Archive for the ‘Leadership’ Category

Lilly’s Leadership

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

In this never-ending political season, we get treated to a steady diet of what I call “three B’s,” bombast, bloviation and BS. Prevarication, empty promises and false bravado are spewed daily by our illustrious candidates for President of the United States. You would think that the two individuals who have been selected to run for the most powerful position in the world would know and do better. Alas, they do not.

Maybe they can learn from a 19 year old.

Lilly King is the current Olympic swimmer engaged in a controversy over her remarks about Russian competitor Yulia Efimova. After winning their respective semi-finals in the 100 meter breaststroke at the Olympics in Rio, they engaged in a finger wagging contest, initiated after Lilly raised her finger in her earlier win, only to be replicated by Efimova after her later victory. The finger wagging by her rival struck a sour chord with Lilly, based on the fact that Efimova failed a doping test earlier in the year (after serving a 16 month suspension for a previous failed test).

Lilly was outspoken about her disdain for a competitor who she believed should never have been allowed to compete, based on her serial doping test failures. She was forceful and unequivocal. But that did not impress me as much as what happened next.

She backed up her words with action. Racing alongside of one-another in lanes 4 and 5, Lilly proceeded to beat her rival by a little more than half a second in the 100 meter breaststroke final last night. In an interview afterwards, she extolled the virtues of competing clean. Her obvious elation with being the best in the world was heightened by the satisfaction of doing it the right way.

Now reasonable people can disagree as to whether Lilly’s tussle with Efimova was in good form or not. But there is no disagreement about her conviction to live into her words. They were not empty to her. They were everything.

Just think how much easier it would be for us to decide on a president if we could be assured that they did the same. Is that too much to ask?

Thank You Melania

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

An interesting thing happened during Melania Trump’s convention speech a few days ago. She channeled Michele Obama, verbatim from her 2008 speech to the Democratic convention. Well, at least the speech writer selected material germane to the circumstances.

Then a surprise happened. It blew up into a big deal, precisely because of how the campaign chose to handle it, or more appropriately, not to handle it.

Okay, so it was a stupid and egregious oversight that the speech wasn’t vetted thoroughly and redundantly. But the negativity could have been mitigated if the campaign had simply stood up and fessed up. A mistake was made. Simple message. But instead of coming clean, they engaged in a series of indignant denials by various players, each of which sounded more absurd in the face of the nearly perfect word-for-word matching video segments from the respective speeches.

Nearly two days later, the campaign came clean. Blamed it on a staffer. Almost immediately, the story lost much of its steam, again reinforcing the power of disclosure. Which raises a question. How can a presidential campaign, ostensibly staffed by the best and brightest get it so wrong? Look no further than the undisciplined temptation to deny, deny, deny. Easy, but dumb mistake to make.

So I want to thank Melania for providing a learning moment for us all. By all objective standards, she did a very nice job, by the way. To make a live speech in a giant, noisy venue with millions of people watching, is nerve racking for the most polished of presenters. Melania was very poised. But still, she did use some of Michele Obama’s words.

So thank you Melania, for helping us to see that while it is easy to rush to denial, honesty again proves to be the best policy. As I often share in my executive coaching, do not fall prey to the “easy no” when the “hard yes” is the better choice.

Of Wisdom and Intelligence

Monday, May 26th, 2014

As I draw near to the 55th anniversary of my arrival on earth, I cannot help but lose myself in philosophical discourse from time to time. And the coming of age of each of my adult children (25, 22, soon to be 18) provide ample opportunities to dig into how things really work in the world. Like the difference between wisdom and intelligence.

When pressed, each of us could offer a distinction or two. And they would all be right. But above all else, I believe the biggest difference between wisdom and intelligence is in the speed of the collection process. Let me explain.

Intelligence can be built and expanded upon through the disciplined and creative processes used to take on new information. These experiences can happen as rapidly as we can assimilate them. Many of them happen very rapidly indeed. Each of my children are quite adept at taking on new information, especially in areas of personal interests. In so many ways, they are much smarter than me.

Wisdom, on the other hand, is best built upon a longitudinal journey through our lives, until we breath our last. Perhaps it is simply part of the human condition that we have to learn many of our most important lessons the hard way. Our own self-imposed natural selection process that we hopefully survive, as we live into our dumb decisions. Not only did my wife Debbie and I get to live through our dumb decisions over the last 33 years, now we get to see our super smart progeny making many of the exact same dumb decisions as we did, despite our sincere advice to them otherwise.

Oh, that’s right. It’s that human condition thing again.

I’ve also heard wisdom defined as the ability to see things as they really are. In this vein, I am wise enough to know that it is time for a new act, and so I mark my transition into semi-retirement, whatever that means. I have been publishing this blog as a labor of love for some eight years now, and I have enjoyed every minute of it (well, mostly). I will continue to accept limited coaching engagements, though they will be interspersed between downsizing, vacationing and traveling with the love of my life for over 30 years, Debbie.

I bid you all blessings.

Leadership Litmus Test

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

There are too many essential leadership behaviors to delineate them all here. But current events have placed one of these behaviors squarely into view. Unfortunately, sometimes you just have to fire people.

Romney was pilloried in the last presidential election for his ill-advised “I like to fire people” quote. The outcry surrounding this comment would have been nil had he turned the phrase a bit differently, emphasizing when it is necessary to fire people, not how enjoyable it is.

On the other end of the spectrum is President Obama, who clearly doesn’t like to fire people, because he doesn’t, regardless of their ineptitude. Case in point, Kathleen Sebelius.

In my 30+ years as an executive, business owner and leadership coach, I have never seen such a high profile project with a four year lead time and a sky high price tag ($677M) so terribly mismanaged. When you add in the monolithic opposition of the Republican party and the skeptical nature of the American public, that at-stakeness for President Obama was and continues to be, sky high. Enter the inept Sebelius.

If not for Jeffery Zients and his obvious management and leadership acumen to the rescue, we would likely be using carbon paper and snail mail to enroll about ten people per month. The last time I looked, when you need to bring someone else in to rescue a project of this magnitude, it is always after the previous inept leader was terminated.

It is neither laudable nor appropriate that President Obama goes to the “buck stops with me” well. Of course it does. We all know that. But he is not responsible to manage every aspect of every activity in the federal government. This does not work. Those of us old enough know this fact by having watched Jimmy Carter try and fail to do so.

But he is responsible to put competent people into position, and move out those who are not. This is one of the most fundamental litmus tests for any leader. You don’t have to like it, but you need to be able to do it.

Seven Sins of Leadership- #7 Passivity

Saturday, August 31st, 2013

We have arrived at the final sin in the Seven Sins of Leadership Series, passivity. Before unpacking this, a quick review is in order.

So far we have discussed six sins of leadership- anger, pride, paranoia, overused ambition, unpredictability and myopia. Leaders who fall victim to these sins all have one element in common, they are behaving dysfunctionally. They are doing something they would be better served not doing. Sin #7 is different. It involves not doing, which makes it insidiously different and lands it on the list.

The passive leader sits back and thinks, “Ah, now I have made it, better not screw it up.” So instead of continuing many of the productive behaviors that enabled them to achieve success, they simply lay back and do nothing. But in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) business environment, passivity is a byword for letting the market pass you by. The passive leader watches as slowly but surely, their competitors outflank and out position them into irrelevance. They hand wring over decisions, fearful of making a fatal mistake. If they can not snap out of it, they will certainly find themselves out of it, their job that is.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states an object that is at rest will stay at rest unless an external force acts upon it. The passive leader makes the mistake of thinking that this law does not apply to them. They believe that they can model passivity and play it safe until exigent circumstances require action. But alas, they are incorrect. By the time the urgent situation arrives, it is too late. Their muscles have atrophied. They are incapable of taking the appropriate actions. Unless an external force causes them to act, they simply continue to do the same thing, no thing.

Ironically, playing it safe as a leader is a surefire way to put yourself and your organization, in harm’s way. But no worries, if you do not change, you will not be in the role for long.