Month: March 2012

Leadership Thought #328 – Power Doesn’t Always Bring Out The Best In People

Sometimes I am a little late to the party and only recently discovered the powerful original STARZ TV series “Boss” starring Kelsey Grammar. It sure is a departure from his typical roles as he plays a brilliant yet dark and ruthless Mayor of Chicago who recently was diagnosed with a life threatening illness. The power he evokes on the screen is quite remarkable. You get the sense that maybe he started out with the right intentions but then became obsessed with power and position at all costs. It’s actually hard to identify a protagonist in this show. The scripts and acting are a very clever take on what has always happened to leaders throughout history. It’s pretty obvious that both Shakespeare and Machiavelli are a huge influence on the writers.

After watching the whole first season, a number of things jumped out at me as someone who studies leadership for a living:

Leadership Thought #326 – Daily Habits Make A Difference

A career and life is just a series of interconnected days. Success comes about by developing constructive daily habits. Most people tend to “wing it” instead of creating some sense of consistency and discipline in their lives. As a result, they regularly end up dealing with the consequences of undisciplined behavior. Sure some people get lucky, but this is a relatively small number and not a good life strategy. I’ve observed the following success behaviors in my clients, colleagues and friends:

Leadership Thought #325 – Be True To Your Own Voice

I find that leaders often get in trouble when they try to be who they are not. Your job is to be the best YOU that you can be. Trying to be someone else is inauthentic. This doesn’t mean you can’t improve or shouldn’t get better, but never lose sight of who you are, your passions, and what you believe to be right. Everyone needs be true to their own voice.

Leadership Thought #324 – Never Give Up

I attended a youth soccer game and a professional hockey game this weekend and it was interesting to watch how both groups handled frustration and adversity. As would be expected the kids had a much more difficult time with it. With a few exceptions, they were quick to get down on themselves and hang their heads. After a couple of unlucky plays they started to unravel and forget their training. It became increasingly obvious that many of them just gave up on winning well before this should have been the case. The pros on the other hand kept plugging away and fighting through their unlucky breaks. Their hard work and resilience paid off. Eventually things turned around for them and they won the game.

I’m not saying this just to state the obvious that professional athletes have more mental toughness than children, but instead to point out the importance of never giving up.

Leadership Thought #323 – Are You Just Going Through The Motions?

If a leader isn’t properly motivated then it will eventually trickle down throughout the organization. We all look to our leaders for both inspiration and direction. Every organization has to maintain a certain edge in this regard and must continually fight complacency. It’s hard to stay on top. You must never accept the status quo or rest on your laurels. High performing leaders are never just going through the motions. They show up to work every day with a sense of purpose and responsibility to do what’s needed and what’s right. They don’t need other people or external factors to force them into action. They are self-motivated to build the best possible organization they can.

Leadership Thought #322 – It Has To Be About More Than Just Money

The most successful business owners I know are focused on building great companies and/or fulfilling an important mission instead of just making money. Financial success should be the end result not the driving force. This becomes especially apparent after the business experiences some level of economic success. Instead of becoming greedy and short term focused these leaders often double down and invest surplus resources in continuing to grow the business and its people. They genuinely appreciate the importance and responsibility of having a positive impact on others and adding real value to their marketplace.

Leadership Thought #321 – There Is Such A Thing As Right and Wrong

I appreciate the fact that there are a lot of “grey” areas in life. Not everything is black and white. Sometimes there are mitigating circumstances and/or good reasons why people act they way they do. Everything doesn’t always fits into a neat little box of appropriate behavior; however there are some things that are almost always unacceptable despite the circumstances. There is a reason why all religions are typically based on a foundation of common morality and expected ethical behavior. Whether the leaders of these religions actually they live up to their own principles is another issue altogether.

Leadership Thought #320 – People Only Make You Feel Small If You Let Them

We can’t control what people say or do, but we can control how we respond to it. It’s important to always remember that no one can make you feel anything; you choose to feel that way. It’s amazing how a few unkind words or obvious negative body language can affect us. I’ve seen fairly successful and confident people wilt under the glare of another person’s disapproval. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes, so only take constructive feedback to the degree that it helps you improve/grow as a person. If the feedback being given isn’t constructive, then learn to simply block it out or ignore it.

Leadership Thought #319 – Strive To Operate at Your “Highest and Best” Use

There is a term commonly used in real estate when describing the value of an individual property called its “highest and best use.” The highest and best use is always that use that would produce the highest value for a property, regardless of its actual current use. I want to encourage leaders to think the same way about their own role. As the lead person in your organization, it is your responsibility to vigorously protect your time and activity. Any number of distractions will pop up in a given day, but they cannot be allowed to dilute your energy, talent and focus from what’s most important.

Leadership Thought #318 – Be More Friendly

I still believe that acting in a friendly fashion gives you a boost in business and in life. Just taking the time to acknowledge another person in a nice way makes a difference for them and for you. It’s depressing how few people actually smile and say hello when you cross paths with them. Basic common courtesies like saying “please” and “thank you” or holding open the door for the person behind you take minimal effort. I actually think it takes more work not to act this way. Every day you get to choose to make the world a little brighter or darker based on your attitude and actions.

Leadership Thought #317 – You Have To Learn To Hit Curve Balls Or Find Someone Who Can

There comes a time in every young baseball player’s career where he has to learn to hit a curve ball. It isn’t easy to learn this skill. With fastballs it’s just a matter of focus, timing and reflexes. Curve balls are often unpredictable and anticipating ball movement can be quite difficult. The same thing happens in business. At first you just need to pick up the fundamentals. Much of this knowledge is easily acquired and is just a matter of applying what you learn. With certain skills sets, practice will make perfect. However, as you become more successful and the stakes get higher, the level of complexity will tend to increase in a corresponding manner. It no longer becomes just about fundamentals.

Leadership Thought #316 – Manage Your Fear

It’s sad how often fear rules individual lives. You can’t blame people for being afraid. Just about every commercial and news program preys on these fears on a daily basis. When you scare people by tapping into their fears it is easy to manipulate them. I just heard a radio commercial where the financial advisor was basically warning of a financial Armageddon in the next 12 months. What irresponsible nonsense! I simply changed the channel in disgust.

Leadership Thought #315 – Have You Stopped Thinking?

Most of us prefer to occupy the realm of opinions rather than facts – whether we’d like to believe it or not. Instead of taking the time to actually prove something or find out the truth, it is much easier to form an opinion based on personal experience, values, attitude, hearsay, etc. This is especially true in our media where people with strong opinions (often with minimal or no grounding in the facts) dominate the airwaves. We’ve become a society dedicated to the easy answer and convenience in all things. It is certainly much easier and self-satisfying (we think) to find someone who represents our own point of view rather than pushes us to grow and challenge this perspective.

Leadership Thought #314 – It’s Not Just About You

When you lead others it’s about them not you. Many leaders struggle with this idea especially those with big egos. The truth is that without followers there isn’t a need for a leader. People need to see their own interests aligned with yours. In addition, there needs to be something that holds them together besides the strength of your personality, size of your brain, and/or level of your self-confidence.

Leadership Thought #313 – You Need To Manage Your Thoughts

Whenever I encounter someone who is failing or struggling inevitably they have convinced themselves that this is their lot in life. They spend a considerable amount of time thinking about worst case scenarios and everything that is going wrong. Sometimes they even start to believe they deserve their misfortune and/or easily fall into the role of victim. More and more energy is taken up by negative thoughts and this only deepens their woes and solidifies self-doubt. When this mindset takes hold for any prolonged period of time they actually begin to sabotage their own success and happiness. It is a vicious cycle. People don’t have black clouds over their heads they just become consumed by dark thoughts. My own observation of others is that depression doesn’t happen to someone all at once instead it happens gradually over time…

Leadership Thought #312 – Encourage Honest Feedback

Leaders should never surround themselves with people who only tell them what they want to hear. Even though it’s tempting to exist in a positive feedback bubble, you need to fight this inclination and encourage independent thinking by others. If you are always the smartest person in the room and your opinions are largely left unchallenged then something is wrong. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it’s better to deal with reality than ignore it. In addition, it’s been proven that a group regularly makes better decisions than any one individual.

Leadership Thought #311 – Both Time and Relationships Are Finite

I watched an interesting movie last night called The Way. It was written and directed by Emilio Estevez and stars his father Martin Sheen. In the movie a straight-laced somewhat taciturn father has to cope with the tragic loss of his 40 year old free-spirited son. The event took place while he was beginning a spiritual trek on “The Way of St. James” or “Camino de Santiago” which is an 800 kilometer pilgrimage (hike) through France and Spain to the burial place of Saint James. The father decides to complete the journey his son started and learns alot about himself and life along the way. As with most of his acting roles, it was a powerful and thoughtful performance by Martin Sheen.

Leadership Thought #310 – Experience It, Then Let It Go

Most of us walk around with weights and burdens that don’t serve us well in life. It’s important to learn from your experiences, but once the lesson is learned, let it go. No one is perfect. In fact, we are all flawed. It may seem like other people live a charmed life, however I’ve live long enough to fully appreciate that things aren’t always what they seem. How else can you explain someone as talented, beautiful and wealthy as Whitney Houston ending her life in such a tragic way or someone as successful, funny and famous as Owen Wilson attempting to take his own life?

Leadership Thought #309 – It’s Not Supposed To Be So Hard

I see far too many leaders who view their role as a burden. While there will certainly be moments of hard work, leadership should not be excessively hard and there should be many more moments where it feels easy and you truly enjoy what you are doing. If you are getting minimal joy from your work and increasingly believe the rewards aren’t worth the effort, then you are doing something wrong. Of course, sometimes a situations isn’t salvageable but that is rare. More often than not, you are making it harder than it should be. The opportunity to lead others is a privilege and should be embraced accordingly.