3D Leadership In A Changing World

3D LeadershipThere’s a new normal afoot that I’ve taken to calling 3D leadership. You don’t need those cheap plastic glasses to see or experience it. You will however want to think hard about your worldview with an entirely new lens.  If you are to be a successful and effective leader you do not have the luxury of viewing your work or its challenges through a single perspective or for that matter just red and blue lenses.

The heavyweight champion boxer Michael Gerard Tyson once noted that every boxer has a plan “until they get punched in the nose.” In the world of military engagement, the notion is that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. Both ideas suggest that leaders need at least a “plan B”.  In a 3D leadership world you’ll want to be thinking about a “plan C” and likely a “plan D” and  “plan E”.

If you’re thinking all this additional planning is exhausting you’d be exactly right. If you think it unnecessary and futile, you’d be exactly wrong. In today’s environment the landscape is shifting faster and faster. The pace is truly unrelenting. Keeping up with these shifts is increasingly difficult. The sheer volume of information flowing your way as a leader makes it difficult to discern new patterns and trends. Unless you are looking to the horizon more often than not. In fact, you will need to be thinking about the next two or three sunrises and sunsets along the way.

In my work with business leaders I increasingly hear about shorter and shorter planning cycles–six month sales plans, the 14 day strategy, the weekly bridge strategy–acquiring and linking new technologies to current business processes and projects–before someone else grabs the lead.  There are no lost opportunities because someone always finds them.  When it comes to 3D leadership that someone best be you.  Your career and your organization demand it and in fact they are depending on it.

That’s where the value of 3D leadership also comes to the forefront.  Like 3D printing and all its novelty, the notion of 3D leadership may produce some equally funny little prototypes. And that’s exactly the point.  Thinking about the wildly unlikely produces surprising breakthrough thinking.

What if one of the products your organization produces was outlawed by county government, a state legislature or Congress?  What’s your next move?

What if you work for a firm that experiences a massive data security breach releasing hundreds of thousands of records containing credit card and personal information.  What’s your plan of action?

What if your industry came under attack for its use of a renewable resource your opponents claimed was harming the environment?  What would you say or do in response?

You can’t always know where the threats and risks will arise.  You can however build a 3D leadership style that creates opportunities to explore and plan for the unthinkable.   Experience teaches us the time to think about and prepare for a crisis or an unexpected shift for our industry or organization is not when the studio lights at MSNBC or CNN shine in your face for the first time.   Here are five steps to increase your value as a 3D leader:

Call It Vision If You Must – With 3D leadership, you must craft your own hypothesis about your organization and your industry.  This is what others call leadership vision.  Call it what you will, having a strong, well-developed and considered point of view is easily worth a 100 IQ points.  Former U.S. Secretary of State General Colin Powell said it best, “People want to share your confidence– however thin–not your turmoil, however real.”

Use a Gossamer Thread To Weave Strength – 3D leadership seeks out disparate threads of information and weave a stronger fabric of intelligence. While today’s information flow is akin to “sipping from a fire hose”, the vast information economy also provides ready access to key data you need to establish a clear sense of direction and to harness your next success. Don’t overlook the power of simple questions.  Asking others “How do you feel about the direction we are going in? will produce far deeper conversations and better decision-making than you might imagine.  There’s a reason most of us have two ears.  Use them.

The Future Is Already Here.  Deal With It. – You cannot succeed with 3D leadership in today’s universe adhering to rigid ideals or celebrating the past. Nothing deters followers faster than stories about the “good old days” that lack relevance to the here and now. Savvy 3D leaders acknowledge tradition and honor their organization’s success without holding up the past as prologue. Take it from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, “You have to figure out how can you make the new thing…the death knell for any enterprise is to glorify the past, no matter how good it was.”

The Attention Economy Is Out of Order - One of the most common complaints these days is the increasing difficulty to capture anyone’s attention about almost anything. As content has grown increasingly abundant and immediately available, attention has become the most valuable asset in the distribution and consumption of information.  Finding new ways to breakthrough the clutter has become a 3D leadership imperative.  What’s your strategy?

Nothing Is Everything – It’s human nature to think that something we’ve tried and has worked in the past will work again in the future.  It’s one of the reasons video games are so annoying and challenging.  The playing field is constantly shifting and the critters coming your way never react in the same fashion.  So it is for 3D leadership today.  Your goal is to deliver valuable, effective solutions to the problems and challenges both known and unknown.  You simply cannot rely on one tool or one point of reference and be truly successful.  You can however leverage your experience to inspire, give others hope, encourage experimentation and innovation and show your team how and why what they do truly makes a difference.  3D leadership demands you engage others in something bigger than themselves–a higher purpose that delivers real meaningful results.

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Five Ideas for Leaders in 2014

Five_Ideas_for_LeadersAs the visions of sugar plums and the joys of Christmas 2013 dissipate and celebrations of the New Year come into focus there’s a swell of stories about the “best of” 2013–blogs, wines, photos, events, books, most delicious stuffed olives–okay I made that one up–but you get my drift.  Looking back is a tradition writ large, but when it comes to new ideas for leaders, what does 2014 really hold?

For leaders, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to look back and reflect.  Why?  One of the reasons is the enormously accelerated pace of change.  Some is technological, some generational, some societal.  All vastly change the landscape leaders inhabit and make the work both more challenging and more dynamic than ever before.  That’s probably okay for the most part.  Leaders are required to be nimble, flexible and resilient.  To some degree it’s also useful to be realistic and pragmatic.  Mostly, in today’s environment it’s handy to be visionary — with an equally strong sense of what’s likely and possible in what’s to come.

Finding those key ideas for leaders can be crucial.  That’s the hard part.  Figuring out what’s to come.  Putting your ideas down on paper.  Creating strategies to illuminate those ideas.  Sharing those strategies publicly and freely with colleagues, peers, your Board and eventually with your clients, customers or members.  There are enormous resources available to support your effort.  None of them will show you the future in full figure.  They will however inform the curious mind.

At a recent economic forum, Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL was asked about where he sees investment opportunities.  What ideas did he have for leaders?  He noted the rise of healthy eating was a powerful opportunity–his firm had just invested $22 million in such a venture–SweetGreen.   Another he suggested was the use of the Internet to dis-intermediate and improve the efficiencies of traditional businesses.  There are almost unlimited opportunities across a range of industries to leverage the distributed power of the Internet.  Some of these efforts in areas such as healthcare will be truly disruptive.  Few of these efforts will be perfected at launch, but they will continue to get better and better over time.

One of my great strengths as a leader has always been and remains the ability to collect, consider and collate vast amounts of data from diverse sources to create a strategic vision of the future and the essential long-range concepts to achieve it.  My attempts to envision the future are tripped up time to time. The continual rise of a new technology, shifts in global affairs or changing social models create new innovative businesses at a surprising pace. Still, I find the effort rewarding and energizing.  When you get it right and see your ideas come to fruition–well that’s always a great day in my book.

Here are five ideas for leaders of followers in 2014:

Make time to reflect.  Our fast-paced world and the environments we create to drive it forward can be all-consuming.  It’s quite possible, you won’t even notice your own stress and exhaustion.  But it’s there.  Disengage.  Contemplate.  Change up your game. Reflect.

Read differently.  If you’re married to the non-fiction genre or the latest business best-sellers break the mold.  Toss in something different. One of my favorite airport games is to pick out three or four magazines I have never read to travel along with me.  Who knew raising chickens in the backyard was such a popular new age trend? Leaders are readers and the world’s library grows bigger and better by the day. Dive in.

Cultivate a friendship.  In Washington, D.C. it’s said that if you want a friend, get a dog.  That’s not what I mean.  I mean find a real human being as a friend.  Find someone who you can confide in, garner perspective and take advice.  Share the work.  Reciprocate for them. For many leaders that person is a spouse.  I’m okay with that, but what I’m saying here is you need to build your bench by finding other confidants as well.

Screen for Toxicity.  The work of a leader is difficult, challenging and complex.  When you do this work in a toxic environment, it’s also crushing.  The old axiom that “culture eats strategy for lunch” lives on for a reason.  As CEO you sit pretty near the top of the food chain.  Still others influence your world–Board members, bankers, regulators, customers, clients, members, thought-leaders, journalists, staff, colleagues and on and on.  The barriers of hierarchy in the age of social media are eroding swiftly.  While we are all tempered by the heat of battle–high daily doses of toxicity–only serve to diminish our strengths and capabilities.  Screen it out.

Dream Big.  “There is no passion in playing small–in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” ~Nelson Mandela‘s legacy lies in the lessons about leadership he left for all of us.  Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s wonderful HBR blog post illuminates the point–Find Your Inner Mandela.

Here’s wishing you, friends, family and followers an innovative and prosperous 2014!

 

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Best of Wired 4 Leadership 2013

The Best of Wired 4 Leadership 2013It was Socrates who said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Like a lot of leaders, I am not much for staring into the rear view mirror.  With so much of life future focused, taking a moment to consider one’s efforts and one’s thoughts is somewhat counter-intuitive even at year-end.  The Wired 4 Leadership blog–around since September 2008–has crossed the Rubicon as an observer of leadership. So many stories. So many ups and downs.  We’ve been selective and occasionally sparse in our chosen topics and posts, especially when we couldn’t or didn’t add new ideas or insight.  In a world choked by information. we always work to add value not volume.

Eric Hoffer‘s thoughtful insight about a broad demands on leaders who at once must be both “practical and a realist yet must talk the language of the visionary and the idealist.” was a catalyst for revisiting our posts in anticipation of the New Year.  Here are some we thought among our best.  We hope you agree.  Find a little time this holiday season to enjoy them.

Why The Elevator Speech Is Dead
If you are trying to convey an idea, you have eight seconds to “hook” the listener.  If you’re successful, you’ll gain another 110 seconds to reel them in, with the rest of your story.  Fishing metaphor aside, this is an important point.  The incredible shrinking human attention span is now shorter than that of a goldfish.  Seriously.

Seven Lessons You Can Borrow from Business
One of the great challenges surrounding leaders is the search and selection of the right tool, at the right time, applied in the right place.  This selection holds up pretty well, especially for non-profit leaders in search of some new ideas and approaches to longstanding problems.

Leading in Uncertain Times
There are no small lessons in a crisis.  When we first wrote about uncertainty there were three things we thought were vital.  What do you think?  Were we right?  Do the concepts still apply today?

No Passion.  No Progress.
Passion makes progress possible.  Employee passion.  Member passion.  Volunteer passion.  A leader’s passion for their teams and for excellence in everything the organization does.   If as leaders we understand the value of engagement what explains so many employees being disengaged from their work?

The Accidental Classroom
Steve Jobs was a student of many things, including typography.  Funny how that worked out for the rest of us.

The Startling Lessons of Being A Rookie
They are often punctuated by bad ideas, poorly executed business plans, sloppy strategies, and less than stellar executive performance. “RM’s”—a not entirely positive short-hand for ”rookie mistakes” rise up whenever you overlook the obvious, fail to think through your approach to an issue, or simply fall short of expectations.  The “RM” judgment is as crisp as a sub-zero winter morning.

The Five Dysfunctions of Reckless Leaders  Every so often, someone acts out in a way that is so totally destructive and outrageous that you know it’s nothing short of reckless.  Like a child flailing themselves against the tile of a supermarket floor in tantrum, reckless leaders push well beyond the bounds of common sense, decency and civility.  Worse still, they seem totally clueless about the impact of their behaviors.

Is Going With Your Gut Smart Leadership?
This post should have been sub-titled “How I Learned to Love the Micro-Biome” because it has perfect symmetry with the notion of going with your gut. Not exclusively mind you, but as a critical component of your decision tree.  Now the micro-biome as you may know refers to the microbes that live in the human intestinal tract. They are responsible for digesting the foods we eat.  Interestingly, even though they are bacteria, they don’t make us sick, they help keep us healthy.  Without them, you would starve to death.  Some of our best decisions meet the same fate, when we don’t trust our instincts.

As a reader, you’re in the best position to tell me what’s great reading from where you sit, so find a warm cup of coffee or tea and dig in.  As always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas.  Happy New Year!  2014 is just around the corner.

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A Thank You Gift for Leaders and Followers

Group_WBWhat is it about saying thank you?  As we turn our attention this week to Christmas and the coming of the New Year, there’s a simple, yet powerful gift every leader can give to their followers. Before you close up shop for the holidays take a few minutes to consider the wisdom and words of former Herman Miller CEO Max De Pree, “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you.”

So in this season of giving, make it a point to say “thank you” to those who make your success possible.  Think about the great work they do on your behalf and the sacrifices made to keep your enterprise running.  Make your “thank you” sincere and specific.  In the multi-tasking, hyper distracted and unfocused world we inhabit, it’s easy to overlook the simple power of the small gesture of saying thank you.   Before I go overboard waxing on about the power of gratitude, I know a simple thank you won’t necessarily close that next sale or make an unproductive staffer suddenly rise up to their potential.  It may however give them pause and perhaps a little encouragement as they head off for a brief holiday respite.

In the knowledge economy your competitive advantage goes home every night to get some rest.  As a leader, you spend a good portion of your time working to create an environment that challenges and encourages them to come back every work day morning.  You probably spend some time hoping you get it right.  If you’re spending a lot of time managing staff turnover, maybe you haven’t gotten the mix just right.  So start by saying thank you.  For that commitment your followers show and for their contribution and loyalty.  It’s a great place to start.

It will be the best gift you ever give.  Here’s wishing you all the joy of the season.  Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

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The Five Dysfunctions of Reckless Leaders

Reckless LeadersEvery so often, someone acts out in a way that is so totally destructive and outrageous that you know it’s nothing short of reckless.  Like a child flailing themselves against the tile of a supermarket floor in tantrum, reckless leaders push well beyond the bounds of common sense, decency and civility.  They seem totally clueless about the impact of their behaviors.

A reckless leader’s outbursts are certain to have consequences — both intended and otherwise.  When leaders throw civility and decency to the wind, the results are always corrosive and damaging to the organization.  In a world where the integrity and perception of your brand is paramount, reckless leadership creates huge financial risk for your brand and your organization.

If you’re wondering how reckless leadership could hurt your pocketbook and your brand read on.  Douglas A. McIntyre writing for 24/7 Wall Street identified nine well known and generally well regarded firms with the most damaged brands.  Companies such as J.C. Penney, Apple, Groupon, Boeing and others made the list in one of two ways: by aggressively promoting a product or a business strategy and failing badly, or being involved in a corporate or personal scandal.

And it’s not just major corporations or brands.  Small organizations are at risk as well.  In late October the Washington Post ran an investigative report describing how a large number of not-for-profit organizations have quietly lost millions of dollars through significant diversion of their assets — fraudulent financial transactions, embezzlement or other criminal means.

According to the Washington Post, the “diversions drained hundreds of millions of dollars from institutions that are underwritten by public donations and government funds.”  Ranking Congressional leaders have announced they will launch investigations into the matter. Demoralizing doesn’t begin to capture the impact.  So, how else does dysfunction and reckless leadership surface in organizations?

Dysfunction 1 -Believing your solution is the only solution.  Talented leaders are adept at listening to input and ideas from direct reports and colleagues well before settling on a path forward.  The Reckless Leader is more prone to decide they know exactly what to do from the start and are likely to demean the ideas of others along the way.

Dysfunction 2Publicly demeaning people or berating their ideas.  I’m not talking about engaging in honest and open exploration of ideas here.  I’m talking about the business equivalent of bullying.  Recent published profiles of Jeff Bezos, Chief Executive Officer at Amazon paint a disturbing portrait of a highly adversarial culture where positive feedback from superiors is rare and promotions even rarer. While some suggest intensity is a trait commonly found in technology leaders, (think Steve Jobs at Apple) some of Amazon’s practices seem ready-made for the a path to reckless leadership.  Being the Queen of Mean creates real hazards.  Act accordingly.

Dysfunction 3Using e-mail to deliver your communications. (see Dysfunction 2).  No, e-mails don’t count as communication — especially when they become personally demeaning tirades — aimed at the recipient.  Leaders need good intelligence — ground truth — to make decisions and respond to developing problems.  Reckless leaders have great difficulty understanding why no one wants to work for them.  Having strong and healthy relationships with your teams is essential to really understanding the current workings of your organization. Anything less is truly less.

Dysfunction 4Failure to share the blame and give credit where its due.  Reckless leaders are distinctive for their singular practice of blaming others for the failures and shortcoming within the organization.  Oftentimes these blame assessments are one-dimensional views of events in which the reckless leader often is complicit.  People afraid to admit they share part of the responsibility for organizational failure create a culture where blaming others becomes the default whenever something goes wrong.  Beyond destroying accountability, how likely are you to take a risk essential to success or a breakthrough development?   What’s that sound?   Oh, it’s innovation dying.

Dysfunction 5When process becomes more important than people.  Having a plan is not the same as having a working plan.  Demanding adherence to stale procedures, outdated protocols and unworkable plans isn’t leadership, it’s organizational suicide.  For reckless leaders, the unwillingness to recognize rapidly shifting conditions or changing circumstances arising in the marketplace oftentimes results in overlooking the urgency and value of re-direction or redeployment of resources.  When that happens reckless leaders will revert to some variety of dysfunctional tactics all over again.

The circle of dysfunction and reckless leadership remains unbroken. That’s a sad reality for many organizations.  How will you make sure it’s not yours?

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Workplace Violence and Stand-Up Leadership

Workplace ViolenceNone of us expect to face workplace violence as part of our regular business day.  Increasingly however, a number of our colleagues are dealing with workplace violence and very dangerous situations.  The recent Navy Yard shooting in Washington, DC comes to mind as the latest in a series of mass homicides in the workplace, although one doesn’t have to think too hard to recall the others.

Earlier this week, a 27-year-old hotel food service and bar manager confronted a robber and as the two made their way outside the building the robber shot the manager, who was pronounced dead on the scene.  Mike Landsberry, a popular math teacher at the Sparks Middle School in Sparks, Nevada, was killed in a school shooting on October 21, 2013. Landsberry had served in the Marines and served several tours in Afghanistan as a member of the Nevada Air National Guard.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 375 workers were killed in workplace violence while on the job in 2012.  Robbers were the assailants in 33 percent of the workplace homicides involving shootings in 2012, while coworkers accounted for 13 percent. There were two incidents in 2012 where at least 5 people were killed in workplace shootings; a total of 12 workers died in these two incidents. From 1992 to 2012, 140 government workers were shot and killed by a coworker while on the job.

There is an increasing body of knowledge developing around managing and surviving workplace violence when an “active shooter” situation unfolds in the workplace.  Geoffrey James who writes SalesSource INC.com offered readers “12 Ways to Survive Workplace Gun Violence” based on his own experiences with work-related gun threats.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the US Department of Homeland Security both have extensive resources on managing and responding to active shooter violence.

Years ago while working for a small business owner, I was surprised to discover my boss kept a small automatic handgun in his desk drawer.  The gun had a large manilla tag tied to the trigger guard with the words, “CAREFUL! THIS IS LOADED”, printed in bright red ink.  I asked why he kept a loaded gun in his desk.  He replied calmly, “If somebody decides to rob us, I’ll have no problem shooting them on the way out.”

So is that our choice as leaders?  Armed resistance in the face of potential workplace violence.  It turns out, you have other options. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA have put together a 45-minute course, Active Shooter – What You Can Do available on-line for use by you and members of your team .  There’s even a final exam to test your knowledge if you’re inclined to harden those lessons.

None of us ever expect to confront such dangerous circumstances.  What great leaders do is what they’ve always done–they care about others more than themselves.  They lead with a higher purpose facing the unseen on the horizon. Take a lesson.  Be prepared.

 

 

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The Case for New Volunteers

Mission Driven VolunteersThe case for new volunteers is really about devising a new driver.  It is to a lesser degree about a new direction.  The new driver is organizational mission and the new direction is relevancy, vibrancy and responsiveness for volunteers.  That’s no small matter.  In the United States over 64 million people volunteer every year.  While most of the effort is given over to religious organizations, social services and education, sports, the arts, health and civic efforts all garner a significant share of the almost eight billion hours volunteers give to their communities, clubs and professions.

If there’s a case for leading and influencing  the way volunteers engage with institutions, communities and civic organizations, a fascinating set of new ideas has emerged in a recently published research paper, The Mission Driven Volunteer written by two leading consultants in the non-profit sector, Peggy Hoffman, CAE and Elizabeth Weaver Engel, CAE.

I am often struck by the continuing theme in the not-for-profit community focused on how many things in the sector are “broken”.  Rarely can one open a magazine, peruse a blog or skim headlines without crossing into the death of strategic planning, withering business models, poorly designed tactics, out-of-touch volunteers, broken membership strategy, warped technology, or the failure of change management.  With so much wrong, it is surprising we get anything done at all.  Yet the non-profit sector contributes to society in ways even Alexis de Tocqueville never imagined.

The Mission Driven Volunteer is research worth pushing beyond the initial “broken” hyperbole to find the real gems and insights in this work.   If you’ve ever worked in the not-for-profit sector (as I have for some thirty plus years now) much of what you read will be familiar.  Depending on your experience with volunteers, it may also be a vibrant reminder of the frustration felt time to time in the work.  Engel and Hoffman’s research however goes well beyond simply naming the problem, or pointing out the myths and truths by offering a thoughtful and insightful pathway to fixing what’s gone wrong in the committee and volunteer space.

Historically, volunteerism has followed familiar pathway.  Organizations and institutions in need of volunteers largely defined the terms and conditions under which such effort could be contributed.  The design largely reflected the organization’s needs and only tangentially considered the needs of the volunteer.  If a volunteer couldn’t hack the schedule, responsibility or pace required they would likely be asked to step off or out.  In a time when volunteerism was a defining component of being a good neighbor or responsible citizen, rigidity in structure was the volunteer’s problem, not the institution.

The norms for committees and volunteers are changing before our very eyes according to Hoffman and Engel.  The research effectively illuminates the unique ways new generations of volunteers are rising up. “They seek different kinds of volunteer experiences than their predecessors…ones that are less about structure, position and prestige and are focused instead on independence, meaning, impact and getting it done.”  In the new world of committee and volunteer service, “well done is better than well said.”

Engel and Hoffman provide a persuasive argument for the shortcomings inherent in traditional committee process and decision-making structures.  As they rightly point out, “the traditional committee model is ill-suited to the rapid decision-making and experimentation required to craft innovative responses to new situations.”

To drive their point home, Hoffman and Engel provide committee and volunteer case studies drawn from the innovations and experiences of three differing organizations including the Maryland Association of CPAs; the National Fluid Power Association and the Oncology Nursing Society.  While it is difficult to fully capture the nuances of the “behind-the-scenes” effort essential to successfully transitioning the volunteer experience from the case studies, they do offer a window on the possibilities.

Redefining the committee experience brings with it the demand for greater management of the volunteer experience.  It is here, I find myself at odds with the authors and sympathizing with my brethren in the profession.  Far too many not-for-profit groups are already seriously bereft of essential operating and managerial resources.  The notion that the mission driven volunteer will also require a new mission driven volunteer management process could become a step too far and a non-starter for many not-for-profit organizations.   That would be disappointing for lots of reasons.

As leaders we are always interested in new ideas about pathways to improvement and sustainable models that will enhance the likelihood of success.  It is fair to say not-for-profit groups find themselves on a rapidly shifting “playing field” and the mantras about nimbleness and flexibility are no longer theoretical concepts, they are the reality of their work.

Volunteerism like membership is no longer about belonging, rather it is about believing. Peggy Hoffman and Elizabeth Walker Engel have vividly illuminated both new thinking and new models that will enrich and enlighten the coming work of redefining the committee and volunteer experience in the not-for-profit sector for some time to come.

 

 

Posted in Innovation, Leadership, Membership, Volunteers | 2 Comments

Five Reasons Horizons Matter for Leaders

Five Reasons Horizons Matter for LeadersThinking about horizons is a good metaphor for what is essential for leaders. It has been said that “good leaders hit targets no one else can hit and that great leaders hit targets no one else can see.” That notion of things beyond horizons is a powerful nuance.

So much success in today’s marketplace relies on changing the basic rules of that marketplace. While incremental change may garner some progress and offer added rewards, those dreamers, thinkers and innovators who imagine a totally different marketplace are the ones reaping an increasingly larger share of both profit and progress. Putting a new twist on an old concept or traditional business model is oftentimes enough to change the marketplace.

Whether it’s a supermarket self-service check-out, a baggage check kiosk or a purchase tracking system offered by a major home supply warehouse store, these types of business process shifts change the way consumers think about your business. Consider UBER, the recently introduced transportation service which enables you to summon a ride using an app on your SmartPhone. While flagging down a cab in most cities is the primary method for grabbing a ride, you need to find a spot where a cab can see you and stop. UBER will dispatch a car or a cab to your spot using the location tools built into your phone. So which process change will make your business more successful?

Increasingly, the world around us experiences self-service as better service. This is not a new idea, but it is one that continues to grow and expand across a range of business types and models. The question on the horizon for your business is what changes or adaptations could you make to give your customers more ready access to the information they need and want from your enterprise?

Lean manufacturing and lean service are intertwined concepts worthy of your attention. There are always ways to streamline your procedures and processes. In today’s economy it becomes essential. While “just in time” concepts have many believers, the concept of “no longer needed” may have more in the long view. The question for you and your team is what can we stop doing? What things do we do today, that no longer matter or have value for our customers? Calorie count labeling turns out to have enormous interest and benefit for restaurant patrons. A detailed lists of ingredients not as much.

Making your business customer-centric is essential to your success. How many times have you found yourself stewing about the “four-hour window” utilities, repair services and other vendors require to schedule your service or delivery? Why is that time-oriented methodology considered good customer service? I was pleasantly surprised to discover a number of firms are now moving to either tighter time windows–generally under two-hours–or better still specific timed appointments. A growing number of companies allow you to schedule your own preferred time on-line with a quick confirmation response and a number to call if you need to make last-minute changes. What is it about your firm that annoys rather than engages your customers? Find out and fix it.

Make your customer’s urgency of need a priority. What’s reasonable? It depends on your product or service, Recently while renting a vacation home, the realtor provided two pieces of key information. The hours and telephone of the real estate office and an emergency or “after hours” telephone number to a member of their team. “We are always have someone available to take your call”, the realtor said. “If they don’t pick-up be sure to leave a message and they will call you back right away.” As it so happened, a common household problem arose late one evening and the “after hours” contact picked up on the second ring. Within fifteen minutes a plumber was dispatched and within an hour the problem was resolved. Responsiveness + Resolution = Return Customer.

Find the right metrics and measure, measure, measure. One of the challenges in looking over the horizon is imagining what issues or problems may arise for your customer or clients. Some are easy to anticipate and some considerably more difficult because they reflect the unique manner in which your customer uses the product or service. So how do you measure the value of your work effort?

Personally using your firms products and services is one way to better understand the customer experience. Another is to watch and monitor the ways in which your products are used. What’s important to your customers in terms of addressing their concerns? If a two-hour response window seems too long to your customers, improving on that response time might be a critical metric. If having to click six or eight times to get where they are going on your website, maybe cutting that back or providing shortcuts will be the better way to go. Think like a customer (or a client) then select your measures and metrics with care.

Firms willing to re-think their business process, consider lean approaches and willing to measure their accomplishments from the customer’s perspective will gain a new view of the new business horizons.

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Is Going With Your Gut Smart Leadership?

Before we get started I have a confession to make.  I’m not the smartest person in the room.  Many of you knew that already.  I am however someone with a good bit of experience leading and consulting to organizations and Boards.  I have learned a few things about smart leadership, decision-making and the power of execution.  Here are some things I want to share for your consideration.

  • Is going with your gut smart?
  • How do you leverage your big picture skills in execution?
  • How do you execute with excellence?

This post should have been sub-titled “How I Learned to Love the Micro-Biome” because it has perfect symmetry with the notion of going with your gut. Not exclusively mind you, but as a critical component of your decision tree.  Now the micro-biome as you may know refers to the microbes that live in the human intestinal tract. They are responsible for digesting the foods we eat.  Interestingly, even though they are bacteria, they don’t make us sick, they help keep us healthy.  Without them, you would starve to death.  Some of our best decisions meet the same fate, when we don’t trust our instincts.

I think we would all agree, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, it matters whether you can achieve the goals of your organization and illuminate the aspiration of your customers.

Downsizing your dreams—-the big picture, if you will–is not the way to go.  Right-sizing your expectations is.  I don’t mean settle for less. I mean be prepared to meet your team where they are and be prepared to advance them to where they need to be.  If as the French artist Gustave Flaubert said, “God is in the details”, then I’m going to trust my gut and only pray at the largest cathedrals.

Would you agree customer networking events need name tags? Right?  Me too!  Funny thing though, in one organization they said they didn’t.  When I asked why, they said, because everyone already knows one another.  To which I replied, if they already know one another, then why are we having networking events?  They got the message.  Big picture. Little executions.

If you are a “big picture” leader, your greatest strength is not trying to retrofit your skills in execution, it is using your broad perspective to ask the right questions of your team.  There is a caveat of course, if you’ve moved to a tiny firm, you may be asking yourself the questions.  So be it.  What’s important is asking the questions and thinking through the issues and the answers.

Likewise, it’s important to realize you have allies–among your peer network, the membership or customer base and ultimately your staff.  Finding people among those three groups who will accommodate you and leverage your big picture skills is critical.

I have followed several industry veterans with long tenure.  Two of them were in the CEO seat for 26 and 39 years respectively.  Where my predecessors gave short shrift to some issues, I found manna for a strategic vision.  An example–an industry is in the throes of seismic change.  One of our customers had been pitching an industry promotional campaign for at least five years with no success.  What are the three most common complaints we hear in today’s data saturated world?  Nobody knows what we do or why it’s important/valuable/vital and we need to do more to promote our business.  That’s exactly what we did.

With lots of collaboration and about six months of steady effort, we launched an educational campaign designed to help consumers connect the dots between the environment and the responsible use of our industry’s products.  Big picture project, with lots of opportunities to leverage the detail level skills of staff, volunteers and members alike.

If there’s any secret to this process it is demonstrating you are in the game. Know the details of the game plan.  Attend the execution meetings.  Ask the big picture, strategic questions.  For our industry campaign, it was asking the obvious questions about how to focus the campaign and the hard questions about the best ways to execute the “grass-roots” campaign we envisioned. More often than not, groups move to “how” far too quickly. Your job, no different than showing “you own the numbers” when it comes to financial reporting is showing your capacity to engage with vital questions and insights.

Be the champion.  The 7 Measures of Success research published by ASAE suggests CEO’s be the broker of ideas for their organizations. I agree, totally.  Using the big picture skills you possess to make clear the strategic imperatives behind your programs and efforts is a vital part of the job.  Helping your members/customers see “behind the curtain” of your plans makes a huge difference to your success.  Our industry campaign offers valued insight.  While the campaign does not necessarily drive buyers directly to our members, it does an outstanding job of driving visitors to the association’s website–where they can learn about our members and the association.  Not everyone fully appreciated that strategy at the outset.  We broke it down for them.

None of this is a guarantee of success.  It is more akin to a compass.  You have to learn how to use it proficiently before it yields any meaningful results.  Failure is inevitable at some point along the way.  Know it. Work like crazy to avoid it. Prepare for it in any case.

Now this is important.  Do not get caught in the trap of separating strategy from execution. It is a myth, that these two processes could or should be separate.  This is a false dichotomy.  This new age invention is based on an age-old joke.  ”While the surgery was a complete success, the patient died”.  Far too often, I hear claims of spectacular strategies which failed not because the strategies were bad, but because the execution was poor.

Let me be clear. Execution does not live outside of strategy. And frankly neither does your success.  If you haven’t taken all of the variables of your culture, organization dynamics, demographics, and attitudes into consideration right alongside your strategy, you’re missing a huge opportunity and a huge point of leverage.

Understand, I’m not talking about the pedestrian objections of “we’ve always done it this way” or “we’ll never be able to do this”. I  am really talking about the fine details of what will it take to be successful.  That old saw about “some people being too busy getting it done, to listen to those who say it can’t be done.” is about right.

Let me wrap up by saying this…Big picture leaders delight in seeing others achieve their fullest potential. Our sense of self comes from witnessing the success of others.  Our strength comes not from hitting targets others can’t hit, but rather from hitting targets others can’t see.

  • Take advantage of your “big picture” expertise to ask the critical questions to correct the shortcomings in execution.
  • Find those who will accommodate you.  That is, those who will gladly fly in the shadow of your creativity, innovation and strategic vision.  They thrive on getting it done and you will benefit from their knowledge.
  • Remember that execution and strategy will do more damage held separately than held together.

How do make sure you have the right team in place to support your “big picture” strategy?  So what’s keeping you from your next success?    May it’s your gut.

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Is Your Leadership Suffocating Your Followers?

35186“I feel as though I am being suffocated by my bosses”, Sally said plaintively, “I am publicly being criticized for small mistakes I’ve made in the past, my work is constantly being questioned and my new ideas to get things on track are completely ignored.”

Why is it so difficult for some leaders to focus their leadership efforts on the positive and facing forward?  Sheryl Sandberg in her new book, Lean In makes an important observation. “As hard as it is to have an honest dialogue about business decisions,” she writes, “it is even harder to give individuals honest feedback.”

What makes giving productive feedback so difficult? More importantly, what can leaders do about it?  You can start by considering the high leadership costs of being “stuck”.  That is–being hostage to your own unwillingness or inability–to provide the necessary and proper feedback to a team member who is not meeting expectations.

Fueling public criticism, ignoring new ideas and otherwise marginalizing the contributions of a team member has enormous leadership costs.  What are the long-term impacts of leaders being focused on the negative?  Declining morale, damaged self-esteem, confusion and falling productivity for starters.  You can probably add your own experiences to this list– few of them are ever good.

What are the long-term leadership impacts of fueling a disconnect between expectations and reality of someone’s performance?   Being stuck often feels as though there are no alternatives or options to your current situation.  In differing circumstances and over numerous years, those who continually focus their leadership on the negative tend to demoralize themselves and the people they need most.  Making progress on a complex issue or refocusing the organization after a stumble–big or small–demands positive leadership and re-direction. This is true at all levels across the organization.

Few of us do our best work under the constant duress of criticism, second-guessing or being ignored in the course of our day.  As leaders we need to find a new path forward for ourselves and our teams as well.  Here are some useful questions to help you do it:

  • Have you communicated your expectations clearly?
  • Have you confirmed the team’s or team member’s understanding and reached mutual agreement on those expectations?
  • Have you established agreed upon milestones, monitoring or reporting protocols?
  • Do you have agreed upon boundaries describing who can take action when?
  • Have you provided a mechanism (meeting, review session, checklist) for regular and timely feedback to your team members?

It’s likely members of your team are more resilient than you might think.  People can bounce back from failure and shortfalls.  If they know their leaders stand with them and are committed helping them get back on track.

In his writings about building trust author Stephen R. Covey talks about the importance of leaders making deposits into their team’s emotional bank account.  Offering regular praise when appropriate, complimenting initiative, giving credit in meetings, acknowledging ideas and offering positive feedback whenever possible, all provide leaders and team members with a needed reservoir of goodwill.  When the time comes that an emotional withdrawal is needed, your criticism or negative feedback coupled with the goodwill you’ve created along the way can lessen the defensiveness and help offset the sting of those difficult conversations.  It’s definitely worth remembering effective leaders praise in public, and as necessary criticize in private.

Finally, if there’s a vital lesson of the information age, it is this.  Your organization’s competitive advantage leaves the building and goes home to bed each day.  Smart and savvy leaders do everything in their power to make certain that same “competitive advantage” comes back to work–focused and fueled–to deliver their best.  Your customers, clients and members expect it.  How are you making sure it happens?

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