Thursday, December 27, 2012

The #1 Reason Leadership Development Fails

From Mike Myatt, Contributor

Over the years, I’ve observed just about every type of leadership development program on the planet. And the sad thing is, most of them don’t even come close to accomplishing what they were designed to do – build better leaders. In today’s column I’ll share the #1 reason leadership development programs fail, and give you 20 things to focus on to ensure yours doesn’t become another casualty.

According to the American Society of Training and Development, U.S. businesses spend more than $170 Billion dollars on leadership-based curriculum, with the majority of those dollars being spent on “Leadership Training.” Here’s the thing – when it comes to leadership, the training industry has been broken for years. You don’t train leaders you develop them – a subtle yet important distinction lost on many. Leadership training is alive and well, but it should have died long, long ago.

This may be heresy to some – but training is indeed the #1 reason leadership development fails. While training is often accepted as productive, it rarely is. The terms training and development have somehow become synonymous when they are clearly not. This is more than an argument based on semantics – it’s painfully real. I’ll likely take some heat over my allegations against the training industry’s negative impact on the development of leaders, and while this column works off some broad generalizations, in my experience having worked with literally thousands of leaders, they are largely true.

An Overview of The Problem

My problem with training is it presumes the need for indoctrination on systems, processes and techniques. Moreover, training assumes that said systems, processes and techniques are the right way to do things. When a trainer refers to something as “best practices” you can with great certitude rest assured that’s not the case. Training focuses on best practices, while development focuses on next practices. Training is often a rote, one directional, one dimensional, one size fits all, authoritarian process that imposes static, outdated information on people. The majority of training takes place within a monologue (lecture/presentation) rather than a dialog. Perhaps worst of all, training usually occurs within a vacuum driven by past experience, not by future needs.

The Solution

The solution to the leadership training problem is to scrap it in favor of development. Don’t train leaders, coach them, mentor them, disciple them, and develop them, but please don’t attempt to train them. Where training attempts to standardize by blending to a norm and acclimating to the status quo, development strives to call out the unique and differentiate by shattering the status quo. Training is something leaders dread and will try and avoid, whereas they will embrace and look forward to development. Development is nuanced, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, actionable.

The following 20 items point out some of the main differences between training and development:

1. Training blends to a norm – Development occurs beyond the norm.
2. Training focuses on technique/content/curriculum – Development focuses on people.
3. Training tests patience – Development tests courage.
4. Training focuses on the present – Development focuses on the future.
5. Training adheres to standards – Development focuses on maximizing potential.
6. Training is transactional – Development is transformational.
7. Training focuses on maintenance – Development focuses on growth.
8. Training focuses on the role – Development focuses on the person.
9. Training indoctrinates – Development educates.
10. Training maintains status quo – Development catalyzes innovation.
11. Training stifles culture – Development enriches culture.
12. Training encourages compliance – Development emphasizes performance.
13. Training focuses on efficiency – Development focuses on effectiveness.
14. Training focuses on problems  - Development focuses on solutions.
15. Training focuses on reporting lines – Development expands influence.
16. Training places people in a box – Development frees them from the box.
17. Training is mechanical – Development is intellectual.
18. Training focuses on the knowns – Development explores the unknowns.
19. Training places people in a comfort zone – Development moves people beyond their comfort zones.
20. Training is finite – Development is infinite.

If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker – train them. If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers – develop them. I have always said it is impossible to have an enterprise which is growing and evolving if leadership is not.Thoughts? Please leave your comment for a discussion.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reach Beyond Yourself

One cannot develop others in an area he isn’t developing himself. To that end, I have always included a variety of publications and newsletters in my reading cycle that strengthen my understanding of the most significant matters currently driving the course of our nation.

Not the latest trends, and not the messages from mainstream media, but rather the core issues in play, the questions they raise, and the foundational principles being applied (or not) in their solutions. I also enjoy learning from the perspectives of other leaders concerned about the same.

I have always had a keen interest in the history of our nation, and enjoy learning about economic and financial principles. The more I study the two, the more I learn how finances drive freedoms, from our “personal economies” to our national financial systems. This past election, the economy was a core issue, yet our viewpoints on the economic issues showed amazing diversity.

Many viewed the issues from a very personal perspective. Others put aside a concern for personal gain in favor of national strength. Some had short term views, and others looked far into the future. Almost suddenly thereafter, the focus became a pending “cliff” only a couple of months away.

I encourage you to…
  • better understand the issues at hand, learn all you can about them and view them through a lens of sound principles beyond the sound-bites being discussed
  • understand what drives our economy, what drives our freedom as a nation and learn how they are interrelated
  • gain a better understanding of free enterprise and entrepreneurialism, and how integral they are to where our country is headed

But also rise above it. Regardless of the short-term actions taken by the national leaders in the coming weeks, step back and see how little these decisions impact you. Or, perhaps, don’t let them.

In the article below, the Centurion Advisory group adds to their end-of-year outlook a great perspective on inward concern versus outward focus, and the importance of taking actions in both. Beyond the education it provides, and the guidance to take care of things “at home”, I hope this inspires you to also take the opportunity to reach beyond the noise, and reach beyond yourself, to make a difference in the lives of others.

FROM: Centurion Advisory Group Newsletter, 12/4/2012

Domestic equity markets have followed a very traditional pattern this year. They were up through April, accomplished almost nothing through the end of October, and were up a bit in a volatile November. This pattern generally yields a solid December, but I'm no fortune teller, so we will know for certain the evening of December 31st.

Most investors have made money this year, whether they've invested in stocks or bonds, and regardless of where in the world they have invested. Again, this confirms a very traditional pattern, described by some as the "Wall of Worry". When many are fearful of investing, or concerned that the market will take a plunge, the market can do well. An added complication is that for many of us, the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009 don't seem that far away, and none of us are excited about a repeat. This "Wall of Worry" isn't a perfect pattern, though the general correlation makes for a fascinating study in human behavior.

At the moment, there are plenty of macro issues to worry about, for those who choose to burn through energy worrying about things. Our fearless leaders in DC have gone almost four years without a budget, and they are still wrangling over tax details to avoid what has been called a "fiscal cliff". The U.S., and many other countries, is absolutely covered up with debt, and there is no politician living that is willing to stand in, and help resolve these long term issues. Some wonder what happens to the viability of the U.S. if the U.S. dollar is no longer the world's reserve currency. The Middle East continues to be a milieu of tribal warfare.

If it helps any, let me remind us that there have always been wars, and rumors of wars. Over the last 100 years, there have been two world wars, and almost too many other conflicts to reference. There have been currency implosions, destruction of people groups, tribes, and rainforests, terrorist attacks on the U.S and many other countries, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and hosts of other natural disasters, and on, and on.

In spite of this, and sometimes because of it, "here in Topeka", the screen door needs to be fixed, diapers need to be changed, and meals need to be prepared. Life for most will go on, and these "most" will continue to pay their light bill (Warren Buffett figured this out a long time ago), buy groceries for the family, tennis shoes for the kids, and gas for the car. The well run companies that offer these products and services will continue to be profitable, hire new employees, and expand. As these companies see similar opportunities around the globe, they will expand into enterprises with a global footprint.

So, what does all this mean, and how do you take action at the moment? Let me suggest a dual focus, one inward looking, and one outward looking.

First, know that your personal economy isn't directly related to the overall economy. Most of you reading this have developed some level of skill or expertise that allows you enough income to pay your bills. Provided you have food, clothes, and shelter, the rest of your personal economy is a function of one thing - discipline. Our highest and best recommendation is to spend lightly, save diligently, invest wisely and with counsel, and stay far away from debt. These habits and disciplines, exercised consistently across decades, will yield magnificent results. There is no better place to be financially than debt free, profitable, and cash flow positive, and on this issue, I speak from experience.

Now, what about outward looking? About 45% of voters were pleased with the recent elections, and 45% were displeased, with 10%, and growing, fairly agnostic and cynical about the whole thing. And yet, political outcomes, regardless of where we each fall on the spectrum, are white noise compared to other, larger, issues.

For decades, our country has been the city on a hill, the golden land, which offered opportunity to all. From around the world, immigrants came, seeking a life which was better than the one they left behind. For more than two hundred years, we have stories of those from meager beginnings, from all countries around the globe, finding a better life for themselves and their families in the U.S.

A study of these stories reveals a commitment to work, to give, to share, and to help others. A few of the names are Andrew Carnegie, who built many of the libraries in this country, Nathan Hale, who was saddened that he had only one life to give, and Patrick Henry, whose oratory helped inspire a young nation to freedom.

Others include Abe Lincoln, who was seen as inept, yet governed during one of our country's most difficult moments, George Washington Carver, who applied his God given talents in spite of what many would call built in disadvantages, Teddy Roosevelt, who challenged us with his "man in the arena" speech, Ben Carson, raised by a single mother, yet one of our premier physicians, Shahid Khan, new owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came here with little, and Churchill (I know he's a Brit), who through force of will saw a weak England to victory against the Nazi war machine.

Here's the question. What will we choose? Will we choose only to feather our own nest, to hide behind security gates and locked doors, to move only within circles of folks like us? Or, will we choose to reach out? Can we, by example, show the world, even if that world is simply our neighborhood, how to live? Will we intentionally look beyond the belief system, the orientation, the skin color, the accent, the appearance, to hear the story, to offer a word of encouragement, to find a way to help, to be a friend?

Will we bind up the brokenhearted, loose the chains of injustice, help set the captives free? Will we share our food with the hungry, offer shelter to the homeless, and clothes for the naked? Will we choose to restore those broken relationships of our own flesh and blood? Will we choose to offer words of kindness and encouragement, instead of criticism, complaint, and condemnation?

If we will, then we will live in a supernatural light, and will find healing instead of brokenness. We will be given physical strength, and our lives will be as a well-watered garden. We will be called a repairer of broken walls, and a restorer of streets with dwellings.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Art of Performance - a Zig Ziglar Perspective

Execution… Tasks… Initiative… Hard work… Results… For much of my life, my concept of “performance” was centered exclusively on such action-oriented terms.

Most everyone would agree that there is a “science” to performing.  When we consider effective performance, we often think of tools and techniques, where the most effective methods and patterns of performance drive the best results.

In Eat That Frog, Brian Tracy provides a simple method to prioritize and complete tasks. Simply put, evaluate what needs to be done, prioritize the tasks, and then don't stop till you finish the most important one. When finished, repeat the same approach on number two.

Some use the acronym WIN – What’s Important Now.

In Launching a Leadership Revolution, Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady cite “Performance” as the second level of the Five Levels of Influence.  To become an effective leader, you must perform.  Performance builds credibility, the substance from which influence is made.  At the higher levels of influence, it is this credibility that drives others to follow.

And by definition, leadership requires movement.  You have to do something… you have to move! If you are not moving, can anyone be following?

In addition to the science, however, there is also an “art” to performance.  In LLR, Woodward and Brady provide an excellent analysis of both.  On the art side, here are just a few of their concepts to consider:

• Results come from personal efforts
• Nothing worthwhile comes easily – success always exacts a price
• Performers don’t expect fair treatment
• The better you do, the stronger the competitors will push back
• Breaks will come to those who prepare
• Desire trumps talent

Beyond the above, I consider their core performance principle the most empowering – Persevere though failure to find success.In the article below, Zig Ziglar provides a fresh, personal perspective on the “art” side of performance. This was a great addition to my understanding of the subject. I trust it will be the same for you.

The Five Principles of Performance By Zig Ziglar, author of Born to Win

Much of success is about performance. It’s about what we do and what we are able to inspire others to do. There are some simple performance principles I have learned in my life, and I want to share them with you.  They really bring success, and what it takes to be successful, into sharp focus. They are also the basis for developing and maintaining an expectation of success.

The Five Principles of Performance

1. We generally get from ourselves and others what we expect. It is a huge fact that you will either live up or down to your own expectations. If you expect to lose, you will. If you expect to be average, you will be average. If you expect to feel bad, you probably will. If you expect to feel great, nothing will slow you down. And what is true for you is true for others. Your expectations for others will become what they deliver and achieve. As Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

2. The difference between good and excellent companies is training. The only thing worse than training employees and losing them is to not train them and keep them! A football team would not be very successful if they did not train, practice, and prepare for their opponents. When you think of training as practice and preparation, it makes you wonder how businesses survive that do not make significant training investments in their people.

Actually, companies that do not train their people and invest in their ability don’t last. They operate from a competitive disadvantage and are eventually gobbled up and defeated in the marketplace. If you want to improve and move from good to excellent, a good training strategy will be the key to success.

3. You find what you look for in life. If you look for the good things in life, you will find them. If you look for opportunities to grow and prosper, you will find them. If you look for positive, enthusiastic friends and associates who will support you, you will find them. On the other hand, if you look for ways to cheat, you will cheat. If you look for ways to justify leaving your spouse, you will find them. If you look for justifiable reasons to hold a grudge against another person, you will find those, too. It is a natural tendency of us all to look for things that will justify what we think we need or want. If you are not living by the foundation stones of honesty, character, integrity, faith, love, and loyalty, you will be drawn to seeking selfish gratification, and that leads to misery and unfulfilled dreams. Whatever you have will never be enough. Always look for the good and for ways to help others.

4. Never make a promise without a plan. Far too many people make promises they can never keep. They may have the best intentions in the world to keep their promise, but if they have not made a plan to keep it, they will not be able to do it. Business leaders who make promises to their employees will not honor them if they do not create a plan on how the promises will be kept. If you make a future commitment, you must understand and be willing to do whatever it takes to complete that commitment. One of the reasons marriage commitments fail so frequently is because the husband and wife do not understand what it takes to have a great marriage. They do not plan for or understand the sacrifices each must make for the other to enable a long-lasting relationship.

5. Happiness, joy, and gratitude are universal if we know what to look for. I believe you can have everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want. All people want happiness and joy in their life, but you have to know what produces real happiness and how to do the things that produce it. The moment you begin to worry about the things you want and the things you don’t have in life is the moment you will lose your gratitude for what you actually have. If you are ungrateful, you will never be satisfied or content or joyful about your life. The greatest source of happiness is the ability to be grateful at all times.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

What a True Leader Really Is

Many people are intimidated by the term Leadership. To some, it may represent someone in a lofty position, a position that most will never attain. If not based on a rung on the corporate ladder, it can likewise represent an image, a look, or a personality profile that very few would ever display.

We often consider the leaders to be in the exclusive category of “They”. “They” have the title, the prestige, or the look, and “They” have the responsibility. “They” have the power, as well as the perks.

In reality, leadership is open to more than just those with a title or an image. A leader is anyone who influences others in a positive direction. A leader is someone who has a picture of what can be, and really what should be, and they cannot get rid of that thought… and that thought causes them to move in that direction.

Everyone is called upon to be a leader at some point, and often many points, in the course of their life.

In the video below, Chris Brady provides an insightful introduction to leadership. If you are going to be called upon to be a leader, wouldn’t it make sense to learn more about it?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Our Deepest Fear

Watching the movie Coach Carter, I was struck by a short speech given by the character Timo Cruz.

Throughout the movie, Coach Carter asks Cruz, "What is your deepest fear?" Cruz never gives him a direct answer, though the course of events in the movie clearly show us that his fear is embodied in his struggle between the different directions his life can take. Finally turning to Coach Carter and the hope that his principle-based approach provides, Cruz's own life takes a hopeful, purposeful path.

In what I considered the climactic scene of the movie, where Coach Carter’s message is finally realized, Cruz steps up and delivers his answer. His inspiring quote is actually paraphrased from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles. The full Williamson quote is provided here.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Looking for even more inspiration? Check out this 8 minute clip montage full of the best motivational and inspirational movie moments.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Working to Become a Leader

If you study the path of any (credible!) leader, their story is not one of “overnight” success. Most started from humble beginnings. Many had little more than the rest of us. Some would have been characterized as the least likely to succeed. A few had breaks or fortunate circumstances along the way, but the core of their journey consisted of hard work, perseverance, and a drive to work when most others were idle. None of their victories came without a struggle.

In their book Launching a Leadership Revolution, authors Orrin Woodward and Chris Brady outline the Five Levels of Influence.

- Learning
- Performing
- Leading
- Developing Leaders
- Developing Developers of Leaders

This is the playing field of leadership development, much like a flight of ascending stairs. As a leader progresses through each step of the process, his or her influence increases and the impact of their efforts have a broader scope. Each step builds on the prior step. None of them can be skipped.  That said, learning must precede performing, and performing must be accomplished prior to gaining the influence to lead.

In his book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell submits that it takes roughly ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Mastery is what often launches most individuals to a position of influence, indeed to leadership. An investment of time and energy - to learn, to grow, and to perform - is always required.

Everyone has the same number of hours available. And everyone has the power to choose how to invest, spend, or even waste each hour. Each of the people highlighted in the article below were working from the same 24-hour clock. You will see that each invested their time in a way that developed mastery in their chosen field, and through that, influence and leadership. I would qualify that by saying it’s not about the number of hours you put in, but what you put into those hours. Leaving the rest of your life to waste in pursuit of success is a very dangerous road as well. Bottom line, though, if you are looking to succeed, lead, or both, how are you investing your time?

From People Who Worked Incredibly Hard to Succeed by Max Nisen (edited)

Successful people in every field are often said to be "blessed with talent" or even just lucky. But the truth is, many worked harder than the average person can even imagine.

From athletes like Michael Jordan to executives like Howard Schultz, these people are known for waking up early and working toward a goal while other people are still in bed, and staying later than everyone else too.

Old fashioned hard work. Anyone can do it. Let these people be an inspiration.

1. NBA legend Michael Jordan spent his off seasons taking hundreds of jump shots a day

Michael Jordan had prodigious physical gifts. But as his long-time coach Phil Jackson writes, it was hard work that made him a legend… In a piece at, Jackson writes that Jordan's defining characteristic wasn't his talent, but having the humility to know he had to work constantly to be the best.  

2. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz continues to work from home even after putting in 13 hour days

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz must be a frequent consumer of his company's products to maintain his frenetic schedule. Since returning to turn around the company, he gets into the office by 6 in the morning and stays until 7. Schultz continues talking to overseas employees even later at night from home. He goes into the office on Sundays and reads emails from his thousands of employees on Saturdays.

3. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban didn't take a vacation for seven years while starting his first business

At first glance, the amazing success of Mavericks owner and entrepreneur Mark Cuban looks like a stroke of luck. He sold his first company at the peak of its value, and got into technology stocks at exactly the right time. Cuban writes on his blog that it took an incredible amount of work to benefit from his luck. When starting his first company, he routinely stayed up until two in the morning reading about new software, and went seven years without a vacation.

4. Phillies pitcher Roy Halladay's workouts are so intense, others can't make it halfway through them

Cy Young award winning pitcher Roy Halladay is one of the hardest working man in baseball. According to Sports Illustrated, he routinely puts in a 90 minute workout before his teammates make to the field. His former pitching coach told SI that when other pitchers attempted one of his workouts, none of them could complete half of it. His pre-game preparation is so intense that he had a personal entrance card to his former team's training facilities.

5. GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt spent 24 years putting in hundred hour weeks

A 2005 Fortune article on GE CEO Immelt describes him as "The Bionic Manager". The article highlights his incredible work ethic, he worked 100 hour weeks for 24 years. Immelt strictly divides that time, devoting a specific portion of each day to deal with every part of his business. All of that comes after a 5:30 A.M. workout where he's already reading the papers and watching CNBC.

6. Apple CEO Tim Cook routinely begins emailing employees at 4:30 in the morning

Steve Jobs left incredibly big shoes for Tim Cook to fill. However, the man got the top job for a reason. He's always been a workaholic, Fortune reports that he begins sending emails at 4:30 in the morning. A profile in Gawker reveals that he's the first in the office and last to leave. He used to hold staff meetings on Sunday night in order to prepare for Monday.

7. American Idol host Ryan Seacrest hosts a radio show from 5 to 10 A.M. and runs a production company while appearing seven days a week on E!

Seacrest told the New York Times that even as a young child,  his goal was to be a “a classic iconic broadcaster". He's moved towards that goal by taking on a preposterous workload. In addition to hosting American Idol, Seacrest appears 7 days a week on E!, hosts a daily radio show from 5 to 10 A.M., appears on the Today show, runs a television production company, and recently received $300 million in private equity funding to acquire more businesses.

8. Nissan and Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn flies more than 150,000 miles a year

Carlos Ghosn runs two of the world's largest automakers, which should tell you something about his work ethic. A profile in Forbes describes how Ghosn works more than 65 hours a week, spends 48 hours a month in the air, and flies more than 150,000 miles a year. His turnaround of Nissan is the subject of many case studies. Within a month he deployed a system that completely changed ingrained practices, helping save a company many thought irredeemable. 

9. Venus and Serena Williams were up hitting tennis balls at 6 A.M. from the time they were 7 and 8 years old

The Williams sisters, who have dominated women's tennis for many years, were all but raised on the court. From an extremely young age, their life was, as described to the New York Times "..get up, 6 o’clock in the morning, go to the tennis court, before school. After school, go to tennis..." The Williams family was built around propelling the two towards success in the sport.

10. Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant completely changed his shooting technique rather than stop playing after breaking a finger

Nobody in basketball drives their body harder than Kobe Bryant. A profile in GQ describes how he has changed his shooting technique repeatedly rather than take time for dislocated and broken fingers. When growing up outside of Philadelphia, ESPN describes how Kobe would spend his free time endlessly practicing jump shots in the park. The Laker's staff finds him doing the same thing at their practice facility at all hours of the day and night.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Seize the Moment - Communicate

Summer travel always seems to usher in frequent flight delays, and this year has been true to form. While never pleasant, the actions and responsiveness of airline personnel, and the communication they provide, will often make or break the experience.  In the midst of an emotionally charged environment, this is when leaders need to step forward!

All of the airline personnel in the article below had an opportunity – make that a responsibility – to lead. Their titles were irrelevant. The one true leader, through his actions, attitude and communication, was the pilot.

Take from this article the lessons that apply to you… and APPLY them! Regardless of your title and the assumed role you play, how will you respond when you are called to lead?

From “Owning It” by Rob Jolles

When does a four-hour delay not feel that bad?  When you have a pilot who takes control of the situation and owns it!  I know what you’re thinking: Here comes another airline story about delays and personnel inefficiencies!  Last Friday night, flying out of Chicago was no party.  After a tough week of work, two of my friends accompanied me to the airport.  There was a hopeful feeling as we showed up, looked on the departure board, and saw “On Time” next to our 4:00 pm flight.  When we showed up at the gate at 3:30 pm, there was no airplane there.  “Lie #1 – Your flight is NOT on time.”

When I asked where our plane was, I was told the plane was going through a “maintenance delay” but would be departing at 4:20 pm.  I asked what the maintenance issue was, and I was told that they had no idea.  “Lie #2 – Your flight is NOT leaving at 4:20 pm when there is an unknown maintenance issue… and no plane.”

Then came the rumor.  This was the mother of all rumors, and spread among the passengers and through the terminal like wildfire.  It involved severe weather on the East Coast, and a lightning strike on a tower.  Airline personnel were huddled all over, but when we asked about our flight, they said that they could not talk about it.  “Lie #3 – Airline personnel may not want to give out details about particular lightning strikes, but they are allowed to provide information on ground holds.”

The entire East Coast was on a ground hold and that was information that could not be kept secret from everyone for long.  After a torturous full hour of no information, we were finally given the bad news:  “Ladies and gentlemen, there is a ground hold on all flights to the East Coast… but the good news is we are getting a new plane because this one can’t be fixed.”  With flights cancelling left and right, at least we had a plane, kind of!

At 5:30 pm, our new plane, which had no doubt been given to us from another flight that had cancelled, arrived at our gate.  Despite the ground hold, we were loaded aboard, but then something happened that changed the entire experience.  After nothing but lies and deception from airline personnel, our pilot grabbed a mike and spoke to us.  When I say the pilot grabbed a mike, I mean this pilot left the cockpit, grabbed the microphone the flight attendants normally use, stood in the aisle in front of us, and made the following announcement:

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to tell you all exactly what’s going on.  Storms have created a ground hold for most of the East Coast and we won’t get another update until 6:00 pm.  I can’t tell you if the ground hold will be lifted at that time, but when it is lifted, I can tell you this: If we move to the tarmac, we’ll be in a much better position to get routed to D.C. than if we are parked at our gate in the terminal.  So we’ll get out there now, let you work on your computers if you’d like, put on some entertainment, and wait.

For the first time in two hours, the mood lifted in the cabin.  Why the change?   We were happy because someone had actually communicated with us.  He was not deceptive, and he didn’t lie.  We had gone through hours of what felt like dental pain; we never really knew how bad the pain would be or when we would feel it.  And yet, by communicating clearly with us he lifted us out of our pain.

At 6:00 pm, he got on that microphone again and delivered the news that the ground hold was still on and our next announcement would be at 7:00 pm.  He also threw in the fact that we were positioned beautifully once the ground hold was to be lifted.  It worked again.  There were smiles and hopeful chatter as the flight attendants put on a movie for us all to watch while they served us water.  It seemed as if our pilot’s positive attitude was contagious.

At 7:00 pm, he got on the microphone and announced the ground hold was lifted, and we would be airborne in four minutes.  Four minutes?  A countless number of flights were delayed and stacked up in airports all over the country, and we were four minutes from takeoff!  I’ve never seen the level of cooperation that I saw between the passengers (who sprinted back to their seats) and the flight attendants (who sprinted into action to prepare the cabin).

We had a pilot who owned the moment, and he did the one thing that no one else seemed capable of doing; he communicated!  I’m not saying it took the same level of skill as landing the plane, but in my book, it was a close second.  Good, bad, or indifferent, communication was the key!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Leaders are Readers

businessman reading under a tree
Nine years ago, one of my mentors shared a simple phrase that transformed my life…

“All Leaders are Readers”

The full quote is, “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
Whether you attribute this to Charlie “Tremendous” Jones, or trace it back further to President Harry S. Truman, the statement is irrefutable.

I leverage a variety of tools for my own leadership education. Through audio and video materials, books, blogs, mentorship, discussion groups and mastermind sessions, the quality of insight, knowledge and information has been phenomenal. Each has had impact. From the very beginning, though, the single most influential resource among these has been the written word.

There is no better source for leadership growth. A book is often the concise summary of an author’s lessons learned during their own journey, and these experiences of both success and failure are an incredible roadmap. Often, they also translate to a great shortcut when applied. Other books provide focused insights on key topics, tools, and skills critical to your leadership growth.

From my experience, among all types of learning, reading will provide you with the greatest opportunity for deep introspection, interaction with another leader, and the translation of their lessons to your individual circumstances.

In the article “For Those Who Want to Lead, Read” (Harvard Business Review Blog), John Coleman expands on this topic. I appreciated his insights on the wide range of the leadership benefits of reading, some of which I summarized below.

Deep, broad reading habits can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.

History is filled with business leaders who believed that deep, broad reading cultivated in them the knowledge, habits, and talents to improve their organizations.
  • Reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight.
  • Reading makes you smarter through "a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills."
  • Reading is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information.
  • Reading across fields is good for creativity.
  • Leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations, are more likely to innovate and prosper.
  • Reading increases verbal intelligence, making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator.
  • Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others.
  • Reading leads to heightened emotional intelligence, which will directly improve one’s leadership and management ability.
Read, and Lead… in business and in LIFE!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Title of 'Leader'

When an individual is in a position of power, it is traditional to call them a leader. But does a title necessarily make someone a leader?

The label of leader, when applied to an individual in authority, doesn’t always mean they have great leadership abilities. In business, one’s ascension to a position above their capabilities has become so commonplace that it is almost a proverb.

Perhaps it is not a proverb, but there is a term for it. According to the “Peter Principle,” an organization's members will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. More commonly phrased, "employees tend to rise to their own level of incompetence."

A title is irrelevant. Leadership qualities do not instantly transfer to the man or woman who ascends to the new role.

The fact is, though, everyone will be called upon to be a leader at some point in their life – and that includes you! In the course of business, in the community, in your home or within your associations, there will come a time when a leader will be needed. What happens when all the eyes turn to you? Will you be ready?

You may be called upon to be the leader in your family when there’s been a crisis, an illness, or maybe just a big decision that affects the whole family. A financial crisis can happen at any time, such as the loss of a job, the loss of major accounts in your business or maybe just a physical accident that causes financial hardship. You may need to be the one to step up as a leader to address the changing situation.

Sometimes being a leader in your community can be a lone voice standing up for what’s right, when the masses want to go the other direction. Everyone has a “community”, and either you’re leading in that community or it’s being led by others. It’s important to know the true qualities of a leader, so you can help determine if you’re leading – or being led – correctly.

What happens when others look to you for the answers, for insights on the next steps to take? What if your family, your company or your community simply needs one person with a good attitude when everyone else around is losing their head? It’s not a title or a position. It is simply the influence of others. And odds are there will be countless times when you are called upon to lead.

The only question is, when YOU are called upon to lead, will you be ready?

My recommendation for further reading on this topic is Mark Sanborn, “You Don’t Need a Title to be a Leader.”

Monday, July 9, 2012

Your Greatest Competition

your greatest competition
No matter your level of success, there is always at least one person who is out to beat you… determined to pass you and render you obsolete. Therefore, make sure that your greatest competitor is the future version of YOU.

How many times have you heard, “Your competition never sleeps?” How often have you been warned that your company should never be complacent, no matter your current level of success?

In the business world, competition is fierce. It is constant. When you are on top, many others are working on a plan to enhance what you provide, steal a share of your market, or worse, create the “game-changer” that makes your products or services obsolete. Even when you create the game-changer yourself, the competition is either already at work on the next one, or tearing your idea apart looking to create a better Version 2.0, while some simply want to knock you down.

Have you ever considered the same principles apply to you as an individual?

Perhaps you’ve seen someone plateau at work, only to be surpassed by a more determined candidate. Worse, you have probably witnessed someone take their eyes off the ball – through a lack of judgment or a misstep in character – virtually handing the prize to others.

Few recognize the power of competition, and even fewer will consider that competition important enough to warrant action. In time, those that fail to take action will be replaced, rendered obsolete, or at best left to dwell in relative mediocrity.

Most people reading this may think the message here applies to the business world, and only the business world. What if that same principle also carried over to every other aspect of your life? What if there is someone in competition for your spouse or significant other? What if someone is out to steal the attention of your children, vying to exert influence that should be reserved for you? What about your personal finances, and the financial principles that govern your treatment of money and your financial future?  Who is out to gain at your expense? Who is out to somehow negatively impact your mental, physical or spiritual fitness?

I don’t bring this up as some kind of “scare tactic”, but a true reminder that unless you’re PROactively improving your awareness, mindset and knowledge in the areas of business, family, finances and other key areas – you’re falling behind and leaving yourself vulnerable.

There is always someone out there trying to pass you, either by forging ahead or by bringing you down a notch. Sometimes both. Think about what is most important to you. Consider the fact that others are competing to take that away from you. What actions are you taking to assure that you’re able to overcome that competition, knowing that there will always be competitors?

Make the future version of you your greatest competition, and you’ll be starting on the right path for success and constant improvement in life and in business.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Inspiration for the Battle

I've assembled several of my favorite quotes - those that inspire my pursuit of a self-directed education. I hope they serve as inspiration for you as well!

“What we do on some great occasion will probably depend on what we already are; and what we are will be the result of previous years of self discipline.”
- H. P. Liddon

“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons or the wind, but you can change yourself.”
- Jim Rohn

“Everyone is looking for a quick fix, but what they really need is fitness. People who look for fixes stop doing what’s right when pressure is relieved. People who pursue fitness do what they should no matter what the circumstances are.”
- Kevin Myers

“You want to set a goal that is big enough that in the process of achieving it you become someone worth becoming.”
- Jim Rohn

“The time to prepare isn’t after you have been given the opportunity. It’s long before that opportunity arises. Once the opportunity arises, it’s too late to prepare.”
- John Wooden

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the things you did.”
- Mark Twain

“The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
- Michelangelo

“More often than not, the only thing between you and your dream is a rational excuse.”

- Mark Batterson, In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day

A Self-Directed Education – Your Greatest Investment

I had always thought that my education ended with the formal "school system" process; information that someone else delivered, a curriculum leading to a diploma that someone would bestow upon me. Information that would prepare me for life.

Sure, I would eventually learn the skills required to succeed in my profession, and perhaps different skills from job to job. But I truly thought that the core of my education was over.

What I learned (pun intended) was that it had never ended. Instead, it was stronger than ever. I discovered that every day, often many times a day, I was learning from someone. Perhaps it was someone from the radio, television, or movies. Perhaps it was a co-worker, a buddy, or even a stranger. I was absorbing information. I was absorbing different ways of thinking. That information, repeated over time, formed my guiding principles and my life roadmap. Bottom line, it defined my worth.

My worth? Hold on, that one was a bit of a stretch. My diploma drove my worth, and my natural movement up the corporate ladder would drive my future worth. I'm not sure where along the way I learned that, but over time I found how untrue that would be.

What I instead learned was a critical guiding principle... that we are all compensated based on the size of the problems we are able to solve. Seriously? Yes. And by coincidence, I discovered it by reading new materials intended to develop such expertise.

The problem? The current information that represented my "education" was teaching me negative thinking, poor habits, lack of discipline. I was listening to complaints about the company and the inequities of the system. I was hearing that I was doing pretty good - certainly good enough. I had no time or concern for addressing the areas that were holding me back. That was lowering, not adding to, my value.

From the neck down, we are all minimum wage. That's a strong statement. The first time I heard it, it was a very convicting statement. While going about my work, I had never contemplated my value. I never contemplated my potential value. In my current position, I was being compensated based on the worth of the job I was performing. Indeed, for the size of the problems I was solving. It was my value in that role. But what was I doing to enhance that value, whether applied in that role or a future opportunity? What was I doing to exert value outside of my assigned role?

Added value comes from critical thinking, from knowledge put into action, and from the ability to influence. Even greater value comes from leverage and duplication. That added value produces profit and growth. Most often, it translates to the "soft skills." Leadership skills, if you would.

John Maxwell contends that "Leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less."

One of my mentors shared a quote attributed to Charlie "Tremendous" Jones that, for me, made the ultimate connection: "Leaders are readers."

Critical leadership and personal skills, attributes that differentiate our value and drive our ability to influence, are rarely provided within our formal education. They are seldom delivered in a tidy seminar thereafter. More than anything, they are found through an investment of time, hard work, and perseverance.

Hard work, geared towards improvement, applied over time, leads to high achievement. An intentional self-directed education is where you learn the guiding principles that drive the greatest accomplishments.

Said another way, daily discipline, over time, produces change. Depending on the information, that can be a positive change or a negative one - the principle works the same in either direction.

Looking at the lives of successful people I studied - historical through the present day - I've found that anyone with high achievements was a voracious learner, constantly consuming positive information. In almost all cases, that learning was outside the formal education process.

What I learned was that, for me, my best chance for lasting growth and success was to constantly develop my skills in key areas - character, behavior, critical thinking, and positive attitude, just to name a few. I had to maximize my personal gifts, as well as develop and enhance a wealth of key skills, to truly compete, influence, and lead.

Almost a decade into this journey, with a lifetime of learning still ahead, I can honestly say that this pursuit has been the highest contributor to the successes I have enjoyed, the most significant source of the value, influence and impact that I provide, and the greatest reason for the hope and promise of my future.

"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." - Benjamin Franklin

A self-directed education is indeed the greatest investment you will ever make.