Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way

Another perspective

Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way”. During my adult life, I’ve found myself doing all three at one time or another. By my very nature, I tend to want to lead. Sometimes that is truly the case because I have the passion and feel I also have the experience, knowledge, or skill to move things forward in a positive direction. It may also be because I see a void of leadership that I feel an obligation to fill. Other times, truth be told, it’s probably more of a self-centered desire for the adrenaline rush that comes from being in the middle of the action.

Follow

The “follow” part often does not come as easily for me. Call it a type-A personality or a distrust of others’ intentions, I can find it hard to be inspired to get behind another’s efforts. Add to that a series of uninspiring leaders in my past along with a failure on my part to seek out a successful mentor that I could utilize not only to learn but also to develop trust. I’ve also spent a significant portion of my professional career working in a zero sum environment where acknowledging another’s leadership and helping to move their agenda forward often comes back to be viewed as your own lack of vision or initiative. There have, however, been a few bright spots where I have been able to trust another’s interests and motives and take a subordinate part on a team just to be around the leader and to be part of something greater than myself.

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Thought Leadership

Can You Be a Thought Leader?

can-you-be-a-thought-leader

There was not as much backlash as I had anticipated. I was expecting a much stronger reaction from the leadership community where I hang out most of the time. There are many who do not look upon this as being “real” leadership. But, there are many that do.

And all of that prompts a question. “Can you be a thought leader?”

Can You Be a Thought Leader?

The question itself almost indicates that being a thought leader is something that we should seek after. And if it is, can you become one?

Just like some basic leadership skills that can be developed over time, basic thought leadership skills can be developed as well. Having said that, everyone can become a thought leader to some degree.

Thought leadership takes time (it takes a lot of time), it takes knowledge, and it takes a recognized expertise in a particular field or endeavor. Further, it takes a certain level of confidence in your own ability, a commitment to pursue excellence, and a willingness to go against the grain or to challenge the way things have always been done.

One of the challenges that exists today in many organizations is the creation and staffing of “Centers of Excellence.” More often than not these are staffed with young, talented folks who have lots of potential. They may even have advanced degrees that were tucked on immediately to their undergraduate work. Their degrees are impressive. So, let’s make them “thought leaders” and put them in a COE.

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Are You A Covenant Leader?

Or, are you a convenient leader?

are-you-a-covenant-leader

Two of my grandchildren attend a school with the word “Covenant” as part of the name of the school. They take this word seriously at the school. I was discussing leadership topics the other day with another person who is as passionate about leadership as I am and I was a little aggravated with the state of leadership among some who would be leaders. Unfortunately, the lack of covenant leadership is just too easy to identify today wherever you look.

One of the descriptions for leaders that I observe today is that they have no concept of a covenant and are just being convenient leaders. So, what does that mean?

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Be Accountable

Leadership Basics

Be Accountable

What do you do when something goes bad? Where are you when there is a failure or when a major deadline or deliverable is missed? Real leaders that folks want to follow understand that the “buck” really does stop with them.

Failure is inevitable. And failure does not have to be fatal to your leadership or your career. I recall working for a CIO many years ago. His mantra was; “If you aren’t failing, then you aren’t attempting big things.” Now, he wanted us to be calculating in our risks. But he wanted us to be taking risks. So often the greatest rewards come from the greatest risks. But you must still be accountable.

One of my greatest failures came from managing a project to restack most of the floors in a high-rise tower. We were reorganizing to increase our efficiency and foster greater collaboration among the business units. One of the major phases of the project was creating a call center on one of the floors. All of the construction work was done and the call center furniture was in place. All that was left was for my team to re-install all of the IT and communications equipment over the weekend. We finished about 2AM on the Monday morning that the call center was to “go live.” And we all went home for a few precious hours of sleep before coming back to work later in the morning.

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Anxieties vs. Aspirations

Help me focus on one more than the other!

Anxieties vs. Aspirations

Leaders inspire us as much as they lead us. Really great leaders inspire us by helping us to focus more on our aspirations and less upon our anxieties.

As I look around today and try to make some observations in the midst of an intense political season, one thing is clear. Most candidates (from both parties) are trying to tap into our anxieties much more than they are our trying to tap into our aspirations.

If they are correct, and we are an angry electorate, then we are the root of their methodology and approach. They are simply giving us what we want. We are full of anxiety and that anxiety has lead to frustration, which has led to anger. And they, in turn, are tapping into that deep seeded emotion.

If they are incorrect, and we are an electorate that still aspires to greatness, then they are completely misjudging the tenor and tone of the nation. They are pandering to a minority of voters and they will ultimately be rejected at the ballot box.

What is the leadership lesson in the midst of this political season?

The leadership lesson is this.

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Leadership Lessons from Product Designers

Product Designers

Jony Ive, is a Senior Vice President of Design at Apple.  He outlined his three key tips for designers during a talk at London’s Design Museum. These three practices – although crafted in product design and development language – are spot on for leaders intent on bringing new life to plateaued or declining organizations.

Jony Ive’s 3 Leadership Lessons

In his talk Ive offered up three key practices for high-tech product designers. In order to excel, these innovative product designers must:

  • Learn how to care
  • Learn how to focus
  • Be prepared to screw up and throw things away

Many times product designers work in start-up or entrepreneurial ventures. Cash is not yet king and errors are costly. Too many errors in these early stages will bankrupt a fledgling company and prevent us from ever experiencing their remarkable products.

Those product designers who work in established and mature organizations often experience a cut throat world where the product designer that hits on a winning design is potentially rich beyond his wildest dreams. But the carefree days and camaraderie of the start-up are long gone.

What is the Leadership Lesson in these three practices?

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Buzzword Bingo and Real Leadership

Buzzword Bingo

How many times have you been tempted to play “Buzzword Bingo” in a business meeting?

What?  You don’t know how to play Buzzword Bingo?  Well, let me explain it quickly.

Buzzword Bingo, also known as something a little more “earthy”, is a bingo-style game where participants prepare bingo cards with certain buzzwords that they are likely to hear at a meeting or event.  They mark them off their game card when they are uttered during an event, such as a meeting or speech. The goal of the game is to mark off a predetermined number of words in a row and then yell “Bingo!” It is generally played in situations where audience members feel that the speaker, in an effort to mask a lack of actual knowledge, is relying too heavily on buzzwords rather than providing relevant details.

An important element of the game is having the courage to actually yell “Bingo!” once you have collected enough marks on your card. In order to avoid the repercussions that could result from doing that in a public setting, participants may resort to looking at one another and silently mouthing the word “Bingo”. An alternate variation requires the person who has achieved bingo to raise his or her hand and use the word “Bingo” within the context of a comment or question.

Consider if you would a couple of thoughts regarding the differences between buzzwords and real leadership.

Buzzwords are a poor substitute for the real content.  In fact, that is the key reason that some leaders tend to rely on buzzwords so much.  They really don’t have anything of real substance to offer.

Real leadership, on the other hand, offers a vocabulary of meaningful dialog.  A leader does not have to have the vocabulary of a Mensa member.  But real leaders use words of real substance and they encourage meaningful words of dialog in return.

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Battlestar Voices, the Skirmish with the Fifth “S”

I have been through several 5S training modules during the different stops in my career path.  5S is a methodology generated by Japanese manufacturing to improve the organization of a working area to drive efficiency and effectiveness.  5S stands for 5 stages identified by words that starts with the letter “S”.  These stages are: Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize and Sustain(As translated into English).When fully supported from management down, it is a methodology I fully believe in.  With that said, I’m only touching on one aspect of this methodology in this expose of thoughts from my mind. (scary place, I know)

DriveSH

What has been in my thoughts lately due to situations in my latest career stop is the last stage..…. “Sustain”.  More to the point, how leadership in my experience commonly fails at driving actions to sustain implemented changes, processes, policies etc.   An interesting item I read is that the Japanese word “shitsuke” (translated to “Sustain” to maintain the 5S moniker) may actually be better translated to the word “commitment”. Does this mean I believe leadership has failed to be committed on a whole?  Not necessarily, but from a narrow viewpoint, I do think one of the more difficult aspects of effective leadership is a commitment to sustaining actions after the “crisis” or “action” moments are implemented.

Maybe the cobattlenundrum with commitment to sustaining is that it is boring? Dull? Lacks glitter and glamour? It is humdrum?  It does not bring forth the adventure of something new and of an attainable and tangible goal to concur!!!  In training for 5S you won’t hear about problems with the first 3 steps very often.   Why is that?  Maybe because breaking something down and rebuilding it is a challenge.  Transformation is something that we can visualize the change in, set easy goals that are perceptible in some way to achieve, can be easily celebrated and can make for a great graph or photo placed in a Powerpoint presentation. Sustaining is……..repetitive dedication to adhering to a standard.   Where’s the excitement in that?

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Passive Leadership

 

Passive Leadership - 1I am currently involved in a men’s study at my church and I have been having a hard time engaging with the group. It is because, honestly, it’s boring. I had committed to a friend and Pastor that I would be involved and engaged. But the leader, as great a person as he is, is difficult to listen to. I had expressed these issues to my wife recently and she thought I needed to be more open minded about it. I was willing to give it another chance and I was sitting in there the other night and heard someone on the video say, “The biggest issue with men and their Christianity is passivity.”

I will have to admit it took me a few days for that to sink in, and what I have come up with is this. They are right. As our passivity grows, so does our acceptance of passivity. So as I thought about this over the weekend this is what came to me.

I researched “Passive Leadership” and I found the term “passive patriot”. It spoke to me. A passive patriot is a citizen who fails to combine knowledge and action to maintain democracy. The research behind this is expansive and certainly beyond the focus of this blog. However, what I couldn’t shake from my mind is the parallel to the current state of leadership in our organizations and in our country.

Passive Leadership - 2We have too many passive leaders failing to shift away from applying 20th century leadership practices to 21st century problems. Such problems cannot be solved relying on the familiar. Regardless of whether it be hierarchy, too much work, not enough time, or not enough resources, we need active leaders. The lull of passive leadership is convincing and believable.

Yet the level of inaction at the leadership level to tackle such problems is weakening organizations. In the 21st century, knowledge, and the application of it to create value for customers, is king. Underlying this reality is the acceptance that people create the profit. Without knowledgeable, enthused people, we will suffer.

Will you or your team be lulled to sleep by passive leadership and erode your value in the marketplace? Will you chase away talented employees? Will you create committed followers or customers?

We need today more leaders willing to act first and then figure out what’s next and not accept failure or misunderstanding. You can be one of them. Perhaps you already are. Many of the big problems facing businesses will simply expand in complexity the longer they are ignored or accepted.

Passive Leadership - 3You don’t need a CEO, executive, or a director to inspire you to get into action and do something to address the company’s problems. You can decide today to lead locally: lead your team to figure out what problems are limiting the value you create for your customers. And then find a solution.

Getting your hand slapped is a requirement in leadership. It’s a full contact sport. It’s standing for something bigger than you. Tackling 21st century leadership problems is worth getting your hand slapped over. It’s worth finding and using your voice.

It begins with looking at where your passive leadership is holding you back and deciding where you can turn up the volume in your leadership. Stop accepting excuses for failure. Get in the trenches with your people and lead from the front.

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From Co-Worker to Boss

 

Handshake - 20141009 - 2Congratulations!  You have just been promoted to manager in your department or at your company. Or, maybe you have made the decision to start your own company and many of your co-workers have such faith in you that they are joining you in your new venture.

You are about to start one of the biggest challenges of your life. You are moving from co-worker / friend to BOSS!

You remember all those late night phone calls with co-workers, after work drinks or quick conversations during lunch or in the hall about the boss and how each of you could do a better job? They aren’t going to stop. You are just no longer invited to the conversations because the conversation is about YOU.

I have been there and done that and frankly, failed miserably. This is not about what I did right or even wrong but what I would do differently if I had to do this over again.

Conversation - 1First, accept the fact that the conversation is happening and move on. Not every decision you will make will be popular and not every decision will be right. Remember you have information that your team members don’t have and that you are not perfect. You cannot stop them from meeting after work, or at lunch. Let it go.

Use what information you already have from those sessions in which you did participate. What did your co-workers really like about the previous boss? Maybe they always appreciated the fact that birthdays and work anniversaries were special occasions. The boss may have treated everyone to something special after the completion of big projects. Lunch or chair massages or gift cards. Go beyond duplicating, expand.

Can you make changes to what wasn’t liked?

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