Leadership Caffeine™—The Alchemy of Great Leadership

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

Alchemy, according to Malouin in the Encyclopedia of Diderot, is the chemistry of the subtlest kind which allows one to observe extraordinary chemical operations at a more rapid pace-ones that require a long time for nature to produce.

Newsflash, there are no shortcuts to great leadership. Much like the failure to change nature’s principles in search of longevity or turning lead into gold, one’s ability lead develops slowly over time and with much strain.

10 Lessons Learned in Search of Success as a Leader:

 1. You’re always an apprentice. If you think you’ve mastered this, you’re failing. Approach each day eager to learn another lesson, and you will. Approach each day assuming you’ve got this role licked, and you’ll get clobbered when you least expect it.

2. Great leaders require great missions. It’s the humdrum of the mundane of the status quo that squashes the spirits of leaders and the people around them. If you’re not on a mission, create one. If you’re leading others, know that your job is to define the mission. Not the mission statement…the mission.

 3. The only job harder than leading is likely being a mother. Scratch that…mothers are the original leaders.

 4. What you did yesterday doesn’t count. What you’ll do tomorrow doesn’t count. Lead today…it’s the only day that counts.

5. You’re supposed to be uncomfortable. That’s the job. Get over it. Get used to it. Revel in it. Or, get another job.

6. No one does anything for you…they do it for themselves.

7. Sometimes you have to push the ones with the greatest potential out of the nest. Your instinct says to do everything possible to retain them. The right thing to do is to help them find the best opportunities to grow. Even if that means shoving them on their way.

 8. Enjoy the burn. It’s the tough days and tough issues, especially your failures that mold you into a better leader.

9. Hire people who’ve struggled and persevered. I’ll take the person who held down three jobs to pay for college while caring for the sick relative any day of the week.

10. Pedigree is interesting, but character counts. When hiring, hire for character first and the rest will follow.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

There are no shortcuts when it comes to learning to lead effectively. Get on with it, you’ve got some mistakes to make…just make them faster to succeed sooner.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leadership Caffeine™—The Inner Game of Leading

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is intended to make you think and act.

“This is the game that takes place in the mind of the player, and it is played against such obstacles as lapses in concentration, self-doubt and self condemnation.”

–Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Tennis

Other than the missing obstacle of hubris, Gallwey might as well have been writing about the challenges in the mind of the leader in this mid-70’s and now classic coaching book.

Leadership is played on an open court in the workplace for all to see, yet, I submit that the game is won or lost in the mind of the individual as he/she pushes self-doubt and hubris back into their respective corners.

It’s in her mind where a great battle rages filled with conflicting demands over right, wrong, who, next, when and how. The noise from decision-choices on direction, talent, strategy, goals and targets can be deafening, and the daily drill resembles for many in leadership roles, a pell-mell race through obstacles seen and unseen. It takes remarkable mental strength and agility to filter the noise and concentrate on the right issue at the right time.

Some leaders cover the court with grace and speed, yet fail to win the game. Their firms struggle to escape from the shackles of past greatness or, they play somewhere in the middle of the pack with competitors, surviving on almost respectable outcomes…always with the promise of better, bigger, faster, stronger in sight, but never quite reaching those levels. These are often the poseurs as leaders who like the outward facing game…who revel in the roar of the crowd and the momentary accolades of adoring fans surrounding the court.

The ones who master the inner game move deliberately through their days leaving a wake of clarity in their trail. They give others confidence that the way path forward is the right one and that the journey will be difficult but achievable. Strategies are selected and the goals and actions embedded in the minds (and actions) of the broader organizational population. Critical decisions are vetted and made, with emphasis on the most difficult and painful of the decisions…talent choices…always tackled first. The noise of the crowd isn’t the objective and the leader who masters the inner game gives no concern for accolades. The emphasis is on helping others win the key points and games in what is a marathon, not a sprint.

These leaders who master the inner game fight their own demons…particularly self-doubt and hubris. Every successful leader I know has no qualms indicating there are moments where doubt about self…Am I up to this? and It’s possible we and I might fail, rent space in their minds. They recognize the sobering truth…they are no better, smarter or different than many others, yet they are charged with getting it right. Sometimes the self-doubt is so strong it is nearly crippling. Nearly, but not completely.

Leaders who master the inner game fight this demon of self-doubt at night, staring at the ceiling in lieu of sleeping. They fight it, and then they push it into a box and move forward. While painful and difficult to deal with, the presence of self-doubt underscores how much the individual cares. After all, more than the next quarter’s results are at stake. It’s about the lives, careers and well-being of the families of the people who trust them to lead.

Hubris is another distraction…a very distant cousin of self-doubt. Success opens the mind to momentarily letting down its defenses. It tells you, it’s working…you figured it out and you deserve to let it play out and let others do the heavy lifting. It’s wrong. 

Once hubris sneaks through the crack in the leader’s defenses, the outer game suffers…succumbing to the toxic temptations of this false inner voice that suggests he/she can do no wrong. Soon, the entire game is a mess. Athletes might call the outcome a slump. For a leader, the consequences are amplified by the impact on the constituents.

Effective leaders build strong defenses against hubris. They learn to take satisfaction in the success and joy of others, not their own accomplishments. And they learn to recognize and blunt the incessant machinations and manipulations of hubris as it attempts to gain entrance to the host.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

Mastering the inner game of leading is a never-ending task to know oneself and to cultivate the discipline necessary to cut through the noise and to focus on what counts for everyone else and for the group at large. It’s the hardest work most of us will ever do. It starts with staring in the mirror and acknowledging the truth about yourself. Many are afraid to do just this. They shouldn’t lead.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

Leadership Caffeine™—Ask, “How Can I Help?”

image of a foam coffee cup with brown outer sleeveThe Leadership Caffeine™ series is over 200 installments strong and is dedicated to every aspiring or experienced leader and manager seeking ideas, insights or just a jolt of energy to keep pushing forward.

One of the more powerful leadership learning moments in my career occurred when I was part of project team that was struggling to find traction around an important and complicated strategic initiative.

The team was flailing. The first leader, an autocratic, my-way or the highway type, had been replaced with a committee of three senior executives as co-leaders. After all, this was important and what could possibly go wrong with a group of senior executives leading the charge?

That failed. It turns out putting everyone in charge isn’t a great game-plan.

Following a contentious project review meeting the sponsor suggested a well-regarded mid-level manager as a solution to the project leadership challenge. While some voiced concern over her lack of title and senior level heft, the sponsor suggested the core team members meet with her one-on-one before making a decision. It would be their choice.

Her reputation was great. She was respected for her ability to work with others and she had helped groups navigate some sticky topics on numerous occasions. After the “interviews,” the core team members agreed unanimously that she was the right person for the role.

The time for her first official meeting with the extended team arrived and within the first 10 seconds, we all knew this was different and that it would work. She led the meeting off with two powerful sentences: “I’m here to work for you,” and, “What do you need from me to help you succeed?”

After a few seconds of silence from the extended team members who likely were expecting the “here’s how we’re going to do this…” speech, the suggestions started flowing.

She listened carefully, took notes, asked clarifying questions and after a few minutes of “what not to do,” the comments turned constructive. The next day she came back with what she described as her Leadership Charter. It was, she offered, “her new job description.”

  • Regularly remind us of the true purpose of our project.
  • Respect us by holding us accountable to our best work.
  • Demand that we operate as a true team.
  • Protect us from distractions.
  • Support our learning and development.
  • Hold us accountable to making decisions and correcting mistaken decisions.
  • Keep us from beating ourselves.

Powerful words…yes, but it was what she did next that brought them to life.

She established a series of check-points where she requested the team provide input to keep her focused and help her improve. The every-other-week status meeting would include 10 minutes to discuss her leadership effectiveness. Input was to be frank and constructive. Additionally, she issued a monthly blind survey seeking anonymous input and she reviewed the input in the next status meeting. It took just one cycle through the status meetings and survey reviews for everyone to understand she was serious about serving the team and constantly searching for input on improving her own performance.

This leader served and the team prospered. She was demanding…after all, you cannot hold people accountable to being their best and not be demanding. She made mistakes as all leaders do and when told of them, she quickly apologized and redoubled her efforts to improve.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The team won. The initiative succeeded. This wonderful professional is now leading a successful start-up as CEO. She taught all of us what it means to lead by simply asking, “How can I help?” And then doing something about it.

Starting today, instead of telling, try asking.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

It’s Your Career—Priceless Perspectives of Experience

Graphic image with the words, It's Your Career and other related professional development wordsThe “It’s Your Career” series at Management Excellence is dedicated to offering ideas, guidance and inspiration for strengthening your performance and supporting your development as a professional. Use the ideas in great career health!

During the past few years, I’ve talked to many 40 and 50-something professionals on how their perspectives and attitudes on personal and career issues have changed over time. Their insights are instructive and inspirational. Enjoy!

On Confidence:

  • The sky is not falling no matter how big the problem is we will find a way to deal with it.
  • I’m fearless on taking risks, because I know I’ll find a way to navigate through it and learn a great deal in the process.
  • While the world has changed, people haven’t. If you’re good in working with and through others, there’s no problem that cannot be solved, no matter how new and unique it is.

On Failing:

  • I’ve failed more times than I can count on my way to succeeding in my career. While it’s never the goal, it is a fact of life for anyone striving to achieve something.
  • I long ago learned not to sweat the small stuff that made me a raving lunatic of a manager when I was younger. It turns out that most of our issues are small stuff.

On Striving:

  • Success isn’t a solo sport. Others choose us to be successful and others help us along our journey to success.
  • It’s a lot more about the work and the impact of the work on others than it is about the pay or the title.
  • At the height of what I thought would be success…title and money, I was miserable. I had to learn to redefine success was for me, and it wasn’t title or money.

On Leadership:

  • It used to be about what I wanted. Now it’s about what they need.
  • To lead, I teach.
  • I take more chances on people I truly believe in, regardless of the conventional wisdom around me. The individual is my responsibility, not some other executive’s.
  • I give my trust instead of requiring people to earn it. It saves a great deal of time and eliminates the games.

 On Effectiveness:

  • I flail less, fail faster, teach more and help more and I’m more effective than I’ve ever been in my career.
  • My need to conquer the world in the next quarter has given way to the reality that people and teams evolve at their own pace, not the pace in my mind.
  • I used to be driven by fear. Fear of job loss. Fear of the boss lurking behind me. That stifled my creativity. I finally found my performance gear when I quit worrying about both of those things.

On the Future:

  • My best work is still ahead of me.
  • Every day is a great new adventure. Even the tough stuff feels more like fun than it used to.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

If you’ve got a few miles on you, take heart that you’ve earned the right to draw upon wisdom gained over time. If you’re just starting out, re-read these quotes and strive to realize them just a bit faster than the rest of us. You’ll be happy you did.

Don’t miss the next Leadership Caffeine-Newsletter! (All new subscriber-only content!) Register herebook cover: shows title Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development by Art Petty. Includes image of a coffee cup.

For more ideas on professional development-one sound bite at a time, check out: Leadership Caffeine-Ideas to Energize Your Professional Development.

New to leading or responsible for first time leaders on your team? Subscribe to Art’s New Leader’s e-News.

An ideal book for anyone starting out in leadership: Practical Lessons in Leadership by Art Petty and Rich Petro.

 

At Least 10 Unnatural Acts of Misguided Management

TrippingNote to Readers: this column is rated “SM” for the representation of stupidity in management. Younger managers strongly cautioned.

At Least 10 Unnatural Acts of Misguided Management:

1. He only lied when his lips were moving. The CEO announcing to all of a firm’s employees, “there will be no layoffs,” over a pizza lunch in the warehouse. Ten days later, there were layoffs.

2. Coordination is over-rated. An executive team who despised each other so much, they never met. What do you think happened to this business? You’re right.

3. It turns out, people have to want to change. The manager who early on in his career believed he could change a brilliant but difficult person into a brilliant and not so difficult person. (Crap, I was that manager.)

4. Rats, I should have picked the other door! The executive of the market leading firm who defiantly announced to his team, We will not play in the low end of this market. There are no margins there. We own the high end” It turns out that when the high-end disappears due to the disruptive competitor and you have no viable response, there are no margins when there are no sales.

5. Homer Simpson said it best: “Doh!” When the team cannot answer the question, “How many customers or prospective customers were consulted in the making of this strategy?” with anything greater than zero, you’ve got a problem.

6. How many monkeys with a typewriter do we need to recreate Shakespeare’s works? When the CEO brings 45 people together for a strategy offsite and proceeds to have that entire group wordsmith vision and values for the entire offsite, you shouldn’t expect greatness. Or coherence. Or lucidity. It was like the audience of a play simultaneously feeding the actors their lines…one by one by one… and then arguing with each other over which line or which nuance of a line was right.

7. Cats and Dogs Achieving Instant Karma. Every meeting that has ever been held anywhere between two different management teams suddenly thrust together due to merger or consolidation and charged with the task in the next two days of creating a unified vision and strategy. Yes, all of them. Every one.

8. Great Moments in Corporate Motivation. There was the corporate slogan author of this global firm who provided instructions to the printer that must have said something to the effect of, use the same slogan as last year. When the tube containing the new slogan was opened and the banner unrolled for the first time at the management meeting, guess what it said? Yep. “Same Slogan as Last Year.” Seriously.

9. “With a bit more time and money, we’ll get this right.” The team who convinced themselves that every failure put them closer to success. It turns out, that’s not always the case. Sometimes with a bit more time and money, you just waste more time and money.

10. “The inventory said, what?” The GM who very seriously accused his management team of not listening closely to the inventory. It turns out, the inventory had shared with the GM that it was ready to be sold.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The pursuit of effective management is a noble calling. It’s too bad that too many managers give it a bad name.