Six Ways To Be A Better Leader Right Now

Wired4LeadershipCan leadership be taught? We think so and here’s six ways you can be a better leader right now.”

To master leadership strategies, a leader must hold several beliefs firmly in mind. The first is that leadership strategies are in fact, learnable. Which is to say, that the experiences of those who have gone before, can be translated into meaningful and relevant lessons for each of us who follows. The second is that there is an important and pertinent reason for doing so. Said differently, learning leadership strategies will make a difference in the world for someone—either you, other leaders, or followers. Finally a third—albeit unspoken belief— is that as a leader, you truly believe you are capable of being both servant leader and learner, while making a meaningful contribution to the challenges and opportunities at hand.

Why Lead At All?

Leadership in our society has come to mean different things to many people. For some, leaders are those who do the right things, whatever they may be, rather than doing things right, which has come to be viewed as the preeminent domain of managers. For others, leaders are those capable of choosing, doing, and reveling in things right, no matter the source of inspiration. Leadership is a work in progress, often situational, and rarely based in certainty of deed or action. A leader calls out, “I will go, follow me!”  A leader initiates, provides the ideas and structure, while accepting the risk of failure and the chance of success. More often than not, leaders are simply better at pointing a direction and inspiring those around them to follow in pursuit of a goal. Leadership is in so many respects in the eye of the beholder or followers.

So why be a leader at all? Robert Greenleaf in his book Servant Leadership says simply it is a matter of extremes. There are some—constituted physically and emotionally to thrive under the intensity and pressure of leadership—and those who neither enjoy nor seek the pressures but are willing to endure it for the opportunity to lead. In short, we lead because of who we are and what we believe. What we believe about leadership is another matter all together.

“We are in one of those great historical period that occur every 200 to 300 years when people don’t understand the world anymore, and the past is not sufficient to explain the future. We are entering a post-capitalist era in which organizations will have to innovate quickly and be global.”  – Dr. Peter Drucker –

 The Environment In Which We Lead

We are in the midst of a “C” change. Competition. Communications. Community. If the 70’s were the age of disillusionment and the 80’s brought about the revitalization of capitalism and demand for democracy, what did the 90’s hold for leaders on the brink of the 21st century?  A quick scan of our environment reveals much about our world, society and the changing roles and responsibilities of a leader.

We must recognize that innovation and creativity rather than controls, order and predictability, are the key dynamics needed to achieve market leadership and profitability. The increasing difficulty for most leaders is the ability to manage today’s challenges while looking ahead for new opportunities, products and markets. Today’s association operates in an environment of rapid external change, growing demands for excellence in service, quality and products, political and regulatory oversight, and increasing diversity of interests among its membership.

Glenn Tecker and Marybeth Fidler in Successful Association Leadership, Dimensions of 21st-Century Competency for the CEO identified five interrelated trends that will affect the competencies of association executives; (a) a change in the nature of change itself; (b) increased demand for outcome accountability; (c) less time from talented volunteers; (d) technology’s promise, possibilities, expectations, and realities; and generational and multicultural demographics.

It’s worth taking a closer look. These trends reveal a pathway to new and exciting opportunities for leaders and organizations. They call individually and collectively for a yeasty response—both personal and professional in nature. In these times and this environment, leaders need to step way outside the box in their thinking and actions if they are to maintain relevancy and meaning for their associations.

“The most important quality that a 21st Century leader needs is the ability to inspire other people, first to pull together in the direction of the vision, and second to do their very best in producing excellent results.”            – Kathy Keeton –

We are all pioneers. To call oneself a leader, is to acknowledge your own vulnerability to the unknown. While theories and styles of leadership abound, two authors, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner sum up five key practices of exemplary leaders in their book, The Leadership Challenge.

Challenging the ProcessAs leader’s we are obligated to explore, experiment, and improve the way our organizations operate. Innovation and creativity is key. Leaders must learn to treat mistakes as learning experiences, and as preparation tools for meeting new challenges. Challenging the process entails searching for opportunities and experimenting and taking risks.

Inspiring A Shared Vision – Leader’s look toward and beyond the horizon. As practitioner’s, we must envision the future with optimism. Our success derives in large measure from our expressive and constant communication of our ideas, values and beliefs. Key in our abilities is showing others how our mutual interests will be met through a commitment to a common purpose. Inspiring a shared vision involves envisioning the future and enlisting the support of others.

Enabling Others To Act – Leader’s infuse people with spirit based on mutual trust. They stress collaborative goals. They actively involve others in planning, giving them discretion to make their own decisions. Leaders ensure people feel strong and capable. Enabling others to act involves fostering collaboration and strengthening others.

Modeling The Way – As a leader you must be clear about your business values and beliefs. Leaders keep people and projects on course by behaving consistently with these values and modeling how they expect others to act. Leaders also plan and break projects down into achievable steps, creating opportunities for small wins. They make it easier for others to achieve goals by focusing on key priorities. Modeling the way involves setting an example and planning small wins.

Encouraging The Heart – Leader’s encourage people to persist in their efforts by linking recognition with accomplishments, visibly recognizing contributions to the common vision. They let others know that their efforts are appreciated and express pride in the team’s accomplishments. They nurture a team spirit, which enables people to sustain continued efforts. Encouraging the heart involves recognizing contributions and celebrating accomplishment.

“Association leaders who will thrive and not just survive in the 21st Century will be those who successfully manage both relationships and information.”           – Don L. Riggins –

The Distinctive Skills of Association Leaders 

Perception is reality. People make judgments, decisions and form opinions based primarily on what they perceive to be the case. Sometimes these perceptions will not be based in fact. They may be founded on inaccurate, out-of-date, irrelevant information. It doesn’t matter. What is perceived is!

To say that an association leader’s fortunes solely rise or fall in tandem with the winds of perception would be a gross oversimplification of the myriad dynamics that define our professional existence and distinctive skills. The association leaders place in the world is however being defined more and more by the level of skills they bring to the sophisticated tasks of interpersonal communication, complex relationships, acquisition of information, technological savvy, and resource deployment. Flexibility, resiliency, and fluidity are the drivers in the 21st century.

Association CEO’s face a level of uncertainty and challenge unknown in many respects by their predecessors. The extraordinary level of change in the world and the resulting chaos in some industry sectors has created pressures from volunteer leaders, members, and other association stakeholders for fast, high-quality, and ready solutions. Our unpredictable future is creating extraordinary levels of anxiety. In the absence of explicit consensus about what constitutes your association’s success, an opportunity exists to place the association leader at risk. Less than full and complete confidence and trust in your leadership style or an internal/external environment that promotes less than full satisfaction with your efforts only adds to the risk factors.

So then, is it the primary job of the association leader to manage the perceptions of their boards, members, volunteers, and stakeholders? The simple answer is, it depends. In most cases one cannot commit themselves to the full time adventure of gathering, interpreting, and countering or addressing the perceptions of key influencers’ both inside and outside of the association. Yet it remains a key component of the leader’s job. There are some others as well:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then,
is not an act, but a habit.”
               – Aristotle –

Sharpening The Leadership Saw

No one excels without the benefit of experience. How does one get experience? By making mistakes, of course. So you have…yes, I have a lot of experience. It has been written that all we are is the sum of our experiences. Perhaps this is so. Just as likely though, we are also captive to our habits—positive and negative. The late Dr. Stephen Covey in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People builds a compelling case for the beneficial application of habits by describing a series of actions and behaviors one can apply in all avenues of our lives. The habits described by Covey are:

  1. Be Proactive
  2. Begin with the End in Mind
  3. Put First Things First
  4. Think Win/Win
  5. Seek First To Understand, Then to                                                                        Be Understood
  6. Synergize
  7. Sharpen The Saw

While all of the seven habits bring powerful change and mastery to leaders, the matter of sharpening the leadership saw is our focus. Dr. Covey presents a forceful argument for assuring our own professional success through the renewal of our physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional assets. To be sure, our well being is key to our success as leaders. Given the rapid pace and ever changing environment in which we serve, we must also continuously broaden our horizons, emotionally and intellectually if we are to be successful. How? By looking across the spectrum of information resources and business/social opportunities available to you. Serving as a volunteer leader can build great empathy for the challenges facing those with you whom you partner in the leadership of the association. Having an active reading list is key to spotting opportunities and having the much needed time to reflect on possible alternatives to your circumstances and challenges facing your organization.

“If we don’t reinforce a sense of responsibility at the same time we build a culture of empowerment, we are headed to social chaos.”                                      – Rita Ricardo-Campbell –

Empowering Those Around You

Empowerment is not abdication. To the contrary, empowerment is a rich, dynamic tapestry of power-sharing from which leaders can build on and benefit from the strengths of those around them. Empowerment creates a strong sense of mutual responsibility for successful outcomes. Empowerment increases participation and involvement, shared knowledge, decision-making and encourages everyone to contribute to their fullest. Don’t mistake empowerment as a tool for creating workplace democracy or as a tool for consensus building. Empowerment encourages and values ideas and contributions from everyone, but requires strong leaders to facilitate decision-making, reach closure and create alignment among team members. Empowering those around you is not a task for the weak of heart. There are some guidelines for success:

Empowerment starts at the top – It is often said “bottlenecks are usually near the top”. When it comes to empowerment, it becomes a virtual truism. Leaders must model the behaviors of openness, candor, and encouragement if empowerment is to develop and grow within the organization.

Empowerment is a state of mind – As an association leader you must forego the boss-dominated, hierarchical, organizational model. You must maximize your respect for individuals and their ideas. To make breakthroughs in empowerment, you must first make breakthroughs in your personal beliefs about power and control.

Empowerment supports distributed leadership – Empowerment replaces the boss-dominated, “observer-critic” syndrome with the perspective of all team members as leaders in the process of change. The essence of empowerment resides in the minds of leaders who willingly share and encourage leadership, innovation, and creativity throughout the association.

Empowerment and accountability go hand in hand – It has been said that the price of freedom is that we are accountable for our choices. The price of empowerment is personal accountability. Can your organization support a culture that disallows blaming others, and making excuses, and promotes a focus on results and making things happen?

Respect and trust are cornerstones of empowerment – Association leaders must instill genuine respect and trust in the culture of their organizations. People will more willingly accept the notion of empowerment and accountability when there is genuine trust and respect woven into the fabric of the association. David Kelley of IDEO sums it up nicely, “reward success and failure equally. Punish inactivity.”

Sharing power is also sharing risk – Contrary to popular belief most people are not risk averse. Given the opportunity, training, and support, they will often opt for the tougher road and higher stakes, knowing full well that risks are an inherent part of leadership.

Build an organization that supports front-line decision-making – When front-line staff are empowered to make decisions, they will make better decisions while still maintaining accountability for their actions. Distributed information is key to supporting front-line action. The old-line hierarchical information base of “need to know” only serves to impede excellence in membership service and limit growth opportunities for your staff.

“Everyone’s dignity is raised by having a say in where the enterprise is going. Empowerment is really about involvement. Empowerment starts with truly believing everyone counts.”
– Jack Welch –

 Why Volunteer Leaders Can’t Always Lead

There is a growing sense that traditional governance models severely inhibit the ability of volunteers to be effective association leaders. This is not a matter of picking poorly in our choice of volunteers. It is forthright recognition that discontinuous change creates a swiftly changing field of play in which opportunities and problems must be dealt with more rapidly than ever before. The environment in which traditional governance has served us is gone. Traditional governance approaches will tend to inhibit the ability to serve members, and not create opportunities to be responsive to them. As association leaders we need to look at the origins of change and the way change manifests itself today.

In the recent past, change and its effects were predictable phenomena. By watching the industry or profession of our membership, one could draw reasonable inferences and develop a plan measured in part against expected growth patterns and emerging trends. Said differently, we could foresee the direction and likely outcomes of a particular trend. Then along came Moore’s law. Technological developments have forever altered the landscape in which associations operate. World events change the plan of work for association leaders everywhere. What once took months or weeks is now handled routinely in minutes or seconds. Mass communication with members, association volunteer leaders, and other stakeholders can occur in real-time, worldwide, with all manner of visual, audio, and electronic documentation.

How can we as association leaders rise to the occasion? By recognizing that there are and must be new roles for new times. Many associations have already undertaken changes. In 2015 the Alzheimer’s Association opted for an aggressive reorganization to better align the organization and provide the right tools, resources, and support consistently and effectively across the organization. A few years back, The Association for Information and Image Management underwent significant re-engineering efforts resulting in a clearer, more focused strategic direction. Xplor International downsized its Board of Directors to eight people. The American Paper and Forest Products Association trimmed its budget by $10 million, reduced dues, eliminated its Executive Committee, and moved to flatten its hierarchical structure.

Change for change sake is meaningless and demoralizing. Change supported by vision, confidence, and leadership can be invigorating and exciting for everyone. As author Simon Sinek reminds us, “Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge.” What are you doing to foster the growth of leadership and essential change within your association?

6 Reasons You Need to Embrace the Near Win

Success By Failure | Wired 4 LeadershipEmbracing the near win is an essential part of leadership. Since failure is rarely fatal in the nonprofit world, savvy leaders experiment and willingly take risks. While failure can damage your self-esteem and slow your career trajectory, if not managed well, it can also be the springboard to success. Strengthening your ability to discern and manage risks in today’s increasingly complex nonprofit environment is the focus of this article. Exploring organizational decision-making, dealing with failure, crisis management, leadership behavior and  avoiding preventable problems are among the biggest challenges. How do you avoid blind spots and what impacts your ability to prevent failures. Here are six proactive strategies you can use to learn new leadership and coping skills to both avoid and manage failure.

Are Failures the Currency of Progress?

Takata is recalling 19 million airbags installed in cars and trucks from 12 different manufacturers. Norovirus, salmonella, and e-coli outbreaks at Chipotle Restaurants in ten states sickened 334 people. The US Department of Agriculture recalled 143 million pounds of beef from improperly slaughtered cows. America lost 21 NASA astronauts to training, pre-flight, and in-flight accidents including the total loss of two Space Shuttles. Toyota Motor Corporation recall 5.2 million cars for problems related to unintended acceleration. New Orléans Mayor Ray Nagin initially called for a voluntary evacuation in the face of a Category 4 hurricane bearing down on the city. Pharmaceutical giant Merck voluntarily recalled its worldwide stock of Vioxx, spurred by a study that found patients who took the drug for at least 18 months incurred more heart attacks and strokes. Failures, poor choices, and faulty decision-making seemingly surround us.

But wait. Are we pushing the “F” word around a bit too much? Some think so. The Association Now blog post about failure gave rise to that notion. Consultant Jeffrey Cufaude at Idea Architects notes that failure is bantered around too often to refer to things not turning out as we had planned. “Failures no doubt do occur,” he wrote, “[They] are a necessary cost of trying to innovate in significant ways not done before, but we can’t refer to every situation that doesn’t hit a target goal as a failure.”

“If changing an unproductive habit, resolving a professional stumbling block, or making mistakes were as simple as being aware of them, we’d all be living perfect lives.”

For most, linear living is simply not possible. We live messy, imperfect lives in which mistakes; shortcomings, and outright failures stand along the most joyous, successful, and exuberant lives.

Change has always been part of our landscape. What is less recognized and rarely acknowledged today is the speed and complexity of change.There is a distinctive gap between how CEOs rate their ability to manage change successfully versus their expected need for it.  Research conducted by the IBM Corporation reports the “change gap” has nearly tripled since 2006 jumping from 8% to 22% among CEO’s responding to the survey.

Fresh challenges are created as rapid change occurs throughout organizations as efforts to integrate a fast-moving array of new technologies, market opportunities, and people skills. Technological advances are reshaping value propositions, influencing products and services and changing how organizations interact with their members and customers.

As specialized information businesses, associations, and professional societies are well positioned to successfully get ahead of change and potentially drive it for their members and stakeholders. The key to doing so is to recognize that speed and urgency are the currency of the day.

“An imperfect swift decision may still offer greater benefits than a slow agonizing one when it comes to leveraging change, capturing new markets, and expanding the influence of your organization.”

Wired 4 Leadership | Failure
Climbing the Decision Tree

There are challenging moments in every organization that most often arise surrounding the decision-making process. What do you think? Sounds like a good idea! Do we have enough data? What do our members/customers/stakeholders think? Have we tested our idea? What don’t we know? As the old adage goes, “where you stand, depends directly on where you sit.” Each of us comes to the decision-making process with our own experiences, bias, and expectations. Assuming you were raised in a democratic society, the deep-seated belief that you have a right to be heard might be one of your unconscious biases. There are dozens of other hidden biases that if left unexplored seed the ground for potential trouble.

Each of us makes dozens and dozens of decisions every day. It is easy to become complacent and overlook the incredibly complex dynamic that underlies each one. Many of our daily decisions are intuitive in nature–an apple is healthier than a candy bar. The interstate highway is slower in rush hour than surface streets. Revenues must exceed expenses to generate a profit. Our world is full of heuristics or “rules of thumb” by which we work.

Where Does the Culture Code Fit?

To combat natural biases in decision-making many organizations have expanded beyond mission and value statements to craft guiding principles intended to shape and influence individual and group decision-making. The $6.9 billion dollar Australian firm LendLease a leading retail and international property group under the leadership of its late Chairman Stuart Hornery did so in the  1990s.

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 1.05.23 PMHornery put a point on the effort saying “if guiding principles are genuinely held and practiced throughout, the company will attract the best people to work for us, the quality of our work will attract the attention of customers, demand for our services will grow, and our global family will prosper—all of which contributes to delivering superior value for our shareholders.” Not-for-profits may not have shareholders in the legal sense–but clearly we do have stakeholders. Members, customers, legislators, regulators, and the communities they serve demand our greatest efforts and delivery of superior value.

Where Systems Come Into Play.

When it comes to understanding risk and the complexity of change and decision, looking carefully at systems thinking and systems theory can offer a valuable framework for understanding. Working from this framework offers the opportunity to examine your decision-making in the context of the whole system, recurring patterns and their relationship to sub-systems in motion throughout the organization.

“How many times have you or someone in your department made a decision only to discover that while you have successfully solved the problem, the decision has created an entirely different set of problems for someone else, another department or the organization at large?”

System thinking encourages you to view your organization systems from a broad perspective including overall structures, patterns and cycles, rather than seeing only specific events. Doing so oftentimes helps quickly find the real causes of risk in your organization. How one chooses to apply remedies is key to avoiding failure. Systems thinking focuses on the entire system, helping you work to find solutions that address as many problems as possible throughout your organization. The effect of those solutions is that they leverage improvement throughout the system.

When it comes to personal decision-making another sort of system is in play and it too relies on a broader understanding of your own experiences, preferences and biases. Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel Prize recipient for Economic Sciences and author of Thinking Fast and Slow writes extensively about how we make day-to-day choices, and the fundamental systems most everyone uses in their thinking:

  • System 1 Thinking – That’s our most intuitive form of thinking. We use it unconsciously in most cases and we rely on it to guide us through much of our day. This approach relies on “rules of thumb”, experience (known in their origin as mistakes) and “gut instinct” among other habits.
  • System 2 Thinking – This is our slower, more conscious, effortful, and logical means of thinking. When you are carefully considering options, you are using System 2 thinking.

One of the greatest challenges busy people, especially managers and leaders face is the tendency or habit of falling back on Systems 1 thinking, when a Systems 2 analysis would really be far more productive and beneficial. As Kahneman points out, “Conflict between an automatic reaction and an intention to control it is common in our lives.” In your day-to-day leadership and life it’s worth considering which system you rely upon more and why. It might surprise you.

Intuition Versus Analysis

So what does any of this have to do with failure? Most of us believe we are capable of distinguishing between situations where we can safely rely on intuition from those that need more careful thought—but often we are wrong. In fact, most of us trust our intuition more than evidence suggests that we should. There’s a fascinating exploration of these challenges in Roger Shepard’s book Mind Sights: Original Visual Illusions, Ambiguities, and Other Anomalies (W. H. Freeman, 1990) If you want to test out your own intuition, visit Michael Bach’s website to explore the challenges of “turning the tables”. You can find them here.

The Rise of Inattention and Failure

Poor Decision MakingFailure does not occur in a vacuum. In most instances, a failure is the result of several, perhaps dozens or even hundreds of decisions, and choices made along the way. Sometimes those decisions are enough to avoid outright failure but barely enough to create success. One of the great failures of leadership and management is that we tend to recognize and reward outcomes without much regard to the decision-making leading up to achieving those results.  How much better would our successes or outcomes be, if we improved and assessed the quality of our decision-making along the way?

Creating a culture in which your team and colleagues invest time to think, decide, and assess their actions is vital to the healthy operation of your association. Thomas J. Watson, the founder of IBM when asked about success replied, “Would you like me to give you a formula for… success? It’s quite simple, really. “Double your rate of failure. You’re thinking of failure as the enemy of success…it isn’t at all… you can be discouraged by failure — or you can learn from it. So go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because, remember that’s where you’ll find success. On the far side.”

“The greatest shortfall of failure is simply our own unwillingness to learn from our own experiences and those of others.”

While many are reluctant to engage is a systematic study of failure, there is a treasure trove of insight to be gained from exploring and understanding the situation, circumstances, personalities, and mind-sets experienced by others in their most pressing moments of failure. How many times have you heard someone say, “I didn’t see that coming” or “We were completely blind-sided by the reaction to our plan”?

“I knew that would happen” is the classic “I told you so” framework following a significant event or failure. It’s easy to understand how people might think that way, especially in light of newly emerging research on cognitive behavior and thinking of adults.

“We miss things simply because we aren’t looking at them.” writes Drake Bennett in his article How Magicians Control Your Mind.
Bennett cites recent research by Gustav Kuhn, Alym Amlani, and Ronald A. Resnik offering insightful lessons about magic and the human mind such as the ability to control attention, to distort perception, and to influence choice.  In their paper Toward a Science of Magic, the authors argue that the time has come to look at the scientific bases behind such phenomena.

Success By Failure MagicIf the idea of using magic tricks to understand risk and failure strikes you as a “stretch” you may want to reconsider. There is a growing library of research supporting the notion that some of our human abilities act to inhibit our certainty and understanding rather than expanding our grasp of complex data and images conveying information.

The Center for Disease Control reports that distracted driving caused 3,338 deaths and 421,000 injuries in the United States in 2012.  “If you put a 20-year-old driver behind the wheel with a cell phone, their reaction times are the same as a 70-year-old driver who is not using a cell phone,” said University of Utah psychology professor David Strayer. “It’s like instantly aging a large number of drivers.”

According to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences “Multi-tasking adversely affects how you learn,” said Russell Poldrack, UCLA associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study. “Even if you learn while multi-tasking, that learning is less flexible and more specialized, so you cannot retrieve the information as easily. Our study shows that to the degree you can learn while multi-tasking, you will use different brain systems. Our results suggest that learning facts and concepts will be worse if you learn them while you’re distracted.” Our ability to discern risk and avoid failure is compromised by an increasingly technologically driven noisy and distracting environment.  How do you resist and recover?

How Do You Recover from Failure?

Recovering from failure requires sufficient strength and ability to support your sense of well-being while managing the stresses brought about by failure.  The term most often used to describe this circumstance is resilience. The Road to Resilience, a publication of the American Psychological Association and the Discovery Health Channel, offers a useful definition.  “Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means, “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”

The Road to Resilience offers several useful suggestions for ways to strengthen and build your own personal resilience including accepting help and support from those who care about you; changing how you interpret and respond to failures; accepting circumstances that cannot be changed by focusing on circumstances that you can; doing something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals; acting on adverse situations as much as you can; find ways to grow as a result of your struggles; nurture confidence in your ability to solve problems; avoid blowing events out of proportion; visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear; and paying attention to your own needs and feelings.

The key is to find ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience and overcoming failure.

Along pathways to success, leaders will find adversity, doubt, near wins, and near-misses. That’s a certainty. How you manage those distractions is what matters. Keld Jensen writing in Forbes magazine said it best. “Leaders understand, and even expect, that storms will come their way. They also realize that it’s how they handle the dark moments that gives them the internal strength to shine during their brightest ones.”  Let’s get that shine on.


Boards, Baggage, and Leading in Adversity

Boards_Baggage_Adversity It was a difficult—some might say ugly—Board of Director’s meeting.  With the association “bleeding red ink” and its reserves almost depleted, the Board desperately wanted to hear a plan, any plan, for saving their organization.  The new, first-time CEO was fighting fires on every front—marginal cash-flow, overpriced office space, overworked staff, too many expensive outsourced services, and stagnating revenues.  In a borrowed meeting room, facing an anxious Board, the CEO’s turnaround plan was laid-out in excruciating detail.  Pro-forma financial and cash flow statements, clear, vivid graphs, detailed severance agreements, outlines for early termination of leases, cost cutting steps, and finally the potential sources of revenues including increases for dues, rising education program fees, and two new services with near certain potential to generate much-needed extra cash flow and revenue.  The case for cost reductions and revenue growth sufficient to save the Association from extinction were clearly presented.  The tension in the room was palpable and the debate about the much-needed change went on at considerable length.

It didn’t take long to realize that as good as the plans were, it would be the proposed dismissal of long-time staff that would ultimately derail the conversation.  Several influential, and out-spoken Board members were unwilling to allow termination of specific senior staff leaders.  By insisting these favored staffers be retained, they were severely hobbling any chance of financial recovery.  Surprisingly, the rest of the Board had no stomach for pushing back against their out-spoken brethren.  The vote in support of the turnaround plan went down to defeat.  With no clear alternative at the hand, various Board members engaged in an acrimonious debate– blaming each other broadly for the failures, ridiculing current and former staff–and in short order adjourned the meeting.

Frustrated, demoralized and without a clue as what to do next the new CEO left the Board meeting.  As she drove away, she noticed a member of the Board stopped along the roadway changing a flat tire.  She instinctively stopped to offer her help.  The two of them struggled with the task of changing the deflated tire. As they worked side-by-side, the new CEO shared her feelings about the Board meeting, the lengthy preparation, detailed presentations, challenging debates, and the exhausting, hard work of it all.  At a lull in the conversation the Board member glanced up and in almost a whisper quietly said, “You know, sometimes even your best just isn’t good enough.”

In that moment an important leadership lesson came to light.  You can do your best.  You can be all you can be.  Sometimes though, you still need to demand better of yourself and others.  And that’s what leadership is all about—being better, striving to overcome adversity, and pushing harder for extraordinary outcomes.  Leadership is about changing, adapting, being resilient, sharpening your skills, and working to be better, stronger, and smarter every day.  Make this your leadership mantra in 2016 — Change. Adapt. Overcome. Be Better. Be Stronger. Be Smarter.  Your followers are counting on it.