Leaders! It’s Time For A Fresh Perspective

Leaders_New_Perspectives Leaders have a big problem, which means you may have a big problem, too. When uncertainty is the new normal, how is it possible to lead others? Increasingly, leadership resilience (and lots of it) is your most valuable skill. Your confidence comes from your ability to bounce back and persevere even in the face of enormous uncertainty. How will you thrive in the face of rapid paced change, evolving marketplaces and shifting environments?

Here are five ideas to help you successfully persevere amidst the unexpected:

Cultivate a Sense of Calm
There’s an enormous benefit to cultivating a sense of calm in the face of rapid change and surprising shifts in the marketplace. One example is that calm gives you time to think, reflect and consider.  Rather than rushing off in a panicked pursuit of an immediate solution, cultivating calm offers you and your team leaders the chance to take a breath, consider options and act decisively.  Russell Simmons, the hip-hop mogul suggest one of the greatest tools for him is meditation. “I can promise you that no tool has made me a smarter, more focused and clearer thinking entrepreneur than meditation.” Whatever your means for cultivating calm, minimizing stress and distraction in the midst of uncertainty will serve you and your team well.

Find a Fresh Perspective
One of my favorite graduate school professors was fond of saying “perspective is worth 100 IQ points when it comes to working through the challenges facing leaders.” What she meant was having a fresh viewpoint or a strong source of comparative analysis could help illuminate new solutions to the challenges at hand. Whenever you face a serious obstacle to success, finding another person, organization or industry who may have experience a similar circumstance can often provide ideas for finding a new solution or direction.

Become More Inquisitive.
Questions are more important than answers for leaders. It was the genius Albert Einstein who reminds us that “the important thing is not to stop questioning.”  While it’s easy to overlook the seemingly obvious, asking your team to explore the “few things that really drive results for your organization, profession or industry” will likely yield some surprising responses.  One of my favorite exercises is imagining different items combined in different ways.  Imagine drinking a glass of milk that tastes just like what you found at the bottom of your favorite cereal, without the bowl or the cereal.  Sound unreal?  It’s not. It’s called Cow Wow Cereal Milk.  Now what’s your next great combo?

Embrace Differing Points of View
To be clear, I detest the term “devil’s advocate.” It’s like an arsonist telling you he’s a fireman. When I encourage you to embrace other points of view, what I’m suggesting is not disregarding good ideas or bad ones at the outset. I’m suggesting you try looking at them with a fresh set of eyes. You can adopt the perspective of your customers, clients, co-workers, colleagues or competitors.  It doesn’t really matter. What does matter is finding a new perch from which to view the issues and potential solutions. Try “piggy-backing” on a colleague’s idea. Find a fresh perspective and argue in favor of it. Watch your language. Be careful of phrases that marginalize other people’s ideas.  Sentences and statements that begin with, “well the facts are…” or “the truth is…” seldom meet that threshold.

Try Helping Others.
For leaders and their teams, it is easy to be stressed-out and frustrated in the face of unexpected change.  Shifting trends, new developments in technology, or a disrupted strategy can readily derail even the most thoughtful analysis or tactical plan. A longtime colleague used to marvel about how awesome human beings were at “pretending not to know what they really know.” Her point was that most of us know when things are going badly try as we might to talk ourselves out of those feelings.   As a leader what are the ways you can break the cycle?  How can you help your team see their new reality?  Working closely with your team, being a pro-active listener and sharing your own understanding about what’s to come is a great place to start.  Well before today’s unrelenting pace of change, Jack Welch the former Chairman and CEO of General Electric suggested this approach for leaders and their teams:

  • Face reality as it is, not as it was or you wish it were.
  • Be candid with everyone.
  • Change before you have to.
  • If you don’t have a competitive advantage, don’t compete.
  • Control your own destiny, or someone else will.

Thriving amidst the surprises, disruptions and shifts to come will demand much from your leadership.  Building your inner strength, discipline, and most importantly your capacity for resilience will help assure your ability to bounce back and persevere even in the face of tomorrow’s enormous uncertainty. You would be well to remember the advice of former Secretary of State General Colin Powell. “People want to share your confidence, however thin, not your turmoil, however real.”

What techniques and strategies do you use to garner new ideas and perspectives?  How often do you find yourself pretending not to know, what you really know?  Share your thoughts and ideas here.

New CEO? Five Ideas To Help You Thrive.

Success_Strategies_CEOCongratulations! You’re the new CEO. Ruh-roh! Now what? Every leader faces the inherent challenge of making their mark. None more so than a newly appointed CEO. When you are the new CEO, you face an emotional landscape that differs markedly from the otherwise already challenging task of just being a fresh face. As you take on the role and responsibilities from the previous leader, the hazards on the path to success grow exponentially. While many Board and Search committee members intellectually understand and will profess a desire to move the organization to the next-level, their hearts may still be entangled with the emotions of losing your predecessor as a longtime ally, confidante and in many instances friend.

Be careful of comparisons. Senator Lloyd Bentsen illuminated a version of the lingering emotion and the risk of comparison in the 1988 Vice President’s Debate when he scolded his Republican counterpart Senator Dan Quayle by saying “I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.” The emotional attachments of Board members and others for your predecessor have a way of lingering, making your work more sensitive and politically charged than usual. If you violate these emotional fences, good intent or strong performance not withstanding, you may find yourself pushed to exit sooner rather than later.

Watching for Fault-Lines and Faint Praise
The vulnerabilities attendant in a leadership transition creates unique risks for new CEOs. Organizations have deep wells of loyalty coupled with the longstanding comfort with the way things have been done in the past. While likely unwritten and perhaps rarely cited as “past practices” these emotions often trip up even the most savvy volunteer leaders and new CEO along the way. Newly appointed CEO’s need to be extremely sensitive to the past–specifically the systems, processes and expectations–built by their predecessors. Volunteer leaders, professional staff and even members get readily attached to the customs and traditions of the former CEO and sometimes react badly to unexpected changes. Jack Welch‘s axiom offers the best guidance. Simply put, “if you aren’t sick of saying it, you probably haven’t said it enough.” The “it” includes your new ideas about change, your deep appreciation of the rich history, new directions, past practices, strategy and most everything that will now form the cornerstone of your leadership.

Board Members Going Rogue. A Cautionary Tale.
For Board leaders there’s a similar cautionary. Don’t enshrine the past. As Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos reminds us, ” the death knell for any enterprise is to glorify the past, no matter how good it was…” As a measure of respect and fondness Boards oftentimes bestow new roles for their beloved former CEO such as a seat on their foundation board, a liaison spot to an affiliated industry group or a consulting contract with the organization. While it is a thoughtful, well-intended gesture to the former CEO, it can represent a significant disservice to the new CEO. All CEO’s— rookies included–need to be able to focus on learning the business, weaning staff and volunteers from the practices of the past to a new working relationship without the distraction of being second-guessed by the former CEO throughout the process.

Keeping the long-time CEO around runs the risk of damaging an effective transition in which healthy, positive, attachments essential to the success of the new CEO are stymied. Long-time staff members with deep-seated loyalties to the former regime are not immune from querying the former CEO about the actions of the new CEO or planting seeds of disfavor, which oftentimes find their way back to the Board and sow seeds of suspicion, poor morale and costly outcomes for the organization.  As the new CEO, you need to address these actions individually and swiftly before they damage your reputation and efforts.

How can Board members prevent slipping backward? Avoid being impervious to change for starters. Oftentimes, the practices of the past while well intended do not suit today’s environment. Oftentimes the practices of the past may appear to be working which means there is little or no constituency for change. In fact, committee chairs and members sometimes feel threatened by the new approach and refuse to even consider them. Board leaders have an obligation to create an on-boarding framework in which the ideas of the new CEO receive a fair hearing and due consideration. Unless the previous CEO was an experiential change agent there’s not likely a role for them here that won’t further complicate the issue.

Navigating Your Place and Power As The New CEO.
In my experience being the new CEO always entails a high potential risk of failure, but by no means high certainty. Some say the risk is intrinsic to leadership transition. Perhaps. But there’s lots to be done to shift the odds in your favor, most of them well before you step into the job. Query the search committee, executive search consultant and Board about the previous CEO’s tenure.

  • What things were done well by your predecessor?
  • When they think about bringing someone new to the organization, what are their expectations?
  • What one piece of advice would they give you about making the transition effective and successful?
  • Is the group open to critique or change?

One example comes to mind. As a new CEO following a longtime leader, a Board member helpfully warned me that it would be most unwise to offer any ideas critical of my predecessor or his actions in Board meetings. He assured me issues could be better addressed one-on-one with individual Board members who–given a chance–to consider them privately would support them in public. It’s amazing what can be accomplished when you don’t care who gets the credit. The key learning here is be willing to seek out clues that will assure your ideas and thoughts can be heard. One of the ways to stand out is to make sure you’re communication style and approach demonstrates essential diplomacy and tact.

If you have the opportunity to follow a longtime CEO, think it through carefully and find a vantage point to gain some perspective on what the future holds. Be attentive to overly vague language and assurances above moving the organization to the next level. Testing the Board’s resolve tactfully to be sure they mean what they say is often illuminating. I recall a CEO Search Committee chair telling me “all the organization needed was a little help with the “block and tackle” of management & execution. It turned out what they really needed was a huge cash infusion and a relevancy realignment. Remember, following a long time leader requires a generosity of spirit on your part and tenacity in adhering to your own beliefs and shared values of leadership.

The Board May Not Love You. Respect Will Do.
The key variables here are clarity of communications and heightened sensitivity to culture and traditions–both intellectual and emotional. If you haven’t already done so, reach out to every Board officer, committee chair, Board member and significant stakeholder within the first few weeks on the job and ask questions–then be quiet and listen–carefully. Ask clarifying questions; probe their likes and dislikes. Let them know you want and appreciate their input in helping you set the agenda for the future. This is vitally important when your initial contacts have been solely through a CEO Search Committee or executive search consultant. In almost all instances, the rest of the leadership structure has no idea who you are or what you stand for. In the absence of first-hand information they will make assumptions and the stories to support them. Not necessarily maliciously, but they are human after all and like nature, humans abhor a vacuum.

The New Team. Same As The Old Team.
As a new leader you may discover the team in place haven’t really given much thought to the ideas or issues that arise in a transition of this significance. Many current staff will worry about their job security, “regime change”– whether the new leader will arrive with their own team–but not neccesarily about helping you get off to a great start. Lou Gerstner, the former chairman and CEO of IBM in his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance, tells of arriving for his first day of work at IBM only to find himself locked out of the building. No one on staff had thought to make sure they were available to greet him, that he had proper credentials or even keys to enter his office.

Inauspicious beginnings aside, as the new CEO one of your greatest challenges will be winning the hearts and minds of current staff and executives. Don’t dally. You need to meet with all key executives and informal leaders in the organization. The tone and tenor of your initial contacts go a long way in carrying your message and setting the stage for your leadership and the organization. People who know what to expect early on have the best opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to be part of the new team. Not everyone will agree with your ideas or vision–some will even say so–in these initial meetings. Don’t be put off. Ask questions. Lots of them. Watch out for the Change Buddha. Use the opportunity to better understand cultural challenges. Most importantly, get their minds engaged in the discussions and your vision for shared success.

You can and should work diligently to influence perceptions of your ideas and leadership style for the best. Don’t rush the process, just make sure you attend to it.

Are you a new leader or CEO? What issues have arisen for you? What ideas can you offer to others starting on this new journey?


Creating Change Adept Organizations

LeadingChangeNot-for-profit organizations, social sector groups and associations are not inherently designed to be nimble. The principles of democracy that underlie the structure of most non-profit organizations are by design slow and deliberative. The environment in which our members, customers, donors, clients and stakeholders live and work is sodden by overwhelming complexity, rapid innovations, urgency and an unrelenting pace of change. As a leader how do you manage the dichotomy?

The most successful leaders are developing “over the horizon” capabilities, looking ahead and contemplating how the environment impacts their members, donors, customers and stakeholders. Associations and non-profits know they must be vigilant about change, yet much like our own members, it has become increasingly difficult to parse the flood of ideas and information flowing into and out of our organizations. The sage wisdom of “not believing everything you read” has now given way to “not believing everything you read on the Internet”.

Change can come from anywhere. Good ideas can come from the social sector, venture capitalists, for-profit companies, staff, vendors, or the clever re-invention of our previous successes.
As a leader finding ways to let change permeate the cultural fabric of your organization is more essential than ever. The organizations that remain passive or reactive to the changes around them will watch the revolving door of departing members grow.   You’ll also find that new alternatives will arise to meet a more refined set of your member’s needs and interests.

Alan Kay, the renowned computer scientist once remarked, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”. That notion takes on an urgent new relevance in today’s non-profit environments. The three-year membership or donor development plan is giving way to a six-month strategy or the three-month pilot. Social media, electronic messaging, websites and short-run digital and variable data tools all provide inexpensive testing platforms for new ideas and bigger results. Big data is providing far more information, better outcome analysis and greater insight into the behaviors of members, donors, customers and stakeholders and the reasons behind those choices than ever before.

Okay, I recognize not every organization can invent the future. You also can’t take the position that you or your organization is somehow magically exempt from it. Waiting passively for change to arrive is a strategic mistake of epic proportion — one that is crushing organizations everyday. Why did Crumbs Bake Shop close up shop while Georgetown Cupcake and others continue to thrive? Finding strategic ways to think about the future is essential to assuring you are prepared to deal with coming changes in members tastes, interests and shifting marketplaces.

So how do you get started? Leaders at all levels in the organization need to accept responsibility for uncovering nascent changes and shifts in their marketplace and among their members, donors, customers and stakeholders. Looking at potential large-scale changes and indeed even incremental shifts can yield surprising and valuable insights. Here are five ideas to help you get started.

Successful organizations are always scanning the environment and are open to good ideas.

•    Shifts in membership or potential member population demographics. Are your core members aging out of the association? Are you attracting a younger cohort to take their place? Would related groups, industries or professions benefit from your organization’s capabilities?
•    Finding ways to take the pulse of what members are thinking. Regular surveys, focus groups and after action evaluations can help identify what changes are coming.
•    What’s happening in the member or donor environment? What changes are they experiencing or expecting? In what ways might you help them?
•    People who are not yet members; what do they need? How will you reach them?
•    Improbable changes. Every good leader knows you can’t anticipate everything. Yet somehow the unthinkable needs to be considered.

Governance issues are now a focal point for change adept strategy.

  • Leaders need to be pro-active when considering the Board role. Considering the Board’s unique culture and taking into consideration the realities in your organization are essential.
  • What is your Board’s overall readiness for change? Which board members are tied to the way things have always been. Can you help them move into the future?
  • Board focus on improving the future, the profession, and industry or sector the organization serves will yield far better outcomes than focusing on day-to-day management.
  • Recruiting/nominating process that identifies Board needs (skills, knowledge) and qualified candidates. (A successful committee chair won’t necessarily make a good board member.)
  • The Board needs a culture where discourse, inquiry and disagreement are accepted.

Understanding member needs and behaviors starts at the top.

  •  Successful leaders understand the environment their members operate in. Do you really know what’s impacting your member’s profession or trade? Do you have an active outreach plan? Member calls or visits can help uncover issues, shortfalls and opportunities in surprising and unexpected ways.
  • Keeping track of member needs and behaviors help provide the rationale for board members to make needed changes. What is your organization tracking and why?
  • Leaders and their teams need to reach out to diverse groups of members and prospective members to help connect the dots and share the member’s stories with volunteer leaders at all levels within the organization.
  • Sharing the outcomes from member and non-member assessments and market research throughout the organization is essential to building a shared understanding of the obstacles and opportunities that lie ahead.

Creating the culture for change and success.

Leaders must assure staff leadership teams are open to different ideas and opinions coupled with a risk tolerance that allows for occasional failure. If you need good ideas, the best way to get them is to have lots of ideas. Some won’t work out. Be prepared to accept that and deal with it in a positive way.

  • Engaging staff across the organization in a clear, continual and consistent manner helps make certain staff are well informed about what is happening in the organization and are encouraged to raise challenges, good ideas and problems so they can be resolved
  • Successful leaders and organizations keep their word by following through on plans and decisions. Few things undermine morale or disrupt trust more than the failure of leaders and their organization to live up to the expectations they set for themselves.
  • Change, innovation and creativity are not necessarily the same. Change is not always about creating something new; sometimes it can be about repackaging things in a new way.
  • Successful organizations celebrate success.

Strengthening the Change Adept Nature of the Organization

  • In a world where the lines between “serve or sell” are increasing blurred, leaders need to assure the work of volunteers and staff alike stay focused on mission as well as outcomes. Doing so assures you are focused on the future.
  • Make sure change is driven by facts, well-researched data and information, rather than speculation or opinion. Opinion-rich decision-making is out.
  • Successfully moving to a change adept organization is strengthened when the anticipated change is carefully considered, well planned and transparent. That doesn’t mean procrastinating, but it does mean being mindful.
  • Be certain you are providing adequate resources to accommodate the change, whether it is new products, new process, new standards or new services. Few things erode confidence more than a demand for change or continuous improvement coupled with inadequate resources to successfully achieve the desired outcomes. Be realistic. Sure, we can debate the resources needed, however gaining consensus among those accountable at the start is essential to assuring success.

Sharpening Your Skills as a Change Adept Leader

Every leader faces myriad challenges in promoting change. There’s no one right way to do it. Finding ways to foster change and build a change adept organization will vary based on the organization, environment and staff and leadership. The certainty of disappointments along the way demands a deep pool of patience to accept change as the long-term process and proposition it is. It is difficult to get people’s attention, especially in tough economic times. Many times the people you will need to rely upon are already overwhelmed and can’t think about something new.

  • Leaders must be a catalyst for change. Finding ways to build change into the life and culture of the organization is paramount. Anchoring it with board support is at the core of being change adept. It is important to recognize that change is not always triggered by external factors. Sometimes organizations atrophy.
  • It’s important you realize a change in culture and internal structure may be essential to the success of new initiatives that will move your organization toward the future.
  • Being savvy to change means creating a balance between understanding and respecting the organization’s traditions, while illuminating a shared vision of the future for the board, membership and staff. Painting a picture of how the organization will make the transition into that future is the embodiment of leadership. That savvy can’t necessarily be taught, but it can be enhanced.
  •  A leader can build upon institutional history by acting as a teacher and guide—explaining why things need to be done in a new way and enabling others to see the value and benefits of change.

Understand that conflict that comes with change.

The more rapid the change, the sharper the conflicts. Smart leaders immerse themselves in the challenges and work to mitigate the natural resistance to change experienced by volunteers, members, donors, stakeholders and staff alike. Prioritizing the flow of activities and communicating clearly, consistently and constantly about the pathways to the coming change is essential.

At the end of the day, the board, membership, donors, customers, stakeholders and staff look to you as the professional who can help them figure out how to move forward. It’s not news at this point that some people are more change adept than others. Identifying those individuals early in the change process gives you a core team to help carry the message forward. Helping all the stakeholders to embrace and be welcoming of change is a tall order even in the best of times. Making yourself change adept makes that possibility more likely than not. It’s already time to get started.

Bringing the Best to Non-Profit Boardrooms

Bringing the best to your non-profit boardroomAt the top, non-profit Boards increasingly need a diversity of interests, strategic insight, and closer contact with the member’s universe to deliver meaningful value.

Who sits at your non-profit Board table? The movers and shakers of your profession or industry? Successful, recognized, long-time members or donors? These are the people you need, right? Perhaps, but not as much as you might be inclined to believe.

So where are the visionaries, wild-eyed optimists, and edgy entrepreneurs who have found a new pathway listening to the sounds of a different drummer for your profession?

While many non-profit Boards have spent years seeking consensus in place of innovation—disruptive technologies, shifting global economies, emerging competitors, and dissident members are creating enormous pressure for change on those organizations. Where are the innovations, products, and new opportunities? How will you leverage them to benefit your membership, donors or stakeholders?

Identifying and selecting high-potential leaders for your non-profit Board offers a unique opportunity to accelerate your progress:

When it comes to attracting fresh leadership to the non-profit Board, there are usually a wide range of sources inside and outside the current crop of committee members, committee chairs and volunteers. Recruiting new talents requires you to look in “non-traditional” spots. Is there someone outside your organization—an industry analyst, writer, or vendor, who’s unique viewpoint might yield valuable insight? What about someone recently retired or someone changing fields or specialty in your industry? Nurturing wide-ranging perspectives is key to your organization’s vitality. As a leader, discovering those voices becomes one of your vital responsibilities.

Seek out those who haven’t raised their hands, yet. Waiting for people to express interest in volunteering is a common mistake. Look for people mentioned prominently in newspapers, business, or professional journals among your members. Look closely at industry innovations and closer still at the people behind them. Building strong non-profit Boards demands that you go after the talent you need at the top. Reach out to people who can add value to your work and personally invite them to place their name before the nominating body.

Engage new members early in the volunteer dynamic. One of the keys to identifying high-potential volunteers is communicating high expectations. As new members join your organization, remind them of the importance and value of their involvement in leadership activities. Ask them to identify personal interests. Connect interests to work that enhance both personal and professional growth for the volunteer. Pro-actively helping volunteers manage their leadership activities is a win-win at all levels.

Gauge the opportunity to the time available. While busy people always seem to do more, nowhere is it written that every volunteer opportunity must demand months or years of commitment. Sometimes, a project needing a few days of intense effort produces a far better outcome, than something stretched out for months at a time does. Craft options that suit your Board members.

Make clear your specific expectations for volunteers. Is a new Board member expected to find new members? Speak on behalf of the association? Contribute or raise money for the organization’s foundation? What is required of the position? Oftentimes, nominating groups will “brush over” the workload and responsibilities of the position to entice potential candidates. Doing so diminishes both the values of the work and its importance in the recruit’s mind. If your non-profit Board does important work, demands long hours or has high expectations, say so without apology. People attracted to hard work will hang on throughout the process. Others will wean themselves along the way.

Think big picture. Is your non-profit Board reflective of the true diversity of your members? Sometimes without realizing it, Boards come to reflect only the most successful or senior members of the membership because they are the ones with the time, flexibility, and resources to commit to Board service. Consider making it possible for the smaller member or one whose practice is isolated in a distant locale to participate on your Board.  Working toward building career interests among college students? Having a seat at the Board table for one or more students will be enlightening for everyone. The difference in perspective is worth a hundred I.Q. points.

It’s been said, that all discord is simply harmony misunderstood. Creating a diverse, inclusionary, and distinctively talented Board membership—while occasionally challenging—makes all of us better leaders. Rigorous debate widens our horizons and assures that our fellow members; colleagues and peers derive the optimum value from our work and their membership investment. And after all, that’s why you’re here, right?

Leaders: Get Your Head In The Game!

Indecision_RedGet your head in the game” is the clarion cry of coaches demanding athletes regain focus and bring their talents to bear on the success of the team.  While no one can ignore the extraordinary physical talents and capacities of athletes, in some ways the far more demanding effort is what goes on in their minds. That’s incredibly true for successful and effective leaders as well.

Focus is what makes it possible to achieve extraordinary things.  Bringing your focus to bear on the efforts and activities of your team are a force multiplier.  No, I don’t mean, “micro-managing” their efforts.  I mean making certain they are seeing the next steps, thinking through their options and making the optimum choices as they deploy your organization’s resources.

If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?  That’s not an idle question.  In today’s fast-moving environment, accidental voids always get filled by someone.  How else to explain the rapid rise of Uber, UberX, Lyft and a host of other ride-sharing services fueled by mobile applications spreading across the United States and 34 other countries?  Was there really no one in the taxi industry thinking about how Internet technology could disrupt their business?  The operating model of limiting taxi medallions and licenses while relying on regulatory control and oversight of personal transportation has been leapfrogged by a new mobile business model for the 21st century.  Incredible.  There are surprises waiting for other industries too.

Leaders cannot just wait for the threat to show itself.  First-mover strategy creates huge advantages for those coming into your marketplace.  Done well, these new enterprises can force you onto an uneven playing field, where the odds are stacked against you.  Think about Facebook or LinkedIn.  If you’re a brand or in business, you need to be there, whether you like it or not.  For many, the low cost of entry makes social media an easy choice.  The downside, is it also disconnects you from the big data being collected behind the scenes by the giants in social media.

Jeff Immelt, Chairman and CEO of General Electric made a similar point about the vast amount of data collected behind the scenes from manufactured “smart” products like diesel engines, refrigerators, washers, dryers, jet engines and more.  Virtually all manufacturers have outsourced the collection of data from these devices and in the absence of any serious analysis or review, insights and the accompanying opportunities lie fallow.  If you are chasing peak performance from your organization and your teams, you can’t afford to let this approach go unexplored.

Your clients, customers, members and stakeholders are telling you things about your organization in a thousand ways by their action and inaction. The first-time buyer, repeat buyers, new members, renewing members, skulkers, stalkers and observers–all offer valuable knowledge–if you’re paying attention to them, paying attention to you and your organization.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by all of the possibilities.   The key is reminding yourself why you’re here.

Ask yourself, what do I want to achieve?  Imagine yourself reaching that goal. How will it feel?   What will it take to get there?

Can you see it in your mind?  Mental rehearsal plays an enormous part in helping you focus and move toward your goals in a calm and purposeful way, minimizing the stress you may otherwise face.

Walk away from analysis paralysis.  You won’t get every strategy exactly right.  Precision, not perfection should be your approach to complex tasks.  If you focus on making every single step along the way perfect, you may distract yourself from the most important effort.  Getting started.  There’s no such thing as a lost opportunity.  Someone always finds it.  Make sure it’s you.

Find a focus phrase.   The ancient Sanskrit word mantra comes to mind. Mantra is a sacred utterance, numinous sound, a syllable, word, or group of words. The value of mantra comes when it is audible, visible, or present in thought.  What words help to keep you on task and focused? My mantra for the 21st century is “take a closer look”.  What’s yours?

Dispel the doubters.  There are always those who are in doubt.  As a leader, you should not be one of them.  If you’ve done your research, thought carefully and thoroughly about your course of action, engaged your team in the process and are now implementing the plan efficiently and effectively, confidence is what’s called for.  As former Secretary of State General Colin Powell reminds us when it comes to leaders, “people want to share your confidence, however thin, not your turmoil however real.”

Being a leader is tough work even under the best of circumstances.  Those around you often mistakenly believe you get to do whatever you want, come and go as you please and decide the day’s agenda.  In truth you get to do exactly what needs to be done to keep your organization thriving and alive for the near and foreseeable future.  That’s a tough challenge by any standard.  Getting your head in the game is the first place to start.