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A Day of Thanksgiving?

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I was asked a couple of days ago about what I would be blogging about this week. I said today’s post would be about the U.S. Thanksgiving Holiday. I was then asked why not just post that on Thursday, which is of course actually Thanksgiving day in the U.S.

That very question speaks to the premise of this post.

That question might seem to indicate that we are thankful one day a year, or at the very least it indicates that we only stop to “thankfully reflect” one day a year. That really doesn’t make sense when you think about it.

Now I love all the traditions around Thanksgiving, I even love fighting the hordes for bargains on Black Friday. I over eat along with the majority of Americans, watch some football, and have too much whipped cream on my Pumpkin Pie. Somewhere along the line of course we, at least some, stop eating long enough to be thankful. For a day.

Then it’s back to taking way way too much stuff for granted. Now, I’m not just throwing rocks at other people, I’m throwing them at myself too. I’m just as guilty as anyone else.

If you live in the United States you have so much to be grateful for. You truly live in the land of opportunity, virtually nothing is out of reach. (Actually, if makes no difference where you live, if you look hard enough you can find at least a ray of hope)

Okay, okay, it’s about here that some, perhaps many, of you are already thinking “what a crock,” doesn’t this idiot know how tough things are… Yes I know. I also know that on our worst day life is still pretty darn good, especially when compared to the struggles of much of the world.

When we focus on what’s wrong it causes us to miss most of what’s right. On any given day we have much more to be thankful for than we have to complain about but we choose to focus on the negative. One day a year we choose to look past the bad and be thankful for the good.

I wonder why we focus so little of our time on finding things and people to be thankful for. Is it because we measure our lives in years and there’s always next year? What if we measured our lives in days?

I have worked at the same company for over 18 years. Does that seem like a lot? How about this, I’ve really worked there for 6762 days. 9,737,280 minutes, 584,236,800 seconds. Now I’m sure not all of the seconds and minutes were good but I can pretty much guarantee that something good happened on each one of those 6762 days.

I can also pretty much guarantee that I have failed to be grateful for each one of my 6762 days of employment. I’m also sure that I’ve had something to be thankful for each of the 21,756 days of my life but I’ve only “officially” stopped for 59 of those days to give thanks.

That’s just not right. So join me in the coming seconds, minutes, days and years to stop everyday, every single day, to be grateful, to focus on the good things and good people that surround you.

I’ll bet that when we put in the effort to find the good we’ll discover that it doesn’t take much effort at all, it just takes a choice!

How Much Does Good Judgment Matter?

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Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis are both well known business authors and both are considered experts on the topic of leadership. They also both agree that a leader’s most important role, regardless of the organization, is making good judgments. They define good judgments as well-informed, wise decisions that produce the desired outcomes. They say that when a leader shows consistently good judgment, little else matters.

They also have this in common: they are mistaken. Seriously mistaken. They are mistaken because lots of other stuff matters, lots and lots of other stuff.

Clearly good judgment is vital for all leaders. If we’re talking solely about effective leadership then I may even put it at the top of my most important leadership characteristics list. However, if we’re talking about Authentic Servant Leadership then many other characteristics come into play and they are equally as important as good judgment.

Let me attempt to struggle once again with the difference between effective leadership and truly Authentic Servant Leadership.

Think of it like this: effective leadership can settle for the good of the one over the good of the many. Authentic Servant Leadership will consistently, willingly, sacrifice the good of the one for the good of the many, even when they are personally the “one.”

If that’s an accurate description of the difference, or at least a difference, between “effective” and “authentic” leadership and I believe that it is, that makes effective leadership a whole lot easier than authentic leadership.

There is just a lot less to be concerned about. There are less “inputs” to consider when a merely effective leader is making a judgment.

So if Tichy and Bennis are talking about only effective leadership they could have a point. But merely effective leaders are limited in their ability to earn the commitment of their people. That limitation lessons their influence and prevents them from ever achieving a Level Five Leadership Status.

Authentic Servant Leaders must have integrity and they must care about their people. They celebrate the success of others before their own. They don’t spend time on their people, they invest time with their people. Authentic Servant Leaders don’t just build a strong following, they build strong leaders. Yes, they have outstanding judgment but they know that there are very few things that “matter little” and many things that matter a lot in leadership.

Here’s where I can agree with both Tichy and Bennis: they say when a leader consistently shows poor judgment, nothing else matters. I believe that is mostly true. It’s true because you can care for people, you can have boatloads of integrity, and you can genuinely love it when other people succeed but if your judgment is always lacking, you may be a wonderful person but you won’t be a leader for long.

So judgment matters, it really really matters. To say that little else matters however is to diminish the legacy of many of the greatest leaders who ever lived. Judgment is a critical component of leadership, but it’s not the only one, it’s only one of many.

There Are No Devils in the Details

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It’s funny how some sayings can be so wrong. I hear people say that the “devil is in the details” a lot. The truth is, it’s almost exactly the opposite. What you find in the details is not the devil but success. Success is in the details. When you pay attention to the details they pay you back with success, often great success.

Here’s one of my favorite examples of finding success in the details:

Perhaps the most “famous” rider in the music industry was the rider attached to Van Halen’s standard performance contract. It is not unusual in the music industry for a particular artist’s rider to be even bigger and more complex than their actual contract. Van Halen’s rider stated that there must be a bowl of M&M’s in the band’s dressing room and that all (as in every single one) of the brown M&M’s must be removed.

The presence of even a single brown M&M in that bowl would be sufficient legal cause for Van Halen to peremptorily cancel a scheduled appearance without advanced notice.

The M&Ms provision was included in Van Halen’s rider not as an act of caprice, but because it served a practical purpose: to provide an easy way of determining whether the technical specifications of the rider had been thoroughly read (and complied with).

Van Halen was the first band to take huge productions into tertiary, third-level markets. These were the kind of places that had little or no experience hosting this type of performance. The band would pull up to an arena with nine eighteen-wheeler trucks, full of gear, where the standard was three trucks, maximum.

The rider included pages and pages of very elaborate rigging guidelines and still more pages of highly technical specifications. If any of these guidelines or specifications were missed, there could be complications during the show and potentially someone could be seriously hurt.

When the band walked backstage and saw a brown M&M in the bowl they knew there was almost certainly going to be trouble with other specifications within the contract.

Whoever had hired the band had either not read the contract or had just decided to ignore this “little” detail and that was a sign to the band that every specification and guideline had to be double-checked before the show could begin. In his autobiography, Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth explained that every time the band saw a brown M&M in the bowl they also found something bigger, something much more critical that had also been missed.

Van Halen never canceled a concert because of brown M&M’s in a bowl but they did use what they called “a little test” to determine if bigger things might have been missed.

That true story is a lesson in how little details matter, if you miss enough of them, sometimes if you miss even one of them, you may never even have the opportunity to accomplish the bigger things.

Never be afraid of what “people” might say about you. Let them call you anal, let them call you obsessed, and let your success speak for itself. Pay attention to the details today or you’ll almost certainly pay the consequences tomorrow.

The lesson here for leaders is this: never forget to celebrate and reward the little things. They matter and when they, and the people who do them are forgotten or ignored, then you can bet the bigs things will almost certainly suffer as well.

The Illusion of Leadership

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No position or title can make you a leader. Yes, there are positions that provide the illusion of leadership but it doesn’t take long for most people to see past that. Yes, there are some positions that offer, temporarily anyway, the influence required to help you lead but even that does not make you a leader.

Leadership is far more about disposition than it is about position. Leadership is about making a decision to seize the opportunity that comes from a position to actually make a difference in the lives of people.

Here’s a sad fact in way too many organizations today, it may well be a sad fact in many governments as well: lots of people in leadership positions squander the opportunity to actually lead by settling for the illusion of leadership.

The illusion of leadership causes people to manage rather than lead. It places blame rather than accepting responsibility. It makes the person in the leadership position cautious, frequently too cautious. It limits the growth of organizations and people if, and this is a big if, if it doesn’t outright kill it.

Worst of all, the illusion of leadership becomes its own kind of Ponzi scheme where every decision is designed to protect and keep alive the illusion that real leadership exists. The leadership position remains but the potential of the person in it to actually lead dies. Oftentimes the last person to realize the leadership is merely an illusion is the person in the leadership position. The illusion becomes a trick they play upon themselves, over and over again.

Every person coming into a leadership position, regardless of how they got there, has a grace period where the position or title will give them the opportunity to earn the right to lead. Yes, in case you weren’t aware, the right to actually lead must be earned. The length of the grace period varies by situation but it’s never as long as a leader thinks it is.

New leaders must demonstrate actual leadership quickly or the influence that came with the position begins to wane. Once it is gone it’s really tough to get it back.

Many new leaders get so caught up in the urgency of managing “stuff,” the business, budgets, policies and the like, that the importance of leading their people moves to the back burner. Real leadership is replaced by the illusion.

You must intentionally carve out time in your schedule to show leadership everyday. Real leadership. The kind that lets people know they matter. The kind that leaves no doubt that they are important to the overall success of the organization. The kind that shows you care more about them as people than you care about the brick and mortar building they work in and more about them than policies and procedures.

Above all don’t buy into the illusion of leadership. Don’t believe that any amount of managing can replace true leadership. Never forget, if you’re doing it for the business it’s managing, if you’re doing it for your people it’s leading.

By the way, the picture that accompanies this post…. it is two faces or is it one vase? The illusion of leadership can confuse even the best leaders, don’t let it confuse you.

Turn Criticism Into Coaching

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Everyone needs a bit of coaching. The best athletes have a coach, so do the most successful people and so do the most effective leaders.

The trouble is, some coaches aren’t that great of a coach. They criticize, sometimes harshly, and call it coaching. Some people struggle to accept coaching; most of us struggle to accept criticism.

You really have no way to control another person’s thoughts or comments about you. There often is no way to tell if their criticism was meant in a helpful way or was meant to be hurtful. What you do have complete control over however is how you choose to accept it.

You can, yes YOU can, choose to accept all criticism as coaching meant to build you up. When you make that choice you have the power to turn even the most hurtful criticism into a learning experience.

First ask yourself if there is any truth to the criticism. Be honest with yourself, very honest. If you don’t see a hint of truth in the comment then put yourself in the other person’s shoes and ask yourself why they might think it’s true. If you still come up empty then politely and as unemotionally as possible, ask them why they think it’s true.

Remember, it doesn’t matter how they intend the criticism to be taken, you’re accepting it as sincere coaching so do not become defensive. You must be open to the possibility that their criticism is valid and if you determine it to be then you must use it to improve yourself. Never give valid criticism less consideration than it deserves.

Learn how to stop taking things personally. This is especially important if, when you feel criticized, you tend to feel depressed. I know this is easier said then done but you must realize that an unfounded critical comment may say more about the person saying it than it says about you. They may feel threatened, they may lack confidence or they may just be flapping their gums. If you know it’s pure garbage then use your own confidence to ignore it.

When someone says something critical, smile and shrug. Then continue doing/saying whatever you were doing/saying. If the person is trying to get under your skin, this will show them that they did not succeed. If you lose control of your emotions then you lose control of the situation. Never give unjust criticism more consideration than it deserves.

If the person is your friend or boss, ask for advice. When someone criticizes you, say “Alright. What should I do instead?” This asks the person to follow through with their criticism. If they say they can’t for whatever reason, you can say “OK then, it might be more helpful if you didn’t point out a problem that you can’t or won’t help me fix.”

Don’t always listen to what people say. Don’t always believe what people say, especially when it’s something bad, and there’s only one person or two making this remark, only one time. It’s sad to say but not everyone has your best interests in mind. Trust yourself, you almost certainly do have your best interests in mind.

Above all stay open to the very likely possibility that you still have some growing and learning to do. It shouldn’t matter so much how someone intends their criticism to be taken. What really matters is how you take it.

When you decide you can learn something from anyone and anything it’s suddenly all good.

The Ultimate Test of Leadership

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The ultimate test of leadership is this: Do you as a leader have the ability to help common people achieve uncommon performance? Can you help a follower or a weak leader become a strong leader?

A leader, a true leader anyway, has many responsibilities. Leadership requires sacrifice, commitment and often, steadfast determination to push further when those around you are suggesting that you don’t.

I believe that the greatest of all leadership responsibilities is building people, and hopefully, building them into leaders. If as a leader, you fail to develop a leader who can fill your role upon your departure then it’s unlikely that your leadership can be deemed a complete success. Leaders who cannot build more leaders are limited leaders. That is not my opinion, that is a fact.

That limitation will also limit almost every other aspect of an organization’s growth. That’s simple math; two leaders can grow an organization faster than one, three can grow it faster than two, four can… well, you get the idea.

The challenge for leaders is that people development requires time and too many people in leadership positions believe they can’t afford the time required. These would be the same “leaders” who proudly say that their people are their greatest asset while investing more resources in service contracts for their copiers and computers than they do in developing their people.

As the saying goes, “follow the money.” When organizations don’t invest dollars in their people it makes it hard to believe that they would invest time. If the organization isn’t investing time in people development then it’s almost certain that the leader isn’t either.

If you’re a leader who wants to build more leaders then first you must understand that you can’t and should not try to lead through them. You provide leadership to them and give them the opportunity to lead others. You need to help them develop their own leadership skills and let their leadership flow through the organization.

If you’re interested in building future leaders then be a bit unreasonable. No one gets stronger by lifting the weight they are comfortable lifting. Build leaders by challenging them with seemingly unreasonable goals; goals they cannot accomplish on their own. This will encourage them to rally other people to the cause. It will likely require innovation, planning, diligence, patience, people skills, and most of all, leadership.

They will need to set direction, and coach others towards success, they will need to develop their own team of leaders. If you give all your future leaders goals you’re certain they should, can, and will achieve then you’re treating them like a follower, not a leader. Remember, making a diamond requires pressure, a raw leader who is never pressured is likely to remain just a raw, and weak, leader.

Avoid “over-coaching” your future leaders. Set clear, measurable objectives and let them run. If they need and willingly accept coaching all the time they are probably not future leaders. Leaders like coaching when they ask for it and need it; only followers want and accept coaching all the time.

Help them to believe in themselves and you’ll be amazed at what they can accomplish. Their results will be uncommon and you will have passed the ultimate test of leadership; you’ll have developed your organization’s next generation of leaders.

Busy Isn’t Always Productive

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Are you a busy person? Are you always “on the run” from the time your feet first hit the floor until your head finally returns to the pillow? Is there always “stuff” left to do at the end of the day?

If you answered yes to those questions then there’s no doubt about it; you are indeed a busy person.

Now let me ask you a completely different question. Are you a productive person? Does your busyness lead to a result. Put simply, do you get stuff done? Do you know how you got it done and most importantly, do you know why it should have been done?

If you answered yes to those questions then you are likely a productive person. You are also very likely to be a successful person. Merely busy people are seldom truly successful; productive people almost always are.

Busy people are always working; productive people are always working towards something. That something is usually a goal or at minimum a desired outcome or result.

Here’s the deal with goals, if you don’t have goals, written goals, along with a fairly detailed plan on how you will achieve each one, then you don’t have goals. Not true goals anyway. Not goals you’re likely to achieve.

The most successful people have written goals, goals based on their core values. They work towards their goals every single day. Sometimes they take big steps towards a goal, some days it’s a tiny little step but virtually everyday it’s something.

Successful people know that if they didn’t get closer to a goal then their day may have been incredibly busy but it was not productive.

Goals allow you to have focus and focus is a key to success. That’s why the most successful people don’t buy into the folly of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking makes you busier, and less productive all at once. Few things actually waste more time than multi-tasking and few things save more time than focus.

I know there are multi-tasking people out there who will vehemently disagree with me on this but all the statistics and research are on my side here. Few things waste more time than multi-tasking. We use it when we’re “stuck” on something or there is something else we would rather be doing. We use it to distract ourselves from more important but less enjoyed tasks.

Here’s an interesting question to ask yourself a few times during each day: “Is what I’m doing at this very moment the most productive thing I could be doing?” If you answer honestly you’ll be shocked at how many times your answer is no. You might be doing something you like to do, you might be doing something that’s easier to do, you might even be doing something very productive, but that’s not the question. Is it the most productive thing you could be doing?

Now, take a breath. I understand that no one can answer yes to that question every time. In fact, I’d estimate that even the most successful people can answer yes less than half the time. But asking the question makes you more aware of how you are using your time. You won’t have to wonder “where the day went” anymore. You’ll know why you didn’t get done what really needed to get done.

One more thing, as you ask yourself that question keep in mind the words of U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower who said “What is Important is Seldom Urgent and What is Urgent is Seldom Important.”

When deciding if you’re just busy or actually productive it helps to know the difference between merely urgent and truly important. That difference is found in your true goals.

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