It is surprising and frustrating how many business leaders simply make it up as they go along. Entrepreneurs typically start with a core idea and then if they are lucky have some initial success which requires them to actually build a business delivery model. Most of them then get bogged down in the day to day operation and fulfilling their product/service promise to their customers. Since most companies typically start out undercapitalized and growth eats cash, they also get caught up in basic financial issues which can be a major leadership distraction. Next thing they know they have a company on their hands and employees who expect to have a boss with a clue about the future and a strategic plan of action. It can all be very challenging and easy to fall into a survival rather than success mode.
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.
Quite a few people bemoan the length of our presidential primaries and other election campaigns these days – I don’t. People can keep up an act or tell you what you want to hear for a short period of time, but when they get exhausted by the rigors of a long campaign and tired of answering the same old questions the same old way, the eventually will slip up and say what they truly feel or believe. In addition, when you are speaking to a niche audience with a particular ideology or playing to the base, it takes a strong personality to say what you believe they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Whether you agree with him or not, Ron Paul (who has no chance of winning) has been fairly consistent on this front while the others seem to adjust their rhetoric to fit the moment and forget their own checkered past. The good news is that when people get tired and consistently challenged they usually end up telling the truth. Rick Santorum is a case in point this past week.
I can’t think of a more tragic way for the Joe Paterno story to end than it has these past few months. Not having any of the inside facts, it’s hard for me to fathom how he handled the Jerry Sandusky scandal. It goes against everything you would imagine him standing for, but then again he won’t be the first or last person in life to be betrayed by a friend. Sadly, in this case the betrayal and cover-up had devastating consequences for children. The actions by him and those around him in regards to this issue were inexcusable and the anger in response to it more than justified.
However, this stain on Coach Paterno’s record should not blot out all the other good things he did in his life which is considerable.
We’ve all met people who seem to argue for the sake of arguing and we also know how we typically feel about them. Some people just have to have to find flaws in everything and/or disagree to be disagreeable. Just like the parable of “the boy who cried wolf” if you are find fault with everything, then it begins to diminish how seriously people take your opinions as a whole. It’s one thing to have a different point of view. It’s quite another to always default to having a different perspective. There’s a fine line to being objectively critical and becoming a crank.
Talk is cheap. As a sports fan it’s amazing to watch how many individuals talk a big game and then don’t deliver. In life, business or sports it’s better to let your actions do your talking. I’m always surprised by players or coaches who draw unnecessary attention to themselves or their teams and literally motivate the opposition through what they say. Winning games at a professional level is hard enough without putting a bull’s-eye on your back. When you put yourself on a pedestal all you do is encourage other people to want to knock you off it.
I am worried that many of our leaders have become way too tactical and reactive these days. Instead of seeing the big picture they are getting mired in the details and forging ahead with actions that will have less than optimal impact on the problems/challenges they are trying to address. Actions should never drive strategy. Strategy should drive action. There are also rarely simple solutions to complicated issues. Sometimes you need to step back and actually think through what you are doing before you do it (especially in times of crisis).
It all starts at the top. Whether you are a politician, government official, leading hedge fund executive, Wall Street banker, corporate CEO, small business owner, college president, sports coach, professional athlete, teacher, parent, etc., your actions do matter! Strong Ethics aren’t a luxury but a requirement of any well run business, organization, community, classroom and family. Behaviors do ultimately have consequences. And, even though you may win in the short term by always putting your needs first, not playing by the rules or stretching the boundaries of what’s acceptable, ultimately it will catch up with you and sadly have adverse consequences for others in your life.
It’s easy to have a new idea. It’s much more difficult to see an existing initiative through to completion. People get bored. Results take longer than expected and cost more money than planned. Unforeseen obstacles are strewn in your path. Execution can be tedious work. Employees may want clear direction but often struggle with managing multiple responsibilities and deadlines. As a result, most organizations end up using an ad hoc management style of putting out fires and responding to external events or internal pressures as needed. They take very little control of their own destiny.
Disagreement is a fact of life. It is next to impossible to imagine that you will see “eye to eye” with someone else on every single issue. We all see the world with a slightly different perspective. What matters is how you navigate these disagreements. Do you take different opinions as a personal affront? Are you cordial to the other person who sees things differently? How important is it for you to be perceived as always having the right answer (and at what cost)? How open are you to different interpretations of the same set of facts? Are you willing to learn from your mistakes and admit when you are wrong?
It never ceases to amaze me how much a group of people can get accomplished if no one individual cares too much about who gets the credit. However, in most organizations there is far too much wasted energy on “ego” related issues and worrying about the wrong things. And, it often starts at the top of the organization. Maybe it’s because our society has put too much emphasis on fame and celebrity. Everyone wants to be somebody, but they are not quite sure what that means or what it costs or the right way to get there. Consequently, we have become much too concerned with what others are doing and how we stack up against their efforts.
Today we got the news that Osama Bin laden has been killed and is no longer a personal threat to the world. Justice has been served and hopefully our leaders will be keep forging ahead and doing what is right to protect our country and its allies from senseless violence and terrorism. I’m sure it has been and will continue to be a difficult and frustrating job for those responsible for our homeland security. It’s been a long time since 9/11.
My whole life I have been accused of being too optimistic. I have always perceived this to be a compliment whether it is meant as one or not. The world has enough pessimism. Pragmatism does have its place, especially when it come to financial matters, however it shouldn’t be a primary mode of being. All our great leaders have been idealists and/or romantics.
When everyone begins to feel or think the same way about something I encourage you to at least consider an alternative point of view.
George Washington truly was a great man. His leadership character will be etched in the annals of history books forever. There is much to study and learn from the man and his actions (or lack thereof). Up until that point in human history, no individual had ever walked away (he did it more than once by the way) from such power and influence.
I know a lot of people get tired of sports metaphors for business and life, but they can still sometimes ring true. Everything Aaron did well is applicable in our personal and professional lives. I didn’t really have a horse in this race as a fan. I just wanted to see a good game and my expectations were exceeded. We also observed one of the best leadership performances I can remember in a long time on a football field (and during the two weeks leading up to the game).
When you are a leader or manager part of your job is to listen until it hurts. You need to force yourself to pay full attention to what the other person is saying and then ask clarifying questions to make sure you fully understand them. It is also critical that you pay attention not just to what is being said, but also the body language and tone of voice. Both provide clues as to what is important to that person.
History books and business journals are full of examples of leaders who ignored reality at great peril and plowed forward with a narrow minded or misinformed agendas doomed to fail.
Way too many leaders spend far too much time tinkering with the internal operations of their business or organization (often when their sales are stagnating or failing). The bottom line is that unless there is consistent and reliable sales activity, the internal operations will be a challenge anyway.
A sign of a mediocre leader or manager is an unwillingness to let go of responsibilities and trust that others will get the job done as good as or better than they can. These individuals feels it is what they know and control that makes them important and ultimately irreplaceable.
In life and business, everyone has an agenda and that is OKAY. In fact, it is to be expected. Most people live their day to day existence in a subjective mindset.