Is Your Organization Off Pitch?

When Leaders are Tone Deaf

Tis the season for our children and our grandchildren to perform for us in their school and church musical concerts. I have already been to several programs and I loved every one of them. Maybe it was because my grandchildren were in them and they are just so adorable. I didn’t care about the music. I was there to see them perform and do the motions dressed in their finest Christmas outfits.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying an impromptu lunch with my friend, Dan, a guy that I met when we moved to Houston almost 20 years ago. We developed a relationship and have been very good friends for all these many years. He is a man of many talents. He is a financial genius who has offered his talents to churches and other non-profit organizations for as long as I have known him. He is extremely organized and has plied his abilities for regional and global organizations with ever-increasing levels of responsibility. Oh, and he can sing. Beautifully. In fact, he traveled the world with a famous choir.

So what?

What do these two seemingly disparate sets of facts have to do with one another? The answer is simple if you know either of us at all. Any meeting between us will inevitably end up focusing on leadership, or the lack thereof, in the various organizations that we are a part of outside of our regular work. As I was describing a leadership challenge that I am watching from a very short distance he clarified the point that I was trying to make. He said, “It is as though they are organizationally off pitch.” That was exactly the point I was struggling to make. And he clarified and summarized it in just a few words. Genius!

Although I can’t really sing all that well, I can definitely tell when someone else is singing off key or off pitch. It hurts my ears. I can only imagine what it must feel like or sound like to a guy like Dan. And I wonder, do the folks who are trying to sing really able to tell that they are off pitch? Or are they just making a joyful noise?

What is the leadership lesson?

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Leadership In Action or Inaction

Maintaining the space between the two words

I have been contemplating the examples of leadership that are so prevalent today. And, instead of being shining examples of Leadership In Action, with a space between “In” and “Action”, I seem to find that they are pitiful examples of Leadership Inaction, without a space between “In” and “action”. Is it a little bit hokey and a play on words? Yes, it is absolutely. But, unfortunately, it captures the state of leadership in our nation and in our culture today.

Inaction is Silence

Many of us who are working for a living and trying to be productive members of society are observing ample instances of inaction by our elected leaders. When it seems obvious that taking a stand is necessary and the appropriate thing to do, instead of for the most part we hear the sound of crickets from our elected political leaders.

But as much as I want to blame these elected political leaders, I can’t. It seems that what “sells” is that which is most pleasing to the ears of the listener. And, as a free market capitalist, I can’t blame them for selling a product that so many appear to want to purchase. The sad truth appears to be that “Inaction sells.”

Action Conquers Fear

But inaction has a tremendous downside. It has the effect of sucking life and courage from those of us who would lead. Consider what the great businessman and philanthropist Dale Carnegie once said:

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Accountability ≠ “Gotcha!”

Do we even know what “accountability” looks like?

Once again I want to remind you of my deep love for great pithy quotes. And today is no exception. In fact, it hit me right between the proverbial eyes. Are you ready? Here it is:

“Hypocrisy exists in the space between language and action.”
— Henry J. Evans

I can’t guarantee that is the right attribution for that quote. But, his name seems to be associated with it in the most contexts in which I see it. If anyone has any information to the contrary regarding the correct attribution, I want to be accountable for its accuracy and give credit to the originator.

Blaming and Finger Pointing

My fear as I write this article is that we are so far removed from a culture of accountability that we don’t even know what accountability looks like anymore. Whenever we do experience something that someone claims to be “accountability” it feels more like “blame” and “finger pointing” than anything else. So let me state emphatically that accountability does not equal a great big gotcha when something goes wrong. It is quite different and begins way upstream of whatever incident or accident has just occurred. But it should point out the space between language and action.

Let’s Move Upstream

Let’s agree right now that you can’t inject accountability into a process or a project in mid-stream. At least, you can’t do it without a lot of wear and tear on all parties concerned. So, what do you do? You build it into the next project or the next process or the next planning and execution event. You go upstream.

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Leadership Soup

An unusual quote for Thanksgiving Day

I was trying to come up with something memorable and appropriate to say on this Thanksgiving Day of 2017. BrainyQuote.com had serious quotes, funny quotes, thought-provoking quotes, and more than one guilt-inducing quotes. But, then, I came across this little gem.

What a marvelous resource soup is for the thrifty cook – it solves the ham-bone and lamb-bone problems, the everlasting Thanksgiving turkey, the extra vegetables.

Julia Child

Are you kidding me? Is that the best you have for today?

Yes, that is the best that I have for today. Don’t judge it too quickly. I have had the pleasure of sitting at the tables of some of the finest cooks on the planet. My paternal grandmother was an amazing pie and bread baker and all around farmhouse cook. She didn’t really believe that we ever went to the moon. But, man, could she cook!?!

I don’t think she ever used a recipe. It wouldn’t have done any good because living during the great depression, you never really knew for sure what you would have to make a meal out of. Freshly baked loaves of bread and soups were a staple. You just never knew what kind of soup it would be. Sometimes there would be corn, sometimes there would be a few potatoes, and sometimes there was more water than anything. But, one thing was certain. Nothing was wasted.

Are you ready for the Thanksgiving angle on the nature of this soup quote?

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Leaders and Accountability

If you are the leader, you may be the CAO

What is a “CAO?” That would be a “Chief Accountability Officer.” And you probably won’t find one in the C-suite of your organization. But there probably ought to be one. In fact, accountability is one of the key functions of a leader when the leader has other leaders who report to them from an administrative perspective.

A History Lesson

For those of you who are lovers of history, you will know or remember that President Harry S Truman had a sign on his Oval Office desk that read: “The Buck Stops Here.” It meant that he accepted responsibility and that he was accountable for all the decisions of his administration. He accepted them for his entire administration. President Truman’s stand still exists in a few organizations today but, unfortunately, it is the exception rather than the rule.

More than Personal Accountability

But my point today is not about accepting personal responsibility. The point I want to make today is that if YOU are a leader, you have a responsibility to hold those around you accountable for their actions or inactions. I am fairly sure that President Truman didn’t let his Cabinet and the rest of his administration run wild and then accept the responsibility and any blame for their actions. That would not be good leadership. He realized that he was ultimately accountable. But, I am sure that he worked with his Cabinet Secretaries and the rest of his administration and that he had expectations of his administration.

The Chief Accountability Officer

What is my role as a leader when it comes to accountability of those who I lead? First of all, accountability for your team does not happen in a vacuum. There are many factors that must be present in order for accountability to be the norm rather than the exception.

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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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