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.

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!


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.

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!

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?