Thoughts on Leadership

“He who cannot be a good follower, cannot be a good leader” ~ Aristotle.

Great leaders possess empathy and emotional intelligence. Caring enough to ask, and then listening, is the beginning for all great leaders. Charting a course that depends upon the contributions of others requires courage, fortitude and judgement. Leaders understand they are nothing without followers. Great leaders know that their success depends on the relationships they have with those followers. Trust, respect, and caring are ingredients that strengthen the bond between a leader and his, or her followers.

People want to know how much you care before caring about how much you know. Asking versus telling, guiding versus directing, teaching versus demanding, coaching versus demeaning…these are just some ways to demonstrate great leadership.

Leading others requires the leader to be vulnerable. It requires experience and judgement. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment. There’s no shortcutting experience. You make the best decisions you can given the information at hand. Hindsight will always be 20/20, but we must live in the present which means the possibility of making a bad decision exists for each of us every day.

Embrace the learning. Be curious. Engage others and listen…truly listen. Open your mind to new perspectives. Create a list of leaders you admire and the attributes they possess that you strive to emulate. Getting comfortable being uncomfortable is the path to growth. Try many things. Fail fast. Don’t worry about being wrong. Nothing of greatness has ever been created on the first attempt. Diamonds take billions of years to create. The first mobile phone was a brick. The first car came in only black and had no windshield wipers. Progress takes time. The key is to keep moving, observing, doing, learning, adjusting. Trying to live life without failure is a wasted life. Life without failure is a blank canvas.

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” ~ C. S. Lewis

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Kindness – The Greatest Difference Maker

What makes a friend, a friend? What makes a candidate worthy of extending an offer of employment? What makes a great boss? What makes a life-long partnership work – personally or professionally?

In pondering these questions they have led me to other questions such as who do I like spending my time with? If I was stranded on a desert island for a month, who would I want to be with? What type of person? Who do I turn to when I’m happiest? And who do I turn to when I need help?

There are many ingredients that go into making a great employee, boss, spouse, and friend. Yet when all those ingredients are boiled down, there is one that rises to the top…kindness.

Intellect without kindness is arrogance. Discipline without kindness is abrupt. Motivation without kindness is dominating. Persistence without kindness is simply annoying. Determination without kindness is Machiavellian.

Sure, we all need a level of intellect, discipline, motivation, persistence and determination to succeed. And yes, there are many who succeed with these attributes in the absence of being kind. Why is that? Kindness costs nothing. You don’t have to take a graduate course to learn kindness. Maybe that’s the problem? Have we lost the ability to see the simplicity of success when kindness is added as the final ingredient?

Kindness doesn’t mean losing. Being kind doesn’t mean taking the back seat. Kindness does not operate from a position of weakness, but rather a position of strength. Being kind is a conscious choice. Your buyers feel it, your employees feel it, your spouse feels it, and yes, strangers feel it. That random act of kindness from someone you don’t even know that puts a smile on your face and warms the heart. We can all learn from kindness, and kindness is ours free to give. It’s your choice.

Talent and Innovation

Everyone says they want to innovate. Every company talks innovation. We’re now seeing innovation as a core value for many companies. But are they really innovating?

Innovation is about talent. In the absence of talent there can’t be innovation. The first step to innovation is recognizing the two types of talent required to be innovative.

The first type of talent required to innovate is visionary talent. This is the talent, skill, or competency to see things others cannot see, or are unwilling to accept. Visionary talent is often related to first-movers. Many of the products and services we use on a daily basis started first with a vision. A mobile phone, a smart watch, wireless headphones (or ear buds), technology in the cloud versus a mainframe. These inventions, or innovations, required visionary talent. How do you spot visionary talent? Individuals that possess an insatiable appetite for learning, dreaming, and pondering not what is, but what could be.

The second type of talent required for true innovation is technical talent. This is the talent that is required to bring the vision to life. Think of Steve Wozniak to Steve Jobs. Technical talent tied to visionary talent. Or Charlie Munger to Warren Buffett. Technical talent is what enables our ability to bring dreams into our daily reality.

In 1899, Charles Duell, then Commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, said, “Everything that can be invented, has already been invented.” While I personally don’t believe this to be true, let’s for a moment assume it is. If this were to be true, then arguably technical talent would be far more valuable than visionary talent. Why? Because the focus would be on incremental improvements of things that already exist. However, this raises a thought provoking question. What’s invention versus innovation.

In 1849, Italian inventor Antonio Meucci, invented the telephone. It wasn’t until 1876 that Alexander Graham Bell won the first U.S. patent for the device. Fast forward to 1973 when the first phone call was made on a Motorola mobile phone. Was the mobile phone an invention or simply an improvement on something already invented? Remember, it was 50 years after the phone was invented that Duell said everything that could be invented already had been invented.

Regardless, visionary talent and technical talent combined are required to innovate. Combining the creator of dreams with the builder of those dreams allows us to improve our lives in meaningful ways.

What’s your talent pool like? Who are your visionaries and who are your techies? How often do you review your organization for these two types of talent? Your answers to these questions will be the proof point for whether you are building and living an innovation culture.

Type A Personalities – 3 ways to confront anxiety

Worker thinks solution of his problems

Hard charging, Type A personalities, often struggle with taming their fear of failure.  Most would agree that fear, when kept in check and under control, is an emotion that can both protect and propel us.  Understanding the cause of the fear you’re experiencing is the first step to developing a plan to calm it, contain it, control it.

Anxiety is the result, or symptom, of fear. If I fear I won’t be able to hit the ball, anxiety causes me to dread my up-at-bat.  If I fear I will fail my statistics class, then anxiety will kick in and cause me to block any learning that will ultimately help me pass the class. If I fear I will miss my monthly sales number, my anxiety will cause me to go into rapid-fire mode doing as many things as I can simply to create the appearance that I’m working hard.

Anxiety perpetuates fear, creates the stress, and force, strong enough to shut you down.  Dealing with anxiety is critical to successfully navigating change, taking risk, and managing failure.  Here are 3 ways to keep your anxiety in check:

  1. Ask the question “why not me?” When we think we will fail it is because we don’t feel competent, smart enough, savvy enough, or insightful enough to win.  Why not? Rather than thinking about the failure, replace that thought with the question why not me.  I’m smart, why not me?  I’m intelligent, why not me?  I’ve accomplished a number of great things, why not me?
  2. Turn anxiety into excitement. Replace, what if I fail, with what will I learn? Replace what if this doesn’t last, with how much better will I be no matter how long this lasts?  What will I have experienced that will make me more valuable, more fulfilled?
  3. Breath. The power of 10 minutes of just breathing is quite powerful.  Call it meditation, self-reflection, self-empowerment, or self-love, whatever you call it the purpose of this 10 minutes is to rebalance your inner self.  To bring calm to any internal bubbling that’s taking place.  There are thousands of books on this subject, apps for your smartphone, and calming music for your ears.  Get one, or some, but act now to calm the storm from building.

12 Things Great Leaders Do Daily

McChrystal

By definition a leader is a person who leads or commands a group – at least that’s what Professor Google says.  My definition is a bit different.  Who wants to be commanded?  Sure there are times, situations, and circumstances when being in command is required.  Directing, ordering, and controlling are verbs that often come to mind when we think of leaders.

Just about anyone can be taught to do these things.  Just about anyone can dish orders, direct others, and attempt to control.  Many “leaders” regardless of training can do this for some period of time before being discovered as ineffective.  Great leaders however, take a different approach.  These leaders must do all the directing, ordering, and controlling as previously mentioned but it’s how they accomplish these things that set them apart.

Great leaders are great because they:

  1. Understand how to empathize
  2. Effectively communicate their vision
  3. Ask great questions, deep questions that provide insight
  4. Act in their own authentic way, not trying to be someone else
  5. Adopt a beginners attitude
  6. Surround themselves with people smarter than they are
  7. Spend time on self-reflection, how they operate and the result produced
  8. Network and connect with others to learn
  9. Ask for, and accept help when needed
  10. Lean on mentor(s) for coaching and perspective
  11. Roll up their sleeves, never asking others to do something they haven’t or wouldn’t do themselves
  12. Inspire others through their words, actions, and behaviors

So start today with some self-reflection.  What are you doing?  What do you spend most of your time on?  How do you interact with those around you?  What’s the reaction of others when you walk in a room, speak during a meeting, engage with others in a break-room?  Consider this list and strive to embrace each one in a genuine way and you’ll find your results improve in a timely manner.

Why Your Role as Sales Leader Isn’t to Motivate

MOTIVATION word cloud, business concept

Many people think “cheerleader” when they envision an effective sales leader.  Someone who gets the team fired up, screams and shouts, and sets everyone on a rah-rah march into the field to meet prospects.

The sales leader is expected to be a high-powered extrovert, charismatic, outspoken, aggressive, and perhaps even a bit shocking.  We have all worked for sales leaders that possess these characteristics and shall I dare say, some other, more wild ones to say the least.

Early in my career I worked for such a sales leader.  He’d stand on a chair or a table during sales meetings screaming at the top of his lungs, face beet red.  The hair on the back of your neck would stand on end.  You were pumped.  There was nothing you couldn’t do.  But when he finished his super-charged motivational speech, the result felt more like a tirade than an inspiration.  There’s an enormous distance between rallying a group with fear versus inspiration.

So what is the sales leaders responsibility as it relates to motivating a sales team?

Are you ready for the answer?  None.  You have no responsibility to motivate your team.  Each sales person on your team is responsible for motivating him, or herself.  So what is your job as the sales leader?  Provide vision and inspiration.

People want to follow a leader who demonstrates the confidence that he knows where he’s going, how he’s going to get there, and why getting there is so important and beneficial.  I’ve built a number of sales teams over the years.  I have worked hard to be an inspiration – doing this provides your team members with the “why” should they do what you’re asking them to do.  Inspiration transcends motivation.  You can motivate for an hour or a day but motivation is time constrained.  It lasts only as long as the instigator – you – are on duty.  But to inspire, creates a fire, that burns deep into desire.  The greater the fire you build the more insatiable the desire is to achieve the goals you’ve set – whether you’re around or not.

Your job is to find out what drives your team.  Is it money?  Is it recognition?  Is it invention or innovation?  Is it client engagement scores?  Once you know what drives each person on the team you will be able to create your inspiration roadmap.  That roadmap will provide a clear picture to:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. Why are we going there?
  3. What’s in it for us?
  4. What will we feel once we’ve arrived there?

Most organizations fail due to a lack of clarity around the vision. You’ve got to assemble a team that WANTS to a be a part of your vision.  Trying to convince someone they will be happy going to Buffalo in the winter probably won’t sell.  You can expend all your energy convincing or you can set out to find those who are interested or intrigued with going to Buffalo.  It’s the Good to Great philosophy of getting the right people on the bus and the right butts in the right seat.

Lead by example.  Walk the talk.  Model the behaviors.  Do these things and you’ll increase your ability to inspire your followers to achieve remarkable results.

Why Generosity?

generosity

Lately I’ve been paying more attention to the actions, words, and behaviors of the business world.  Observing acts of kindness and generosity. Watching folks give their time, talent, ideas and coaching to others.  Providing insights and perspectives that make a positive impact in someone’s life.

The world of business can be difficult at times.  It may even be difficult most times.  We live in a hyper competitive environment where the rule of thumb has always been to outshine those around you.  If I can just outperform, over deliver, sell the most, build the coolest this-or-that, I’ll be vaulted to the top. That was then…

Today, the there’s another way to shine, be seen, rise to the top, and excel.  It’s a paradigm shift, and perhaps a shift some either don’t believe in or feel is too soft.  That shift revolves around being generous.

Generosity isn’t a weakness.  It’s not about being soft.  Being generous demonstrates the ultimate control.  You’re in control of your choices, actions and decisions.  You choose where to spend your time and where not to spend it.  Generosity is about both quality and quantity…the two MUST be tied together to be a generous act.  Giving someone a mountain of feedback without any guidance or coaching as to how they might use that feedback isn’t being generous.  It’s also not showing great leadership either but that’s for a different day.  Generosity comes from being “genuinely” concerned for another.

Think of those who have helped you in life and your career.  Can you think of someone who helped you for no reason at all?  Perhaps someone who took an interest in you and at the time you couldn’t understand why?  It appeared then that they would have had nothing to gain by helping you but they did anyway…willingly giving their time and attention to you.

Can you think of a person like that?  I can.  Several.  And without exception, every one of them is super successful with reputations as strong leaders, mentors, confidants, and friends. They’ve filled their buckets by helping those around them and by doing so their successes multiplied.  We all know that one person at work who everyone loves.  They never have a bad word to say about anyone.  They are trusted by everyone and intimidated by no one. Without seeking power, they’ve acquired it through their generosity.  They use that power to help others, foster relationships, calm storms, and generate new ideas.

Think about how generous you are.  It’s not about money…it’s far more than that.  It’s about giving something much more valuable than money. It’s about giving some of yourself to others. Gandhi said, “Be the change you want the world to see.” Start small and see the difference it makes.