wait for it to arrive. All the education and preparation in the world does no good unless you put it into action. Successful people DO!
Successful people do more, they do it more often, they do it in spite of fearing failure. When they fail they do it again, often differently and with a better plan but they do it again. They simply DO!
The ostriches learned how to succeed and yet they did not succeed. They didn’t succeed because they didn’t DO! In every success there is action, somebody did something to bring about the success.
If you’ve yet to receive the success that you believe your due perhaps it’s because you’ve yet to actually DO.
Think about it.
What’s your most prized possession? When you ask that question to a group of people you get some very interesting answers. You also get a lot of different answers, some very personal answers.
You also discover that very few people say credibility. It’s not that they don’t value credibility, it’s just that most of us don’t think of credibility in terms of something we possess. Credibility is just something that exists, it’s just sort of there. We know it’s important, we want to be seen as credible, we want the people around us to be credible, we simply value credibility.
So we say.
But then we go out and do things that destroy our credibility. We say one thing and do another. We criticize someone for doing something as we’re doing the exact same thing. We behave or speak in a manner that we know is wrong, at least we know it’s wrong when somebody else does it.
We say credibility matters but often act as if it doesn’t.
There are literally a million ways for us to negatively impact our credibility but I’m going to focus on one because it’s so pervasive, maybe not as much as it used to be but I’d still bet it’s the number one destroyer of credibility today, especially in business circles.
It’s drinking while working. (DWW) Let me define drinking while “working.” If you’re with customers, co-workers, at an “after-hours” work function, or just somewhere people you work with or for might be, you’re working. If you’re out in public wearing a shirt or jacket with your company’s logo on it, you’re working. If you’re sitting in an airport with your backpack next to you and your backpack has your business card attached to it, you’re working. I could go on but I think you get the idea, “working” goes way beyond sitting behind your desk at 3:00 in the afternoon.
If you believe for a minute that you can go out and get completely wasted with a group of your business associates or customers and not damage your credibility with them you are completely and totally wrong.
Credibility does not just exist, it is built and re-built everyday. The things, all things, that we say and do matter, they all count. Every single thing you say and do either adds to or subtracts from your credibility. I wish that wasn’t true but it is.
We can’t live 100% of the time being “careful” with what we say and do to protect our credibility. We are human beings, prone to doing and saying dumb stuff from time to time. Those dumb things will sometimes harm our credibility and no matter how hard we try to avoid them, they will happen.
Which makes DWW all the worse, it is a choice, at least it is for the vast majority of people. If the waiter came over at asked “what would you like to destroy your credibility tonight?” we might think twice before ordering. Unfortunately, they say, “what would you like to drink?”
Just how much is your credibility worth? One beer? Two or three? Maybe you’re a very credible person and yours is worth 10 or 12…. oh wait, it doesn’t work that way.
The more you drink while working the less credible you will be, if you want to argue that point go ahead and order another, it’s only your credibility.
I am sometimes asked for my opinion on someone’s leadership ability. I usually qualify my answer by reminding the person asking that it really is just an opinion. I can make a highly educated guess but unless I am very familiar with the people the individual leads it really is just a guess.
I can only provide a truly qualified answer if I understand the level and quality of influence the leader has on their people. Because more than anything else, leadership, at least Authentic Servant Leadership, is about people.
I can observe a person’s judgment to provide insight into their leadership ability. I can listen to them as they talk about their vision for the organization and that also helps understand how they might lead.
I can even watch as they interact with those that they lead to determine the level of interest they actually have in helping their people succeed. But without really knowing what difference they have made in the lives of those they lead, I can’t, and neither can anyone else, really form a complete opinion.
To receive high “marks” as a leader they must have helped at least one of their people become a leader. No matter what else a leader has accomplished they have not completely succeeded as a leader unless they have built more leaders. Their leadership should run downhill to those they lead. They must transfer part of themselves into and onto their people to help them grow as leaders.
To determine the true effectiveness of a leader don’t look at the leader, look at the people they lead. That’s where you’ll discover all you need to know.
Mistakes and problems have much in common. One (mistakes) will very often cause the other (problems). No one likes either, we complain about problems and we dislike mistakes, so much so that we often refuse to admit making one.
The other thing that mistakes and problems have in common is that less successful people seem to dwell on them. They linger much longer than is required to learn from a problem and sometimes they hang onto a mistake (usually someone else’s) as if it were a treasured heirloom.
Successful people learn from their mistakes. The most successful people learn from the mistakes of others. Successful people see a problem as something to be tackled and overcome. The most successful people see a problem for what it is, an opportunity to come out of a situation better than they went into it.
Some people worry about problems, successful people worry about how to solve them. The most successful people don’t worry….. they know mistakes and problems will happen and they develop plans, in advance, to correct and overcome them.
The most successful people also know this simple fact: you are unlikely to ever fix a mistake you won’t admit was made and you’ll never overcome a problem you refuse to acknowledge exists.
Dale Carnegie said that when we make a mistake we should admit it “quickly and emphatically.” Denying your mistake is another mistake; it makes it hard for others to help you. When we accept our part in a mistake and acknowledge it then others can be more willing to help us fix it.
That means that the first step in fixing a mistake is admitting it. Acknowledge it, be specific, be honest and straightforward. Be brief as well, you’re admitting a mistake not making a speech. There is no need to make the mistake bigger than it is as a show of contrition. Accept your responsibility, apologize if an apology is called for and move on.
Problems for the most part are dealt with “automatically.” You see a problem, something doesn’t work right, you either fix it or get it fixed. You run out of something around the house you go and get more. Most people deal with problems all the time, the little ones we don’t even really call a problem. By the way, if you have a solution it is in fact NOT a real problem.
What are real problems however are the situations that we don’t know how to deal with. Problems may also be something we do know how to deal with but it’s too unpleasant or uncomfortable for us to tackle. So we avoid it.
There are lots of good problem solving strategies to be found on the web but let me offer you the most important one here.
Do not ignore any problem hoping it with go away on it’s own. Do not hope “no one notices” or “no one finds out.” Somebody will notice and somebody will find out. Big problems were once just little problems that were ignored or hidden. Problems do not normally fix themselves. Problems do not magically disappear and they do not typically grow smaller.
Delay and procrastination are the fertilizers that little problems need to grow into big ones. Solve the problem the moment you know how to solve the problem, once you have a solution there is no logical reason to delay.
The most successful people don’t fertilize their problems, they eradicate them! How about you?
Most everyone agrees that focus is a major key to success. The ability to block out distractions and hone in on the task required for success is often what separates the most successful people from the merely successful people.
Multitasking is nearly the exact opposite of focus.
As technology allows people to do more tasks at the same time, the myth that we can multitask has never been stronger. But researchers say it’s still a myth and they have the data to prove it.
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” said neuroscientist Earl Miller. And, he said, “The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Miller, a Picower professor of neuroscience at MIT, says that for the most part, we simply can’t focus on more than one thing at a time.
What we can do, he said, is shift our focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.
“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller said. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”
In reality, multitasking slows your thinking. A brain attempting to perform two tasks simultaneously will, because of all the back-and-forth stress, exhibit a substantial lag in information processing. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.
Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child.
The research just goes on and on regarding how multitasking is ineffective. There is no research that shows multitasking to be effective.
Now I know that a substantial number of people reading this will disagree. They will say THEY are excellent at multitasking and that they are accomplishing more than they ever could without it. Please reread professor Miller’s comments again… you’re deluding yourself.
Some people are indeed better at multitasking than others but no one is truly “good” at multitasking.
The truth is, and always has been, that focus, singular focus, is a key to success. Multi-tasking is a key to failure.
Just another reason why the difference between success and failure is often in the choices we make.
First a couple of qualifiers: not all leaders think the same and not all leaders are always thinking about the things discussed in this post. But generally speaking, all successful leaders think in these terms and while they have many other thoughts, at one time or another these things are top of mind. So here we go….
Great leaders focus on the mission. Leaders are frequently pulled toward unusual and urgent events that force them in different directions. While these often require the attention of the leader they don’t lose sight of the higher intent of the organization. When the challenge has been dealt with they return their focus to the mission and purpose of the organization. They know where they need to go and they have an actionable plan to get there. They think mission first!
Great leaders are great coaches. They actively look for opportunities to coach their people with the goal of growing more leaders. They coach for corrective action and they coach for positive reinforcement. They delegate to grow their people knowing full well that mistakes might be made. Great leaders also know that those mistakes provide highly valued learning opportunities. Great leaders think coaching, coaching, coaching.
Great leaders are great examples. They know that people will do what they see their leaders doing. They know that they are the example of successful behavior for their people. They understand that they set the example of good character, knowing their job and doing what matters. They preform as they would have their people perform and they do not expect more from their people then they expect of themselves. Great leaders know the way, go the way and lead the way. Great leaders think in terms of setting an example as much or more than they think of anything else.
Great leaders value and leverage diversity. They know that true diversity goes beyond Equal Employment and Affirmative Action laws. True diversity is understanding, valuing, and leveraging the differences in every person. They seek out differing opinions from people with different backgrounds and demonstrate that people are valued for their uniqueness. Great leaders know that to continue their personal growth they must interact with people who have opinions different from their own and who feel empowered to express them. Great leaders think about broadening the diversity of their organizations.
Great leaders accept risk. They accept well considered, well calculated risks. They don’t act with reckless abandon, they gather facts, they measure, they ask for advice and then they decide. They decide. They decide, that means that they make a decision. Great leaders know that all the facts, all the advice and all the opinions in the world don’t amount to much if a decision is never made. They think risk and they think about when and why to take them.
The simple truth is that leaders think differently than followers. Leaders see a bigger picture and they see farther into the future. Leadership is as much about mindset as it is anything, if you want to lead then start thinking (and acting) like a leader.
I watched a colleague make a mistake the other day. I knew it was a mistake right away but he doesn’t know it was a mistake yet. It’s not a big mistake, it’s not going to be a hugely expensive mistake and though it may be a bit of a hassle, it can be fixed.
My instincts as a person told me to “help” him by pointing out why it was a mistake. My instincts as a leader said to let him be wrong. Admittedly the two instincts have caused a bit of an internal battle for me but I’m going to take the long-term view and let him be wrong. I’ll find out more about his leadership ability by letting him be wrong than I could have ever found out by “saving” him from making the mistake.
I’ll learn how long it takes him to discover the mistake and I’ll see how long it takes him to correct it. I’ll know how willing he is to admit the mistake and whether or not he is willing to ask for help. I’ll see how he fixes it and whether or not he can think “out of the box” and come up with an innovative solution or just put “it” back to where it was.
If the mistake turns out to cause more problems than I anticipated I can always get myself more involved and (hopefully) help solve it quickly. There is some small risk but the potential “reward” is well worth it.
A far bigger mistake would be to never let people make a mistake of their own.
You can learn a lot about leadership by reading books. You can learn a lot about leadership by watching how other leaders lead. You can learn a lot about leadership from a good coach or mentor but the only way to truly learn how to lead is by leading.
Leaders will make mistakes and the only way to remain a leader is to also know how to fix them.
If you’re a leader hoping to grow future leaders then let them try out their leadership wings and understand that trying out those wings includes letting them crash now and then. You don’t need to let them crash hard and from a high distance, but let them crash just the same.
If you see a big, expensive, and hard to fix mistake coming then by all means figure out a way to inject yourself into the decision making to avoid the mistake. Try NOT to just take it away from your future leader and embarrass them in the process. Coach them to another decision that allows them to save face and feel as if they were a part of the decision making process.
If it’s not an expensive and hugely time consuming mistake then let them fall. Be there to help them up and offer any insights requested or needed. If they learn from their mistake and fix it quickly, you may actually have a future leader on your team.