Make Minor Adjustments

Leadership Lessons from NASCAR’s Kevin Harvick

Last Sunday I found myself at an unlikely place. I spent the day at Texas Motor Speedway and got the chance to meet Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, and Tony Stewart. One thing that I knew going into the event was that some of those guys more than their fair share of fans and “haters.”

Part of the race experience for me that day was the opportunity for a very intimate question and answer period with Kevin Harvick and Clint Bowyer who would strap in and race later that afternoon. We also got the chance to listen to Tony Stewart tells stories and talk about his life in retirement from NASCAR racing. I am not a big NASCAR fan. But I really enjoyed the Q&A session and it provided a leadership lesson that I don’t think Kevin Harvick intended to provide. He just provided a bit of an inside look at the complex nature of modern racing and the importance of making minor adjustments.

The need for getting the best out of ourselves and our equipment

Kevin Harvick discussed his qualifying runs earlier in the week and how he felt the #4 car was performing. After his final qualifying run, he felt that he was about two and a half tenths of a second from where he needed to be to be competitive on Sunday afternoon. He said, “I told Tony (Stewart) that I have one-tenth of a second still in me and I can squeeze that out on Sunday. And after we tweak the lubrication (the Mobil 1 oil) I know we can get at least another tenth and a half from the oil.”

The importance of two and a half tenths of a second

Something about that “two and a half tenths of a second” kept bouncing around inside my head on Sunday. I thought about it all the way home from Fort Worth to Houston. So, I did a little math. Here is what that two and a half tenths of a second means to a professional race car driver like Kevin Harvick.

  • Harvick’s average speed for the race on Sunday was 187.415 miles per hour.
  • At that speed, he is traveling 277 feet per second.
  • In .25 seconds he travels 69 feet.
  • The race was a 500-mile race.
  • 500 miles is 2,640,000 feet.
  • 69 feet represents .00002614 percent of the total length of the race.

Do you see that? Harvick is concerned about only 69 feet of a race that is more than 2.64 million feet in length. But .00002614 is the difference between winning and coming in somewhere else back in the pack.

What is the Leadership Lesson?

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Nuts and Trees

Legacy Leadership Lessons from a Tiny Acorn

I may have mentioned a time or two before that I love great quotes. The more obscure and pithier the quote, the more I like it. And if I can find a Latin quote, well, that makes it better than a Will Rodgers or Mark Twain quote by far!

I think I have established a new high-water mark for obscure quotes today when I present this one for your consideration:

ex glande quercus

What does it mean?

The phrase is Latin and it is the motto of what was once a proud and noble institution but has become an ill-performing secondary school in England. In fact, recently, the school was in the lowest 20% quintile amongst similar schools nationally. In 2012, only 40% of the pupils enrolled there attained acceptable scores in English and mathematics. Following an inspection in December 2012, the school was placed in “Special Measures” under the Education Act of 2005 because it was failing to provide an acceptable standard of education and the persons responsible for leading, managing, and governing the school were not demonstrating the capacity to secure the necessary improvements in the achievements of pupils, quality of teaching, standards of behavior, and managerial leadership.

Oh, have I neglected to give you the translation of the Latin phrase from above that thrilled me so much? Have you “Googled” it already and found it out for your self? Here is the translation:

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Legacy Leadership

Becoming “a Man of Value”

A focus on legacy leadership will drive every decision that you make and every action that you take. But what is Legacy Leadership? And what does it have to do with me?

Try not to become a man of success, but a man of value.
— Albert Einstein

It surprises me how many husbands and fathers don’t spend enough time thinking about their legacy — what they will leave behind for the family that they love and the people they serve. I won’t even go into how many husbands and fathers only carry the life insurance supplied by their employer. But they seem to care more about the financial legacy they will leave than any other legacy that will be left behind.

A Personal Note

But the harsh reality is that each of us is leaving a legacy whether we realize it or not or whether we want to or not. The question is whether or not it is a legacy that is positive and has far-reaching implications for the following generations. And for me, the legacy that I want to leave is a spiritual one. That is an intensely personal legacy that will have far-reaching impacts for my family.

But there are other legacies that I should be concerned with. Perhaps you would do well to consider them as well.

What does “Legacy” mean?

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Principles of Intentional Mentoring 

4 Things That Must Be Considered

There are some genuine considerations for the would-be protégé. In fact, there are four that I would have you consider today.

We need to identify a leader that is worthy of following.

It is an indictment of our culture, and maybe even our own judgment sometimes, that we would need to be reminded of this consideration. Not every leader is worthy of following. We must understand that consideration from both the leader’s and from the follower’s perspective. As a follower, I must find a leader that is worthy to follow and whose successes are not compromised by their ethics or methods. As a leader, I must always be diligent to be “worthy” to be followed.

We must learn how they lead.

Is there some “secret sauce?” Usually, there is not. It is just a lot of hard work and some careful application of emotional intelligence concepts. But, as a protégé, they will be asking: “What is the secret to your success as a leader?” So, as a leader, ask yourself the following questions: What makes you worthy to be followed? And what are you doing specifically that makes you “successful” as a leader?

What makes one leader successful will not always work in another place and setting. That is why I am stressing that it is important to learn how they lead. It is the “how” that will be filled with those traits and characteristics that will be the earmarks of an Emotionally Agile Leader.

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Are You Certified? 

No, but, I am probably certifiable!

I had a vigorous debate several days ago with a recognized leader for a global organization. He oversees a region of more than 100 local affiliates. He is a “legit” leader. There is much upon which we agree. And there is much upon which we do not agree when it comes to leadership and leadership development.

One topic of debate for us on a recent afternoon was on the value of certification when it comes to some of the tools or methodologies that are prevalent in leadership development today. I am a huge proponent of some of them and consider myself a bit of an expert in one or two of them. I just have never bothered to become “certified.” The leader that I was discussing this was fairly adamant in the necessity and value of certification. That, of course, got me thinking and pondering.

The Wright Brothers

Do you suppose anyone ever asked the Orville and Wilbur Wright if they were certified aeronautical engineers?

History tells us that they were actually tinkerers and small business men with a passion for flight. They gained the mechanical skills and experience necessary for their ultimate success by working for years in their shop with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other gadgets. Some of which they invented or otherwise modified and improved. Their work with bicycles, in particular, influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like some sort of flying machine could be controlled and balanced by a person with enough natural talent, skill, and practice.

Did you get that? They believed, as do I, that talent, skill, and practice are what really matters when it comes to increasing the potential for success. Not certification!

Thomas Edison

Let’s look at one more guy that was not certified. Consider Thomas Edison for a few moments. Edison, “The Wizard of Menlo Park”, has been called “America’s Greatest Inventor.” Here is a kid who only attended school for a short time and ended up being homeschooled by his mother with much of his education coming from reading rather than formal education. Yet he has given us the phonograph, movie camera, and the lightbulb, just to name a few. And his legacy lives on in the form of General Electric which made the inaugural Fortune 500 list and debuted in the top 10 on that list.

Not bad for an out of work telegraph operator and a seller of candy and newspapers on the railroad.

What made the Wright brothers and Edison successful?

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Watching and Influence 

Someone is always watching you

Even when you don’t think so. Somebody is watching you. Somebody is always watching every little move you make, every step you take, every vow you break. (Wow, I broke into a lyric there for a second.)

Such is the stuff of thrillers and horror movies. But the same is true of the daily and the mundane. Someone is always watching you. That is certainly the case for me today as I sit in a waiting room this morning. As I am waiting, I look up in the corner of the room at the ceiling line and there it is. A little surveillance camera. Someone at a little monitor somewhere in another part of the hospital is watching me. I can’t imagine a more boring job.

This was a gentle reminder that, even when you don’t realize it, someone always has their eyes on us. That fact is also a gentle reminder that folks are influenced by what they see in us.

The Power of Influence

As a leader, do you understand the power of your influence?

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Perception and Clarity 

The importance of clarity over perception

One of my favorite individuals to listen to on the radio when I am driving around is a conservative talk radio host by the name of Dennis Prager. Even if you do not agree with his political persuasion, you have to respect his emphasis on, and value of, clarity over agreement.

This resonates more and more with me the older that I get. There was a time when an argument must lead to agreement, surrender, or acquiescence by my opponent. These days, I am much more willing to accept the possibility of disagreeing agreeably. I just need to ensure that there is clarity and that I am both understanding others and being understood.

All of that aside, I really would like to deal with the issue of clarity and perception. Specifically, it is important to have clarity around our self-perception when we are leaders.

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Sticks and Stones 

What I “think” about it really matters

How many of you remember growing up and playing on the playground? What did you say when someone said something mean or hurtful to you? Maybe you said what many children have said when you repeated a little saying.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Oh, how I wish that were true. As we have gotten older, we have realized that words hurt more than the sticks and the stones. In fact, I heard a person say one time that “it is not what you think about me or even say about me that hurts me. It is what I think about what you think about me or say about me that hurts me.” What they are saying is that it is my perception about something that drives my behaviors.

What does this have to do with leadership?

I am working on some “appendix material” for my upcoming book. And I am working on a leadership development resource for 1-on-1 mentoring. I am working on the issue of self-awareness or self-perception. My focus for that section is on how we perceive ourselves, how others perceive us, and how we perceive that others perceive us. This can almost become a carnival house of mirrors scenario where that loop can become almost infinite. So, let’s not go that far.

Psychologists often use words like self-perception, other perception, and meta-perception. They indicate that we can be good or bad at each the of perception. I love alliteration. It helps me cement a concept in my mind. So, I am modifying their words to help me get a better grip on them and their leadership implications. So, I will use Self-Perception, Social-Perception, and Circular-Perception.

Self-Perception is simply a matter of how you see yourself. Our role as leadership mentors is to help our protégés to help them really see themselves as they are. And not just as they perceive themselves or even as others perceive them to be. Let’s face it. Very few of us are “black belts” at self-awareness. mentors must never come across as having become too much of an expert in this regard.

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I’ve Been Hacked! 

Some thoughts on the recent data breaches

Well, not really. But it has happened before and it will probably happen again.

How many of you got a nice letter or email from a credit reporting agency recently informing you that your information and credit file was possibly one of the ones compromised in the Equifax data breach?

I got one! And I logged on to the new site set up just for this purpose to find out. It didn’t tell me for sure. But, it told me that it was “likely.” Not “definitely” and followed by “And here is what we are going to do about it . . .” All I got was a possibility and some advice to check back again soon and activate the free service that was being provided “for my protection.”

They weren’t able to prevent the breach. So, how were they going to help me on a go forward basis? Never mind. That is probably a subject for another time.

You may be asking, “Why are you discussing this? Is there a leadership angle somewhere?” You better believe that there is.

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Administration ≠ Leadership

You Just Can’t “Administer” an Organization Out of a Mess

My wife has a beautiful singing voice. I do not. Every once in a while, I will ask her if it is “painful” for her to listen to some folks sing when they cannot carry a tune. National Anthem singing seems to bring out the very patriotic. They are just not able to sing.

It is not a perfect analogy, but I sometimes “hurt” when I watch organizations with passionate people. They believe strongly in what the organization stands for. They are just not able to lead.

There are half a dozen or so organizations that are on my radar right now. Some of them are doing very well. But some are not. Those that are not doing well, seem to sense that there is a major problem. They seem to realize that they may be in a big mess. They don’t know how they got here. And they just don’t seem to know what to do. Or, maybe, they know what to do, but they just can’t bring themselves to do it.

What do we tend to do?

What do we tend to do when we find ourselves or our organizations in a mess? One of the first places we like to look is at tools and training. Does the leader of the organization have the right tools and training that are needed to lead the organization that is in a mess? That answer almost always comes back “No.” No one ever feels that they have all of the resources necessary to be successful So, “no” is an easy answer.

The tools or training most often identified as deficient in these situations deal with topics such as personal organization, goal setting, prioritization, and communication. All of which are great skills to have as a leader. This is particularly true in the non-profit space.

Yet all of these tools and training are administrative in nature. They are managerial in nature. And much has been already written about the differences between managing and leading.

What should we do?

We should always look to fill a leaders toolkit with as many tools as they can master. And we should always be “sharpening our ax” with training and ongoing professional development. But is that enough? Is there a deeper question we should ask and is there more that we should do on the fundamental question of leadership ability?

What questions should we be asking?

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