Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Seeking Wise Counsel

January 8, 2021

“Where there is no guidance, a nationa falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.” — Proverbs 11

“Without counsel, plans go wrong,
but with many advisers they succeed.” — Proverbs 15

Sometimes I think of the Hebrew story of Solomon’s son Rehoboam, who became King of the united Israel upon his father’s death. And then he had to make a decision. He consulted with his father’s advisors who were schooled in wisdom. And then he consulted with his buddies, other younger men.

He chose poorly. Instead of being king of a united country, he was reduced to king only of one tribe and one small territory.

We can look at world events. We can look into our own hearts.

Are we seeking and heeding wise counsel?

What will be the story told about each of us in future years?

Leadership in Hard Times

January 7, 2021

A man approached me while I was in queue at the post office. “Gary,” he said, “I’m going to work and defeat that tax levy you have on the ballot.”

I had been elected to the school board. The system had gotten into dire straights forcing cuts in employment and courses.

“The easiest thing to do,” I replied, “is to lead for a negative result. Why don’t you help us lead toward the future and a stronger school system poised for the future for these kids and the community.”

There was a company-wide management retreat. The president stated in his keynote, “Our business plan for the year is to stretch out our payables and collect receivables more quickly.”

Nowhere was the hard work of developing products to serve customers better. Or the hard work of encouraging all of us to look for innovation in systems and products or what could add more customers.

Once I was at a business roundtable seated beside one of the most powerful (or infamous) CEOs in America at the time. He was famous for how hard he questioned his managers publicly. There was only talk of cutting, not of finding new ways to serve. He became a former CEO of a former company.

Yes, the easy work of leadership is to emphasize negativity and stir negative emotions.

The hard work of leadership is to bring people together working toward something better for all.

Is this a political statement? Yes.

Is this an organizational observation? Yes.

Is this a personal challenge to each of us? Yes.

Virtuous Leaders Do As They Say

December 28, 2020

She taught home economics, as it was called back in those days, at the high school. Half of her days were devoted to teaching healthy meal planning and preparation. One day at lunch a student observed that her lunch did not seem to be very healthy.

“Do as I say, not as I do,” she replied.

That phrase embedded in my memory. At 15, I knew it was wrong. Her education failed to inform her actions.

For we know that an effective leader at any level of leadership from classroom teacher to president of whatever, does what they say. This is called trustworthy.

We hear too many stories of leaders recently who say one thing and do the opposite. Especially telling are those who pretend to be virtuous. They teach virtue. Their private (soon to boil over into public) actions belie their words.

A virtuous leader worthy of following matches words with deeds.

My Gift is Leadership, I Love Meetings

November 17, 2020

The leader of a company told me that once. I’ve thought about it for years.

You see, I hate meetings. Following the 80/20 rule, fully 80% of the meetings I’ve been in during my organizational life have been a waste of time. Well, a waste for us, but perhaps not for the “leader” who loves to gather people in a room and talk. And perhaps force through a decision or two. “All right then, we’re agreed. Go do it!”

A leader must first of all know where she’s going. And then teach the people about where and how. Rather than formal meetings with PowerPoint presentations of meaningless facts and numbers, the leader must meet individually and with small groups. Not in a fancy boardroom with comfortable chairs. No, rather standing in their environment. Asking and teaching.

Leaders must be readers, for there must be substance behind the teaching.

Leaders must be careful listeners, for they must be able to filter the BS and grasp the essence of the person and their views and problems.

Leaders must be teachers, for everyone in the organization needs the background in order to do their jobs effectively.

Leaders must be thinkers, for their people deserve a leader who has thought through directions and decisions.

But leaders need not lead formal meetings all day, every day, because they love meetings.

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.