Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Is all leadership appreciative leadership? You decide.

I'm reading and being inspired by Robert E. Quinn's book, "Building the bridge as you walk on it: A guide for leading change." Not a weekend read (too deep for that) as there are many thought-provoking leadership concepts to digest. One so far really stood out, and that is the concept of appreciative leadership, as quoted here.

"It could be argued that all leadership is appreciative leadership. It's the capacity to see the best in the world around us, in our colleagues, and in the groups we are trying to lead. It's the capacity to see the most creative and improbable opportunities in the marketplace. It's the capacity to see with an appreciative eye the true and the good, the better and the possible."

- David Copperrider (quoted in Creelman, 2001).
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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Inspiration is like oxygen to the soul.

Several years ago, I was with a group of managers and we were talking about leadership and our role as leaders. We talked about the word inspire, and I remember one fairly young manager saying "whoa, I never thought of myself as someone who inspires." He responded as if the word was sacred. But by the end of the session, he began to really grab hold and accept the idea, and walked away looking at his position in a brand new light.

He was right in thinking the word carried some sort of holiness to it. It was derived from the latin word "inspiratus," pp of inspirare which means to "inspire, inflame, blow in to," from "in-spirare" which means "to breath" or "to breath into". Websters says that "to inspire" means to influence, move or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration." So I like to think that "to inspire" or "in-spirit" means to breathe spirit into someone, to not only touch their soul but to awaken it, as if we were breathing oxygen into someone who needs it to sustain life, i.e. a method of divine CPR.

So you can see how critically important it is to inspire someone, to wake up in the morning with the thought of "who am I going to inspire today?" or better yet "how many people can I inspire today?" Inspiring someone isn't difficult -- a smile, an act of engagement or a few words of gratitude or encouragement is sometimes all it takes to bring greatness up and out of someone's inner being. Try it for 21 days (it takes 21 days to create a habit) and see how you can breathe life into others.

For those of you who are leaders in your organization, you have much bigger opportunities and perhaps a much bigger responsibility to inspire your employees. There are some very simple things you can do to inspire people such as take 6 people on your staff to lunch -- but take 6 people you've never had lunch with before. Invite them personally. Or call an impromptu "stand up" staff meeting for no other reason than to share with them how you personally were inspired by something or someone lately, and make the story relevant to your staff. Employees have a tendency to emulate the leadership, whether they consciously choose to or not. If you inspire them, they'll be more likely to inspire others.
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Saturday, July 26, 2008

On being bold: the journey continues

For those of you who know me, you know I'm not shy. I say what's on my mind. I'm candid, frank and direct. And of course, I'm always encouraging other people to speak up and do the same.

But I still get people who tell me to "be bold" or "how could you walk away and not tell them" or "people really want to hear your opinion" or "there are people who want and need your guidance." You're kidding, right?!? People don't want to hear...

And then there's this really funky talent I have where I can rather quickly conceptualize combinations of people and ideas, in sort of a visionary way. It's really hard to explain but it has to do with maximizing people's potential and getting them out of their own box so that they can be freed up to think and act outside the box. I know, I know, sounds so simple but it's a very complicated thing that happens in my brain all the time. The weird thing is that I can apply it to just about any situation or business or anyone -- at any level at just about any time. No research needed -- just a little bit of observation time and my brain wiring goes into action. The more observation, the more concepts I see.

I think the visionary part is that I can "see" the impact of what could happen if a few barriers were lifted -- and those barriers are sometimes difficult to explain to people because they are often barriers in the way people think.

The challenge, of course, is capturing those ideas and sharing them. I'm so used to the ideas coming at a fast pace -- they are so normal to me -- that I discount half of them just like fleeting thoughts. As if they have no value to me or anyone around me. Like popcorn. And then there's the challenge of when I do share, that people either look at me like I have 3 heads or they completely react and disengage and never even try to go with me on the thought journey. Only once in a while do I run across someone who "gets it." So I'm usually left with this vivid "potential picture" that nine times out of ten just fades away until the next one comes, and the next and the next.

If I had my drothers, and I suppose I do, I'd create a new title for myself -- something like chief potential officer. To me, that'd be the coolest job in the world. Job description? Easy as 1-2-3: Observe. See potential. Explain the picture. That's it. No different than an artist or sculptor.

It was Michelangelo who said... "I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." For me, uncovering potential in a person or a business is simply to take away that which isn't necessary. That which has no purpose. That which no longer serves one well.

I don't know if being more bold is what it will take for me to move forward in my own life. But I do know that being more of who I am -- more accepting of the gifts that God has provided - is mission critical. If I can make a difference in one person's life, it's all worth it. But what if I could make a difference in hundreds or thousands? Or what if by my making a difference in a few lives, many lives could be changed as a result?

Being bold is not about being in someone's face as much as it is about facing challenges head on, with an almost quiet and even deeply spiritual confidence. It's about having the courage to be truly authentic. It's about pushing through fear to gain the opportunities that only freedom from fear can bring. It's about realizing that explaining a "vision" or a conceptual idea can change the direction of a company -- maybe not today, but maybe within a few months or even the next year.

Will you go on this journey with me? Will you commit to being more bold?
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Friday, July 18, 2008

Change or Die. Second chances are few and far between.

When I was about 18, I was driving my very first car -- an olive green '69 grand prix -- home late one Sunday night when I fell asleep at the wheel only to wake up finding myself going up a hill at 45mph in the oncoming traffic lane with the nose of a semi-truck right in front of me. Miraculously, he was able to swerve over toward the lane I should have been in and I stayed out of the ditch, missed a mailbox and came back only to clip my right front fender on his 18th wheel. He didn't stop. There was little damage to my car. So I went home to wake up my parents to let them know that I was alive.

A couple weeks ago my uncle, my last relative alive besides my two siblings, was feeling ill. It was a Sunday night after attending a car show so he went to the emergency room only to find that he was quickly on the road to a major heart attack due to 90% blockage -- so they stabalized him, sent him home to get his paperwork finalized and performed triple bypass surgery a couple of days later.

We both got second chances at life. But for my grandmother who died of bone cancer at 56, for my father who went out running one hot day and passed out and into a coma and died over a year later at 52, and for my mother who died recently of lymphoma brain cancer, they didn't. Nor did a friend's baby who died recently after only 8 months on this planet. "Life is short" takes on new meaning to anyone who's had a second chance -- or has been close enough to someone who didn't.

Change is difficult, whether it's quitting smoking as my uncle has had to do or simply changing our thinking to wake up out of our comfort zones. In business, organizational change is something we have to continually work at. And with this economy, and how the world will be changing in the next few years, we are forced to change more than ever.

The title of this post links to a Fast Company article written in May '05 - entitled "Change or Die" which offer some different perspectives that are still relevant today -- perhaps more so.

There's also a short ebook that you can buy from that is a summary of Robert Quinn's books on deep change. It's titled "Deep Change or Slow Death" and has some interesting thoughts on this subject as well.

All of us are faced with changes we have to make in our lives or our businesses in order to survive. Change is hard, yes. But we really don't have a choice. Embracing change is the best thing we can do as we may not get that second chance. Leading change by being the catalyst for it is the role that each of us must play with as much passion and emotion as we can muster in order to change behaviors, thoughts and patterns. Each of us has to be committed to creating changes in both our lives and our organizations because if we're not changing, we're dying. There's really no in-between. It's just a matter of time.

I almost got hit by a Mac truck; don't let it happen to you. It's time to wake up. Today.

Note: I wrote this one week before Randy Pausch passed away. Please be inspired by Randy's strength, character and truth as depicted in "The Last Lecture" book or video -- or by his Time Management lecture. There is never a time when we shouldn't be doing something meaningful with our lives.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is the economy making advertising better?

Gas prices are up, stock market is down, financial institutions are struggling, consumer confidence is waning at best, home values are declining, spending is down... and marketing budgets have been either cut or reallocated. Those of us in marketing -- both corporate or agency side -- know that, now more than ever, the advertising messages have to cut through, they have to resonate with the intended audience, they must deliver results. None of this is new news -- we've heard it all before.

So is advertising really getting better? Have we challenged ourselves enough to think outside the box -- a phrase we've heard all too often lately? Are we really listening to the consumer more than we've ever done before - recently? Is the creative work reflective of continually challenging ourselves and our thinking again and again and again?

Selling in a down economy can be done, and it can be done effectively with the right value proposition for the new economy. With messaging that's relevant today and not yesterday.
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Sunday, July 13, 2008

The new business agenda: Is your mission big enough to be your business strategy?

A few years ago, I read the book "Mavericks at Work: Why the most original minds in business win." So I was delighted to see co-author and Fast Company co-founder Bill Taylor on the Maximum Impact simulcast in May as I wanted to hear what this business futurist had up his sleeve.

While his message didn't stray too much from the book, his passion and belief about originality was about as authentic as I've seen... Strategy and ideas -- implemented of course -- reshape organizations. Companies with the clearest sense of purpose are the ones that win. Those with a distinctive mission have a very different kind of impact. Strategy as advocacy -- not just a company but a cause. The only sense of sustaining leadership is thought leadership. Not to be different but to have a mission that becomes the company's strategy. Success is much more than price, features, product or a service -- it is about passion, emotion, identity, being memorable even with the small touches...being human. This is the side of the business that will make the most difference in both growth and sustainability. Being not just problem solvers but solutions finders for our customers and clients.

So what is it about our businesses that people find memorable? What will make them stick when competition or the economy is tough? How do we rise above and find opportunities amidst the chaos?

Bill reminds us that ideas can come from anywhere and any person in the world. We shouldn't feel like we need to be the smartest person in the "room" -- it's o.k. to tap the hidden genius and the collective genius in our organizations and beyond.
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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Leadership is influence.

John Maxwell's view of leadership is so simple. He boils it all down to the fact that leadership is nothing more than influence. And if you can simply influence people in positive ways, they'll discover through their own abilities that they can accomplish more in both their personal lives and in business. And when each member of the team changes individually, the whole team changes collectively. The flywheel starts turning, as Jim Collins says. One person's move in a positive direction can influence many others around him or her. As Gandhi says, "we must be the change we wish to see in the world." How will you positively impact someone's life today?
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Seagate spends $2 million annually for team building

Many of us have been to team building events but Seagate's week-long event for 200 if its employees seems to just top them all. A week in New Zealand practicing lessons based on the book, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, by Patrick Lencioni. Unbelievable. The blog title links to the article that appeared in Fortune magazine back in May -- which starts with "Everyone here's going to die..."
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It's official.

Yes, that's right. I'm finally a blogger even though I've been dabbling for a while. The blog was really easy to set up and configure. Welcome -- and please don't be shy about adding comments!
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