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 NBA.com, 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!