Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Cooperation

February 4, 2020

This is one of those weeks. Flew to Orlando late Sunday. Up early Monday and met with at least 20 people spending most of the day sitting. Dinner with a group from 7-10. Back to the hotel room (I am staying about a 25-minute walk from the conference hotel, so I get some exercise). In bed after 11. Up at 5:30 to get ready, walk to the conference hotel, and then sit through an hour of breakfast and company presentations.

Now I’m sitting through the keynote presentations. Usually theoretical and boring. But today the leader of the Information Technology group and the leader of the Operations and Manufacturing group from Dow spoke about working together in order for the corporation to meet its goals.

These two organizations typically do not like each other. Each things of the other as a roadblock to good organization. Each thinks the other doesn’t understand their needs and expertise. (Actually, there is truth to that.)

No matter what sort of organization you work at, you’ve no doubt seen where bickering and misunderstanding between different groups leads to a dysfunctional organization. Without strong leadership from the top, the organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, will not serve its customers and investors and will ultimately fail.

The point was that these two executives shared the story about how the two organizations broke down the barriers between them and worked together to achieve the corporate goals.

The “secret sauce”? Communication. Try it in your organization.

Leadership As Getting Outside Yourself

January 21, 2020

I once wrote on leadership every Friday. Then I felt as if I’d run out of anything meaningful to say. In my day job, publicists offer me books to read in order to review. I’ll share one I just received Friday–Formula X: How to Reach Extreme Acceleration in Your Organization by Jurriaan Kamer and Rini van Solingen. It was published in Dutch last June; the English edition will be available Jan. 28.

It is European, so the protagonist is known as a Managing Director rather than General Manager or COO. And the conceit regards Formula 1 racing.

I say protagonist because while the book is about leadership and organizational change, it is written as a story or “fable”. In that regard it reminds me of The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt.

The protagonist is bright, yet clueless. The story weaves business and personal problems. And it is through learning from how a Formula 1 racing team operates that he learns how to organize the company, build teams, and achieve goals. It is only out of despair that he finally wakes up, gets a clue, and builds a winning team.

Whereas Goldratt was building a Theory of Constraints for optimizing production (it’s a 1980’s book, but still valid), Formula X steps back and looks at organizing the company and all its silos and disfunctions. It’s a blend of Lean and SCRUM (from programming) and Holacracy and other newer ideas.

The model is FASTER (as in racing cars must become…).

  • Focus and clarity
  • Accelerate decisions
  • Simplify
  • Team engagement
  • Elementary physics (Newton’s Second Law of Thermodynamics, but don’t worry about that)
  • Rhythmic learning

The authors use such Lean principles as Respect for People, daily stand ups (quick meetings), a form of 5S, using the people to find root causes of problems along with experimenting to find solutions.

Good stuff.

Faith and Culture

October 23, 2019

A nationally reputable speaking coach recently called Andy Stanley the best speaker in America today. I listen to his “religious” teaching and to his leadership podcast.

He has begun sending a newsletter as part of the leadership series. He said in the last issue, “As you already know, I’m passionate about leadership and helping you get leadership right. However, you may not know that I’m equally passionate about the impact of faith on culture. It’s no secret that the religious landscape in America has shifted. Fewer and fewer Americans are self-identifying as Christians, while more and more are identifying as religiously unaffiliated.”

I interrupt—his teaching on faith and culture and politics is the best I’ve heard especially from an evangelical who is typically pretty knee-jerk conservative and borderline racist. Some may think that’s a harsh statement, but I tend to poke beneath the surface of attitude to underlying causes (we call it root-cause analysis where I come from).

Continuing, “You may have heard me ask the question, ‘What breaks your heart?’ Something that breaks my heart is seeing millions of people walk away from Christianity because they find the version of Christianity they’ve grown up with unconvincing, uninspiring, and irrelevant.”

He points to a library of resources focused on the impact of faith on culture.

I think much of the problem he points to involves where the loudest voices of organized Christianity have gone over the past 50 years or so. A lot of telling you what to do from the point of view of superior to inferior. Not so much being fellow travelers on the journey toward spiritual reality and a whole life.

The organizations themselves seem to be working hard to make themselves irrelevant.

It’s too bad. But it’s what happens when human ego takes the place of spiritual seeking.

I hate telling people what to do. But I’m always willing to be a guide. We need more guides.

I encourage you to check out Stanley’s teaching. There is so much common sense.

The Coaching Role

May 20, 2019

I’m still reflecting on Trillion Dollar Coach plus three weekends of youth sports. Most executives don’t even have coaches, even though they could really use one. The variety of coaching skill and ability at the youth sports level is staggering. So many coaches need coaching at that level. That’s the role of the leadership of a good club. Often doesn’t happen.

What makes for a good coach.

Begin with empathy and trustworthiness. If the coach lacks these character traits, then anything further is hopeless.

A coach must have a set of knowledge and values. Good coaches have experience, but they are seldom the greatest. They are the ones who have been there but had to reflect on their development and experiences. They’ve studied the game and know the skill sets required for success.

A coach is observant. This ability means a coach can see each player or client, their strengths, and their weaknesses. They can pick out the next skill each player/client needs to develop to succeed at this level in order to progress.

A coach can teach skills. Of course, the player/client must be teachable. It is a two-way interaction.

A coach can devise practice for student to repeat until learned. This is the same idea for a 9-year-old beginner or a 29-year-old pro. Knowing you need to move slightly to the left more or knowing how to field a ground ball does nothing without the drill to make the skill part of “muscle memory.”

A coach provides appropriate feedback. This makes practice more valuable and helps adjust skills to the situation.

The end result consists of increased confidence and character development.

Coaching is not only for sports or for executives. We need coaches for spiritual formation and life development, too. A good coach is a most valuable asset.

If You Have To Yell, You Have Lost

May 16, 2019

Mom takes her two kids grocery shopping. Kids explore and wander away. Mom yells at kids to behave. Then yells some more. Often the tone of voice scales the range from exasperated to downright nasty.

At one time, and maybe even in many places today, “leadership” reveals itself through force of personality and intimidation.

Eric Schmidt dropped this thought during an interview promoting the book Trillion Dollar Coach (a must read for everyone), “If you have to yell at someone to get them to do something, then you’ve lost.”

You are a parent. You’re distracted by the difficulty of shopping caused by the “paradox of choice”. Controlling the kids takes energy. A commodity that most likely is in short supply. But you have to suck it up and walk over to the kids.

You are a leader. Someone made a mistake. You could just yell. Then what?

Or, you could begin by asking questions. The other person will ask themselves, why is she asking that question. Then the leader leads the other to understanding.

It’s just a different approach. Maybe doesn’t even take more energy, other than finding your own inner calm. This builds relationship.

While I was outlining these thoughts, another thought occurred. Isn’t that like many (too many) people who call themselves Christian? They would rather exhibit force of personality. And intimidation. And threat. And standing outside and yelling.

A follower of Jesus learns from the master. Jesus asked questions and understood. He led by asking and telling stories. Never by yelling and intimidation (well except for the money changers and vendors in the Temple, even he had a breaking point).

If you have to yell, you’ve lost.

I Am Responsible For

March 22, 2019

That is the correct response. The one we are looking for when you’re asked “What do you do here?” Or as I often ask when I’m interviewing someone, “What is your role here?”

Jim Collins wrote several business books based upon solid and extensive research. Among these are Good to Great, Built to Last, How the Mighty Fall.

The researchers discovered that when a new leader comes in the first thing–before vision or mission or any of that sort of thing–is to assure the right people are filling the important seats at the table.

One of the characteristics of the right person is that they define their role by recognizing their responsibilities not as a job with a title.

“I am responsible for designing products to meet customer needs.”

Or, “I am responsible for sales.”

Maybe in your organization it’s “I am responsible for cleaning and straightening and making the environment welcoming.”

Adopting the right terminology helps us achieve the right focus.

Great Leaders

February 22, 2019

I’d heard about Jim Collins and perhaps even read one of his books. But I’d forgotten until I listened to a podcast interview with Tim Ferriss.

Leadership was my Friday topic for a year or two. But then I ran out of good topics. Then came Collins.

I bought a couple of his well-researched books. I mean, I write alone. He had 21 researchers for Good to Great. He pursued an answer to the question “can a good company (organization) become a great one”.

Short answer, yes.

After much research, the team identified 11 companies that filled the criteria of 15 years of so-so performance, an inflection point, followed by 15 years of great performance. Timelines long enough to allow for various short-term fluctuations.

They identified several characteristics. I’ve just finished reading about the first–one that surprised the team. Leadership.

But the type of leadership that build sustainable performance. The high-ego, publicly visible leader may drive performance in the short term, but seldom does that performance last.

The good to great leaders:

  • Publicity shy
  • Humble–always talking about company performance not personal
  • Builds a strong team first thing before strategy
  • Quiet, but strong
  • “We”, not “I”
  • Leads a simple lifestyle (no servants, large estates, and the like)

The team researched businesses, partly because there exists a wealth of data. I’ve observed the same thing in churches and other non-profits. The flamboyant, self-enhancing leader eventually flames out.

Communication and Leadership

November 1, 2018

“Did you know what you have to do this morning?”

“No, not until you just told me. The only way you hear anything around here is through the grapevine.”

I was sitting quietly in a business lobby and overheard (couldn’t help it) the conversation above. Later there was more of the same type of conversation.

Obviously somewhere in the organization there is a leader whose strength is not communication.

I grew up a fan of the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. Over the past 25 years or so, I’ve grown disenchanted with the NFL. And being a Browns fan, well, need I say more… (Check out Juventus in the Italian Serie A.)

However, the ownership once again turned gold into lead instead of the alchemist’s dream of turning lead into gold.

Seems he hired an offensive coordinator for his head coach. Then he fired both of them because they couldn’t get along together. You can’t fire owners, I guess.

You couldn’t diagram all the communication failures in that scenario.

What is the root cause of this level of failure to communicate?

Ego?

Pride?

Fear of confrontation?

Inability to think through a situation?

Lack of personal organization?

If you catch yourself in any of this, run for help. Now.

Servant Leadership

September 11, 2018

There was a man. CEO of a smaller company. Perhaps 100-150 employees. High technology. Seemingly successful–according to the press releases and conversations.

He gave away statues of Jesus washing Peter’s feet to business acquaintances. These were large, perhaps 14 inches long by 8 inches high.

He held a conference for partners and customers. Had the author of a book on servant leadership give one of the keynotes.

He always had a smile.

But things weren’t really going so well. One day his investors told him he had to sell. So he sold his company to a competitor.

He came into the office on Sunday and cleaned out everything. There was no trace of him left. He literally took the money and ran.

Except for a printed memo posted for the employees notifying them that they had a new owner and that the future was uncertain.

We can model servant leadership by giving away models.

Or, we could do what Jesus actually did and taught–be a servant.

Ask how we can help.

Encourage those who work for us.

Be honest and transparent, therefore worth of trust.

Face up to the challenges alongside our staff as well as celebrating the good times.

Create a professional environment.

How do you want to be remembered?

Be a model, don’t just give them away.

Appoint Leaders Who Are Humble And Not Avaricious

September 7, 2018

Reading in The Didache, “Therefore appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are humble and not avaricious and true and approved, for they too carry out for you the ministry of the prophets and teachers.”

This text is almost as old as the letters of Paul. It recognizes that the new group can choose its own leaders. And it recognizes the importance of choosing people with the right character.

Sometimes we forget this maxim and choose leaders who charm us forgetting the humble and not avaricious parts.

Sometimes people change when they become leaders. Part of character we never saw, and perhaps that they themselves never realized, creep out of the psyche and begin to exhibit themselves.

Give someone a little power and look what happens to them is a comment heard far too often in organizations–marketplace and church.

It’s easy to point to the failings of leaders. Of those who violate the trust given them. Of those whose characters are not as strong as we believed when we chose them.

However, how often do each of us stray from that “humble and not avaricious” part? We stop holding up leaders to the standard; but we also stop holding ourselves up to the standard of character. Sometimes we’re all in this together.

We must hold our leaders–bishops and deacons and whatever else–accountable for character. We must look into that mental mirror in meditation and hold ourselves accountable. Evaluating at the end of each day where we were the sort of person we aimed to be and where our aim was off the mark.